An 11-foot-tall bronze sculpture of a beardless Abraham Lincoln was unveiled on Saturday on Dayton’s Courthouse Square in front of Montgomery County’s historic Old Court House.
The statue depicts Lincoln before he became president and commemorates his speech in Dayton on the steps of the Old Court House on Sept. 17, 1859. It is the culmination of more than a decade of fundraising and work by the Lincoln Society of Dayton, which commissioned the sculpture using $250,000 in contributions.
Society founder Thomas C. Cecil said it “feels good” to see the results of such a long effort to memorialize what he called “a good part of Dayton history.”
Sculptor Michael Major of Urbana called it the “highlight” of his career as an artist.
“I think so much of Lincoln. He is the epitome of what the American spirit is capable of,” Major said.
“Imagine placing and sculpting the face, the hands, the complete figure of Abraham Lincoln,” Major said to the crowd. “The sensation is one of seeing him come back to life as the blocks of soft clay are warmed by your hands and pressed into place.”
Lincoln, the first Republican president, came to Dayton and spoke to a few hundred people during a tour of Ohio in 1859 after his loss to Democrat Stephen A. Douglas in their bitter U.S. Senate campaign. Those speeches, laying out Lincoln’s arguments against slavery, are credited with helping win him his party’s nomination for president, said historian Harold Holzer of New York, who spoke during Saturday’s ceremony.
Lincoln was elected in 1860 and shepherded the union through the long battle over slavery and states rights in the Civil War before being assassinated in April 1865, less than a week after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House in Virginia.
A variety of state and local officials attended the event. Former Ohio Gov. Bob Taft, who now teaches political science at the University of Dayton, said getting such an impressive sculpture for downtown is a tremendous achievement.
“He symbolizes a united and free country, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” Taft said. “The man and the moment coincided.”