Political Pot Bubblings
SIX weeks after the passage of the seat of government act the young New Salem law maker who had steered it through the legislature packed his scanty belong|ings in his saddle bags, rode into Springfield and ar|ranged with Joshua Speed to share the latter's room above his store. On the same day the Sangamo Journal announced the formation of a new law partnership, John T. Stuart and A. Lincoln.
Although Lincoln, more than any other individual, was responsible for Springfield's new-found glory, the first weeks in his new home were depressing ones. The "flourishing about in carriages" which he noticed deepened his dejection at his own poverty and made him painfully sensitive of his social shortcomings. Three weeks after his arrival he moodily summed up his feelings: "This thing of living in Springfield is rather a dull business, after all; at least it is to me. I am quite as lonesome here as I ever was anywhere in my life. I have been spoken to by but one woman since I have been here, and should not have been by her if she could have avoided it. I've never been to church yet, and probably shall not be soon. I stay away because I am con|scious I should not know how to behave myself."
But the mood soon passed. Within a short time the polit|ical pot was bubbling briskly. In stirring it Lincoln found an absorbing occupation, found also congenial friends and a Page 60 number of not-unworthy opponents.
In Sangamon County, as in the state as a whole, politics were nearing the end of an epoch in 1837. It was an epoch in which political parties, in the modern sense, had not ex|isted. To be sure, men favored Jackson or Clay for the Presidency, called themselves Jackson men or Clay men and held meetings to further the cause of their favorite candidate, but that was about the limit of party organiza|tion. When a man wanted to run for the legislature, for instance, he either announced his candidacy or inspired a group of friends to call upon him to run. In the campaign which followed, the party label played no part. The candidate made no mention of his Jacksonism or anti-Jacksonism, but counted on personal popularity or persuasiveness in advocat|ing internal improvement or usury laws to bring him success.
That is not to say that political campaigns were genteel, colorless canvasses. Frequently they were anything but that. When a man relied on personal popularity to bring him office, it was natural that his opponents should direct their attacks at his character and personal habits. And when per|sonalities entered, there was no limit to insult and vitupera|tion.
Consider, for instance, the congressional campaign of 1834. The contestants for representative from the third district, which included nearly half the state, were William L. May of Springfield and Benjamin Mills of Peoria, both Jacksonians. The campaign was calm enough until six weeks before the election, when a writer using the signature of "Illinois" opened fire in the Jacksonville Patriot. May, he charged, was morally unfit for office. During a previous residence in Edwardsville he had been indicted for burglary and had escaped conviction only by inducing the complaining witness to leave the state. Moreover, in 1825 he had seduced a woman living in Greene County, had promised to pay her $200, and then had bought her off for an old horse and a Page 61 side saddle, representing that they were his only possessions.
May replied in the Sangamo Journal, paying for the space at advertising rates. He frankly admitted the seduction, but brought forth evidence to prove that he had dealt fairly with the woman. For the burglary indictment he had a neat explanation. It was secured under a misapprehension of the facts. True, he had been caught in a house in the middle of the night, but he had been there at the invitation of a woman of the household for the purpose of illicit intercourse, not robbery. When the truth was ascertained, the prosecution was dropped. "I have freely acknowledged," he asserted, "that in youth, and in early manhood I have committed many follies and indiscretions, and have been led by an ardent temperament to do what I have long and sincerely regretted, and for which I trusted I had long since made some atone|ment by an upright moral deportment before my fellow citizens."
May's complacency stung his opponents. "Yes, you were a boy," their representative, now calling himself "Agricola," retorted, "—a hot-blood mettlesome boy, just about ar|rived at the tender and innocent age of thirty, before the experience of years had taught you courage and discretion, just as the piping treble of your voice was deepening into manly bass and the tardy down began to adorn your chin." The "burglarly" incident was embellished. It was asserted that while he lived at Edwardsville May had fallen into such disrepute that all his friends but one had cast him off. That one was the man whose home he had entered; the woman in the case was his friend's wife. Thus to the offense itself was added the obloquy of betraying a friend and destroying his home.
