A Young State Capital
ON June 20, 1839, Gov. Thomas Carlin issued a proclamation ordering the state officers to re|move from Vandalia to Springfield. The Board of State House Commissioners, he recited, had notified him that suitable rooms were ready. By the terms of the proclamation the removal was to be completed by July 4th.
Immediately the new capital exhibited unaccustomed ac|tivity. In its first issue after the removal of the state officers the Sangamo Journal printed a long list of guests at the local hotels. The next number of the paper contained the names of forty-three lawyers from twenty-one Illinois towns, in addition to seventeen local attorneys, who were in Spring|field to attend the courts in session there. In one week in October 158 persons registered at the American House alone. When the legislature convened in early December the town was so crowded that many of the visitors had diffi|culty in finding accommodations.
The influx marked the beginning of Springfield's position as the central city of the state—a position which followed directly from her capture of the seat of government. The functions of government were few and simple, but they were restricted almost entirely to the capital. There the legislature met; there the state supreme court convened; there the United States courts for the district of Illinois Page 84 were held. To attend the court sessions came the leading lawyers from all over the state; while the legislature drew other local political leaders and numbers of business men seeking corporate charters.
Moreover, having come, they stayed. Travel was slow, costly, and often dangerous. During the winter it was almost impossible for a legislator who lived at any distance from the capital to return to his home during the week-end periods when the General Assembly was not in session. (In fact, the constant presence of members in Springfield was taken as such a matter of course that that body sat all day on both Saturdays and Mondays, and contented itself with a single day's vacation at Christmas!) For a lawyer with cases in the higher courts not to remain in the capital for the entire term was hardly less feasible. Lacking means of speedy com|munication as well as transportation, there was no way by which he could learn when his cases were to be called for trial. His only course was to come at the beginning of a term and stay until his work was finished.
These prolonged visits, lasting sometimes for two and three months, could hardly be called a hardship. Men whose lives were confined in the main to the farms and villages of a newly settled country welcomed the opportunity for hu|man companionship which the gatherings at the capital af|forded. Besides, small as it was, Springfield offered contacts with the outside world—in music, lectures, and amusements of many kinds—far beyond those which their own com|munities afforded. Round after round of private parties, with the visitors as honored guests, marked the sessions of the legislature and courts. The serious businesses of law making and litigation went forward in a sort of holiday atmosphere.
The knowledge that a good time might be expected, to|gether with a natural disinclination to endure alone the loneliness and boredom which their husbands were escaping, Page 85 brought many wives of lawyers and lawmakers to Spring|field. At the same time every marriageable, pleasure-loving girl in the state made a winter in the capital one of her major ambitions. Relatives, no matter how remote, were carefully cultivated in the hope that the coveted invitation would be extended. As a result, social life in Springfield had zest and liveliness beyond that of any other city in the state. Socially, as well as in law and politics, it was the capital of Illinois.
Let us see, therefore, what sort of a place this was in which so much of the state's life centered. Fortunately, there were visitors who recorded what they saw. Among them was an Ohio editor who wrote with such glowing enthusiasm that one is inclined to suspect him of an investment in Spring|field real estate. At any rate, this is what he recorded after a visit in the early autumn of 1839.
Springfield lies on the edge of a large prairie. On the left, as you enter the village from the South, is a delightful grove, where the rills are more lively, and the ground more undulating than usual. . . . Approaching the southern part of the town, you leave a great sweep of verdant landscape behind you, and behold almost as great a natural meadow to your right. No one can conceive the grandeur and beauty of the scenery, unless he has wandered through a prairie country, at a season when an immense carpet, spangled with very bright yellow and vermilion flowers, and fringed along the line of the horizon with a darker timber, is spread over a very gracefully rolling surface, beneath a vast sky half covered with lowering clouds painted by the sun, and the other half as serene and clear as if no vapor had ever stained its azure.
But in the suburbs of Springfield there is a paradise in miniature, which compensates for the loss of the boundless prospect left behind. Small clusters of infant trees, which nature has planted with all the regularity, and more than the taste of art, rise like bowers of romance to hedge in the village with beauty. They extend, like arms from the main grove, not continuously, but like a chain of islands, gradually diminishing in size, and sheltering from a powerful noonday sun, the softly chiming rivulets. Here the man of leisure comes to steal Page 86 pleasant thoughts from the cool shade, and the man of business for a while gives his care to the refreshing breezes that always carry on a rapid commerce over the heated plains. On Sunday the shady retirements are thronged with visitors in fine broadcloth, who find a place1 most inviting to contemplation.
