Lincoln statue
A statue of Abraham Lincoln stands outside the west entrance to Nebraska's State Capitol in Lincoln, but the Capital City bears the slain president's name because a political ploy failed. In 1999 file photo, Civil War reenacters celebrate Lincoln's birthday. Lincoln's Lincoln was sculpted by Daniel Chester French, who collaborated with architect Henry Bacon to provide the statue's setting. French and Bacon are most famous for their work on the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. (WILLIAM LAUER / Lincoln Journal Star file photo)

At least three dozen counties, towns and cities are named after the man who brought the nation back together.

And while most places were named to honor one of the country's most revered presidents, Lincoln, Neb., had a more backhanded way of "honoring" him.

In fact, some politicians attempted to use Lincoln's name as a way to dissuade constituents from moving the capital from Omaha, which had been the territorial government seat since 1854.

The story has been chronicled on the Nebraska State Historical Society's website and in books by historian Jim McKee, including his latest, "Visions of Lincoln: Nebraska's Capital City in the Present, Past and Future."

Territorial Gov. Thomas Cuming hailed from Council Bluffs, Iowa, across the Missouri River from Omaha, and was a strong proponent of keeping the capital in Omaha.

But nearly twice the number of people lived south of the Platte River and thought the capital should be closer to the center of the population.

Tempers flared as residents south of the Platte felt they weren't fairly treated and lacked proper representation in the Legislature.

For nearly 13 years, a fierce struggle raged over the location of the capital, and by 1867 a group launched an initiative to move it.

During the last territorial legislature, the battles flared so hotly that at one point fists and guns were brandished and south Platters talked of seceding and joining Kansas.

When the issue came to a vote, there was little protest for removal from northerners -- except for one Omaha senator.

Sen. J.N.H. Patrick made a last-ditch attempt to keep the capital in his city by proposing a different name for the new seat of government.

Legislators had planned to call the new capital "Capital City." But citing the name as "inexplicably clumsy and ugly," Patrick proposed it be changed to "Lincoln" after the deceased president.

He thought the promoter of the bill for a new capital -- Sen. Mills Reeves of Nebraska City, a former slaveholder and vocal opponent of Lincoln -- would be rattled by this change and oppose his own bill.

Reeves was said to have "disliked the name of Lincoln more than Satan himself," according to first-hand accounts.

Surprisingly, Reeves not only took no offense but even seconded Patrick's motion and the bill passed.

The village of Lancaster, founded in 1856, was chosen out of three potential locations for the new capital and was renamed Lincoln.

"It's definitely a unique situation," says McKee. "Everyone assumes it was a great honor, but it was a political trick that backfired.

"If you asked 1,000 people, they'd all say it's in honor of Lincoln -- but that's only half the truth."

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Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120 or jpascale@journalstar.com.

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