Page images
PDF
EPUB

tains when the upper Ohio Valley was still a wilderness and began a pioneer existence in Kentucky just as that commonwealth became a state in the American Union. Mr. Sloo himself belonged to the first generation of native Trans-Allegheny pioneers and came to Illinois shortly after statehood was bestowed upon it. He figured in the stirring politics of the period when party lines were cast upon a personal basis, achieved an honorable position among the leaders of the new State, narrowly missed attaining the office of its chief executive, and left his impress upon its economic conditions. He then passed on to a distant but still connected scene of action where his career was cast in more retired personal and business lines with, however, an honorable opportunity for leaving his impress upon the community at large.

Mr. Sloo seems to have taken up his residence in Illinois during the spring of 1820, when he was in his thirtieth year. Although a comparatively young man his previous career had been an honorable one in his adopted home in Cincinnati. One of the first references to him in the Torrence papers bears the date of Dec. 4, 1811, and this letter is addressed to him as an inmate of General James Findlay's household. Although barely of age he seems to have been the confidential secretary of Findlay who was not only one of the leading merchants of Cincinnati but also Receiver of Public Monies for the Land Office and a high officer in the state militia. The relationship that young Sloo bore to him is indicated by the fact that Findlay refers to him as his “friend and sheet anchor.”

Findlay left his affairs in Sloo's hands while he was absent on public business connected with the preparation for the War of 1812, and in fact the General and his wife seemed to have adopted him into their childless but “friendly family” as they were later by marriage to admit him into closer relationship.

Despite the trust reposed in young Sloo he evidently chafed at a condition of affairs which kept him in Cincinnati while military measures were under way in northern Ohio, as a letter to his benefactress states.3 “What sensations must be produced in every bosom, that possesses the spark of patriotism or thirst for glory in the field of Mars. But fate as usual smiles on me but with contempt. She appears to decree in dire opposition to fire of youth and feelings of independencv-All's Well." In the second year of the war Sloo was sent to the east on important business for the Miami Exporting Company in connection with transportation of provisions and specie for the western army. While absent at the seat of government he was offered a commission in the regiment of Light Artillery. A more important result of this trip seems to be indicated in an enthusiastic description of his visit at Mercersburg, Pa. The sequel to this visit is his marriage, July 14, 1814, to Miss Harriet Irwin, a native of that town and a niece of Mrs. Findlay. At the conclusion of the war with Great Britain certain of the leading merchants of Cincinnati united to form a company to introduce English goods directly into that city by the way of New Orleans. Mr. Sloo, now of the firm of Baum and Sloo, and who had recently lost his bride after less than a year's marriage, was selected to act as the purchasing agent of this company in England and spent the next two years in this important commission. His own course seems to have been marked by great discretion, although the company did not realize their full expectations from the project because of unfortunate trading and banking conditions prevailing throughout the country.

1 P. T. Schenck to Thomas Sloo, Jr., Dec. 4, 1811, Torrence Papers, Box 20, No. 29.

2 James Findlay to Mrs. Jane Findlay, Torrence Papers, Box 6, No. 48. Other letters of this same date show Sloo's confidential relations with Findlay.

3 Ibid, Box 21, No. 36.

4 A few meagre details of this mission are given in letters of Martin Baum (Torrence Papers, Box 2. Nos. 8, 9, 10), of John Armstrong (Ibid, Box 1, No. 14a), of James Taylor (Ibid, Box 26, No. 18), and of Sloo, himself (Ibid, Box 21, No. 37, Box 1, No. 14b.).

