Obama to be fourth president to address Illinois General Assembly

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When President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly next Wednesday, he will be the fourth president to talk to Illinois lawmakers in Springfield, according to the chief of the Illinois State Archives.

Other presidents have visited Springfield while in office – but only four – delivered speeches to a joint session.

The White House, in announcing Obama’s Springfield homecoming last week said in a statement, “Now, in the final year of his second term, the President looks forward to addressing the Illinois General Assembly on February 10th about what we can do, together, to build a better politics – one that reflects our better selves.”

Obama’s visit, coming nine years to the day that he announced his first presidential bid at the Old State Capitol, is extra-special, said David Joens, Director of the Illinois State Archives, “because he is a former member of the legislature.”

Obama was elected to the state Senate in 1996. He won election to Congress as a U.S. senator from Illinois in 2004.

Secretary of State Jesse White is also the state archivist, and the state archives is part of his operation.

Joens went through the indexes of more than 100 years of old Illinois General Assembly journals to determine other presidential visits – going back to former President James Buchanan, in office 1857-1861 and who was succeeded by Abraham Lincoln.

Though Lincoln was a former member of the Illinois House, he never came back as president to talk to his former colleagues. Lincoln’s tomb is not far from the State Capitol.

The rundown on Presidents who have addressed the Illinois General Assembly according to Joens:

*Obama, a former state senator, who went on to become a U.S. senator from Illinois and then the 44th president, on Feb. 10, 2016.

*Jimmy Carter addressed a joint session on May 26, 1978.

*Herbert Hoover on June 17, 1931.

*William Howard Taft on February 11, 1911.

Mark Sorensen, the retired Assistant Director of the Illinois State Archives and past president of the Illinois State Historical Society, dug out more presidential history for the Chicago Sun-Times:

*In June, 1842 President Martin Van Buren toured the Old State Capitol but did not speak to the General Assemble because they were not in session. On Thursday, June 16, 1842, the future President Lincoln, then a Whig member of the state legislature, went to a reception for Van Buren in Rochester and the next day went with him to nearby Springfield.


*President Teddy Roosevelt spoke in front of Lincoln’s home on July 4, 1903, the same day he dedicated Millikin University in Decatur. Roosevelt wascross country trip that year in his private train.


*A few days before the 1984 election, where President Ronald Reagan was seeking a second term, he spoke at a Reagan/Bush rally in Springfield. Sorensen said Reagan talked either from the East Capitol steps or out the south Capitol wing second floor mini balcony.

Joked Reagan, “it’s an honor to be back in the proud town of Springfield, your State capital and the home of Abraham Lincoln. Now, no matter what you may have heard, it isn’t true that I knew him personally.”


*President George H.W. Bush talked in the Capitol rotunda probably in 1989-90 and then had a private reception in then Secretary of State’s Jim Edgar’s office.

*President George W. Bush came to Springfield in April, 2005 to dedicate the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.

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