As a former member of the board of directors of the Abraham Lincoln Association as well as a researcher, I’ve visited Springfield, Illinois, many times since I first stopped by Roger Bridges’s office in March 1985. As part of my position I’ve had dealings with The Papers of Abraham Lincoln under various editors (in fact, in 1985 I was contacted about heading a Lincoln legal papers project in Springfield, but that job went to a far more capable editor; it was the forerunner of the current project). Just last month the project announced that it had secured a valuable grant to assist in its operations.
Thus it was with some surprise that I read that the project may have become a pawn in various political disputes (although, truth be told, even in 1985 I understood that any such project would have some political strings attached).
At this time the reports coming out of Springfield conflict. At first there was a story that Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner was going to shut the project down, period. That soon was slightly modified to a claim that what was at stake was the status of a dozen employees who were part of an agreement between the papers and the University of Illinois at Springfield. At the same time, readers gathered that there was going to be an investigation of various financial arrangements because the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency wasn’t quite sure what was going on, which may say more about the poor oversight exercised by the IHPA than it does about any alleged financial improprieties (which strikes me as nonsense from what I know). You can sense the exasperation in the comments of Bob Lenz, former president of the Abraham Lincoln Association, who is a rather smart fellow.
Let’s just say that Illinois politics, especially in Springfield, have always been troubling and entertaining at the same time, and never more so than when it comes to matters of interest to historians. It will be interesting to see whether certain bureaucrats will set their petty power games aside and let the project do its work under proper supervision.