Orville Browning



“We were beaten in this City & County yesterday, but the pain of our defeat was greatly mitigated by the news of this evening, giving assurance that we had carried the state, and that Lincoln was elected President.” — Orville Browning diary entry, Wednesday, November 7, 1860


Orville Browning was a native Kentuckian, a conservative Quincy, Illinois, lawyer, and loyal friend and esteemed critic of Abraham Lincoln.  Browning was born in Harrison County in 1806 and moved to Quincy in 1831 to begin his career as an attorney and his involvement in Illinois politics.  Browning and Lincoln first became acquainted in the mid-1830s in Vandalia, where they were both elected to the state legislature and while riding the circuit as aspiring young lawyers.  Browning, along with a group of colleagues, certified that Lincoln’s five-thousand-dollar bill for legal fees was reasonable when Lincoln had problems collecting that fee from the Illinois Central Railroad in 1856.  Browning and Lincoln owed their allegiance to the Whig Party and ultimately to the Republican Party upon its formation in 1855; Browning constructed the Illinois Republican Party platform in 1856.


When Lincoln stood for the presidency in 1860, Browning organized his nomination efforts, was an at-large delegate to the Chicago convention, and played an instrumental role in securing the nomination for Lincoln.  Browning continued to play an important role throughout Lincoln’s presidency, and he served as the interim senator from Illinois following the death of Stephen Douglas in 1861.  When Willie Lincoln was ill, Orville and his wife, Eliza, also an intimate friend of Lincoln, stayed at the White House day and night to help watch over him.  When the Illinois state legislature regained a Democratic majority in 1863, Browning was replaced as Illinois senator.  Browning returned to Washington, D.C., to open a law practice. Following the assassination of Lincoln in 1865, he became President Andrew Johnson’s secretary of the interior until Johnson’s term ended in 1869.


Orville Browning

Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division