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Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Democracy

By Louise W. Knight | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
SELF-RELIANCE
1822–60

In Cedarville, Illinois, within view of a creek winding through a sunken glade, Jane Addams was born on September 6, 1860. It was late summer in northern Illinois, a time when the windows were open to catch the breeze, the grain was ripe in the fields, and the apple trees in the family orchard were laden with fruit destined for cider and pies.

Yet distant events had brought foreboding to this peaceful place. The experiment of practicing slavery in a nation committed to individual freedom was proving untenable by slow degrees and had at last produced a fiercely polarized nation. Many southern states had threatened to leave the Union if Abraham Lincoln, the Republican presidential candidate who opposed extending slavery into the territories, was elected.

Jane Addams's father, John Huy Addams, was a friend and great admirer of Lincoln. He hung three pictures of him in his house and saved the letters he received from his hand. Their paths had crossed by way of politics. Both were Whigs, and then Republicans, and both had served in the Illinois state senate, although at different times. Addams came to elected office as Lincoln came to the presidency, because of slavery, and during the Civil War they both continued to oppose it. Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing the slaves of the Confederate states. John Addams fought in the state senate to keep Illinois in the Union and, as a conductor in the Underground Railroad, sheltered African Americans escaping slavery.

As Jane Addams grew up and for the rest of her life, these two men were closely associated in her mind with the duty to relate to all people sympathetically. Her father, she observed in 1924, brought up his children in the belief that Lincoln's “kindliness and understanding of all men, including his enemies, "was" the highest point of civilization.”1 Jane Addams believed that her life was inspired by her father's and Lincoln's examples. In her 1910 memoir she gave them nearly equal places of honor. John

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