Passing them reluctantly, you glance forward at the throng of stores, taverns, and shops, some wearing their titles on their fronts, some on long arms projecting from their sides, and some in the usual style of tavern signs, beneath the picture of a bird or beast, on a black board swinging from a miniature gallows. Before reaching the centre of business, you behold to your right an agreeable assemblage of dwelling houses very neatly painted, most of them white, and situated somewhat retiringly behind tasteful front yards. To the left, at a distance, are seen more showy edifices,2 the principal expense of which seems to have been their decoration, standing rather proudly apart from the throng of neat but humble mansions. Passing a modest-looking meetinghouse,3 which speaks more for the simple piety of the inhabitants, than the ostentatious taste of the citizens, you now approach an area fenced from the street by a long stone-cutter's shop, eloquent with the music of scores of pick axes, shaping the rudiments of the new State House. . . .
Turning to the east you see the comfortable buildings, apparently young and certainly tasteful, gradually dwindling in size and be|coming more scattered until the town melts away into the level monotonous plain. Several miles across the prairie is seen another grove, and along its margin clever farmhouses are strung in quite a picturesque manner. Toward these centres of rural felicity, narrow black paths wind through the desolate green. Along this edge of the town runs the Central Railroad,4 now under contract. Follow this, in a northerly direction a short distance and then turn to the left, and new clusters of neat little dwellings attract your attention,5 many of them labelled as the residences of dealers in pills and legal Page 87 advice. Towards the grove, the town assumes a more consolidated and antiquated appearance. Here is seen the rarest of all landscapes; crowded squares alive with shrubbery and tasteful ornaments, decorat|ing alike the little remnant of twenty years ago, and costly edifices of last year. Every house is separated from the street by a neat front yard, and from its neighbor by a clean little garden; roses greet the visitor with a blush as he enters the gate, and pushing the door, he finds himself under a bower of honeysuckles.6 Old shackly buildings are concentrated as the temples of Flora. The sun of content|ment and happiness seems to shine on all, and gives the abodes of simple elegance a charm to which mere magnificence must be a stranger.
The new State House, even though unfinished, dominated the town. Although two years had elapsed since the corner|stone was laid, the second story was not yet completed; while tool sheds and stone piles littered the square. Still, thirty or forty men were at work, and the clinking of their hammers was merry music to the young capital.
Of scarcely less interest, especially to the visitors, were the hotels and taverns. Typical of most of these was the Globe Tavern,7 a plain, two-story wooden structure which also served as an office for several of the stage lines operat|ing through Springfield. Whenever a stage arrived, or a private conveyance for that matter, the clerk would ring a large bell mounted on top of the house, and the stable men would run out from the rear to take charge of the horses.
Completely overshadowing such a modest structure as this was the American House, which Elijah Iles built on the southeast corner of Sixth and Adams streets. Its size alone created a sensation. When it was opened, in November, 1838, two hundred citizens dined with the manager, J. Clif|ton, "late of Boston." The Ohio editor who wrote so kindly of Springfield commented on it with mixed awe and irrita|tion. Page 88 "Near the State House," he wrote, "is a gigantic build|ing, called the American House, intended perhaps as the tavern proper for the Legislators.—Politics and politeness hover round this splendid affair. Everything inside puts you in mind of the Turkish splendor, the carpeting, the papering, and the furniture, weary the eye with magnificence. The building itself is distinguished more for the harmony and simplicity of its proportions, than the richness of its exterior. A fine place for those who are troubled with a superabun|dance of silver."
The situation which caused this tart concluding comment was probably what led to the opening of other and less pre|tentious taverns during the next year—Joel Johnson's City Hotel,8 which boasted "a good table, and faithful ostlers"; and Torrey's Temperance Hotel,9 which had accommoda|tions for fifteen or twenty boarders and promised the best table the country afforded. But these were only two of many new ventures. In spite of the general prostration following the panic of 1837, Springfield was experiencing a boom. In the summer of 1838 a Chicagoan asserted that real estate was as high as in his own speculative city, and cited as proof the fact that a lot on the public square, 20 by 157 feet, had been sold at public auction for $1600 on the preceding day. Moreover, it was a boom which continued steadily, though not feverishly. In the summer of 1840 it was said that no less than one hundred buildings were erected, and the town's population was estimated at more than 3,000. Progress was constant during the next two years—witness Simeon Francis, combining the roles of reporter and prophet.
From the general pattern of the early forties there was no departure throughout the decade. The four sides of the square, and the adjacent blocks as well, filled up with busi|ness structures. Many of them were creditable buildings, but on the north side "Chicken Row" remained an eyesore. In some particulars, however, there was real improvement. The state house was completed, externally at least. On the east side of the square, immediately north of the State Bank Building, a court house, very similar in appearance, was Page 90 erected.11 In 1843 a market house was built in Sixth Street between Washington and Jefferson, the street being widened ten feet on either side to make room for the necessary pas|sageways. At least a beginning was made in laying side|walks. Many private residences, some of them elaborate, were constructed, and the citizens were making an effort to beautify their dwellings.
