Hail to the chiefs

Hail to the chiefs

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On Wednesday, Barack Obama is due in Springfield to deliver a speech in the Illinois House chamber. He is the first Commander in Chief in more than a decade to visit the 217. Here's more on 15 previous presidential pit stops in our area code, courtesy Tom Kacich:

1. Theodore Roosevelt in Springfield, 1903

"I have met in Illinois many men who knew Lincoln personally; and at every place that I have stopped I have seen men who fought in the army when Lincoln called the country to arms," Roosevelt said at Lincoln's home. "The greatness of our forefathers must serve not as an excuse to us for failing to do our duty in our turn, but as a spur to make us feel that we are doubly recreant — recreant to them as well as recreant to ourselves — if we fail to rise level with the standard they set."

2. William Howard Taft in Champaign, 1911

On his way to Springfield to mark the 102nd anniversary of the birth of Lincoln, Taft (right) became the first sitting president to visit Champaign-Urbana and the University of Illinois. He was in town for about an hour on Feb. 11, and spent most of it reviewing the UI's military regiment and taking a motor tour of the campus.

3. Herbert Hoover in Springfield, 1931

Hoover spoke at the rededication of Lincoln's Tomb on June 17, 1931.

"We gather here today that we of our generation may again pay tribute to the man who not only saved the Union and gave freedom to a race but who recreated the ideals and inspirations of American life," said the president. "A nation in its whole lifetime flowers with but a few whose names remain upon the roll of the world in after generations."

4. Franklin D. Roosevelt in Springfield, 1936

FDR came to Springfield on Sept. 4, 1936, to meet with Gov. Henry Horner and other Democratic leaders.

According to the Illinois State Journal, Roosevelt made a brief speech to thousands of supporters from the rear platform of a train.

"I am glad to be back in Springfield after four years. I had a brief talk with the treasurer of the United States just before I left on this trip and he told me that the nation's credit and currency were the best ever," FDR said. "I am glad to greet Governor Horner and be with him again. I must now go to the tomb of the immortal Lincoln and lay a wreath thereon."

He spent less than six hours in the capital.

5. Harry Truman's whistle stops in central Illinois, 1948

In his only presidential election campaign, Truman traveled by train and stopped in Danville, Tolono, Decatur and Springfield on Oct. 12, 1948.

"I am told it was just 87 years ago that Abraham Lincoln came through Tolono on his way to Washington. This was his last stop in Illinois before he went on to become President. And this is what I am told he said: 'I am leaving you on an errand of national importance, attended, as you are aware, with considerable difficulties. Let us believe, as some poet has expressed it, "Behind the cloud the sun is still shining." I bid you an affectionate farewell,'" Truman recounted. "You don't know how well he spoke when he said he was going to a place of considerable difficulty. I can speak from 3 years' experience that he knew exactly what he was talking about.

"The American people today want peace and prosperity. That's why Lincoln was going to Washington — to try to get peace and prosperity. I am trying to help them get peace and the prosperity they deserve. I want to see everybody in the country get a fair break, and I have been fighting to see that vital legislation — such as the farm price support program — doesn't get thrown out of the window by the Republicans."

6. Dwight Eisenhower in Springfield, 1954

Eisenhower went to the Illinois State Fair on Aug. 19, 1954, and spoke of the end of the war in Korea.

"A year ago, last January, we were still reading casualty lists in our daily newspapers. America's heart was bleeding for all those mothers, brothers, sweethearts, wives, and children who were deprived of a loved one through the operation of that war," said the former World War II general. "Obviously all of us know that the composition that was reached in Korea is not satisfactory to America, but it is far better than to continue the bloody, dreary, sacrifice of lives with no possible strictly military victory in sight."

7. John F. Kennedy in Springfield, 1962

"I carried Illinois by the overwhelming margin of 8,000 votes, and you're all here today, and I'm glad to see you! I hope that you're going to be available in 1964," Kennedy joked in an Oct. 19, 1962, political speech at the state fairgrounds. "Can you tell me one single program that is identified in the last 30 years of benefit to the people that's identified with the Republican Party or its leaders? The Housing Act of 1961 — everyone in this country benefits one way or another, whether it's because they work in housing, whether they live in houses, whether they're older and need assistance, whether they're in urban renewal. We have the most comprehensive Housing Act in 13 years. Eighty-two percent of the Republicans voted against it. That's the record."

