SALINE COUNTY -- Saline County received a portrait of Abraham Lincoln Tuesday afternoon at the county courthouse.
That's not unique -- thanks to donations from the Illinois Judges Association and the Illinois Bar Association, along with their respective foundations, each of the state's 102 counties has received or will receive a copy of the famous Alexander Hesler portrait, taken on June 3, 1860 for Lincoln's 1860 run at the presidency.
The glass-plate positives used to print the Lincoln portrait are owned by the Illinois State Historical Society, which has partnered with the judges and bar associations and led the push to put the portraits in each county courtroom to commemorate the state's bicentennial.
What makes the portrait special to Saline County, however, is our unique relationship to Lincoln.
Gillum Ferguson of Harrisburg, a former U.S. attorney from northern Illinois and a local historian, explained that Saline County originally was part of Gallatin County, with Old Shawneetown as the county seat.
At the time, Old Shawneetown was Illinois largest city and commercial center.
However, because Equality was geographically closer to the center of the county, in 1826 the county seat was moved there. And in 1847, Saline County was created from the western half of Gallatin County.
Not everybody was happy, however.
A state representative who wanted Gallatin's county seat returned to Old Shawneetown was able to eventually get the Illinois legislature to vote to dissolve Saline and Gallatin counties, with the intent of reforming them back together as Gallatin County and moving the seat away from Equality.
The three-member Saline County Board fought back. In a 2-1 vote, the board voted to seek legal means to prevent their county from being dissolved.
They hired a young, successful attorney from Springfield, Abraham Lincoln, to represent Saline County.
Ferguson said the case eventually found its way to the Illinois Supreme Court, where Lincoln prevailed and Saline County remained intact.
Meanwhile, in emceeing Tuesday's ceremony, Judge Walden Morris made note that it was 17 years to the day since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the U.S.
"Our country has become sharply divided since that time," Morris said.
He said it is his hope, and that of the judges association and bar association, that by reflecting on the division within the country brought by the American Civil War and our subsequent reunification as a nation, the U.S. today can find its way back to a state of greater unity and dignity.