In building and beautification the people of Springfield undoubtedly made progress during the town's first decade as the state capital, but there was one feature of the environ|ment which, if it changed at all, became worse. That was the mud. At its best the sticky black loam of central Illinois is bad enough, but the Springfield variety seems to have been the worst the state afforded. At least it was the subject of continual comment by travelers, editors, and the citizens themselves; jokes were made about it; and in the memories of old settlers it remained as vivid as the deep snow of 1831.
To the editors of the town the mud was a subject on which one could always work off a bad temper. In the winter of 1842 the editor of the Register asserted that in passing from the square to any part of the city it was necessary to wade through mud knee-deep. The legislators, he said, were sick of being mired, and were not minded to stand the nuisance much longer. Clean up, he warned, or risk the loss of the capital. Four years later a correspondent of the Journal re|vealed how much effect this and many similar exhortations had had. "Within a few rods of the public square," he wrote, "there is a descent of some fifteen feet, into a ravine; and yet we have ponds about, loathsome to the eye, and which, when hot weather comes upon us, will be sickening to the smell. The crossings of our streets are covered with mud, and even some of our sidewalks are rendered almost im|passable by accumulations of the same article." On occasion Page 91 there was resort to sarcasm, like the following: "We see no reason why the proposition which will soon go before our city authorities for sending for a quantity of wild rice—an aquatic plant—to be grown within the limits of the cor|poration, will not be a good speculation. It will grow in water from six inches to a foot deep—produces well and is a very nutritious article of food. A sufficient quantity could be raised in the State House yard to secure rations for all the State officers." The ink might just as well have been saved. At the end of the forties the mud was no less deep than it would have been had the editors completely ignored it.
Second only to the mud as a subject of public-spirited in|dignation was the hog nuisance. Hogs ranged at will through the streets, wallowed in the mud holes, disputed the narrow sidewalks with pedestrians, and rooted up the boards at frequent intervals. Comments such as this—" 'Chicken Row' was highly perfumed yesterday by opening the 'hog wallows' in front of the stores"—frequently appeared in the newspapers. Unlike the mud, however, the hogs had sturdy defenders. As scavengers they helped to keep the city clean; and to allow them to run loose was to enable the poor to raise their own meat. Counter arguments were that the hogs created more nuisances than they removed; that they were often found dead within the city limits; and that a dead hog was never known to have an owner. Neverthe|less, whenever a hog ordinance was before the city council, the defenders of the poor and the porkers were found to have influence enough to prevent its passage. The most that was ever done was to require owners to place rings in the hogs' snouts on the theory that this would prevent the de|struction of the sidewalks, but there was immediate and widespread complaint that even this mild requirement was ignored.
Hogs and mud were evidences that absence of civic pride Page 92 was widespread. There were other indications of slovenli|ness. Piles of manure were permitted to accumulate around the stables; privies were often neglected; and too frequently the gutters became dumping grounds for discarded clothing, trash and garbage. In the summers flies abounded, and with heat the stench from filth was sometimes sickening.
The plain truth is that from certain points of view Spring|field was a very unlovely city. Abraham Lincoln often told a story which illustrated its uninviting character. One day a meek-looking man applied to Thompson Campbell who, as Secretary of State, had custody of the State House, for per|mission to deliver a series of lectures in the Hall of the House of Representatives.
"May I ask," said Campbell, "what is to be the subject of your lectures?"
"Certainly," was the solemn reply, "they are on the second coming of our Lord."
"It's no use," said Campbell, "if you will take my advice you will not waste your time in this city. It is my private opinion that if the Lord has been in Springfield once, he will not come the second time."
The crudities of the capital, however, faded as one be|came a participant in the activities of the town. The experi|ence of Mrs. B. S. Edwards, who came to Springfield in the winter of 1839-40 as a bride, was typical. As the stage on which she and her husband had traveled from St. Louis lumbered slowly through the mud of the unlighted streets, she could think only of the forbidding aspect of her new home, and her heart was heavy at the prospect. At the American House a number of passengers were discharged. Then the driver headed for the home of her husband's brother Ninian, where the young couple were to stay. Within all was bright, cheerful and hospitable. In less than a week Mrs. Edwards was in the swing of a "legislative winter," and her forebodings were forgotten.
Page 93A connection with the Edwards family meant ready en|trance to the select circle of Springfield's society. Patron and patroness were Ninian W. Edwards and his wife, Eliza|beth Todd Edwards; and their home, on the site of the present Centennial Building, was the popular gathering place. With them lived Mary Todd, Mrs. Edwards' sister, who had left her Lexington home for the more congenial household of her brother-in-law. Nearby was the home of Lawrason Levering and his wife, and with them, during the winter of 1839-40, lived Levering's sister Mercy, who quickly became an intimate of her young neighbor from Kentucky. Relatives of the Todd-Edwards family were prominent—another Todd sister, Francis, who had married Dr. William Wallace; Elizabeth, the daughter of Dr. John Todd; John T. Stuart, a cousin of the Todd sisters; and his wife. Most constant attendants among the men were Joshua F. Speed, James C. Conkling, Dr. E. H. Merryman and Abraham Lincoln.
