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Why Is Illinois Called the "Land of Lincoln"?

By Henry Gaudet
Updated: May 17, 2024

The "Land of Lincoln" is the nickname and official state slogan of Illinois, a reference to United States President Abraham Lincoln’s early political career there. Abraham Lincoln first served in the Illinois General Assembly beginning in 1834. His presidency might have secured his place in history, but it was his work representing the people of Illinois, first at the state level and later at in the U.S. House of Representatives, that associated his name so closely with that state and caused Illinois to become known as the "Land of Lincoln."

Proud of the connection between their state and the former president, Illinois officials sought to commemorate that link in an official manner. In 1955, the state made "Land of Lincoln," already a nickname for the state, into the official Illinois motto. That same year, the U.S. Congress granted a special copyright to the "Land of Lincoln" insignia, a silhouette of Lincoln inside an outline of the state.

"Land of Lincoln" is not a reference to the president’s birthplace, as many people assume. He was born in 1809 in a cabin about 3 miles (4.8 km) south of Hodgenville, Kentucky. In 1816, he and his family moved to Indiana. It was not until 1830 that he moved with his family to Illinois, where he tried his hand at a number of professions before turning to political life. It was Lincoln's political service that forged the connection between Illinois and its favorite adopted son.

In 1832, Lincoln made his first bid for public office in the Illinois General Assembly. That attempt was unsuccessful, but two years later, he won, beginning the first of four terms in the state legislature. In 1846, he won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and in 1847 began his single term there. He also ran for the U.S. Senate in 1858, where he won the popular vote but lost the election.

Finally, in 1861, Abraham Lincoln became the sixteenth U.S. president. During his time in office, he guided the nation through a bloody Civil War, a conflict that rose largely out of the issue of slavery, and with the Emancipation Proclamation, perhaps his best known act as president, he outlawed the ownership of one person by another. His role in the Civil War and in defining and defending human rights, along with his assassination in 1865, have elevated Lincoln’s legacy from historical to near-mythical — one of the most trusted figures of all time. His name is associated with treasured values such as honesty, integrity and humility. In the years since his assassination, President Lincoln has become a powerful symbol.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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