||John Todd Stuart biography
Abraham Lincoln is thought by many to be America's greatest president. "He freed the slaves," say many, or, "He kept this great country together in a time of turmoil!" But what if Abraham Lincoln had never become President? What if, in fact, he had never entered into politics or law, and had simply become a...blacksmith? This almost happened, and had it not been for one man, history may have played out in a far more different way. This man's name was John Todd Stuart.
John Todd Stuart was born near Lexington, Kentucky on November 10, 1807, the son of Robert Stuart, a Presbyterian clergyman, and his wife, Hannah Todd Stuart. Not much is known of Stuart's early years, other than that they were comfortable, with enough income for the family to live well and without inconvenience. This was much different from the log cabin life that Lincoln came into on February 12, 1809, his parents being two uneducated farmers and their future questionable. But while their lives were initially completely different, their paths were set to collide.
In 1826, Stuart graduated from Centre College, where the campus' former bookstore turned dormitory now bears his name. Following his graduation, Stuart was admitted to the bar, and left Kentucky for Springfield, Illinois in 1828. (This would one day become the site of Abraham Lincoln's tomb, surrounded by a memorial constructed under Stuart's leadership.) Here Stuart settled into his residence for the rest of his life, gaining a high status in the legal profession until his death nearly sixty years later.
It is during the 1830s that the details of Stuart's life become rather jumbled, not because there is a lack of material on the subject, but because of the abundance of events occurring in the young man's life simultaneously. In 1832, Stuart served in the national legislature for four years, and at the end of that time, was regarded as a leader of the Republican Party. This detail of his life is surprising, however, considering that at this time Stuart was also fighting in the Black Hawk War, as a major in the army. In this, he was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Levi Todd, one of the few survivors of the cataclysmic Indian battle at the Blue Licks of 1872.
It was during this war that the 20-something year old Stuart met the man who would one day become one of the greatest American presidents: Abraham Lincoln. Stuart was a major, but Lincoln was merely a captain. In the course of this war the two would begin a life-long friendship, and when the conflict had ended, would walk at least some of the distance back to Springfield, Illinois with one another, chatting about the war, politics, and education. They would later discuss Lincoln's thoughts of becoming a blacksmith; John Todd Stuart would voice his disapproval, and in so, would alter history.
Stuart saw something in Lincoln that perhaps Lincoln himself didn't see: potential in the arena of law and politics. Granted, Lincoln and Stuart, in addition to fighting in the Black Hawk War together, also served as fellow members of the legislature in 1834. But Lincoln was unsure about his future in this facet of employment, until Stuart intervened. He persuaded Lincoln to study for the bar, and continue onward in the area of law and politics. Lincoln studied the law books Stuart lent him, Lincoln passed the bar, and entered into practice with Stuart soon thereafter. This partnership would last from 1837 until April of 1841, the same year that Lincoln would make his first protest against slavery in the Illinois House of Representatives, a protest he would repeat decades later with the force of law in the famous Emancipation Proclamation.
As most know, the rest is history for Abraham Lincoln, but few know the presence that John Todd Stuart held in Lincoln's life until his assassination in 1865. In 1842, Lincoln met his future wife Mary Todd through Stuart; Mary was a cousin for whom he held a great fondness. It is also during this time that Stuart faced off against Stephen Douglas in a congressional election that excited national attention, an election that would end with Stuart victorious. Douglas would go on to be Lincoln's most formidable opponent in the fight against slavery. Their debates, too, acquired national attention. Douglas would also go on to lose the presidential election to Lincoln.
As Lincoln continued his career and his advance in politics, Stuart and he remained friends, frequently talking and sharing opinions on the political matters at hand. Stuart, after declining congressional re-election in 1848, served as a member of the state senate from 1848 to 1852, and remained largely out of the public eye until 1862. By then, Lincoln had become President of the United States, the Civil War had broken out, and the Emancipation Proclamation was well on its way to being issued that July. Stuart, now a Democrat, served yet another term in Congress.
Although they differed on their political views frequently during the course of the war, Lincoln and Stuart nonetheless remained friends. Stuart is frequently cited as being opposed to the Emancipation Proclamation, but Lincoln was conflicted about this issue as well. Both men questioned whether the President had the power to outlaw slavery by decree, without the approval of Congress. This was to be the issue that would shape the future of Stuart's political mindset, and after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, Stuart officially changed his political party from Republican to Democrat. Nonetheless, Stuart remained a frequent informal advisor to Lincoln throughout his years, frequently visiting the White House, and the two were never on bad terms with one another.
After Lincoln's assassination, Stuart went on to become head of the National Lincoln Monument Association in Illinois, an organization that constructed the memorial to the fallen president where he and his wife are buried. By then Stuart had entered into a law partnership with Benjamin Edwards, a partnership that had lasted since 1843, and Stuart settled back into his life as a lawyer. He passed away in Springfield, Illinois on November 23, 1885, and was interred in Oak Ridge Cemetery.
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