Making no attempt at denial, May counter-attacked with a roar of vituperation. "Who is this 'Agricola'"? he de|manded. "Some puling, sentimental, he old maid! whose cold liver and pulseless heart, never felt a desire which could Page 62 be tempted, except for getting money, for fawning on the great and feasting his malice on slander and detraction, who fawns, flutters, lies and cheats, and
Soon, however, other considerations than personal ones were to be deciding factors in even the most unimportant elections. The Jackson men, calling themselves Democrats, were building a party organization on lines which have en|dured to this day. Its central feature was the convention— the meeting of party representatives in which the party creed was stated and candidates selected. With the convention came a new conception, that of party regularity. Henceforth independence of thought and action were to be incompatible with good standing in the organization. The lay member of the party must vote only for the candidates selected by the convention; the candidate must subordinate his own opinions to the principles stated by the convention; the office holder must carry out only the measures approved by the convention. To violate these rules meant sacrifice of party membership.
In Springfield and Sangamon County there was lively op|position before the convention system was firmly established. The presidential campaign of 1836 was the occasion for the first test. It began early, eighteen months before the election, when Martin Van Buren was nominated by a con|vention held in Baltimore. Many Democrats whose Jack|sonism could hardly be questioned refused to acquiesce in the nomination and came out in support of Hugh L. White of Tennessee, behind whom the old Clay-Adams following Page 63 was reluctantly rallying. In so doing, they claimed the right of independent judgment, asserting not only that they were original Jackson men, but that their candidate represented the fundamental principles of Jacksonism better than the old General himself, who had wavered sadly in his old age. These were the men who drew the heaviest fire from the Van Buren supporters. Archer G. Herndon, most prominent among them, was singled out for particular attack. The Illinois Republican, newly founded Democratic paper, pointed battery after battery at him, but all to no purpose. In August, 1835, he was elected to the state senate over his opponent, John Calhoun, by a sizable majority.
To the anti-Jackson men, now beginning to call themselves Whigs, the convention system and its attendant doctrine of party regularity were hateful heresies. When, in the spring of 1836, the central group of Springfield Democrats picked a legislative ticket instead of waiting for individuals to an|nounce their candidacies, the Sangamo Journal voiced the attitude of the opposition. "Heretofore the voters of this County have been accustomed to vote as they please," said the editor. "There are but few individuals here who have not, time and again, supported candidates of both parties; but this will be no longer permitted to Van Buren men. They must give up their private judgment—and be led up to the polls by a twine through the gristle of the proboscis. So says the caucus." No less reprehensible was the effort to ex|tend party discipline to the presidential election. "The political contest in this State," said the Journal, "is between the friends of Judge White and Martin Van Buren. Jack|sonism or Clayism has not, justly, anything to do with the matter."
Nevertheless, the organization of the Democratic party proceeded steadily. Impetus was given to it late in the cam|paign, when a movement for the election of William Henry Harrison gathered considerable force. In Illinois, where Page 64 White had never been a popular candidate, Harrison's name attracted many. Before long it was proposed that the anti-Jackson electors should cast their ballots for the man re|ceiving the largest popular vote, White or Harrison. Since there could be no doubt of Harrison's affiliations—he had been a consistent opponent of Jackson—the recalcitrant Democrats who had clung to White were left out on the end of the limb.
The result of the campaign, in which Van Buren, un|popular though he was, carried the state by a safe majority, was a general clarification of the political atmosphere. Faced with the necessity of supporting the convention system and Van Buren on the one hand, or of opposing the system only to contribute to Harrison's election on the other, most of the independent Democrats surrendered their prejudices and reunited with their old associates. In so doing they gave greater unity to the Whig ranks, and at the same time car|ried to the opposition leaders the conviction that closer or|ganization was essential unless they were willing to remain permanently out of office.
By early 1837, when Lincoln came to Springfield, local political lines were pretty clearly drawn. Moreover, within each party a small central group was in control. The nominal head of the Democracy was William L. May, the congress|man, but actual leadership rested with George Forquer, long a lieutenant of Ninian Edwards, and only recently,—since 1834—a Jackson supporter. In John Calhoun, Forquer had a trusted supporter. Schoolteacher, lawyer, surveyor, Cal|houn was a man of excellent mind and a political debater second only to Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas himself joined the group in April, 1837, when he took office as register of the Springfield land office. In spite of his youth—he was only twenty-four—he was already a power. Upon Forquer's death in 1838, and May's subsequent defection to Whiggery, he became the dominant figure in the Springfield clique.
Page 65Prominent among the Whigs were a number of native Kentuckians: John T. Stuart, handsome, courtly, a skillful political manipulator; Stephen T. Logan, small, eccentric, already a leading lawyer; Ninian W. Edwards, cold, re|served, distrustful of democracy; and William Butler, re|puted to be the canniest political forecaster in the county. Active also were Edward D. Baker and Anson G. Henry. Baker, a native Englishman who had lived in Springfield since 1835, was known both for his egotism and his oratorical ability. Henry, a physician, was a fiery fighter with a capacity for making two bitter enemies for each warm friend. In temporary alliance was Archer G. Herndon, a hot-headed Virginian and one of the old settlers, who was soon to re|turn to his original affiliation with the Democrats.
