The Day Lincoln Jumped Out A Window

The news is currently filled with reports of Democrat state senators from Wisconsin on the lam in my home state of Illinois in an attempt to prevent a quorum in the Wisconsin state senate and stall action on Governor Scott Walker’s public employees union bill.  Fleeing from a legislative chamber to prevent a quorum from being formed and stall legislation is a tactic probably as old as legislative chambers.  In 1841 Illinois Representative Abraham Lincoln was involved in such an attempt.

1840 had been a good year for the Whig party nationally, but in Illinois the Democrats won control of the state legislature.  Lincoln was one of the leaders of the Whigs in the General Assembly.  When the legislature met in January of 1841, the Democrats were able to ram through piece of legislation after piece of legislation opposed by the Whigs.  One day Lincoln and two other Whig representatives, in order to forestall a quorum, opened a window and leaped through it.  (The Democrats had previously locked the doors to the room where the General Assembly was meeting.)  Lincoln and his colleagues found themselves victims of Democrat laughter due to the fact that they had previously voted that day on a motion to adjourn.  The motion was defeated, but enough representatives voted on the motion to constitute a quorum.  The escape attempt was for naught.  This has usually been the fate of this flee tactic.  It is always only resorted to by a minority that cannot win a vote.  The vanishing legislator stratagem usually only delays a vote, and defeat.

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  1. Hey Donald, what’s your favorite Lincoln biography? Or the best place for a neophyte to start? With so many options, I could use the guidance.

  2. Francis my favorite Lincoln biography is the multivolume one done many decades ago by Illinois poet Carl Sandburg. He is not the most accurate biographer of Lincoln, and his research was long ago superceded, but he gets to the the heart of Lincoln better than any other biographer I can think of.

    Another poet’s take on Lincoln is in Stephen Vincent Benet’s epic poem on the Civil War John Brown’s Body:

    “Lincoln, six feet one in his stocking feet,
    The lank man, knotty and tough as a hickory rail,
    Whose hands were always too big for white-kid gloves,
    Whose wit was a coonskin sack of dry, tall tales,
    Whose weathered face was homely as a plowed field–
    Abraham Lincoln, who padded up and down
    The sacred White House in nightshirt and carpet-slippers,
    And yet could strike young hero-worshipping Hay
    As dignified past any neat, balanced, fine
    Plutarchan sentences carved in a Latin bronze;
    The low clown out of the prairies, the ape-buffoon,
    The small-town lawyer, the crude small-time politician,
    State-character but comparative failure at forty
    In spite of ambition enough for twenty Caesars,
    Honesty rare as a man without self-pity,
    Kindness as large and plain as a prairie wind,
    And a self-confidence like an iron bar:
    This Lincoln, President now by the grace of luck,
    Disunion, politics, Douglas and a few speeches
    Which make the monumental booming of Webster
    Sound empty as the belly of a burst drum,
    Lincoln shambled in to the Cabinet meeting
    And sat, ungainly and awkward. Seated so
    He did not seem so tall nor quite so strange
    Though he was strange enough. His new broadcloth suit
    Felt tight and formal across his big shoulders still
    And his new shiny top-hat was not yet battered
    To the bulging shape of the old familiar hat
    He’d worn at Springfield, stuffed with its hoard of papers.
    He was pretty tired. All week the office-seekers
    Had plagued him as the flies in fly-time plague
    A gaunt-headed, patient horse. The children weren’t well
    And Mollie was worried about them so sharp with her tongue.
    But he knew Mollie and tried to let it go by.
    Men tracked dirt in the house and women liked carpets.
    Each had a piece of the right, that was all most people could

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