8. Lyndon Johnson in Champaign and McLean counties, 1965

On July 19, 1965, President Johnson arrived on Air Force One at Chanute Air Force Base in Rantoul, then took a helicopter to Bloomington to attend the funeral of former Illinois governor and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson. The Bloomington-Normal airport could not accommodate the presidential jet.

9. Richard Nixon in Springfield, 1971

On Aug. 18, 1971, the president signed legislation dedicating the area around Abraham Lincoln's Springfield home a national historic site and part of the National Park Service. Later the president spent about an hour at the state fairgrounds, along with his daughter, Julie Eisenhower.

10. Gerald Ford in Champaign County, 1976

Campaigning before Illinois' primary election, the man who succeeded Nixon arrived at Willard Airport, went immediately to Champaign Centennial High School to give a speech to about 4,000 people, took a tour of the Lyle Grace farm north of Urbana, went to a reception for local Republicans in Rantoul and finished with a visit to a campaign headquarters in Urbana.

11. Jimmy Carter in Springfield, 1978

Carter came to Springfield to talk to legislators, and to promote passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

"The eyes of the nation now are focused on the men and women in this chamber. Illinois has a great tradition of insisting upon equality of opportunity. Lincoln conducted his debates in this very place. Illinois was the first state that voted to ratify the constitutional amendment giving women a right to vote. You have written into your own constitution equal rights for women," said Carter. "Thirty-five other States have now ratified the equal rights amendment, and what you do here in this chamber in the next few weeks might very well determine whether women do have those equal rights guaranteed in the United States Constitution or whether they don't."

12. Ronald Reagan in Decatur, 1984

On Aug. 20, 1984, Reagan visited the Archer Daniels Midland headquarters in Decatur, and also spoke at Millikin University.

"Well, anyway, I still remember back, also, when the Chicago Bears used to be the Staley football team here in Decatur. And it seems to me they had a better record before they moved than they've had recently. There must be something catching about the winning spirit in Decatur. I hope it's very catching," Reagan said. "You've always been innovators. In fact, I remember when John Beall invented the cornsheller back in 1875. I was just a small boy at the time."

13. George H. W. Bush in Springfield, 1992

Speaking at the state fairgrounds on Aug. 23, 1992, President Bush slammed the Democratic Congress and praised Lincoln and his hometown.

"We've had it with this gridlocked Congress. The American people have told Barbara and me, 'Here are our values.' And they've said, agreed with me in the election, 'Here's what we want to do.' And it hasn't worked because the Congress blocks us at every turn," said Bush. "You've got to turn out these — no matter how nice they are, how kind they talk about the farmer when they come back here, look at the record. Don't let them talk one way in Illinois and vote differently in Washington, D.C.

"And let me just say it is really great to be back in Springfield. Lincoln, you recall, Abraham that is, said of this, he said, 'To this place and the kindness of these people I owe everything.' I think he had good taste in political parties. I think he had great taste in hometowns."

14. Bill Clinton at the University of Illinois, 1998

More than anything else, this January 1998 trip is remembered as the time that Air Force One got stuck in the mud after one of its front wheels ran off the runway at Willard Airport. "It feels good to be back in God's country tonight," Clinton told a crowd of about 10,000 at what then was known as the Assembly Hall.

15. George W. Bush in Springfield, 2005

On April 19, 2005, President George W. Bush came to Springfield for the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Library and Museum, and like many of his predecessors he recalled Lincoln.

"Citizens enlisted Lincoln's principles in the fight to bring the vote to women and to end Jim Crow laws. When Martin Luther King Jr. called the nation to redeem the promissory note of the Declaration (of Independence), he stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial — and Lincoln was behind him in more ways than one," Bush said. "From the lunch counter to the schoolhouse door to the Army barracks, President Lincoln has continued to hold this nation to its promises."


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