Each party had its newspaper. The Sangamo Journal, with Simeon Francis as editor, was the Whig organ; the Illinois Republican, under George R. Weber, was Demo|cratic. In 1839 it consolidated with William Walters' Illinois State Register and People's Advocate of Vandalia, which followed the seat of government to Springfield, and was thereafter known as the Illinois State Register.
In the spring of 1837 an era of good feeling in local politics was coming to an end. For months a tacit truce had been in effect—the struggle to secure the capital for Spring|field had required the united effort of all. Now that that was over, the good feeling which success had generated was wearing off. Both Whigs and Democrats were beginning to itch for a fight.
An election for several county officials furnished the oc|casion. Among the places to be filled was that of probate justice of the peace—the forerunner of the modern probate judge. The office itself was of no great importance, but when the Whigs put up A. G. Henry as a candidate, one of the bitterest personal and political fights that Springfield has ever witnessed was precipitated.
Page 66Henry—one of those positive individuals to whOm men cannot long remain indifferent—was a gad-fly to the Demo|crats. Since settling in Springfield he had taken an active part in politics, and more than once his stinging articles in the Journal had brought blood. When he was rewarded by an appointment as one of the three commissioners to superin|tend the construction of the new state house, his political opponents were angered. When he became a candidate for the probate justiceship they determined to administer a spanking defeat.
At first the usual charges and counter-charges were handed back and forth, but in mid-June the Democrats opened up in earnest with an attack in the Republican. Henry, it was charged, had been appointed State House Commissioner on account of the "dirty work" he had done for the Whigs, and now the people were paying the price. To pay $700, as he had done, for the removal of the court house was absurd— $160 would have been ample. "The people are paying dear for the services of a desperate, reckless adventurer to write for the Journal," said the editor. "At the rate he is progress|ing, it is probable that the $50,000 the people of this town have to pay, will about pay the expense of the foundation, and the Building itself will not cost the State more than $500,000, if A. G. Henry is allowed to superintend it."
The Whigs countered effectively. The Journal charged that the Republican's article was inspired by partisan malice; Henry called a public meeting and asked that his conduct be investigated. John T. Stuart was elected chairman and Robert Allen, a Democrat, secretary. Lincoln offered a resolution providing for an investigating committee, bi-partisan in make-up, which soon published a report in which Henry was entirely vindicated.
From the Democratic standpoint the Henry episode was a bad tactical error. Papers in towns jealous of Springfield pounced on the charge of extravagance, and called for Page 67 repeal of the capital law. The Whigs saw their opportunity and seized it at once. The Republican and its supporters were traitors, enemies of Sangamon who would strike at the heart of their city for partisan advantage. Elect John Cal|houn to the seat in the house which Dan Stone had re|signed?—John Calhoun, "the candidate of those who bear a deadly hate to our County?" Never I On the first of July E. D. Baker won an easy victory.
Meanwhile, there had been other developments. Garret Elkin, the sheriff, had cancelled his subscription to the Republican when the article on Henry appeared. The Re|publican retaliated by printing some uncomplimentary re|marks about Elkin. Elkin demanded the author's name, and when it was refused, took out his spleen on George R. Weber, the editor, with a horsewhip. As soon as Weber's brother learned what had happened he armed himself with a knife, found Elkin and a friend named Cutright and stabbed them both. Attackers and attacked were placed under ar|rest, but the newspaper war continued until the following notice, addressed to John B. Weber, appeared in the Journal: "Sir: In the last Republican you have made false statements about myself. You state, too, that you will maintain those statements 'any where and in any way.' I fully understand this information; and now inform you that your proposi|tion is accepted. Call on me either personally or otherwise and the proper arrangements shall be made. It will soon be seen whether your 'honor' is a more valuable material than your 'statement of facts.' D. Cutright." Weber declined the challenge.
If the Whigs had been content to let the Democrats flounder In the unpopularity their state house charges had brought them, all would have been well. But that was a tame procedure for a group of mettlesome young politicians. James Adams, Henry's opponent, was too vulnerable a target to be neglected. Three days after the Republican had Page 68 opened on Henry, the Journal printed a short letter signed "Sampson's Ghost." If the truth were known, the writer intimated, Adams would stand revealed as the author of the attack on Henry. But let him be careful. "Before he assails the conduct of other men, he should take a retrospective view of his own conduct—official as well as private. He must know that his own house stands upon disputed ground."
