Speed, I’m moved!” — Abraham Lincoln, 1837
Lincoln and Joshua Fry Speed became friends on April 15, 1837. The story is a
familiar one. Young, lanky Lincoln rode into Springfield, Illinois,
with nothing more than his saddlebags. Inquiring at the general store about
lodging, Speed, a coproprietor (who knew him by reputation), offered to share
his bed with Lincoln—on
credit. In the few minutes it took to climb the stairs and drop his bags, Lincoln had made a new home
and a lifelong friend.
these Illinois Whigs hailed from Kentucky—but
from very different circumstances.
Joshua Speed, the younger of the two, was the son of Judge James and
Lucy (Fry) Speed. Raised at Farmington, the
family’s plantation estate near Louisville,
Joshua received a superb private education and a year at St.
Joseph’s Academy before moving to Springfield in 1835.
friendship with Joshua Speed flourished. Speed introduced his socially awkward
friend to Ninian and Elizabeth (Todd) Edwards—in whose home he met his future
wife, Mary Todd of Lexington.
Their most intense period of friendship culminated in the few weeks they spent
together at Farmington
in 1841. Soon after, Joshua returned to Louisville,
marrying Fannie Henning in 1842, and quickly becoming an active member of the
community. Both friends settled into careers, and correspondence lessened.
After a term in the state legislature during 1848-49, Speed and brother-in-law
William Henning soon formed a successful real estate partnership. A successful
businessman from 1853 to 1855, Speed also served as president of the Louisville, Cincinnati
& Lexington Railroad.
Speed was a Democrat. He disagreed with Lincoln
over slavery, stringently protested John C. Fremont’s proclamation of military
emancipation, and advised Lincoln
against issuing the Emancipation Proclamation. Yet, during the Civil War he
remained one of Lincoln’s
most loyal friends and an important Kentucky Unionist. Early on, he assisted in
the distribution of “Lincoln
guns.” Throughout the war, he kept Lincoln
abreast of the situation in Kentucky and made
numerous confidential trips to Washington.
Two weeks before Lincoln’s
assassination, Joshua Speed saw his friend one last time.
of The Filson Historical Society