Lincoln’s speech in Pekin

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This month in which we have observed President Abraham Lincoln’s 211th birthday is an ideal time to take a look back to the life of the 16th president of the United States, with a special focus on one of Lincoln’s local connections in Tazewell County.

In this column space, we have previously reviewed some of the places and events in Tazewell County to which Lincoln had a connection. Often these connections are relatively minor or obscure, some are mundane, and some are more significant, such as Lincoln’s involvement in the 1841 case of Bailey vs. Cromwell, that secured the freedom of “Black Nance” Legins-Costley and her three eldest children.

At times local memories of Lincoln’s connections to Tazewell County have been garbled with the passage of time. One such garbled memory has to do with the famous Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858: namely, whether or not – and when or where – Lincoln gave a speech in Pekin in the context of the famous debates during the U.S. Senatorial campaign of 1858, when the anti-slavery Lincoln, a Republican, attempted to unseat incumbent Sen. Stephen Douglas, who was a pro-slavery Democrat.

Pekin, of course, was not one of the seven sites where Lincoln and Douglas debated issues related to the institution of slavery and whether or not black Africans should have civil equality with Americans of white European origin. However, the old Pekin Centenary volume, on pages 15 and 17, says Lincoln and his fellow abolitionist politician, U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, came to Pekin on Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1858, and addressed a large crowd in the court house square.

That would have been toward the end of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. In fact, it would have been just one day before Lincoln and Douglas debated in Galesburg, which was the fifth of the Lincoln-Douglas debates. It is highly unlikely that Lincoln could have spoken in Pekin one day and then traveled to Galesburg to take part in a debate the very next.

Other recollections of Lincoln’s 1858 speech in Pekin give a different date. For example, Ernest East in his “Abraham Lincoln Sees Peoria” (1939), page 33, says, “The Peoria House again on the night of Tuesday, Oct. 5, 1858, was a stopping place for Lincoln. He occupied room No. 16 which five days earlier had been occupied by Stephen A. Douglas. Lincoln spoke in Pekin in the afternoon . . . Lincoln left Peoria on the morning of October 6. His movements for the day are not fully known but he reached Knoxville in the evening in a violent storm.

On this subject, the Feb. 2020 issue of Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society “Monthly”, page 2717, reprints a short article from the Bloomington Pantagraph (Tuesday, March 17, 1896), entitled, “Mr. Lincoln’s Pekin Speech.” That 1896 article reads as follows:

“In the controversy about when Hon. Abraham Lincoln spoke in Pekin and whether in joint debate, Mr. Edward Roberts, an old settler at Mackinaw, says he feel sure it was the last of October, 1858, and that he spoke from the front porch of Mr. Joyce Wagonseller’s (sic – Joshua Wagenseller) dwelling, and was introduced and entertained by Mr. Wagonseller. It was not a joint debate but Mr. Lincoln spoke one day and Mr. Douglas the next.

“Mr. George Patterson, another old settler, corroborates this statement. They both went to Pekin purposely to hear this speech and heard it from beginning to end. He also spoke in Tremont the last of August the same year. Mr. Roberts heard this speech also, and had the honor of eating at the same table with Mr. Lincoln. He remembers Mr. Lincoln making the remarks when he went to get up from the table, that he could hardly get his long legs from under it, the table being quite low. The bench they sat on, rather high, made the sitting posture very uncomfortable for a long-legged person.”

This account of Lincoln’s Pekin speech provides a different date – Sunday, Oct. 31, 1858, rather than Wednesday, Oct. 6, 1858 – and a different location – the front steps of Joshua Wagenseller’s dwelling, not the court house square. In these recollections there is also no reference to Trumbull speaking with him.

The 1861 Root’s City Directory of Pekin, page 60, says Joshua Wagenseller then lived at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market.” At first glance, the description of that location is nonsensical, because present-day Market Street does not intersect with Broadway. During the 1870s, however, present-day Market Street did intersect with Broadway approximately where Broadway and 14th Street intersect today — more specifically, the corner of Sycamore and Broadway. That would seem to place Lincoln’s Pekin speech at the far eastern end of town, almost the opposite of what the 1949 Pekin Centenary reported.

