March 25, 1846: Death of William Lee D. Ewing

Continuing on with my series on the Governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to the fifth Governor of the State, William Lee D. Ewing.  Born in Paris, Kentucky on August 31, 1795, he practiced law in Shawneetown, Illinois.  James Madison appointed him a land office receiver in Vandalia in 1820.  During the BlackHawk War he served as Colonel of the Spy Battalion, a scouting unit.  Abraham Lincoln served for a time in that unit.  In 1830 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives as a Democrat, previously having served as clerk of the House, and was immediately chosen as Speaker.  In 1832 he was elected to the State Senate and served as President Pro Tempore of that body.  In 1833 he was chosen as acting Lieutenant Governor of the state.  In 1834 upon the resignation of Governor Reynolds to take a seat in Congress, Ewing became Governor.  He served for two weeks until the newly elected governor could be sworn in.  This is the shortest gubernatorial term in the history of Illinois, and no doubt the most inconsequential.

Upon the death of Senator Elias Kane, Ewing was chosen to fill out his term.  He was unsuccessful in winning election to the Senate after Kane’s term expired,  and won election to the Illinois House later, serving once again as Speaker.  He died on March 25, 1846.

Published in: on March 25, 2022 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on March 25, 1846: Death of William Lee D. Ewing  
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Joseph Duncan

Continuing our review of the governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we have come to the sixth governor, Joseph Duncan.

Born on January 22, 1794 in Paris, Kentucky,  he enlisted in the Army at the outset of the War of 1812.  He served with the 17th Infantry throughout the War, being mustered out as a Lieutenant.  He settled in Illinois in 1818, the same year that Illinois was admitted into the Union.

Residing in Jackson County, Illinois, he began to purchase land in several counties in Illinois, and embarked upon a career in politics by being elected Justice of the Peace in Jackson County from 1821-23.  In 1824 he was elected to the State Senate.  While in the Senate he became Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs and helped draw up an act reorganizing the state militia.  In 1826 he was elected to the US House of Representatives in which he served until 1834.  He was a supporter of Andrew Jackson and helped organize the Democratic party in Illinois. (more…)

Published in: on January 23, 2022 at 5:23 am  Comments Off on Joseph Duncan  
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Governor Yates and the Copperheads


Richard Yates, Governor of Illinois from 1861-1865, was a formidable man, as demonstrated by the fact that during his term of office Illinois sent off a quarter of a million men to fight for the Union, the third most of all the States, in spite of the fact that copperhead sentiment was rife in southern Illinois throughout the War.

Born in Warsaw, Kentucky in 1815,  Yates moved with his family to Illinois in 1831.  A college graduate at a time when such was a rare accomplishment on the frontier, Yates began practicing law in Jacksonville, Illinois in 1837.  An anti-slavery Whig, Yates served in both the Illinois House and in Congress.

Elected the second Republican governor of Illinois, Yates’ term in office was dominated by the Civil War.  Hard times came to Illinois with the coming of the Civil War and the blocking of trade through Confederate controlled New Orleans.  Only 17 of 112 Illinois banks survived the creation of the Confederacy.  The deep economic recession gave impetus to the Democrats gaining control of the Constitutional Covnvention of 1862, which produced a document that limited the governor to a term of two years and gerrymandered electoral districts in favor of Democrats.  The Democrats overplayed their hand however, and the Copperhead Constitution of 1862 was rejected by the voters at the ballot box in a special June election held in 1862.  (more…)

Published in: on June 21, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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John Wood

Part of my continuing series on the governors of Illinois down the end of Reconstruction.  Born on December 20, 1798 in Moravia, New York.  Like so many of his generation, Wood headed west as soon as he reached adulthood.  He was the original pioneer for the city of Quincy, Illinois, building the first log cabin there in 1822 and being the first inhabitant.  Seven times mayor of Quincy, he also served in the Illinois State Senate from 1850-54.  William Bissell’s running mate in 1856, he was elected the first Republican Lieutenant Governor of Illinois.

When Bissell died in office in 1860, Bissell took over as Governor.  His brief ten month tenure was dominated by continuing investigations of the Illiniois-Michigan canal strip fraud, involving former Governor Joel B. Matteson, Illinois politics, then as now, being rife with dishonesty. (more…)

Published in: on October 16, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on John Wood  
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William Henry Bissell

Continuing on with our series on the Governors of Illinois, we come to William Henry Bissell, the eleventh governor of Illinois, and the first Republican governor.  Bissell was born on April 25, 1811 near the town of Painted Post in New York.  Studying medicine, he opened a practice in Monroe County in Illinois.  Eventually at the age of 30 he shifted careers from medicine to the law.  In 1840 he was elected to the state legislature as a Democrat.  Passing the bar he was appointed by the legislature as prosecuting attorney for the judicial circuit in which he lived.

During the Mexican War he was elected as Colonel of the Second Illinois infantry regiment and commanded that unit at the battle of Buena Vista.  He earned the praise of General Zachary Taylor that day:  “Colonel Bissell, the only surviving colonel of the three (Illinois) regiments, merits notice for his coolness and bravery on this occasion (Buena Vista).” (more…)

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. (more…)

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


Continuing on with our series on the Governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to the ninth Governor of Illinois, Augustus C. French.

