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A PROGRAM PRESENTED UNDER THE AUSPICES OF THE STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY OF ILLINOIS
WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 1911.
2:30 p. m., Evanston Historical Society Rooms. Col. Clark E. Carr, President of the State Historical Society of Illinois, Presiding.
Address of Welcome-Joseph E. Paden, Mayor of Evanston.
Paper—"Thomas Sloo, Jr.-A Typical Politician of Early Illinois”—Isaac J. Cox, Professor in the University of Cincinnati.
Paper-“The Fordhams and La Serres of the English Settlement in Edwards County, Illinois"—Walter Colyer, Albion, ill.
Paper— “The Development of the State Constitutions"-Christopher B. Coleman, Professor in Butler College, Indianapolis.
Paper—“Lincoln and the Beginning of the Republican Party in Illinois"Oliver P. Wharton, Los Angeles, Cal.
Paper—“Massachusetts, the Germans, and the Chicago Convention of 1860”—Frank I. Herriott, Professor in Drake University, Des Moines.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 17-SECOND SESSION.
8:00 p. m., Assembly Room in Lunt Library, Northwestern University. Abram W. Harris, President of Northwestern University, Presiding.
Address-“Illinois”—Col. Clark E. Carr, President of the Society.
THURSDAY, MAY 18—THIRD SESSION. 10:00 a. m., Chicago Historical Society Building. Clark E. Carr, Presiding.
Paper—“Life and Labors of William H. Collins," one of the founders of the Illinois Historical Society-Rev. James Robert Smith, Quincy.
Annual Business Meeting of the Illinois Historical Society. Reports of Committees and Officers.
Clark E. Carr.
The position of Illinois in the aggregation of states is such as to have great influence in binding the Federal Union together. Extending as she does, from north latitude 36 degrees 59 minutes to 42 degrees 30 minutes, from Wisconsin, a state of the northern boundary, clear down to rivers which furnish navigation and means of commerce, to the southern limit of the Republic, she is potential in an extraordinary degree in binding all the states of the Union together. Illinois had not such an extent when first laid out. She was first called a county of Virginia, then created into a county of the vast region organized by the ordinance of 1787; and that county was afterward made into a territory. As a territory her southern and eastern and western boundaries were as now, but the northern boundary was an imaginary line running due west from the southern point of Lake Michigan. The northern boundary of Illinois would have so continued but for the far-reaching statesmanship and heroic efforts of Judge Nathanel Pope, who was the delegate in congress from the Territory of Illinois. Realizing how strong a hold the State from her position would have upon the south, he foresaw that if she could be placed in a position to have a similar grasp upon the north, she would be more potential than any other state in the Union in binding and holding the states together. So strong was this belief in the mind of Judge Pope that he urged it with great power in congress and he succeeded in extending the boundary of the State to its present limits, taking in to the north, beyond the limits hitherto settled upon, fourteen of the best counties of the State, and taking the same territory away from Wisconsin. The northern boundary reaches almost up to a parallel with the southern boundary of the state of Maine, while the southern point at Cairo is almost as far south as the southern line of the state of Kentucky. Cairo herself is much further south than the cities of Washington and Louisville while Centralia is about a parallel with Louisville and St. Louis. And the northern boundary of Missouri extends almost to a parallel with Bloomington, Peoria and Galesburg. Illinois in the Civil War, was mighty in holding the states of the Union together, in a great degree, because of her location, showing the wisdom of Judge Pope in establishing her boundaries. Major General John Pope, who gained distinction in the Civil War, was the son of Nathaniel Pope.