5 Sloo evidently did not accept this commission in regular army. 6 Cf. Snyder, loc. cit. p. 202.

Returning to Cincinnati Sloo became a merchant in that city and also received certain other honors. 1818 he became one of the directors of the Cincinnati branch of the Second United States Bank, a position which brought him into close friendship with the cashier of that institution, Gorham A. Worth, from whose letters we gain many of the facts of Sloo's history for the next ten years. The year 1819, however, was marked by great financial disaster for nearly every leading citizen of Cincinnati. By 1820 the branch of the Second United States Bank, familiarly known in the west as the “Monster,” had foreclosed mortgages upon about half of the property in the business district of Cincinnati. This result was brought about by the intensive speculative spirit of the people of that city which permitted loose methods in conducting the affairs of the bank, as well as by the drastic measures assumed by that institution. The correspondence of Worth with Sloo at this period throws many an interesting sidelight upon the general financial conditions of Cincinnati and of the middle west. For those directly involved, including Sloo, the situation was one of despair.4

In the latter part of 1819 Sloo was appointed as agent of the Quartermaster General's Department for Cincinnati, Newport, and vicinity.5 Somewhat earlier in this year he married his second wife, Miss Rebecca Smith Findlay, a niece this time of General James Findlay. Thus he was doubly connected by marriage with those who had been his early benefactors.

The failure of his commercial ventures in Cincinnati caused losses which he honorably liquidated in time, although he was long hampered by them.? His obligations determined Sloo to seek a new career elsewhere. For some years his father had been connected with the United States Land Offices at Kaskaskia and Shawneetown, Ill. He, himself, as well as his friends, Worth and Torrence, had speculated heavily in western lands in Illinois and in Missouri.2 With his father and brothers living in Illinois and with land claims located near Shawneetown and along the lower Ohio, where H. L. Webb and Dr. William Alexander were attempting to develop a metropolis, it was only natural that Sloo should seek to recuperate his fortune in the young but thriving State. The process of financial recuperation, however, seems to have been a very slow one and Worth's letters show that he, at least, had little confidence in the ultimate success of Webb and Alexander's projects, or in the character of the men themselves.3

1 See letters which Sloo bore introducing him to General Jonathan Dayton ( Torrence Papers, Box 14, No. 58) and General Aaron Ogden (Ibid, Box22, No. 3), and also instructions written to him while abroad (Ibid, Box 11, Nos. 73, 74). One interesting item is a request from General Pike's widow (Ibid, Box 18, No. 71, printed in the Quarterly of the Historical and Philosophical Society, Vol. IV, p. 135) requesting him to collect the royalty due from the English edition of her husband's book.

2 These letters are contained in the Torrence Papers, Box 29, Nos. 49-66, and cover the years 1818-1824 inclusive. They are published, along with others relating to sloo in Volume VI. of the Quarterly of the Historical and Philosophical Society. In acknowledging a letter of Sloo Worth writes "It was a fine long letter in your usual easy and pleasant style."

3 Cf. Ibid, and Catterall, Ralph, c. H., The Second Bank of the United States, passim.

4 Worth's letter of Aug. 2, 1820, just a few weeks before the Branch of the United States Bank at Cin. cinnati was closed, is of special interest. Torrence Papers, Box 29, No. 58.

Ibid, Box 13, No. 18. This was probably the result of Sloo's friendship with Thomas Jesup, then Quartermaster-General of the United States Army.

6 Cf. Snyder, loc cit, p. 202. She was the daughter of John Findlay of Chambersburg, who was at one time Congressman from his district, and later postmaster of his town under Jackson. Cf. Torrence Papers, passim and the volumes of the Quarterly of the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio.

7 This is shown by references in the Torrence Papers as late as 1828.

With the handicap of business failure in Cincinnati Sloo also brought to the new State the prestige of friendship and intimate relation with such important men as Findlay, George P. Torrence, his brother-in-law, Jacob Burnet, and General William Henry Harrison. Through some of these men and his own family connections, he was likewise a protegé of W. H. Crawford, then Secretary of the Treasury and an aspirant for the Presidency. Sloo was thus naturally thrown in with another leading Crawfordite, Edward Coles, although he seems to have had intimate friends in the party that usually opposed the latter. His friendship for Crawford won for him later the enmity of Ninian Edwards, Daniel P. Cook, and others who were recognized as active Calhoun men. Despite this his prospects for political prominence seemed brighter than his financial ones.