For six consecutive weeks communications from Samp|son's Ghost—the shade of a man named Sampson who had once owned the land on which Adams lived—appeared in the Journal. With each letter the insinuations became more pointed, in spite of Adams' vehement denials and charges of persecution. Two weeks before the election, which was to be held on August 7th, the Ghost became explicit. "I must again ask you to give some account of your trade with me," he wrote, as if addressing Adams, "—how you came to take advantage of me and draw from me a lease of two lots for ten years, for the great consideration of ten dollars—so as to place beyond my control for ten years, two lots, which I had purchased for my own especial benefit. I must also, again, ask you to refer me to some of the respectable citizens of Springfield who knew of that lease, before I can believe that I could have been so crazy as to give you such a lease, I wish to leave my memory purged from the charge of in|sanity."
The next week Sampson's Ghost added a second charge. "There is another subject which the People wish to under|stand," he wrote. "I allude to the case of Joseph Anderson. You are aware that a lot of land of ten acres, or thereabouts, which appears to be deeded to you on the Record Books of this county, is claimed by the heirs of the said Joseph Ander|son—that they have brought a suit against you in the Circuit Court of this County for the said land."
Just before the election a long hand bill on the Anderson land emanated from the press of the Sangamo Journal. Ad|dressed Page 69 to the public, the author gave as reasons for issuing it the existence of "considerable excitement" in regard to certain of Adams' land titles, and the assertion of the General that "the whole has been gotten up by a knot of lawyers to injure his election." The hand bill was unsigned, but the Journal editor was authorized to give the writer's name to anyone who might request it. Lincoln was quickly revealed as the author.
According to Lincoln's statement, the widow and son of one Joseph Anderson had come to Springfield in the spring of 1837 to sell a ten acre lot of ground which they claimed as the property of the deceased husband and father. Find|ing the land claimed by General Adams, they had retained Stuart and Lincoln to start suit for its recovery. Lincoln at once commenced an examination of Adams' title. Discov|ering a flaw in the record, he asked Talbott, the recorder, to get the original papers from Adams. Talbott complied, found that the flaw was only a copyist's error and took the original deed to Lincoln. When Lincoln unfolded it a paper fell out. It was an assignment of a judgment by Anderson to Adams—a necessary link in the latter's title. Yet it was dated several months prior to the date of the judgment, it was in Adams' hand-writing, and it appeared to be freshly written. Lincoln concluded—although he stopped short of making the explicit charge—that Adams had forged it.
The election followed before Adams and the Democrats had time to circulate a reply. The Whigs, however, had over|shot. To many people Adams was the object of a persistent persecution. As a consequence, he received 1025 votes to 792 cast for Henry.
The Whigs were bitterly disappointed. Some of them, however, were able to laugh at one of Lincoln's stories which was going the rounds. Several years ago, Lincoln said, he had been traveling to Springfield when he met a resident of the place who was going in the opposite direction.
Page 70"Good evening, friend," said Lincoln; "how far is it to Springfield?"
"Well, I guess it's about five miles," the other answered.
"Are you just from there?"
"What's the news there?" Lincoln asked.
"Well," the Springfielder replied, "there's nothing of any account but a sad accident that happened the other day— you don't know Gineral Adams?—Well, the Gineral went to stoop down to pick some blackberries, and John Taylor's calf gave him a butt right—"
"You don't say so! And did the General die?"
"No, by God, but the calf did!"
In years to come malicious Democrats might have turned Lincoln's story against himself, for, while he escaped the sad fate of John Taylor's calf, he failed to make any impres|sion on the General's popularity. The Whig lawyers, con|vinced that Adams was a malefactor who deserved exposure, refused to let the matter drop. Two weeks after the election the Journal reprinted Lincoln's pre-election hand bill, and with it a blanket denial of wrong-doing from Adams. For four months the newspaper controversy continued, a be|wildering succession of charges, counter-charges and denials. Into it were drawn Elijah Iles, Benjamin Talbott, Logan, Stuart and A. G. Herndon. Bitter animosities developed; friendships of long duration were broken.
Finally, in November, the Sangamo Journal went the limit and published an indictment for forgery which had been brought against Adams while he was a resident of New York. When even this failed to shake the townspeople's confidence, the Whigs gave up. Adams was twice re-elected probate justice, and died in office in 1843. In the courts the suit which the Whig lawyers had brought against him on behalf of Anderson's heirs never came to trial, and was finally dropped when Adams died.
