Springfield is the state capital of Illinois, although any Springfield tour will reveal that the city is most famous as the longtime home of Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States. Lincoln was born and raised in rural Kentucky and Indiana, but arrived in the Springfield area as a young man and moved to the city itself in his late 20s to pursue his legal career.
The area now known as Springfield was originally named Calhoun, after Senator John C. Calhoun of South Carolina. The first settlers arrived around 1818 and had close cultural ties to the South. However, by the early 1830s, Calhoun’s strong pro-slavery beliefs had fallen out of favor in the northern states and the growing town was renamed Springfield.
It was around this time that a young Abraham Lincoln arrived in the Springfield area. Despite having no formal education to speak of, Lincoln was a voracious reader and was able to pass the Illinois bar exam in 1836 after studying legal books in his spare time. He moved to Springfield in 1837 to join his friend John Stuart’s legal practice. Lincoln quickly became acquainted with Stuart’s cousin, Mary Todd, and the two were married in 1842. The Lincolns purchased a house in Springfield two years later, living there until Abraham was elected president in 1860. The home has been fully restored and remains a popular tourist destination to this day.
During the 1830s, Lincoln was part of a group of prominent local lawyers and politicians who successfully lobbied to have Springfield named as the capital of Illinois. The city played a prominent role in the US Civil War as a training ground for Illinois soldiers. Ulysses S. Grant, who would eventually lead the Union Army, instructed the first group of soldiers in Springfield. However, in the years following the war, Springfield gradually declined in importance as more and more cultural and political influence shifted north to the Chicago area.