Mr. Sloo seems to have tarried for a time at Shawneetown, where his father was already located, and then in 1821 passed further westward to locate in the new county of Hamilton, of which he was the first surveyor. In this capacity he laid out the town of McLeansboro, its county seat, which became his residence. In the combined capacity of merchant and farmer he speedily became a well known figure in that portion of the State and deservedly popular. It was characteristic for the new comer to plunge into politics and Sloo had hardly settled in his new environs before he received an appeal to take sides in the gubernatorial contest then raging. Joseph Phillips wrote to him on Dec. 21, 1821, asking him how his section stood with regard to supporting him personally. Phillips had every confidence in the ultimate success of the canvass which he was then making for Governor upon a pro-slavery ticket. In his reply some months later, Sloo frankly tells Phillips that he believes that Judge Thomas Browne will get the vote of his county and the result shows that he was correct. Judge Browne received 139 votes in Hamilton County in 1822, while Edward Coles received only 25 and Joseph Phillips 67. It was this division of pro-slavery votes between Browne and Phillips which gave the election to Coles by a plurality of 50 votes.1

1 Thomas Sloo, Sr., acted as commissioner in 1813 to determine land claims in the Kaskaskia District Cf. Private Statutes at Large of the U.S., 1789-1845, p. 120. Later he served as Register of the Land Office at Shawneetown, Cf. Official Register of the United States for 1822, p. 49. He was still living in 1827, Cf. Torrence Papers, Box 4, No. 56. This information is interesting, for the previous impression, even of his descendants, was that Thomas Sloo, Jr. was left an orphan at an early age. Worth mentions in a letter of Aug. 2, 1820 " my sober and sincere and rational friend, your mother” (Ibid, Box 29, No. 58) and Sloo's young son, in a schoolboy letter of Mar. 5, 1825 (Box 21, No. 49), refers to both his grandparents, then in İllinois. In addition Wörth refers (Ibid, Box 29, No. 61) to Sloo's brother Howell, who was associated with Henry L. Webb in land speculations and in selling wood to steamboats in southern Illinois; to John, of whon no other mention occurs; to James [C], who is mentioned by Snyder (loc cit 206), and Albert Gallatin), who figures so prominently in the Tehuantipec project of the 40's and 50's.

2 Cf. the letters of Worth as given in Torrence Papers and also Ibid, Box 11, No. 62 and Box 25, No. 37. 3 Cf. Ibid, Nos. 62-65. 4 Snyder, loc cit. p. 203.

In this same year, 1822, Sloo himself was elected to the Illinois Senate as a Representative of Hamilton and Jefferson counties. Shortly afterward he received this interesting letter from his friend Worth, now located in New York City:

“It gives me much pleasure to learn that you have become an important spoke in the legislative wheel of your State. Your stump speech must have been a good one. I always thought you possessed more natural eloquence than many public speakers, yours is not of the loud, the empty or declamatory species. But of that gentle persuasive and unsophisticated character, which is calculated to be felt, and consequently to be followed. If soundness of head, integrity of principle, kindness of heart and gentleness of temper, are considered of any value, or held in any estimation in Illinois you will become a favorite of the people. I pray God you may be enabled to settle in a satisfactory manner all your old business, and stand from all pecuniary evils, redemmed, regenerated and disenthralled.”

Sloo's legislative experience during the following winter may be judged from a letter he writes to his brother-in-law Torrence. În it

he says:

“We have had a very tedious and unpleasant session, there has been nothing but a continued scene of intrigue and electioneering. On the 9th inst. we had our election for Senator and Chief Justice. Our friend Jesse B. (Thomas) was re-elected on the first ballot, notwithstanding every exertion was made to defeat him. His triumph is the greater, as he had, a great portion of the big folks against him; but no matter we beat them, and I hope we shall always beat them.”