Page 71While the Adams controversy had been running its length, a sharp attack against Springfield's prospective glory as the capital had been made and beaten off.
Early in 1837 financial panic suddenly struck the country. The speculative mania and the era of extravagance which had loaded Illinois with the internal improvement system collapsed. Financial houses failed in rapid succession. In April the State Bank at Springfield suspended specie pay|ments. Early in June the Journal summed up the business situation with a wail: "One loud, deep, uninterrupted groan of hard times is echoed from one end of the country to the other."
The state was in a bad way. Large sums of state money were in the state banks, whose charters were forfeit when they suspended specie payments. Yet they had been forced to do so, hoping that they would receive legislative approval of their action in the near future. Moreover, panic condi|tions were making it practically impossible for Illinois to secure loans for the internal improvement system. Governor Duncan, summoning the legislature to meet in special session on July 10, called for appropriate legislation—for legaliza|tion of the banks' suspension and for a repeal of the internal improvement system. But the Sangamon delegation, well aware of the intimate connection between the system and the capital law, expected trouble on that score as well. It came early in the session when W. L. D. Ewing of Vandalia introduced a bill to repeal the seat of government act. Springfield's "arrogance" was not to be endured; she had "sold out" to the internal improvement men, had secured the passage of the law by "chicanery and trickery," said Ewing. Lincoln made sharp reply, and the delegation, under his leadership, killed the repeal bill.
The session lasted less than two weeks. The banks were given a breathing spell, but instead of following the Gov|ernor's advice on internal improvements, the legislature ad|ministered Page 72 a stinging rebuke and directed the commissioners in charge of the system to proceed immediately with surveys and construction.
This, together with the defeat of the capital repeal bill, was "a faithful performance of official duties" so far as the people of Sangamon County were concerned. When, after adjournment, a number of the legislators stopped in Spring|field on their way home, the citizens invited them to a public banquet at Spottswood's Rural Hotel. After a "sumptuous dinner" the cloth was removed, and toasts to Illinois and the legislature were drunk. Orville H. Browning of Quincy spoke of the Long Nine— "their judicious management, their ability, their gentlemanly deportment, their unassum|ing manners, their constant and untiring labors for your interests"—whereupon they were toasted: "Well done good and faithful servants." There followed a long series of toasts in which the future of Illinois, to be made incomparably prosperous through the railroads and canals of the improve|ment system, and also Springfield's glory as the capital, were viewed in the rosiest optimism.
Once more Springfield was to be the object of attack before she was to rest secure in her claim to the capital. The oc|casion came during the legislative session of 1838-39, when Lincoln introduced a bill to appropriate $128,300 for the completion and furnishing of the state house. Orlando Ficklin of Coles County immediately moved two amendments—that the amount requested should be donated by individuals, and that at the next legislative election the people of the state should be given the opportunity of voting for or against the removal of the seat of government to Springfield. Both were voted down. Immediately a Vandalia delegate moved an amendment directing the Governor to reconvey the public square to Springfield and providing that the people should express their preference for the capital site in the next elec|tion. The amendment was decisively defeated. But the con|test Page 73 was not yet over. A motion to defeat the appropriation bill was made and lost; another to subject it to popular vote was defeated. Finally, after all means of stopping it had failed, Lincoln's bill passed. With it serious opposition to the location of the capital at Springfield ceased.
However, in clinching her hold on the capital, Springfield had to take a dose of bitter medicine in the loss of county territory. It was inevitable, of course, that the huge area with which Sangamon County was originally endowed would be speedily curtailed as settlement progressed, but by 1825, after the present counties of Morgan, Scott and Cass had been cut from her western limits and most of the territory bordering on the Illinois River had been severed, her people hoped that her limits would remain unmodified. But in the years which followed, agitation for further division gained momentum. Residents living near the boundaries complained that it took two days, and often longer, to travel to Spring|field and return to their homes; and proprietors of town sites which aspired to be county seats abetted their discon|tent. Springfield protested, tried to send to the legislature men who were pledged against county division. By 1838, however, the movement was too strong to be resisted, and the session of that year saw the creation of Menard and Logan to the north and Dane, now Christian, to the south. Springfield made a wry face, but finally took consolation in the fact that the limits of Sangamon County, though cur|tailed, were still extensive enough to permit her to be called the Empire County.