The ordinance of 1787, establishing a government of the Northwest Territory, dedicated this whole region to freedom. Under that ordinance, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan, came into the Union as free states, although in a few isolated neighborhoods slaves were held in bondage. Illinois was admitted into the Union as a free State in 1818. Three years later, in 1821, Missouri was admitted into the Union as a slave state. In those early days all the emigration to the west was from the south. There had then yet been to the west but little emigration from Europe and from the eastern states. The people of Illinois were practically all natives of Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and the Carolinas. Upon the admission of Missouri into the Union there sprang up an extraordinary emigration to that new state from the south. In making their way to Missouri they crossed the prairies of Illinois. Among these emigrants were people of large means, having great trains of cattle and horses, and frequently slaves, which attracted the attention of the pioneers in Illinois. These Illinois pioneers, many of whom had left the south to get rid of slavery and who could not afford to own slaves, annoyed at seeing so many pass by them, urged these emigrants to stop and locate in Illinois, claiming that Illinois was really a better State than Missouri, and urging her advantage. But the reply was, “We cannot locate in Illinois because you have adopted an anti-slavery Constitution, and we cannot hold our property here." The result of this was to create in the minds and hearts of many Illinois people a desire to establish slavery and to so amend the Constitution as to permit it to be introduced. A powerful political party sprang up favoring slavery. But the free State Constitution could not be amended except first by calling a convention for that purpose and submitting the question to the people to be voted on by them. To call such a convention required a two-thirds majority in both Houses of the Legislature. Many of the people of the State of Illinois, too poor to own slaves, had migrated from the south to the State for the purpose of getting rid of slavery and they did not want it established under any circumstances, and opposed it with all their might. The leader of the opposition to slavery was Edward Coles, a very prominent and wealthy man, the second Governor of Illinois, who had from principle, because he became conscientiously opposed to slavery, manumitted all his slaves, entered into the anti-slavery movement with all his power. It was urged that the ordinance of 1787, having prohibited slavery in this region forever, slavery could not be established in Illinois; but on the other hand, it appeared that Illinois, having now become a sovereign State in the Union, had as much authority in controlling her domestic affairs as had Virginia or any other state, and if she chose to so amend her Constitution as to legalize holding human beings in bondage, she had the right to do so. Never was there so long and bitter and acrimonious a struggle as was that in Illinois upon the slavery question. It lasted for more than a year and a half. When one reflects that all those people were from the south, reared among slavery and accustomed to it all their lives, it seems almost incredible that they should not have favored it.
The political battle was waged with earnestness and constantly increasing zeal in every village and hamlet, and it may be said, in almost every family, for eighteen months.
To the everlasting honor and glory of the people of Illinois, the advocates of slavery were overwhelmed in defeat and the State rededicated to freedom. The vote stood 4,972 in favor of amending the Constitution, so as to establish slavery, and 6,640 against so amending the Constitution. There was a majority of 1,668 against slavery, which, considering how small was the population of the State at that time, was extraordinary.
I wish it were possible for me to name all the splendid men who were active in saving Illinois from the blight of human slavery. Among them I must name Henry Eddy, of Shawneetown, Morris Birkbeck, an English gentleman of large means who had settled in Illinois, and George Churchill and Nicholas Hanson, the latter of whom was unjustly turned out of his seat in the Legislature in order to give the pro-slavery men a two-thirds majority. I mentioned the name of George Churchill because I once had the pleasure of meeting him in Galesburg. He was a brother of the late Norman Churchill of Galesburg, and an uncle of George Churchill, the distinguished professor in Knox College. He was an abolitionist all his life, a printer by profession, frequently elected to the Legislature and accounted one of the best working members. He never made a speech of more than five minutes in length, but it, however, contained all that ought to be said. It was said that he was a perfect walking encyclopedia of political knowledge. He lived and died a bachelor. Above and beyond all these who ought to be remembered, is Edward Coles.
It will thus be seen that the pioneers of Illinois, regardless of their own interests, before an abolition party had been organized, when slavery existed all about them, when to be a slave-holder was almost a title of nobility, disregarding their own interests, permitted the wealth and grandeur of the south to pass by them in order that they and their posterity should enjoy the inestimable blessing of freedom. Does any one marvel that citizens of our State are proud of being Illinoisans ? This is but one of the achievements of the people of Illinois of which we are proud.
In the short time alloted to me, it will be impossible to even allude to all the glorious episodes in the history of our great State, but there is one other that I cannot forbear mentioning.
As was the case in certain other states, there came upon the people of Illinois in 1836 an hysterical feeling in favor of internal improvements, which amounted really to a craze.
The Legislature elected in 1836 was supplemented by an internal improvement convention composed of many of the ablest men of the State, which was to meet at the Capitol simultaneously with the Legislature. It was probable that the more zealous advocates of internal improvements doubted the stamina of the members of the Legislature to carry the proposed enterprises into effect. So strong was the popular feeling that it was said that every citizen of Illinois expected to have a railroad or canal built near his house. The system contemplated the