Dr. William Jayne owed much of his political success to President Abraham Lincoln.
Jayne was certainly well-connected with the ambitious lawyer. William was Abraham’s personal physician and long-time political supporter. His sister, Julia, was a close friend of Mary Todd; she even stood as a bridesmaid in the Todd-Lincoln wedding. After winning the presidency, Lincoln did not forget those who had helped him along the way. Shortly after taking office, President Lincoln appointed Dr. Jayne as Dakota’s first territorial governor; a position that further launched Jayne into a temporary stint as Dakota’s Congressional delegate in Washington.
William Jayne was more than Lincoln’s political ally, he was also his friend. He worked throughout his later years to ensure the legacy of Abraham Lincoln; serving as president of the Lincoln Library in Springfield and a founding member of the Lincoln Centennial Association. Dr. Jayne also gave various presentations on his personal recollections, including one on this date, Lincoln’s Birthday, in 1907.
Speaking before the Daughters of the American Revolution at the Lincoln Home, Jayne warned his listeners that before long, all those who had personally known the President would no longer be alive. So, those who knew him should speak out so that future generations would also know the real Lincoln.
His address did not seek to recap the highlights of Lincoln’s life. Rather, he related “incidents which may seem small in themselves, but serve to show and illustrate the…character…of this pure, kind…and steadfast man.” He told the audience of Lincoln’s adoring relationship with his step-mother; in speaking of her he always called her his “angel mother.” He recounted the care both Abraham and Mary showed a sick neighbor; Mrs. Lincoln often nursed the neighbor’s child and Mr. Lincoln tenderly rocked the infant’s cradle until she was asleep.
Jayne also gave his audience insight into the moral convictions of the martyred President. He told of Lincoln’s journey to New Orleans where he witnessed a slave auction. Jayne explained, “A young female was placed on the block, as the auctioneer was calling for the highest bidder, man after man walked around the block, handling the girl, as you would feel the points and parts of a horse.” Lincoln walked away, boldly announcing “if I ever get a chance to hit the system of slavery, I will hit it…hard.”
Dakota Territory’s former governor closed the birthday address with a reminder that Lincoln’s ambition came from a desire, an expectation, to better his country. Because he did so, Dr. William Jayne closed, “in the world’s pantheon of heroes and martyrs, there will be graven by a cunning hand the name Abraham Lincoln.”
Written by Christina Sunwall
Jayne, Dr. William. "Personal Reminiscences of Abraham Lincoln." Delivered before the Springfield Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, February 12, 1907.
"Necrology: Dr. William Jayne." Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society 9, no. 1 (April 1916): 82-94.