Meanwhile, the ceaseless activity of stone cutters, brick masons and carpenters in the public square was a constant reminder of the day when Springfield would be a town apart. No time had been wasted in commencing work on the state house. On March 11, 1837—less than two weeks after the passage of the bill transferring the capital—the county com|missioners conveyed the public square to Governor Duncan. Page 74 In April advertisements offering a premium of $300 for a plan for a new building appeared in the leading papers of Illinois and neighboring states. By the end of May the court house had been removed. By mid-June excavation was almost completed, and piles of limestone rock and sand were stand|ing on the square.
On the Fourth of July the corner stone was laid with elaborate ceremonies. The military companies, including Capt. Thomas M. Neale's newly organized cavalry, fired a salute at sunrise and spent the morning in parading. In the afternoon the members of the Mechanics' Institute formed in procession and marched to the Methodist Church, where Edmund R. Wiley delivered an address. The citizens then gathered at the state house. When the corner stone was edged into place, E. D. Baker mounted it and delivered the oration of the day. "At the close of the address the welkin rang with huzzas—a salute was fired—and the people and military retired, highly gratified with the proceedings of the day."
Throughout July long queues of oxen, ten and twelve to a team, drew heavy blocks of stone to Springfield from the quarry south of Cotton Hill. And as people noticed its warm buff color, the feeling grew that this was the proper material for the building. The original plans—the work of Spring|field's baker-architect, John F. Rague—had called for a brick superstructure on a stone foundation. Late in July the Sangamo Journal reported the preference for stone: "The members of the Legislature, and other distinguished citizens, who have passed through here . . . have strenu|ously urged upon the Commissioners, the propriety of con|structing the walls of this beautiful material." As the months passed and the foundation neared completion, the conviction spread that the use of brick would be a mistake. Finally, in December, when outdoor work was stopped for the winter, the commissioners announced their decision—the building Page 75 would be constructed of stone. It was a wise conclusion, for, aside from its graceful lines, the chief charm of the old building as it stands today is the soft buff color of its walls.
Work on the State House continued throughout 1838 and 1839. Early in 1840 it was ready for partial occupancy, but years were to elapse before it presented a finished appear|ance. In 1843, for instance, one of the newspapers com|mented on the fact that the roof leaked, and that much of the stone intended for the front columns was lying about the yard, where it was in daily danger of injury. Not until 1853 was the building completely finished.
For the people of Springfield it turned out to be a costly structure. They had willingly accepted the provisions of the capital law requiring them to convey the square to the state and donate $50,000 toward the cost of the state house, but when panic struck the country a few weeks later the second part of their obligation seemed staggeringly large. Never|theless, by various expedients the money was raised. One-third of the amount was assessed property owners, who bor|rowed the money from the State Bank on the understanding that they would be given five years to pay their notes. By this means the city treasurer was able to make the first pay|ment of $16,666.67 in December, 1837. When the second instalment fell due in the spring of the following year, the city, which had undertaken to pay it, had no money. In the emergency one hundred and twenty-nine of the leading cit|izens executed a joint note to the State Bank for the amount due, the city promising to reimburse them in case they would be called on for payment. The final instalment, which had been assumed by Sangamon County, was ultimately dis|charged in internal improvement scrip, worth about fifteen cents on the dollar.
The construction of the state house attracted many work|men to Springfield. Among them was Jared P. Irwin, a brick mason of Philadelphia. Irwin, a serious young man with a Page 76 strong religious bent, kept a diary. From its yellow pages much can be surmised about the daily flow of life in Spring|field nearly a century ago.
Irwin reached Springfield in the first week of June, 1837, having traveled from Alton to Naples by steamer and thence through Jacksonville on the stage. "My journey from Naples here was very interesting," he noted, "—it being prairie nearly all the way and the first I ever saw. The sight of a large prairie is sublime to a person unaccustomed to seeing them."
A few days later he recorded an event of more than pass|ing interest—the visit of Daniel Webster, first of the dis|tinguished visitors to be attracted to the future capital. Webster, touring the West with his family, was escorted into Springfield on the morning of June 19 by a detachment from the military companies. In the afternoon he attended a bar|becue. Then came the inevitable toast: "Daniel Webster: The able defender of a sound circulating medium, in opposi|tion to mere paper money on the one hand, and an exclusively metallic currency on the other." Webster responded in a speech which lasted an hour and a half. The next day he de|parted for Tremont, leaving the Whigs at least flushed with pride.
For the most part, however, the entries in the diary had to do with the ordinary occupations of a sober, industrious citizen. Those which follow are typical:
June 22, 1837. I this day commenced laying the foundation of the Capitol, or State House, at $2.50 pr. day.