The yellow pages of a number of letters written by Mercy Levering, Mary Todd and James C. Conkling from 1840, when Miss Levering returned to her home in Baltimore, until late in the following year, when she came back to Springfield as Mrs. Conkling, furnish a series of pictures of social life among the elite of the town. First comes an account of a picnic in the summer of 1840, from the hand of James C. Conkling. "Two or three weeks since," he wrote, "Miss Rodney and Miss Thornton gave a pic-nic near Dr. Houghan's. They selected a most beautiful spot, where we assembled in the latter part of the afternoon. . . . 'Twas really a delightful scene. The branches of some of the tallest trees formed a canopy over our heads to screen us from the rays of a cloudless sun. A velvet lawn spread itself beneath our feet. The table was loaded with a profusion of delicacies which our ladies know how to prepare so well. The graces flew while daylight lasted and as the dim twilight Page 94 gathered around us the Graces and the Muses both tripped it 'on the light fantastic toe.'. . ."
Winter comes, and with it lawyers, legislators and visi|tors. Mary Todd writes in the midst of the Christmas fes|tivities:
"Mr. Edwards has a cousin from Alton spending the winter with us, a most interesting young lady, her fascina|tions, have drawn a concourse of beaux & company round us. . . . I know you would be pleased with Matilda Ed|wards, a lovelier girl I never saw. Mr. Speed's ever chang|ing heart I suspect is about offering its young affections at her shrine, with some others. There is a considerable acquisi|tion in our society of marriageable gentlemen, unfortunately only 'birds of passage.' Mr. Webb, a widower of modest merit, last winter, is our principal lion, dances attendance very frequently. We expect a very gay winter, evening be|fore last my sister gave a most agreeable party, upwards of a hundred graced the festive scene."
"Summer in all its beauty has again come. . . ," wrote Mary Todd six months later. "The June Court is in session and many distinguished strangers grace the gay capital. We have an unusual number of agreeable visitors, some pleasant acquaintances of last winter, but in their midst the winning widower is not. Rumor says he with some others will attend the Supreme Court next month. . . . Mr. Speed, our former most constant guest has been in Kentucky for some weeks past, will be here next month, on a visit perhaps, as he has some idea of deserting Illinois. . . . The interesting gentle|man, whom Mrs. Roberts gave you for a beau is now a resident of this place, Mr. Trumbull, is Secretary of State, in lieu of Judge Douglass, who has been rapidly promoted to office.—Now that your fortune is made, I feel much dis|posed in your absence, to lay in my claims, as he is talented & agreeable & sometimes countenances me.—"
Naturally, in a group of young people, weddings took place Page 95 frequently. "I had no idea I should be instrumental more than once again in changing the name of a lady," Conkling wrote his fiancée in the autumn of 1840. "But last evening Miss Todd and myself (standing partners you perceive), with the assistance of Parson Bergen in his usual dignified manner passed through the usual ceremonies of such an oc|casion. And about 10 o'clock we packed them in the stage and sent them off to Chicago." A month later he described another ceremony in which he had participated. "A week ago last Thursday evening," he wrote, "our friend Mr. C. departed from the state of celibacy in which he had long been lingering. I assisted in performing the last offices and consigned him with all due ceremony to the happiness of a matrimonial life. . . . The party was very small. Miss T. was the only lady present unconnected with the family. Her presence reminded me of other days and even she did not appear as merry and joyous as usual."
Of all Springfield weddings, however, the most famous was the one in which Miss Todd herself played the principal part.
During the summer and fall of 1840 it was apparent, to their intimates, that Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd were taking more than casual pleasure in each other's company. Rumors of a prospective wedding went the rounds. And then, on New Year's Day, 1841, something happened be|tween them. They ceased to see each other. To her friends Mary Todd seemed as gay and flirtatious as ever, but Lin|coln was crushed. For a week or so he was too ill to attend the legislature regularly, and when he did recover he was dejected, morose, and inclined to shun his former friends.
The gossip was that Mary Todd had jilted him. "Poor L'.," wrote Conkling to Mercy Levering; "how are the mighty fallen! He was confined about a week, but though he now appears again he is reduced and emaciated in ap|pearance and seems scarcely to possess strength enough to Page 96 speak above a whisper. His case at present is truly deplorable but what prospect there may be for ultimate relief I can|not pretend to say. I doubt not but he can declare 'That loving is a painful thrill, And not to love more painful still' but would not like to intimate that he has experienced 'That surely 'tis the worst of pain To love and not be loved again.'" To which Miss Levering replied: "Poor A—I fear his is a blighted heart! perhaps if he was as persevering as Mr. W. he might finally be successful."
