On Wednesday, May 1st, 2019, the Congress officially dedicated a historic room off of National Statuary Hall to Abraham Lincoln. During the 115th Congress, then-Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana unofficially named the room after our 16th President and began displaying Lincoln memorabilia therein. During the 2018 observation of the Illinois Bicentennial, Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Darin LaHood of Illinois introduced the bipartisan legislation to formally dedicate the room to his memory. The United States Capitol Historical Society (USCHS) participated in the event to provide historic context.
“I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to have partnered with Congressman LaHood to commemorate President Lincoln’s service in Congress through renaming this room in his honor,” said Representative Krishnamoorthi. “It’s especially fitting that we should rename this particular room for President Lincoln as the room was formerly the House post office during Lincoln’s time in Congress, a crucial gathering place where President Lincoln built some of the friendships with which he helped guide our country through its darkest years.”
“Having the privilege of representing the same district Abraham Lincoln did during his only term in Congress, the opportunity to rename this room is truly an honor,” stated Representative LaHood. “During my time in Congress, I have often reflected on the values of hard work and dedication embodied by President Lincoln. I am grateful to be joined by Congressman Krishnamoorthi in this effort and humbled to have the opportunity to permanently commemorate this room in the U.S. Capitol.”
The Honorable Jerry Weller, a Former Member of Congress from Illinois, President of the Illinois State Society, and an active USCHS volunteer, gave remarks thanking Representatives Krishnamoorthi and LaHood for their efforts in getting the naming legislation passed. John O’Brien, President of the Lincoln Group of Washington, D.C., gave remarks of gratitude for the leadership of the late John Elliff, a former member of the Abraham Lincoln Association who passed away before seeing dedication could occur; his wife Linda was on hand to celebrate.
At the conclusion of the formal program, guests were invited to enter and explore the Lincoln Room. Once inside, Samuel Holliday, USCHS Manager of Communications, gave remarks on the conditions of the House Chamber at the time Lincoln served.
Far from the staid and stately image that often comes to mind when imagining historic congresses, the antebellum House of Representatives was a coarse and at times brutal place in which to serve. In her latest book, The Field of Blood: Violence in Congress and the Road to the Civil War, Yale Historian Joanne Freeman details the many instances in which violence broke out in and around the Capitol. House Curator Farar Elliott has described the period as a “bear garden” for the brash and vulgar personalities which held office during that time. Thus, it stands to reason that the quiet and cozy House Post Office, located mere feet from his desk, provided then-Representative Abraham Lincoln a place of refuge and reflection. It is little wonder that the room came to be so associated with his memory, and it is fitting that so historic a leader will have so permanent a commemoration.
The USCHS thanks the offices of Representatives Raja Krishnamoorthi and Darin LaHood for organizing this event and for the opportunity to participate; the office of Majority Whip James Clyburn for opening their historic space for this event; and the Illinois State Society and Abraham Lincoln Association for their leadership in calling for this commemoration.