IL Proud Penny Drive modeled after 1940s kids' campaign to help state get Gettysburg Address

In the early 1940s, at the suggestion of Illinois State Historical Library Trustee Oliver Barrett, school children around the state began a statewide campaign to help raise money to buy the “Everett copy” of President Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address from New York manuscript and rare books dealer Thomas Madigan. The fundraising drive was nicknamed “Nickell’s Nickels” after State Superintendent Vernon Nickell.

Children across the state were asked to make an average donation of 5 cents and were able to raise $50,000. Chicago department store heir Marshall Field III later donated the remaining $10,000 to purchase the historic document.

Following the example of the successful campaign in the 1940s, as part of the 2018 celebration of Illinois’ 200th Birthday, Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez and Illinois Bicentennial Board Commissioner Rikeesha Phelon came up with the idea of replicating the 1940s campaign to purchase an important document related to President Lincoln that the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum identified as significant.

The Minute Book of the Sangamon Court Circuit Court from July 6, 1835 to July 7, 1838 is a book that formally admitted Abraham Lincoln to the Illinois Bar. According to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, an Illinois law enacted in 1833 required prospective lawyers to “obtain a certificate procured from the court of an Illinois county certifying to the applicant’s good moral character.” This minute book officially attests to Lincoln receiving such certification with the Sangamon County Circuit Court. The book also records some of the earliest cases that Abraham Lincoln and his new law partner John Todd Stuart.