Nance Legins-Costley

Carl Adams, Lincoln Historian, Author

Click on the arrow below to listen to the remarks. Audio courtesy of WCBU-FM 89.9. A transcript is below the photo. All photos courtesy of the City of Peoria.

Good morning, and thank you all for coming. A slave girl named Nance stood on a dirt floor log cabin court. And the only thing she asked for was my personal liberty. The Founding Fathers couldn’t have said it any better. She was the only known African American who managed to get to any state Supreme Court three times. And when Lincoln took her case in July of 1841, he used the phrase, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist” three times – once for the Northwest Territory, second for the Illinois territory, third for the state of Illinois.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist.” He went on to use that phrase at least three more times. His precedent was passed on to the second Illinois constitutional convention; it became part of the Constitution in 1848. Then Lincoln once again used that same phrase, coincidentally enough on June 19th, 1862, when he signed the legislation abolishing slavery in all remaining US territories during the Civil War. And the third time he used it again, “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist” were the first words to his lasting legacy to the United States Constitution, the 13th Amendment, February 1, 1865.

And it all began with a slave girl named Nance Legins-Costley, buried in Peoria, Illinois. Thank you, and may God bless America.