Lincoln: Railsplitter, lawyer … editor?

Presidential library gathers all editions of campaign newspaper produced with Lincoln’s help

From the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency

SPRINGFIELD – Abraham Lincoln held many different jobs over the decades, from store clerk to president. Now the Center for Digital Initiatives at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is helping to shed light on his role as a newspaper editor.

The complete run of The Old Soldier, an 1840 campaign newspaper edited by Lincoln and three other Whig politicians, has been made available online. Researchers and the general public can read Lincoln’s newspaper at bit.ly/TheOldSoldier.

Old_Soldier_7_2-page-001 (1)The Old Soldier was published between February and October 1840 to promote the presidential campaign of William Henry Harrison. No single institution holds all 18 issues of the newspaper, but the Center for Digital Initiatives found that a complete set could be compiled from the collections of the Lincoln Presidential Library, Knox College, the Newberry Library and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Every issue was then digitized and put online at the Illinois Digital Newspaper Collections, thanks to the expertise of Kristina Williams and Kyle Rimkus at the University of Illinois.

“The Old Soldier is a unique resource for the study of Abraham Lincoln as a young political operative,” said Daniel W. Stowell, the director of the Center for Digital Initiatives. “He was a loyal supporter of the Whig party and performed valuable service for the Whigs, both in helping to edit The Old Soldier and developing local organizations to get out the vote. Lincoln even served as one of Harrison’s electors for the State of Illinois.”  

Although Harrison lost Illinois and its five electoral votes, he did win Sangamon County. Nationally, Harrison defeated incumbent Martin Van Buren with nearly a 4-to-1 margin in the Electoral College and a 6 percent lead in the popular vote. His presidency was tragically short, as he died little over a month into his term, the shortest tenure of any American president.

Published from the offices of the Sangamo Journal in Springfield, the semi-monthly Old Soldier was designed in part to combat Old Hickory, a Democratic newspaper also published in Springfield to support Van Buren. Each four-page issue is filled with copies of Harrison’s qualifications, his speeches, letters to the editor and editorials supporting “Old Tippecanoe,” Harrison’s nickname from his 1811 victory over the Shawnee and other Native Americans at the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Lincoln promised the newspaper would “sear the eye-balls and stun the ears” of Harrison’s detractors. Unfortunately, the optical character recognition system that generates a text version of the newspaper renders Lincoln’s phrase as “sear the oye-halldj and stun the ears.”

The public can help fix mistakes like that and make The Old Soldier more searchable. Simply register at idnc.library.illinois.edu and you can correct the text, which will make a huge difference in whether these newspapers are discovered by a broader public using search engines.

The Center for Digital Initiatives works with the curatorial departments in the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum to develop and implement a digitization plan to serve and expand the ALPLM’s diverse users. The center identifies and digitizes specific collections to makes them available online to a worldwide audience. The center also seeks to integrate digital content into the visitor experience in the museum.

The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum holds an unparalleled collection of Lincoln documents, photographs, artifacts and art. It has some 12 million items pertaining to all aspects of Illinois history, making the library one of the nation’s leading institutions for genealogy and history research. For more information, visit presidentlincoln.illinois.gov.

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