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Bill Thayer

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This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Old Illinois Houses

John Drury

reprinted by
The University of Chicago Press
Chicago and London, 1977

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

[image ALT: A photograph of a small single‑story rectangular wood frame cottage, with a gabled roof pitched at about 40° and a chimney in the middle; the front door is protected by a small, narrow proch supported by four very slender wood columns. It is the Bryant House in Bement, Illinois.]

Historic American Buildings Survey

Bryant House, Bement, Built 1856.

 p117  Where Lincoln and Douglas Agreed

In the southwest room of this house on the night of July 29, 1858, Abraham Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas made formal agreement to hold joint debate in Illinois.

This is the message on a bronze marker at the front entrance of a small white-painted, green-shuttered cottage in Bement, located just across the railroad tracks from the city's business section. A marked arrow on state highway 105, which enters the town from the north, points eastward to the dwelling. In front of it hangs a flag on a tall pole.

This house is one of Piatt County's principal sights. For in the prim, tiny parlor of this cottage occurred the event which, as has been said, "proved to be a large contributing factor in making Lincoln President of the United States."

The man who was host to the two distinguished guests on that momentous occasion was Francis E. Bryant, one of the "fathers" of Bement, an early banker of the town and a cousin of the poet, William Cullen Bryant. He was also an intimate friend of Stephen A. Douglas, and it  p118 was this friendship which brought about the appearance of Abraham Lincoln in his home. Bryant was to live long enough to see Lincoln become a greater figure in history than Douglas.

Coming westward to Chicago in the early 1850's, Francis E. Bryant did not stay long in the young city by the lake. It is said he could "see no future" in Chicago. So he headed toward central Illinois and settled at Bement in 1856. That same year he built the frame cottage which has become one of the chief points of interest to sightseers in that part of the state. He and his wife and family lived here many years and were highly esteemed by the townsfolk of Bement.

The story of the event which made this cottage famous​a goes back to a July day in 1858 when Senator Douglas was scheduled to speak in near-by Monticello, county seat of Piatt County. He and his wife arrived earlier in Bement and were the house guests of Mr. & Mrs. Bryant. On their way to Monticello in a carriage, the Douglases and Bryants met a prairie schooner. In it were Lincoln and himself friends. Lincoln jumped out of the wagon and greeted Senator Douglas.

On the prairie road that day Lincoln asked Douglas where they could meet to discuss a series of joint debates. At this point the Bryants invited the two political rivals to confer that evening in their Bement home. This invitation was accepted and Lincoln and Douglas talked for two hours in the Bryant parlor. The following day Douglas wrote a letter to Lincoln on the Bryants' marble-topped table, accepting Lincoln's challenge to the joint debates.

The room in which this conference took place has been preserved almost intact. One of the principal exhibits is the walnut chair in which Lincoln sat. After his assassination Francis Bryant draped the chair with crepe and a small American flag. These are still on it. On the wall above the chair are oval-framed portraits of Mr. & Mrs. Bryant. Here, also, is the marble-topped table at which Lincoln and Douglas sat, as well as the chairs, whatnot, divan, and other articles of furniture dating from the night of the historic meeting.

The cottage is small, gable-roofed, and with a porch over the front entrance. In 1925, on the sixty-seventh anniversary of the event that occurred in it, the house was presented to Bement by its owner, the late J. F. Sprague, grandson of Francis E. Bryant, and mayor of Bement. "This house, set apart to the memory of the immortal Lincoln and his friend, the illustrious Douglas," said Mayor Sprague at the presentation ceremonies, "will be kept open to the public, free, so long as it endures." More recently (on July 29, 1947) the house became a state shrine.

Thayer's Note:

a There seems to be a good deal of controversy in some quarters as to whether the event described in this chapter, causing this nondescript little house to be of consequence, actually occurred. The Bement Chamber of Commerce once hosted a page examining all the evidence in exhaustive detail, but with the continued shrinkage of the Web, it has vanished, to be replaced by a bland item of little interest.

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Page updated: 1 May 12