Abraham Lincoln and Farmington
In August of 1841, Abraham Lincoln traveled from Illinois to Louisville, Kentucky, to visit Joshua Speed and his family at Farmington. In the four years since they had known each other, sharing living quarters in Springfield, the two men had developed a close friendship. It was thanks to Joshua that the young lawyer and Illinois state legislator saw his social and political circles widening, eventually to include a bright and attractive young woman named Mary Todd. But at the time of the visit, a beleaguered Lincoln had broken off his relationship with Mary and had decided not to run for reelection. When Joshua extended his invitation, his friend was in deep despair.
Lincoln’s three weeks at Farmington would prove to be restorative. He was welcomed and befriended by the Speed family, taking long walks with Joshua, and borrowing law books from Joshua’s brother, James, who years later became Attorney General in Lincoln’s last Cabinet. The recently widowed Mrs. Speed gave him a Bible, counseling him to read it.
He brightened his own spirits by applauding the courtship of Joshua and his future bride, Fanny Henning, later crediting it with encouraging his return to courting Mary Todd. Scholars agree that Lincoln’s Farmington visit was one of the happiest experiences of his life.
Farmington was probably also the first slave plantation that Lincoln had visited, and though it was likely not the first time he had seen slaves, his September 27, 1841, letter to Joshua’s half-sister, Mary Speed, following his departure from Louisville, is his first known written observation of slavery. The impressions he recorded of slaves chained to one another aboard the steamboat, and soon to be sold, never left him, and over the years, slavery was perhaps the one subject on which Abraham Lincoln and Joshua Speed (who nevertheless supported the Union) could not agree. But their strong feelings on the issue did not undermine their lifelong mutual devotion. On November 30, 1866, a year and a half after President Lincoln’s assassination, and twenty-five years after his visit to the Speed family at Farmington, Joshua wrote of him, “He disclosed his whole heart to me.”