The winter wore off, and with it went much of Spring|field's gaiety. "The Legislature has dispersed," wrote Conkling in early March. "Whether any persons regret it I cannot pretend to say. Miss Todd and her cousin Miss Edwards seemed to form the grand centre of attraction. Swarms of strangers who had little else to engage their at|tention hovered around them, to catch a passing smile. By the way," he added maliciously, "I do not think they were received, with even ordinary attention, if they did not obtain a broad grin or an obstreporous laugh."
Lincoln remained an object of not-too-sympathetic com|miseration. "And L," wrote Conkling, "poor hapless simple swain who loved most true but was not loved again—I sup|pose he will now endeavor to drown his cares among the intricacies and perplexities of the law. No more will the merry peal of laughter ascend high in the air, to greet his listening and delighted ears. He used to remind me some|times of the pictures I formerly saw of old Father Jupiter, bending down from the clouds, to see what was going on below. And as an agreeable smile of satisfaction graced the countenance of the old heathen god, as he perceived the in|cense rising up—so the face of L. was occasionally distorted into a grin as he succeeded in eliciting applause from some of the fair votaries by whom he was surrounded. But alas! I fear his shrine will now be deserted and that he will with|draw himself from the society of us inferior mortals."
Page 97The gossips were now coupling Mary Todd's name with that of Edwin B. Webb, of Carmi. Although a widower with two children, and much older than Miss Todd, Webb paid her a strenuous courtship. Friends thought that he would succeed, but they were wrong. When Mercy Levering hinted at an engagement, she was quickly disillusioned. "In your friendly & confiding ear," her friend wrote, "allow me to whisper that my heart can never be his. . . . There being a slight difference of some eighteen or twenty summers in our years, would preclude all possibility of congeniality of feeling, without which I should never feel justifiable in resigning my happiness into the safe keeping of another, even should that other be, far too worthy for me, with his two sweet little objections."
Those in Springfield who were sure that Lincoln was a rejected suitor would have been surprised by a casual allusion in this same letter if they could have seen it. Lincoln, Miss Todd confessed sorrowfully, "deems me unworthy of notice, as I have not met him in the gay world for months. With the usual comfort of misery, I imagine that others were as seldom gladdened by his presence as myself, yet I would that the case were different, that he would once more re|sume his station in Society, that 'Richard should be himself again,' much, much happiness would it afford me."
The months wore on. Mary Todd succeeded in covering a wound with flashing but superficial gaiety, while Lincoln struggled with the tormenting doubts which had driven him to break the engagement on that "fatal first of January," 1841. Finally, in the late summer or autumn of 1842, Mrs. Simeon Francis brought the two unhappy lovers together. Reconciliation followed. Again Lincoln wrestled with the dark suspicion that he was incapable of love as he had im|agined it. This time he conquered his fears. As a result, a marriage took place, with unexpected suddenness, on Novem|ber 4, 1842, at the home of Ninian W. Edwards. Instead Page 98 of a wedding trip, the bride and groom quietly moved to the Globe Tavern, where they secured board and room at $4.00 a week. Five days after the wedding the young husband closed a letter to another lawyer with the remark: "Noth|ing new here, except my marrying, which, to me, is matter of profound wonder."
Lovers' quarrels and reconciliations, engagements and marriages furnished the material for many an evening's gossip among the select circle of Springfield's young people, but in the social life of the town as a whole they made no more than a ripple. Far more interesting, to townspeople and visitors alike, were the public social functions which fol|lowed each other at short intervals whenever the legislature and courts were in session.
Hardly had the first legislature assembled in Springfield when an invitation to a cotillion party, bearing among others the names of S. A. Douglass,12 N. W. Edwards, J. F. Speed, J. Shields and A. Lincoln as managers, was issued. Rarely thereafter, throughout the forties, was there a winter when several similar functions did not take place.
"There was a ball here tonight," a woman guest at the American House recorded in her diary one December night in 1840, "and they made a dressing room of the ladies' parlor, and I sat there and viewed them all as they came in. A number of the ladies carried bundles in their arms and were accompanied by maids. The bundles, which were a mys|tery to me, were deposited on the bed, where the mystery soon developed, for the bundles began to kick and squeal, as hungry babies will. The mothers, after performing their ma|ternal duties, wrapped the infants up again and left them with many charges to nursemaids not to mix them up. The ladies were handsomely dressed, but not in the latest style. They wore handsome gowns of silk and satin, made with low necks and short sleeves."