The extract indicates that Sloo was strongly attached to the party of Jesse B. Thomas and that the "big folks," that is Senator Edwards and his party, were openly arraigned against him. Calhoun, then Secretary of War and still a candidate for the Presidency, had greatly opposed the re-election of Thomas4 but in this he was not to realize his wish. This result contributed to the famous "A. B. Plot” of the following year which lost for Edwards the Mexican mission and his own re-election to the Senate.

More important in view of future developments is his reference to the proposed Illinois-Michigan Canal.5

"The most important bill that we now have before the Legislature is a bill making an appropriation for internal improvements, and which contemplates the location of a canal, from Lake Michigan to the Illinois River. It has passed the House of Representatives, and has been twice read in the Senate. It is now in the hands of a select committee, and I think its fate somewhat doubtful.”

1 Torrence Papers, Box 18, No. 68. Cf. also Davidson and Stuvé, History of Illinois, pp. 300-309. 2 Torrence Papers, Box 29, No. 59. 3 Ibid, Box 21, No. 43. 4 Edwards, Ninian W., History of Illinois, pp. 490, 493 and Edwards Papers, pp. 203, 204. 5 See Note 3 supra.

This bill, however, ultimately passed and gave Sloo a more important position in State politics. A board of five commissioners was appointed to consider the ways and means of constructing this canal under permission granted by the Federal Government. Sloo was one of these commissioners and at its first meeting was elected president and was the moving spirit in their later report advising the construction of the canal.1

In this same letter Sloo states, in January, 1823, that the convention question which involved the issue of slavery in Illinois was very doubtful and that there would not be more than one or two votes either way. As is well known the one vote necessary in the House was later obtained by unseating a member opposed to calling the convention. Sloo's own position in regard to this question seems to be doubtful. Dr. Snyder states that he voted for the resolution submitting the convention to the people. Letters from his friends, however, seem to indicate that he was opposed to the introduction of slavery into Illinois, and his son assures me that he never owned slaves himself, even when he resided in Louisiana; so if he voted for submitting the convention question to the people he must have done so for some reason of political expediency and not because he favored a system even of modified slavery for the new State of Illinois.

In the course of the following summer Governor Coles offers Sloo the position of Aid-de-Camp to himself as Commander-in-Chief of the State militia. After explaining the duties of this office he adds :* “Whether you accept this situation or not, you will do me the justice, I trust, to believe that I derive a sincere pleasure in giving you this small testimony of that great respect and sincere regard which I have long cherished for you."

In his reply declining the position because of his many engagements Sloo was equally frank and his expression throws some light upon his political principles :

"Believe me, sir, it is with no small degree of regret, that I have to decline your polite and friendly offer, but I am one of those old-fashioned fellows, who think it improper, for a man to accept of an appointment, without a reasonable probability of having it in his power, to perform the duties of the station.”

He goes on to explain that his work as canal commissioner and his legislative duties at Vandalia would consume so much of his time that he could not be absent from home the additional period necessary to review the militia. He closes with cordial expressions of friendship for Governor Coles and with an invitation to visit him at his home in Hamilton County.

During this same period his friend Worth kept him busy with suggestions for looking after his lands in Illinois, paying taxes upon the

! Torrence Papers, Box 36, No. 14 and also Davidson and Stuvé, p. 343.

* Loc cit, 203. In a letter to the writer Dr. Snyder states that Ex-Governor John Reynolds is his authority for this statement.

3 Under date of Aug. 3, 1823, Israel T. Canby writes from Madison, Indiana to Sloo,“ You express your hostility to the introduction of slavery” (into Illinois) and goes on to elaborate a scheme of modi. fied slavery for the state. Torrence Papers, Box 4, No. 13. Cf. also Worth's letter, Ibid, Box 29, No. 65.

4 Torrence Papers, Box 21, No. 44.

« PreviousContinue »