July 4. This afternoon we laid the 'corner stone' of the State House, after which an Oration was delivered suitable to the occasion. The whole passed off with much eclat.
August 15. Returned from a Camp Meeting held 6 miles west of Town—a poor concern when compared with those of the East.
October 18. This evening our beloved stationed Preacher, 'H. Crews' preached his valedictory sermon and in the morning takes his departure for his new Appointment. He has had the pleasure of Page 77 closing his labours here in such a revival of religion as I never before witnessed. It has lasted about 5 weeks, and about 130 souls professed to have experienced justification by faith in the atonement. The Shout of the 'King in the Camp' was heard at morning, and noonday and at night.
December 25. I've spent the evening very agreeably at the house of a friend (Rev. Jonas Whitney a Presbyterian preacher) at a little singing party.
Then, in early March, 1838, came a note of tragedy. Upon returning from a short visit to Alton, Irwin recorded: "Since I left here the Rev. Dr. J. N. Early (a friend of mine) was Shot by H. B. Truett, it has caused a great excitement and it is generally thought he will be hanged."
The Early killing, one of the exciting episodes in Spring|field's past, was the outcome of a political quarrel. Truett was a son-in-law of William L. May, Early a physician and Methodist exhorter. Both were Democrats. Friction between them arose when a Democratic convention at Peoria passed a resolution disapproving of Truett's nomination as Register of the Land Office at Galena. Truett blamed Early for the censure. On the evening of March 7 he entered the parlor of Spottswood's Hotel in Springfield, where Early and sev|eral other men were sitting. One by one the others left. When the last had gone, Truett asked Early if it were true, as he had been told, that he was the author of the Peoria resolu|tion. Early declined to answer unless Truett gave him the name of his informant, which he refused to do. Hot words followed, Early picked up a chair to defend himself, Truett drew a pistol and pulled the trigger. Early fell, mortally wounded.
Popular feeling was strong against Truett. Nevertheless, at the trial which took place six months later, the skillful defense of Stuart and Lincoln secured his acquittal.1 "The Page 78 evidence against him was clear and conclusive," Jared Irwin noted in disgust.
For the remainder of his residence in Springfield the entries in Irwin's diary reflect a community reaching for the amenities of a cultured life, but with the shadow of the frontier occasionally falling across it.
September 15, 1838. Today a caravan or company of 'Mormons' with 67 waggons numbering about 800 Souls passed through this place on their way (as they say) to the 'Promised Land' west of Mississippi. The sight was quite imposing.
September 30. Today a remnant of the Tribe of Pottawatomie Indians passed through town on their journey to their new homes west of the Mississippi. . . . The number was about 800 souls, each one having a horse (save the sick, they being in waggons.)
December 25. For 3 nights past I have been greatly entertained with a course of Lectures to the Young by Rev. Dr. Perry formerly of Phila. but now President of a College in this State. His Lectures were very edifying—he was eloquent.
December 31. This being the last night of the year we held a Temperance Meeting in town, address by Mr. Denman, Merchant of Phila. (being here on business) it was good & I for the first time attached my name to a 'Temperance Pledge.'
January 24, 1839. For 4 nights past I have sat with great de|light & heard Col. Lehmanowsky, formerly an officer in Napoleon's army, lecture on the character, disposition, manners of Napoleon & Josephine Empress & first wife of Nap—his wars & their reasons from the first campaign of Italy till the Battle of Waterloo—his fall & exile to 'St. Helena'—his & Madam Josephine's death. Also a short history of his (Lehmanowsky's) own life etc. His lectures were highly interesting, so much so that I have taken notes. He is Polander, 6 feet 3 inches high. He is now a preacher of the Lutheran Church & preached 3 times for us last Sunday.
April 8. This evening heard with pleasure Porter Clay Esq. (Bro. of the Hon. H. Clay) deliver his first lecture in behalf of the 'Colonization Society,' he was recently been appointed agt. of the 'great valley' & has this evening commenced upon the duties of his Page 79 mission, intending to lecture & form Societies throughout the length & breadth of the Valley. He is quite eloquent.—May success attend him.2
So far as the people of Springfield were concerned, coloni|zation was the respectable way of dealing with the slavery question. The local society had been functioning for several years, and numbered many of the town's leading citizens among its members. But let the opponents of the "peculiar institution" go further, let them even mention with approval the dread word "abolition"—and sharp rebuke was quick to follow. In mid-October, 1837, when the Rev. Jeremiah Porter announced his intention of speaking on slavery in the First Presbyterian Church, a crowd collected and swore that it would mob him. E. D. Baker finally persuaded them to allow the speaker to talk, and after the address Edward Beecher, President of Illinois College at Jacksonville, in|duced the angry citizens to permit Porter to leave town un|harmed.