Page 99When Sidney Breese was elected to the United States Senate late in 1842 he celebrated the event by giving a large ball at the American House on New Year's Eve. A corre|spondent sent a description to the New York Herald, which the Register proudly reprinted. "Our United States Senator-elect," the reporter wrote, "gave a splendid blow-out at the American Hotel, on New Year's eve. . . . This was a de|lightful affair for a new city, and far beyond my expecta|tions; the only draw-back was we had not ladies enough— there were 300 or 400 gents, and not more than 40 or 50 ladies, and half of them married or engaged. . . . Judge Breese was very polite and attentive, and tried to make everyone happy; in person he is a short, very thick set, dignified, gentlemanly looking man, about 45 years of age; he is a capable man for his office, and will fill it with honor to the State and himself. Judge Douglass, his opponent, was present, and took an active part in the dancing."
With Judge Breese's ball a new custom was inaugurated. Prior to that time the accepted accompaniment of a sena|torial election was a dinner to the faithful in which wines and liquors flowed to the ultimate demoralization of the diners and the destruction of no small amount of china and glassware, but thereafter evening entertainments, or "levees," became the rule. Thus in 1844, James Semple gave a "brilliant party" at the American House; and two years later the levee at the state house in honor of Douglas' eleva|tion to the Senate was "a perfect jam." In 1849 five hun|dred guests attended James Shields's party, at which the music was excellent and "the refreshments well got up."
But balls and levees were only one form of group enter|tainment. The construction of the Northern Cross Railroad offered possibilities for novelty and pleasure as well as com|mercial advantage. Hardly had the road been opened when a large party, accompanied by a band, went to Jacksonville, where they met with open-handed hospitality. (Among them Page 100 was Mary Todd, who enjoyed the trip thoroughly. "God be praised for that," wrote Abraham Lincoln when he heard of her pleasure.) A few weeks later Jacksonville returned the visit, and two hundred guests sat down to "a sumptuous supper" at the American House.
The Northern Cross quickly went to ruin, but excursions in sleighs or carriages—to Rochester or New Berlin or Athens—continued. And when, at the end of the decade, the railroad was rebuilt and trains ran again, the old prac|tice of community visiting was resumed, to continue more or less regularly until after the Civil War.
For the liberal-minded of the community—the element which attended the balls and dancing parties—the theater was often available. The Illinois Theatrical Company, which included in its membership young Joe Jefferson and his father, played to crowded houses in the weeks following the location of the state government at Springfield, and returned in the early winter for the session of the legislature. It must have been at this time that the incident which Jeffer|son recorded in his Autobiography took place. Stimulated by a religious revival, the opponents of the theater had in|duced the city council to place such a high license fee upon performances that it was practically prohibitory. The troupe was in despair, when a young lawyer who gave his name as Abraham Lincoln came to them and said he thought he could adjust the difficulty. As Jefferson told the story, Lin|coln was volunteering his services as a lawyer, but it is more likely that he was acting in his capacity as a member of the town council. At any rate, Lincoln appeared before the councilmen and made a long speech, in which he not only traced the history of the drama from earliest times, but did it so tactfully and skillfully, and with so much good humor, that the city fathers readily yielded to his closing plea and removed the exorbitant tax.
The theater-goer in the early forties could hardly com|plain Page 101 of not receiving his money's worth, at least in quantity. Performances customarily included a long tragedy and a shorter comedy, and often other attractions as well. Thus a company playing in 1842 offered the drama of "The De|nouncer, or the Miser of Marseilles," songs by two of the actors, a dance by a third, and a performance of "The Weathercock" in conclusion. The price of tickets was fifty cents.
For some reason, however, the theater waned in popu|larity, although there were occasional professional per|formances throughout the decade. To take its place came the circus. There had been at least one circus performance in the early thirties, and in 1841 June, Titus, Angevine & Com|pany's "Circus and Caravan" showed in Springfield for two days. It was not until the latter half of the decade, however, that circuses came thick and fast, at the rate of two or three a year. Thus in 1848 Welch, Delavan & Nathan's "National Circus" exhibited for two days, and within two weeks Ray|mond & Company's "Mammoth Menagerie" was in town. The next year saw the advent of Mabie's troupe and Crane & Company's "Great Oriental Circus," both playing two-day stands before large crowds.
All the traditional features of the circus were evident. There were parades through the streets, bands, menageries, gymnasts, tableaux and "spectacles"—all under canvas tents. Not even the rodomontade of the press agent was lacking. There was "Youthful Richard Rivers, whose professional path has literally been strewn with garlands"; Frank Pastor, "the most wonderful child in the world"; the "Three Prize Darkies," guaranteed "to move every ear with delight and every soul with ecstasy"; and W. H. Kemp, "the best clown in America." Even an ordinary parade offered a chance for involved exaggeration. Thus the advance agent promised that when "The Great Philadelphia Zoological Garden" exhibited in Springfield, the menagerie would be preceded Page 102 "by the grand novel spectacle of an elegant Music Car, drawn by two noble Elephants, containing a superior band of music, with brass instruments, who will enliven the scene by executing some of the most popular pieces of music."
