Joel Aldrich Matteson

Continuing on with the series on governors of the state of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to John Aldrich Matteson.  Born on August 2, 1808 in Watertown, New York, he had a varied career before he came to Illinois and entered politics.  Starting out as a school teacher in Brownsville, New York, he spent the years 1831-34 in South Carolina as foreman of the construction of the Charleston and Augusta railroad.  In 1834 he moved with his family to Illinois and started a farm in what is now Kendall County.  He engaged in land speculation and made a fair amount of money.  In 1838 he became a contractor on the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal.  Due to fiscal mismanagement, ever a besetting curse of the government of Illinois, the canal project was abandoned.  Buying 700 tons of scrap iron from the state, Matteson made a considerable profit reselling it, allowing him to pay off his debts from the canal project and left him several thousand dollars, a large sum of at that time, which he used to construct a woolen mill in Joliet, which grew to be a huge establishment, and made Matteson a very wealthy man.

In 1842 he got into politics, being elected to the state senate as a Democrat.   With his considerable business acumen, it was only natural that he serve as Chairman of the Finance Committee, and attracted positive attention by the way in which he discharged his duties.  With the reopening of the canal project, he once again became a contractor on it, and branched out into the construction of railroads, once again demonstrating that he had a Midas touch when it came to business.

Nominated by the Democrats in 1852 for governor, and was elected.  During his term in office, 1853-1858, Illinois saw the rapid growth of the Republican Party, and an ever growing battle over the question of slavery.  During his term, the Governor put himself forward as a candidate for the US Senate, being defeated in the legislature vote by Lyman Trumbull.  Illinois enjoyed boom times during his term, the taxable wealth of the state trebling,  a reduction of the public debt of Illinois by a third, and the railroad mileage in the state zooming from 400 to 3000.  Illinois began its system of public education while he was governor.

After his term in office he devoted himself to his successful business career, becoming President of the Chicago and Alton railroad and opened several banks at towns served by that railroad.  He died in Chicago on January 31, 1873.

Published in: on January 31, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Joel Aldrich Matteson  
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