BY MARY WICOFF
DANVILLE — Abraham Lincoln’s years in central Illinois helped propel him up the ladder toward the presidency, according to author Guy C. Fraker.
“This is a story that’s never been adequately told,” said Fraker, an attorney in Bloomington.
Fraker will talk about his book, “Lincoln’s Ladder to the Presidency,” from 7-8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Vermilion County Museum, 116 N. Gilbert St., and also sign copies.
He also will speak at noon Tuesday to the Vermilion County Bar Association.
The book focuses on the 23-year period during which Lincoln rode central Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit, building his law practice and his political base through relationships with circuit lawyers and their judge, David Davis. It’s the first book written about Lincoln and the circuit, where he spent almost half of his professional life.
Fraker said he’ll also share personal stories about Lincoln’s overnight stays at the McCormick House — including a pillow fight with the judge. “I have some colorful stories,” he said.
Sue Richter, director of the museum, said of the presentation, “Anybody interested in Lincoln and his years in Illinois would really find it fascinating.”
The topic is especially pertinent now, with the release of the historical movie “Lincoln,” she said.
Fraker, 74, said he’s been working on the book since 2001, calling it a “labor of love.” He traveled to Danville several times, and did research at the museum. Don Richter’s book, “Lincoln: 20 Years on the Eastern Prairie,” was a big help, he said, adding, “It was a major source. It’s a wonderful book.”
He also used historical material written by Lottie Jones.
Fraker said Lincoln and Davis traveled through 14 counties in central Illinois — first on horseback and then by railroad, which went from Springfield through Danville.
The local residents, especially Dr. William Fithian, were early supporters of Lincoln. “The Danville connection is really tight,” he said.
Fraker said other pre-presidential biographies of Lincoln allude to his circuit experience, but none focuses on the circuit like his book does.
That circuit, with its supporters, was Lincoln’s ladder to the presidency. In fact, a team of lawyers, led by Davis, gained the Republican nomination for Lincoln at the convention in Chicago in May 1860.
Fraker’s book focuses on the terrain and history of the area and its people. It also deals with the personal side of Lincoln and his relationships with his colleagues, clients and the communities.
The book also examines closely a cross-section of his practice and the nature of his cases. It looks at the identity of the participants in the cases and analyzes his networking ability as he built his law practice and political base. The book follows the contributions of his circuit comrades through Lincoln’s presidency and how he looked out for them during those years.
The book closes with the response of the area to his murder and the return of his remains through the circuit to his final rest.
Fraker, an attorney for 50 years, has had cases heard in the Vermilion County Courthouse.
His book, released in October by Southern Illinois University Press, is “really doing well,” he said.
He was the consultant on the award-winning PBS documentary, “Lincoln, Prelude to the Presidency,” and co-curated “Prologue to the Presidency: Abraham Lincoln on the Illinois Eighth Judicial Circuit,” a traveling exhibit also on permanent display at the David Davis Mansion, a state historic site in Bloomington. He served as an adviser to the National Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois College of Law.
Fraker’s visit is sponsored by the Vermilion County Museum, Danville Area Community College and Danville Public Library.
For more information, visit Guy Fraker’s website at http://www.lincolnsladder.com and also www.vermilioncountymuseum.org. You may order books through his website, and they’ll be available in the museum gift shop.