Press agents were always careful to emphasize the moral character of their performances. The people were assured that "the most fastidious" could listen to the jokes of Rock|well & Company's clown "without a blush." When the "Learned Pig," who could tell time, add and multiply, and play cards with anyone in the audience, was exhibited at the City Hotel, patrons were promised an entertainment "strictly moral and instructive." Even stronger claims were made for Raymond & Company's "Mammoth Menagerie." "The exhibition," said its advance notices, "serves to enter|tain, and instruct all in the wondrous works of the Supreme Being, and is particularly impressive on the minds of youth."
Such emphasis on moral values, coupled with the under|current of protest against theatrical performances, indicates the presence of a large element who must have found their chief recreation in soberer diversions. Of these there were many. Lectures on a wide variety of subjects were given fre|quently. Because of the lack of transportation facilities, the speakers were usually local men or visitors from nearby towns. Springfield ministers and doctors, and the professors of Illinois College at Jacksonville, spoke most frequently. The range of subjects indicates a lively intellectual curiosity. Scientific subjects had the greatest attraction. During almost any winter one could hear addresses on chemistry, astron|omy, geology and electricity. Occasionally a mesmerist or phrenologist appeared. On these occasions a week of en|gagements, all well attended, was the rule.
Those interested in music had frequent opportunity to indulge their tastes. A band was formed in the thirties, and reorganized in 1839 under the direction of Jack Hough, the cabinetmaker. C. J. F. Clarke, an observant Yankee Page 103
Triumphal Entry of the New and Gorgeous Roman Band Chariot! Containing the NEW YORK BRASS BAND, and drawn by Ten Grey Horses, of the largest size.
This Stupendous work of art exhibits classical figures of colossal stature, in bold and vigorous sculpture grouped with lordly animals of the forest. The panels are adorned with appropriate painting, the whole being surmounted by an immense Canopy, supported by two Giraffes, and decorated with silken tapestry, on the apex of which is perched an American Eagle.
- Length of Chariot, 30 feet.
- Height to summit of Canopy, 20 “
- Weight in full, 8000 lbs.
Will be exhibited at Springfield on Tuesday, August 22d, 1848; one day only, from 1 P. M. to 4 P. M.
TO BE GIVEN BY THE JUVENILE CHOIR, Under the Direction of MR. MUNSON, AT THE FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, On Thursday Evening February 4th, at ½ past 6 o'clock.
- PART FIRST
- 1. The Children are Coming.
- 2. What is that Music I Hear?
- 3. The Cuckoo.
- 4. American War Song.
- 5. Brightly Speed the Hours.
- 6. The Haunted Spring.
- 7. This Bright and Frosty Morning.
- 8. The North Wind doth Blow.
- 9. United in a Joyous Band.
- 10. Light may her Heart be. (To my Mother.)
- 11. Gipsey's Wild Chant.
- 12. Where Shall We Go?
- PART SECOND.
- 1. Oh, How Sweet when Day Light Closes.
- 2. Bob O'Linkum.
- 3. Awake! The Song of Merry Greeting.
- 4. The Pear Tree.
- 5. Float Away.
- 6. Beauties of Nature.
- 7. Oh! 'tis Sweet to Sing.
- 8. Never Look Sad.
- 9. Come Brothers, Tune the Lay.
- 10. The Sleigh Ride.
- 11. Good Night.
☞ADMITTANCE 25 cents. ☞Tickets may be obtained at the Book Store and American House. Also at the Stores of E. R. Wiley and T. Alsep, SPRINGFIELD, February 4, 1847.
Supplementing social activities like these were public meet|ings of various kinds. A Fourth of July rarely passed with|out a public observance. Ordinarily the same pattern was followed—a parade, the reading of the Declaration of Inde|pendence, and an oration, by James C. Conkling or Abraham Lincoln or one of their fellow members of the bar, on the significance of the day. Occasions of national sorrow were elaborately observed. In honor of the death of William Henry Harrison the bells of the city were tolled at sunrise and minute guns were fired at two o'clock in the afternoon. This was the signal for the people to assemble at the Second Presbyterian Church, where a choir under the direction of John F. Rague sang hymns and Albert T. Bledsoe eulogized the dead President as "a scholar, a hero, a patriot and a statesman." When Andrew Jackson died a citizens' commit|tee, Page 106 which included Lincoln, John T. Stuart and Ninian W. Edwards, planned a public meeting at the State House where E. D. Baker, the Whig congressman-elect, spoke on the life and career of the great Democrat.