Born on August 2, 1808 in New Hampshire, his father died when French was a child.  Eager to obtain an education, he attended Dartmouth College, but had to leave due to lack of funds.  He persisted in his studies on his own, and in 1823 French was admitted to the bar.

He settled initially in Albion in Edwards County in Illinois, but soon moved to Edgar Courthouse in Edgar County in Illinois.  Edgar Courthouse would soon be renamed Paris, and is the hometown of the author of this blog post.  French became a successful attorney, and raised his younger siblings after the death of his mother.

In 1837 he was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives.  Moving to Palestine in Crawford County, he became the Receiver of Public Monies for funds paid for the purchase of federal land in Illinois.

French was nominated by the Democrats for the governorship and won the office in the election of 1846. (more…)

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 5:59 am  Comments Off on Augustus C. French  
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Thomas Ford



Continuing on with our series on the governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to the eighth governor of Illinois, Thomas Ford. 

Ford was born on December 5, 1800 in Uniontown Pennsylvania.  His father dying, Ford’s mother settled with Ford and his siblings in 1804 in Illinois.  His older half brother was George Forquer who was born in 1794 and who eventually became a state senator and attorney general of Illinois before dying in 1837.  He assisted Thomas as a young lawyer and then judge.  Ford became a lawyer, eventually, after service in the Black Hawk War, serving as the states attorney in Western Illinois.  He was elected a state court judge in Northern Illinois in 1836.  He then served as a municipal judge in Chicago before becoming a state court judge again.  He became an associate Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court from 1841-42.  Ford had always been interested in politics and in 1842 he was elected Governor as a Democrat. 

Ford in office strove to repair the damage done to the finances of the State by the Internal Improvements Act which had effectively bankrupted Illinois.  Ford’s actions improved the fiscal situation for Illinois, although the debt from the Act would not  be paid completely until 1882. 

Ford’s administration is most notable for the Illinois Mormon War, a fascinating interlude in the history of Illinois which will eventually be covered in a separate post.  Ford was accused of collusion in the deaths of Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum Smith on June 27, 1844 when a mob stormed the Carthage jail where the Smiths were awaiting trial on treason charges against the State.  I do not think the evidence supports this accusation, but Ford clearly was completely ineffective in protecting Mormons from mob violence, and allowed a bad situation between Mormons and anti-Mormons to spiral out of control. (more…)

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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John Reynolds


Continuing on with my series on the Governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to the fourth Governor of the State, John Reynolds.  Born in Montgomery County Pennsylvania on February 26, 1788, his family moved to Kaskaskia in the Illinois territory in 1800.  From his family upbring Reynolds abstained from alcohol all of his life which made him something of a novelty among Illinois politicians.  He attended college for two years in Knoxville, Tennessee, and embarked upon the study of law but ill health forced him to return home.

He was admitted to the bar of the Illinois territory in the fall of 1812.  He enlisted in the Army as a private and served as a scout in battles against Indians during the War of 1812, rising to the rank of sergeant.  In Illinois politics his nickname as a result of this service was the “Old Ranger”.  Returning from the war, he opened a law office in Cahokia.

In 1818 he was appointed to the Illinois Supreme Court by the Illinois General Assembly.  He was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate that same year.  In 1826 he was elected to the Illinois House, quickly establishing himself as one of the foremost members in the State of Andrew Jackson’s newly formed Democrat party.  In the House he earned a reputation as not being a fierce partisan and a man who could work with members of all parties.

In 1830 he was elected Governor of the state.  He was a soldier Governor.  His term was dominated by the Black Hawk War, and he often personally assumed command in the field of the Illinois militia, including a then little known Abraham Lincoln.  President Jackson appointed him a Major General and authorized him to make treaties with the Indians.

Reynolds resigned as Governor on November 17, 1834 to take a seat in Congress.  Reynolds would continue to have an active political career for the remainder of his life, serving in both Congress and the Illinois House.  He died on May 8, 1865.

Published in: on March 15, 2010 at 5:38 am  Comments Off on John Reynolds  
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Ninian Edwards


Continuing with my series on the Governors of Illinois down to the end of Reconstruction, we come to Ninian Edwards, the third governor of Illinois.

Edwards was the most powerful politician in the State during his lifetime.  Born on March 17, 1775 in Montgomery County Maryland.  He rose to success in the new State of Tennessee, becoming Chief Justice of the State before he was 32.  After the Territory of Illinois was organized, Edwards was appointed by President Madison in 1809 to be Territorial Governor, a post he would occupy until 1818 when Illinois was admitted to the Union.  Edwards was immediately chosen by the Illinois Legislature to be a United States Senator.  He gave his full support to Governor Coles’ successful struggle in 1824 to keep Illinois a free state.

In 1824 he resigned from the Senate after President Monroe appointed him to be Minister to Mexico.  He never took up the post however because of allegations of corruption made against him by Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford.

To clear his name before the citizens of Illinois, Edwards ran for Governor and was elected in 1826.  During his term the Winnebago War was fought.  Relations with the Indians in Illinois and disputes over treaties dominated his term in office.  His popularity waning Edwards did not attempt to seek a second term.  In his last year in office Abraham Lincoln settled in Illinois.  Edwards ran for Congress in 1832, and for the only time in his political career was defeated.  He died of cholera on July 20,1833.  His son Ninian W. Edwards became a political associate and close friend of Abraham Lincoln.

Published in: on March 7, 2010 at 6:35 am  Comments Off on Ninian Edwards  
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