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David A. Smith portrait donated to Illinois College


A portrait of abolitionist and former trustee of Illinois College, David A. Smith, along with a framed copy of a letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Smith was recently donated to the college by Smith’s great-great-great granddaughter, Carolyn Lansden Whittle.

“I can’t think of a more appropriate place for the portrait and letter,” Whittle says. “It just seems perfect. This will allow for more people to be able to appreciate them.” Whittle stopped in Jacksonville to present the items to Illinois College as she was moving from New York to California. The painting is now hanging in the grand stairway wall in Tanner Hall.

The oil painting had been hanging in Whittle’s home in Westchester County, NY for more than 40 years and includes a brass plaque stating "David A. Smith, 1804-1865." Judging from Smith's apparent age, Whittle believes it was painted around 1840 to 1850. The artist is unknown.

Prior to the painting being hung in Whittle’s home, it was in her father's law office, Lansden & Lansden, in Cairo, Ill. Her father, Robert Ludlow Lansden, was a third generation Lansden lawyer and an active civil rights lawyer.

The letter Whittle donated to the college is a copy of the original addressed to Smith from Lincoln. Whittle’s father had the original letter, but believes that it was stolen from his office in the 1970s. Smith was an abolitionist lawyer practicing in southern Illinois at the same time as Lincoln. The letter reads:

Springfield, March 28, 1851

Dear Smith

 On yesterday evening we argued and submitted the Bank Certificate questions. I learn that Davis will probably not decide it for a week or so when he will send the decision down from the court. Logan entered his motion merely to show satisfaction to the extent of the notes and certificates recovered, taking no notice of the tender.  This I suppose will test the questions just as well. He also thinks there may be a difference between notes and certificates; and therefore urged me, and I consented, that you should ascertain the exact separate amounts of each, which you have received, and send it up, so that it can be got into the record. He also pressed me to agree that the certificates are in the form given in the III Sec. of the Act of 1843.  I agreed to this, on condition that my agreement should go for nothing, if the fact is really otherwise — Write on all this —

One other little matter — I am short of funds and intended to ask Col. Dunlap for my fee in the case in the U.S. court, but he left sooner than I expected. He is in no default with me for he once mentioned the subject to me, and I passed it by--  But I now need the money, and I will take it as a favor if you will show him this note & get him to send it to me. We never agreed on the amount, but I claim $50—which I suppose neither he or you will think unreasonable—

Yours truly
 A. Lincoln

Along with being an abolitionist, Smith was a distinguished prairie lawyer. He was a trustee at Illinois College from 1842 until his death in 1865. His home built in 1854 is today used for meeting space for women’s literary societies at the college. It is also a popular destination for tourists and research scholars interested in studying the period of the 1850s and 1860s.

About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Ill. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs and a Master of Arts in Education degree program. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Visit or call 217-245-3467 for more information.

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