Occasionally a traveling celebrity stirred the town to ex|citement. The visit of Daniel Webster in 1837 was long remembered, but the arrival of Martin Van Buren, on June 17, 1842, aroused even more interest. The Springfield Band, the Sangamon Guards, and a large delegation of citizens on foot and in carriages, met the former President a mile from town as he came in on the Rochester road, and escorted him into the city. There the Springfield Artillery fired a salute of thirteen guns, after which Van Buren responded briefly to the welcoming address of David B. Campbell, the mayor. For the balance of the day the famous guest received callers at the American House. That evening a ball was given in his honor. The next day—Saturday—Van Buren visited the State House, and on Sunday he attended services at the Methodist and Second Presbyterian churches. On Monday he left for Jacksonville, having won the hearts of all except the most fanatical of his political opponents.
Another source of diversion available to all—at least dur|ing legislative sessions—was "the lobby." This was an insti|tution which had its origin in the presence of numbers of male visitors interested in public questions and not averse to combining the discussion of them with a little horse play. Men with these purposes in mind found a most convenient meeting place in the lobby of the State House, and so the group which gathered there on idle evenings came to be known by that name.
An elected president—"Coke, Speaker"—was charged with preserving order (when the preservation of order seemed desirable), and with appointing suitable committees. The list of committees and committee appointments for the first of the Springfield lobbies, which has been preserved, Page 107 shows clearly the nature of this unique institution. A. W. Calvary of Greene as chairman, with Messrs. Prickett of Will, Buckmaster of Madison, Flood of Adams, Baker of Randolph and Lockwood of Morgan, were charged with formulating "rules for the government of the Lobby, the preservation of order in the Halls, Ante-Chambers, Porches and Dormitories; also measures to be adopted for the com|fort and accommodation of loungers, loafers, and those afflicted with yawning, gaping, stretching, ennui, and the blue-devils." The committee on "feats of activity and agility; foot racing, ground and lofty tumbling, and all exer|cises of the 'Stadium,' the 'palestra' and the 'Campus Mar|tius'" included Nathaniel Pope and Bowling Green—both fat men. Doctor McCurdy of Fayette, Colonel May of Sangamon and Major Miller of Morgan were appointed a select committee, "fully authorized to enter into contracts for supplying the House with wood and water, stone-coal and peat; also pipes, tobacco and segars for fumigating on the most approved Knickerbocker principles, and to audit and settle all accounts therefor, and to draft and report to this House a poetry bill for the payment and liquidation of the same."
Most of the appointments, however, were of a serious nature. There were committees on subjects of both political and general interest. In the former class were "finance, and the perfecting our present system of revenue"; and "the Bank of Illinois, and the Bank of the State of Illinois." In the latter class were committees on the history of the state, with Thomas Ford, John Mason Peck and Cyrus Edwards as members; on agriculture and the improvement of breeds of domestic animals; on colleges, academies, common schools and the interests of literature generally.
Meeting at frequent intervals, the lobby did much more than entertain. Since many of the state's leading men took part in the discussions, questions before the General Page 108 Assembly were often debated with a breadth of knowledge greater than that which the legislature alone afforded. For this reason, as well as because of its meeting place, it came to be known as the "Third House," and to exercise a real influence on the formal sessions of the state's lawmakers.
It was not the lobby, however, nor the balls and concerts and lectures of Springfield, which left the most lasting im|pression on the memories of those who frequented the capital during these years. Rather was it the simple, cordial hospi|tality of her citizens. When, as old men, the young lawyers of the forties recalled the early days of their practice, the welcome which they had always found in the homes of Ninian W. Edwards, his brother Benjamin S. Edwards, John T. Stuart, Nicholas H. Ridgely, Stephen T. Logan, James L. Lamb and Thomas Mather—to name but a few— was the one recollection which time had not dimmed. "The old-fashioned, generous hospitality of Springfield—hospi|tality proverbial to this day throughout the State," exclaimed Isaac N. Arnold of Chicago forty years later. And then, with the picture of Mrs. Lincoln, awaiting with clouded brain the end of her days in a darkened room, in his mind, he recalled the dinners and parties at which she had pre|sided. "In her modest and simple home," he said, "every|thing orderly and refined, there was always, on the part of both host and hostess, a cordial and hearty Western wel|come, which put every guest perfectly at ease. Mrs. Lincoln's table was famed for the excellence of many rare Kentucky dishes, and in season, it was loaded with venison, wild tur|keys, prairie chickens, quail and other game, which was then abundant. Yet it was her genial manners, and ever-kind wel|come, and Mr. Lincoln's wit and humor, anecdote, and un|rivalled conversation, which formed the chief attraction."
"We read much of 'Merrie England,'" said Arnold, "but I doubt if there was ever anything more 'merrie' than Springfield in those days."