Probably one of the staunchest supporters of the Illinois Michigan Canal project was Abraham Lincoln. Both as a Whig and a republican, he ran on a program of internal improvements. This included roads, bridges, canals, and railroads. In his multiple terms in the Illinois Assembly, he consistently was a supporter of the canal and other improvements. This support continued despite the down turn in the economy. When others fought for abandoning these costly projects, he continued to fight for them. Some historians have argued that this policy of Lincoln and his allies was irresponsible placing the state of Illinois in grave fiscal peril. But fortunately because of his steadfastness, the Illinis Michiganal as completed and it had many years of successful service.
Lincoln continued his support for internal improvements in his single term in the U.S. Congress. It is also documented that he travelled on a packet boat on the canal likely twice.
The first canal trip took place in 1848. Lincoln, his wife and sons Rob and Eddie were in New England in the late summer. On September 23rd, they boarded a train bound for Albany. They arrived on the 24th. From Albany, they travelled to Buffalo. They secured passage on a Great Lakes steamer named the Globe. It was a relatively new boat. It was a side wheel steamer. It was one of the largest ships on the Great Lakes. It was scheduled to go from Buffalo to Chicago in seven days. The ship set sail on September 26. Because of heavy seas, it took the Globe eight days to reach Milwaukee on October 4. The boat stayed in port for several hours. This was to load and unload cargo.
Later that day, the Globe left Milwaukee and headed south to Chicago. This city was reached early on the 6th of October. After disembarking from the ship, the Lincoln family checked into the Sherman House. The next day, they arranged for travel on a packet boat on the Illinois Michigan Canal to LaSalle, Illinois. By October 7th, they would have reached the canal basin at LaSalle.
From this site, they walked about one half a block to the steam boat basin. It was here that they secured passage on a steam boat down the Illinois River. The trip was to Peoria. They arrived at their destination on
October 8th. They checked in to the Planter’s House hotel two blocks from the Illinois River.
On October 10, the Lincoln family arose early to board a stage coach heading south Springfield. They arrived in that city in the evening.
In 1852, Mr. Lincoln was named to a commission to investigate claims against the state of Illinois in the matter of the Illinois Michigan Canal. Other members of the panel included Hugh Dickey of Chicago and Noah Johnston of Mount Vernon. The panel published a notice in multiple papers setting the hearings for December 3rd in Ottawa, Illinois. Mr. Lincoln left from Springfield on November 30. He traveled on a railroad (Sangamon and Morgan) west to Naples, Illinois. He boarded a dreamer on the Illinois River to LaSalle. He then boarded a packet boat on the Illinois Michigan Canal for the 15 mile ride to Ottawa arriving on December 3. Johnson and Lincoln began to take testimony on the third of December. Hearings continued on the 4th; the 5th was a Sunday and no hearings took place. The proceedings ended on December 6th.
On December 7th, Lincoln, Johnston, clerk R.E. Goodell, and Nubian Edwards (acting Attorney for the state) boarded a packet boat and headed for Chicago. They arrived on the 8th.
The next day they began to collect evidence. The hearings were held in a room at 177 Lake Street. Contractors and other claimants appeared before Lincoln and Johnston. The hearings lasted for four days and were adjourned. They were to be reconvened in Springfield one week later. The members of the board departed from Chicago. They could not use the canal. It had been closed for the season by the superintendent. The members of the board boarded a Rock Island Train on December 14. They went south to Joliet. They then took a stagecoach to LaSalle. From here, they boarded a steam boat to Naples and next a train to Springfield arriving on December 17.
On December 20th, the hearings were reopened probably in an unused room in the Statehouse. The commission met for two weeks taking testimony and writing their report to the General Assembly. The report was submitted to Governor Augustus French on January 7, 1853. He then sent it to the House.
On his expense account, Lincoln stared that he had spent 21 days on commission business; traveled 650 miles to and from Chicago via Naples. His total charge was $149. Thus ended Lincoln’s work on behalf of the canal.