In the Republican Primary of 1860, several well-known candidates–William H. Seward of New York, Salmon P. Chase of Ohio, Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania, and Edward Bates of Missouri–vied for the Presidential nomination. However, due to the relentless campaigning of Judge David Davis, a relatively unknown backwoods candidate by the name of Abraham Lincoln succeeded in winning the nomination. If not for the efforts of Davis, Lincoln likely would never have become President. Thanks to Lincoln’s efforts, democracy and the nation itself was preserved. Davis has now long been forgotten, but his home remains an architectural landmark.
About the David Davis Mansion
The mansion, located at 1000 Monroe Drive, is located just one block north of the intersections of Jefferson and Davis Streets–a perfect irony since Jefferson Davis was Lincoln’s Confederate counterpart during the Civil War! The mansion, completed in 1872, combines Italianate and Second Empire architectural features and is a model of mid-Victorian style and taste. Known also as Clover Lane, it was the home of David Davis, the friend, mentor and campaign manager for Abraham Lincoln.
Judge Davis commissioned French-born architect Alfred Piquenard to design the Victorian-style mansion, primarily as a residence for his wife, Sarah. Sarah wanted to remain in Bloomington rather than move to Washington, D.C. Piquenard, one of the Midwest’s leading architects of the time, could boast of several important commissions, including the state capitol buildings in Des Moines and Springfield.
The three-story, yellow-brick home, which Sarah herself helped to design, comprises 36 rooms and was very advanced for its day. It not only had elegant furnishings and architectural features, it also had the most modern technological conveniences of the era: indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, a central furnace, the most up-to-date gas lighting, and two modern communications systems.
A wooded, park-like setting originally enhanced the rural atmosphere of Clover Lawn. What remains today are 4.1 acres, containing an 1872 wood house, an 1850s barn and stable (dating back to Abraham Lincoln’s day, two privies, a foaling shed, a carriage barn and an ornamental, flower garden. The circular drive around the mansion remains as it was originally configured.
The house remained in the Davis family until 1960, when it was donated to the state of Illinois, which operates it as a state historic site.
About David Davis
Davis (1885-1886) was born in Maryland and studied law in New England. In 1836 he settled in Bloomington and in 1844 won election as a Whig to the Illinois legislature. Four years later, in 1848, he was elected Judge of Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit and served on the bench during Liincoln’s remaining years as an attorney on the circuit. The two became close friends, and Davis served as Lincoln’s campaign manager at the 1860 Republican nominating convention in Chicago. In late 1862, he was appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court by Lincoln. Upon Lincoln’s assassination in 1865, Davis was named an administrator of the late President’s estate.
In 1877, Davis narrowly avoided the opportunity to be the only person to ever single-handedly select the President of the United States. In the disputed Presidential election of 1876 between the Republican Rutherford Hayes and the Democrat Samuel Tilden, Congress created a special Electoral Commission to decide to whom to award a total of 20 electoral votes which were disputed from the states of Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina and Oregon. The Commission was to be composed of 15 members: five drawn from the U.S. House of Representatives, five from the U.S. Senate, and five from the U.S. Supreme Court. The majority party in each legislative chamber would get three seats on the Commission, and the minority party would get two. Both parties agreed to this arrangement because it was understood that the Commission would have seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and Davis, who was arguably the most trusted independent in the nation.
According to one historian, “[n]o one, perhaps not even Davis himself, knew which presidential candidate he preferred.” Just as the Electoral Commission Bill was passing Congress, the legislature of Illinois elected Davis to the Senate. Democrats in the Illinois Legislature believed that they had purchased Davis’ support by voting for him. However, they had made a miscalculation; instead of staying on the Supreme Court so that he could serve on the Commission, he promptly resigned as a Justice on March 4, 1877, in order to take his Senate seat. Because of this, Davis was unable to assume the spot, always intended for him, as one of the Supreme Court’s members of the Commission. His replacement on the Commission was Joseph Philo Bradley, a Republican, thus the Commission ended up with an 8-7 Republican majority. Each of the 20 disputed electoral votes was eventually awarded to Hayes, the Republican, by that same 8-7 majority; Hayes won the election, 185 electoral votes to 184. Had Davis been on the Commission, his would have been the deciding vote, and Tilden would have been elected president if Davis and the commission had awarded him even a single electoral vote.
Davis served only a single term as U.S. Senator from Illinois (1877-1883).In 1881, Davis’ renowned independence was again called upon. Upon the assassination of President James A. Garfield, Vice President Chester Arthur succeeded to the office of president. Per the terms of the Presidential Succession Act of 1792, which was still in effect, the President Pro Tempore of the Senate would be next in line for the presidency, should it again become vacant at any time in the 3½ years remaining in Garfield’s term. As the Senate was evenly divided between the parties, this posed the risk of deadlock. However, the presence of Davis provided an answer; despite being only a freshman Senator, the Senate elected Davis as President Pro Tempore. Davis was not a candidate for re-election. At the end of his term in 1883, he retired to his home in Bloomington. Davis died on June 26, 1886 and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington.
Tours and other information
Non-costumed guides conduct interpretive tours every half-hour between 9:00 am and 5:00 pm Wednesday-Sunday; each tour lasts 45 minutes. Specific themes of the tour include servant life, domestic life and technology at the dawn of the Industrial Age, family history, and Victorian architecture. Prior to the tour, a seventeen-minute video is shown which highlights Davis’ life and his connection with Lincoln. Tours are free, but suggested donations of $4/adult and $2/child are graciously accepted.
The Clover Lawn Museum Shop offers a variety of souvenirs and Lincoln items to take home. Among the items available in the shop are the Talking President Lincoln doll, mansion magnets, china teapots, period children’s toys and old-fashioned candles.
From November 3-20, the Mansion is providing a program entitled Blessings at the Table. Sarah Davis brought the traditional Thanksgiving celebration to Bloomington, and the mansion tour features the bountiful foods, family celebrations and charitable customs which were popular during her New England childhood. For more information about the Mansion’s other numerous events, people are asked to visit www.daviddavismansion.org or contact (309) 828-1084.