Saturday, August 8, 2020

The Only Lincoln vs Douglas Base Ball Game Occurred on Tuesday, July 24, 1860, in Chicago.

On April 7, 1858, while Abraham Lincoln was arguing legal cases in Bloomington and planning for his upcoming campaign to challenge Stephen Douglas, a small story appeared in his hometown Illinois State Journal. Buried between stories of a ballooning accident in Louisiana and a glowing report of the Illinois wheat crop was a story announcing that “The National Association of Base Ball Players” had been organized in New York a week earlier. It went on to announce that the group had adopted a constitution and that Judge William H. Van Cott had been elected its first president.
From the “Illinois State Journal,” April 7, 1858.
While many people tend to think of base ball as a purely 20th-century invention, it actually is firmly rooted much earlier in our nation’s history. Although historians disagree about exactly when and where it originated, they agree that by the 1840s there were numerous clubs in major cities playing variations of the game we know today.
From “Harper’s Weekly,” October 15, 1859.

In Illinois, one of the earliest games occurred between two amateur teams from Joliet and Lockport in August 1851. To the southwest, in St. Louis, the first club was organized on August 1, 1859, with more quickly to follow. As enthusiasm for the sport grew, it evolved from pick-up games in open lots to purpose-built fields, and eventually, perhaps as early as 1861, into formal stadiums similar on a reduced scale to what we know today.

Just as important as the physical aspects of the game was the role that base ball began to take on within our culture. Displays of masculinity, athletic prowess, and regional pride were key components of the sport’s growing popularity, but its adaptability to other aspects of daily life further expanded its reach. Nowhere was this truer than in the coming together of base ball and politics. In 2012, author Stacy Pratt McDermott provided a remarkable example of this in an essay entitled Base Balls and Ballots: The National Pastime and Illinois Politics during Abraham Lincoln’s Time. 

In the late 1850s, there were three or four base ball clubs in Chicago. The Excelsior club is the most prominent one and was one of the pioneer clubs. In fact, the Excelsior club was formed in 1857 and played games in 1858. McDermott explained how in the summer of 1860 the players of the Excelsior’s were divided into their support for Lincoln or for Douglas during the 1860 Presidential contest. Rather than debate the merits of their respective candidates or their political platforms, the players decided that the President should be determined on the diamond.

On the afternoon of July 24th, the two teams took the field before an estimated 1,200 fans. The game was tight, but in the end, the Douglas team edged out the Lincoln team by a score of 16-14. [Time-Period Rules]
In the following day’s Chicago Tribune Newspaper:
Chicago Tribune, Wednesday, July 25, 1860.
No evidence exists that either Lincoln or Douglas acknowledged the outcome of this contest. However, it becomes clear that even within the anxious political climate of 1860, base ball had firmly established itself within our culture.

“Four Score and Seven” Magazine
Edited by Neil Gale, Ph.D.

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