But the people were determined not to let the matter drop until they had given uneqivocal expression to their feel|ings. A few days later a public meeting was held in the court room. With Judge Thomas C. Browne in the chair, the fol|lowing resolutions were passed:
Resolved, That the efforts of abolitionists in this community, are neither necessary or useful.
Resolved, That as citizens of a free State and a peaceable com|munity, we deprecate any attempt to sow discord among us, or to create an excitement as to abolition which can be productive of no good result.
Resolved, That in the opinion of this meeting the doctrine of immediate emancipation of slaves in this country, (although pro|mulgated by those who profess to be christians), is at variance with christianity, and its tendency is to breed contention, broils and mobs, Page 80 and the leaders of those calling themselves abolitionists, are designing, ambitious men, and dangerous members of society, and should be shunned by all good citizens.
Fourteen days after the passage of these resolutions Elijah P. Lovejoy fell before the mob at Alton. In all prob|ability, Springfield citizens deprecated the outrage, but so far as it is possible to ascertain today, not one word of con|demnation was spoken publicly. Even Abraham Lincoln, speaking before the Young Men's Lyceum three months later on the evil consequences of mob action, carefully re|frained from alluding to the Lovejoy murder, although it would have been a better illustration of his thesis than any of the incidents he cited.
In the light of the southern origin of most of them, the attitude of the townspeople on abolition was a natural one. The puritanism occasionally evident in the discussion of other subjects must be explained on other grounds. Probably it was the religious revival, noted by Jared Irwin, which was responsible for the frame of mind which counted con|demnation of the theater and novel reading a moral duty. The evangelical theology of the day was almost unbelievably narrow, and perfectly capable of seeing the hand of the devil in either activity.
Moralists had not seriously challenged the amateur dra|matics of the Thespian Society, but when professionals made their appearance there was consternation among them. Isherwood and MacKenzie, the experienced producers who fitted up the dining room of Major Iles' new American House for a series of plays to commence in February, 1838, must have been aware of the criticism they would encounter, and doubtless had something to do with the newspaper puffs which began to appear—brief items calling attention to the way in which the theatrical company emphasized "the beau|ties of virtue and the hatefulness of vice."
Page 81To one such comment, signed "Philo Drama," a writer in the Illinois Republican replied with an intemperate screed in which all the prejudices of the rigid moralists found ex|pression. "I challenge Philo Drama to point to the spot where Christianity has looked with a tolerating eye upon the stage," he proclaimed, " . . . it is a school of vice, a hotbed of iniquity, a pander to pollution and death. . . . Does Philo Drama wish Springfield to become what some of the eastern cities are—a sink of pollution, a hole of every foul spirit? The stage has always flourished in proportion to the increase of corruption and depravity in society. . . . The theatre, above all other places, is the spot where the bonds of virtue are first loosened, and finally dissolved."
A tabu even stranger to modern opinion was given force|ful expression when C. Birchall and Company of the Spring|field Book Store announced that if they could secure one hundred subscribers at $5.00 each per year they would open a circulating library. In all innocence they announced that in addition to the classics contained in the hundred volumes of Harpers' Family Library they would provide the works of such authors as Scott, Cooper, Irving, Maryatt, Bulwer, Fielding and Smollet, "together with the Novels of the most popular authors of the day." To H. A. P., writing in the Sangamo Journal, this was gambling with eternal damna|tion. Novel reading was an unqualified evil. "But, 'say you, has my author ever read Scott, Bulwer, Cooper, Maryatt, etc.?'" he asked oratorically, after quoting a tirade against the reading of fiction. "Yes, he has read them all, and with too much care. He knows every rock and every quicksand; and he solemnly declares to you, that the only good he is conscious of ever having received from them, is a deep im|pression that men who possess talents of such compass and power, and as perverted in their application, must meet the day of judgment under a responsibility which would be cheaply removed by the price of the world."
Page 82Attitudes such as these, however, soon lost whatever force they originally possessed. Opposition to the theater failed to keep large and enthusiastic audiences from attending per|formances, while even in the best of families Scott and Dickens could be indulged in without fear of broiling in the hereafter. Springfield was small, its streets were unpaved, its homes and buildings for the most part unpretentious, but by the time the state offices were located there it had at least made a start in the direction of occupations and diversions in keeping with the position it was soon to assume in the life of the state.