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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Nauvoo Legion



Without a doubt, the strangest portion of Illinois history is the sojourn of the Mormons under Joseph Smith at Nauvoo.  From 1840-1844 the Mormons developed Nauvoo from a small hamlet called Commerce along the Mississippi River in Hancock County into one of the largest cities in Illinois, with a population of 12,000, rivaling Chicago.  Although the stay of the Mormons under Smith in Illinois would eventually end in tragedy, with the murder of Joseph Smith in 1844 at the hands of an anti-Mormon mob, and the Mormons leaving the state in 1845-1846 on their epic trek to build their Zion along the shores of the Great Salt Lake, the Mormons were initially treated hospitably by the State legislature.  The legislature granted the city of Nauvoo a charter, and authorized the formation of a state militia unit at Nauvoo.

The Mormons, understandably considering the violence they had faced in Missouri in the 1830s, wasted no time in setting up the militia unit, calling it the Nauvoo Legion.  Well armed and well uniformed, with Joseph Smith, of course, leading it as Lieutenant General, the Nauvoo Legion became a showpiece unit of the state militia, attracting non-Mormons to enlist in its ranks.  At its height, the Legion had 5000 men. (more…)

Published in: on February 1, 2021 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Nauvoo Legion  
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Patriot Priest

Born in Montreal on April 7, 1737,  Pierre Gibault early in life decided that he wished to be a Jesuit missionary priest.  Ordained on March 18, 1768, he was appointed by the Archbishop of Quebec to be the Vicar General of the Illinois country.  Father Gibault arrived in Kaskaskia in Illinois on September 8, 1768.  His flock consisted of French settlers, Indian converts, and members of the 18th Royal Irish Regiment who were temporarily stationed there.

As Vicar General of Illinois, Father Gibault had responsibility for a huge expanse of territory making up modern day Illinois and Indiana, very sparsely populated and with vast distances between the main settlements of Kaskaskia, Vincennes, Cahokia, Peoria, Saint Genevieve, Quiatenon and Saint Joseph.  When he first arrived in Vincennes, the local inhabitants, desperate for a priest, greeted him with the cry, “Save us Father;  we are nearly in Hell!”  The territory was quite dangerous, and as Father Gibault rode the circuit, he always carried with him a musket and two pistols.

Father Gibault toiled away at his frontier outposts until history intervened in the form of George Rogers Clark who led a force of Virginians in 1778 to conquer the Illinois from the British during the American Revolution.  After Clark and his men arrived in Kaskaskia, Father Gibault had a meeting with Clark in which he said that he supported the American cause, but that he wanted assurances that the Catholic faith would be respected by Clark and his men.  Clark told the priest that freedom of religion was enshrined in Virginia law, and he also advised Father Gibault of the treaty between France and America. (more…)

Published in: on May 20, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Patriot Priest  
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Interview With Senator Everett M. Dirksen

An interview with Senator Everett McKinley Dirksen, Republican from Illinois, first broadcast on May 7, 1952.  One of the great orators of his day, he was known by supporters and detractors as “The Wizard of Ooze”.  A World War I veteran, serving as a Second Lieutenant in an artillery battery, he got his start in politics in his hometown of Pekin, Illinois as commissioner of public finance.  He won a Congressional seat in 1932, a very bad year for Republicans, and entered the House, serving there until 1950, when he was elected to the Senate, where he served until his death in 1969.

Dirksen was a reliable conservative on economic issues and a strong advocate for civil rights for blacks.  He was a hawk on foreign policy.  When the Supreme Court banned prayer in schools, he sponsored a constitutional amendment to overturn the decision.  (more…)

Published in: on September 16, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Interview With Senator Everett M. Dirksen  
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Murder of Elijah Lovejoy

My home state of Illinois has a colorful, and not infrequently tragic, history.  An example of both is the murder of abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy.  Born on November 9, 1802 in Maine, Lovejoy became a Presbyterian minister.  Publisher of The Observer newspaper, he was anti-Jackson and anti-slavery, neither of which were popular stances in Missouri in the 1830s.  After pro-slavery mobs destroyed his press for the third time, he moved his newspaper across the Mississippi to Alton, Illinois.  Illinois was a free state, and presumably Lovejoy thought it would be safe to publish an anti-slavery newspaper there.  Unfortunately Alton had been largely settled by Southerners and was a center of pro-slavery sentiment in Illinois.

On November 7, 1837, a pro-slavery mob destroyed Lovejoy’s press.  Lovejoy attempted to stop the destruction and was gunned down and killed by the mob.  The mob through his printing press in the river.  A prosecution was attempted for the murder, but none of the murderers were convicted.  The murder of Lovejoy deeply moved 28 year old Illinois state representative Abraham Lincoln.  In a speech entitled On the Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions given by Lincoln to the Young Mens’ Lyceum in Springfield on January 27, 1838, Lincoln condemned mob violence.  The Lovejoy murder was all the talk of Illinois, so his listeners knew what Lincoln was referring to when he said:

Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last. By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual. At such a time and under such circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition will not be wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric, which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope, of the lovers of freedom, throughout the world.

Elijah Lovejoy’s brother Owen was also an abolitionist, and became a close friend and political ally of Lincoln.  He was elected to Congress from Illinois in 1856 and served in Congress until his death in 1864.

Five days before his death, Elijah Lovejoy made a speech in Alton, Illinois.  This passage should be remembered by all friends of human freedom: (more…)

Published in: on June 10, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (2)  
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Illinois Manpower in the Civil War

When you heard your country calling, Illinois, Illinois,

Where the shot and shell were falling, Illinois, Illinois,

When the Southern host withdrew, Pitting Gray against the Blue,

 There were none more brave than you, Illinois, Illinois,

There were none more brave than you, Illinois.

Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,

Can be writ the nation’s glory, Illinois, Illinois,

On the record of thy years, Abraham Lincoln’s name appears,

 Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,

 Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois.

From the State Song of Illinois

Lincoln’s home state of Illinois played a pivotal role in the Civil War.  Geography helped cause this.  With a western border consisting entirely of the Mississippi River for 581 miles, Illinois was obviously going to be pivotal in any fight for control of The Father of the Waters.  Illinois also was adjacent to two border states, Kentucky and Missouri, control of which were critical for the Union war effort.  However, it was the number of troops contributed by Illinois that was striking in regard to the participation of Illinois in the War. (more…)

Published in: on January 9, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Illinois Manpower in the Civil War  
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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…)

Illinois Apology to Mormons

A follow up to my post on the Nauvoo Legion.  In 2004 the Illinois General Assembly passed a resolution apologizing to Mormons for the conflicts between Mormons and non-Mormons leading up to the death of Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844.  I am rather dubious about such apologies.  Apologizing for the actions of others from long ago I think has little practical utility, especially when the apology costs nothing.  If one were cynical, and frankly as a life long resident of Illinois, it is hard not to be cynical about virtually any action of the state government in the Land of Lincoln, one might suspect that the apology has more to do with fostering Mormon tourism, as indicated in the above video,  at Nauvoo and surrounding regions, than in righting an historical wrong, especially when the average legislator in the General Assembly would have a depth of historical knowledge little greater than that possessed by the average ward boss in Chicago.  Be that as it may, here is the text of the resolution: (more…)

Published in: on August 14, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments (1)  
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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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