That, however, is not where the Wagenseller house was located. In those early days, Pekin very confusingly had TWO Market Streets. Besides the one we’re familiar with today, there was a completely different Market Street in Cincinnati Addition, running south from Broadway — that stretch of roadway is today part of Second Street. It was there, at the southwest corner of Broadway and Second, that Joshua Wagenseller’s grand house was situated. The house is long gone, and today that spot is at or near the parking lot of Wieland’s Lawn Mower Hospital, which itself is next-door to the former Franklin Grade School. (My thanks to Wagenseller’s descendant Dan Toel and to Connie Perkins for their assistance in clarifying and correcting this matter.)

Why did Pekin have two different Market Streets? Probably because Cincinnati Addition had originally been platted to be a separate, rival town to Pekin, and only became a part of Pekin later. Cincinnati’s Market Street kept its old name for a few decades even after Cincinnati was annexed by Pekin, which had its own Market Street.

The circle on this detail from an 1872 map of Pekin shows indicates the location where Broadway and Market streets formerly intersected, in the days when the stretch of present-day Second Street was known as Market Street — not to be confused with present-day Market Street, which followed an old rail bed in a generally east-west direction through town. Joshua Wagenseller’s homestead was located at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market” (Second), which is today is at or near the parking lot of Wieland’s Lawn Mower Hospital. According to tradition, Abraham Lincoln gave a speech from the front steps of Wagenseller’s house in Oct. 1858 and was a frequent visitor there.

Joshua Wagenseller’s house at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market” is depicted in this detail of an 1877 aerial map of Pekin. The view looks in a southerly direction. At the western edge of the detail, marked “26,” are the old gas works. Across Main Street from the gas works are two small homes at the location of Jonathan Tharp’s 1824 log cabin, today the site of the former Franklin School. Wagenseller’s home is the grand edifice next to the two small homes.

The circle on this detail from an 1872 map of Pekin shows indicates the location where Broadway and present-day Market Street formerly intersected, in the days when Market Street followed an old rail bed through town. Joshua Wagenseller’s homestead was located at the southwest corner of Broadway and “Market” — but that was a different Market Street. Confusingly, at one time Pekin had two entirely different streets named “Market,” one of them still extant today, the other in Cincinnati Addition and now a part of Second Street. Wagenseller’s house was at the southwest corner of Broadway and Second.

The recollections of Roberts and Patterson would place this speech 16 days after the seventh and final of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, and just two days before Election Day. This is may be more plausible than the statement in the Pekin Centenary, but East’s account placing the speech on Oct. 5 rather than Oct. 6 is also geographically and chronologically plausible. The Centenary’s statement would seem to be off by only one day, and appears to be a garbling of Lincoln’s Pekin speech of 1858 with his more famous Peoria speech of 1856, when Lincoln was indeed joined by Sen. Trumbull.

In fact, we can confirm that East’s date is the correct one, because a news report in the Oct. 5, 1858 Peoria Transcript (reprinted in the 6 Oct. 1858 Chicago Press & Tribune) tells us that Lincoln’s speech in Pekin was on Oct. 5, 1858:

“Mr. Lincoln was welcomed to Tazewell county and introduced to the audience by Judge Bush [John M. Bush, probate judge in Pekin] in a short and eloquently delivered speech, and when he came forward, was greeted with hearty applause. He commenced by alluding to the many years in which he had been intimately acquainted with most of the citizens of old Tazewell county, and expressed the pleasure which it gave him to see so many of them present. He then alluded to the fact that Judge Douglas, in a speech to them on Saturday, had, as he was credibly informed, made a variety of extraordinary statements concerning him. He had known Judge Douglas for twenty-five years, and was not now to be astonished by any statement which he might make, no matter what it might be. He was surprised, however, that his old political enemy but personal friend, Mr. John Haynes [sic – James Haines] — a gentleman whom he had always respected as a person of honor and veracity—should have made such statements about him as he was said to have made in a speech introducing Mr. Douglas to a Tazewell audience only three days before. He then rehearsed those statements, the substance of which was that Mr. Lincoln, while a member of Congress, helped starve his brothers and friends in the Mexican war by voting against the bills appropriating to them money, provisions and medical attendance. He was grieved and astonished that a man whom he had heretofore respected so highly, should have been guilty of such false statements, and he hoped Mr. Haynes was present that he might hear his denial of them. He was not a member of Congress he said, until after the return of Mr. Haynes’ brothers and friends from the Mexican war to their Tazewell county homes—was not a member of Congress until after the war had practically closed. He then went into a detailed statement of his election to Congress, and of the votes he gave, while a member of that body, having any connection with the Mexican war. He showed that upon all occasions he voted for the supply bills for the army, and appealed to the official record for a confirmation of his statement.

“Mr. Lincoln then proceeded to notice, successively, the charges made against him by Douglas in relation to the Illinois Central Railroad, in relation to an attempt to Abolitionize the Whig party and in relation to negro equality.

“After finishing his allusions to the special charges brought against him by his antagonist, Mr. Lincoln branched out into one of the most powerful and telling speeches he has made during the campaign. It was the most forcible argument against Mr. Douglas’ Democracy, and the best vindication of and eloquent plea for Republicanism, that we ever listened to from any man.”

One question yet remains: Did Lincoln deliver his 5 Oct. 1858 speech at Wagenseller’s home, or at the courthouse square as the Centenary claims. Unfortunately the above-quoted contemporary report does not explicitly say where the speech took place. The courthouse square would seem a more logical place for such an event. Even so, the “History of the Wagenseller Family,” compiled by George R. Wagenseller Sr., says that Lincoln was frequently a houseguest of Joshua Wagenseller – who was one of Pekin’s ardent abolitionists – and that Wagenseller even invited Lincoln to treat his home as his Pekin headquarters.

This 1896 photograph from the collection of Dan Toel shows the old Wagenseller home, formerly located at about the southwest corner of Broadway and present-day Second Street. Among those shown in the photo are members of the Toel and Wagenseller families. PHOTO COURTESY DAN TOEL

The same history asserts that Lincoln gave several speeches at different times from the second-floor balcony of the Wagenseller house. Thus, it would make sense that he might address a gathered crowd in that place on 5 Oct. 1858. Nevertheless, the recollections of pioneers sometimes grew hazy with time, and that is what happened in this case — Roberts and Patterson probably confused another talk Lincoln gave at the Wagenseller house with Lincoln’s Pekin speech of 1858, which did take place in the Tazewell County Courthouse square, as we may read in the following article from The Tazewell Register, Thursday, Oct. 7, 1858 (reprinted in the TCGHS Monthly, Oct. 2007, pages 1449-1451 (emphasis added):

The “Lincoln Rally”

Mr. Lincoln met with a very cordial reception from his friends on Tuesday [Oct. 5], and if they are satisfied with the demonstration, we see no reason why democrats should not be. The procession, numbering about one hundred teams, averaging six persons to a team — one third of whom however, were not voters — passed through the streets several times, and finally brought up at the court-house square, where Mr. Lincoln, accompanied by his abolition friend Webb and others, mounted the stand. T. J. Pickett gave the cue for “three cheers;” after which Judge Bush delivered an address of welcome suitable to the occasion. Mr. Lincoln spoke for about two hours, and then left for Peoria on his way to Galesburg, where he has a discussion today with Judge Douglas.

The crowd in town was easily estimated, and we think we are liberal enough allowing three thousand, including men, women, and children. Of course, besides the democrats, there was a large number of old line whigs present who have no idea of amalgamating with abolitionists, even to oblige Mr. Lincoln.

Trumbull was not here to take the place assigned in the bills, but Judge Kellogg was on hand, and spoke in the courthouse at night. We were not present, but understand he appeared as the peculiar advocate and representative of Lyman Trumbull, and repeated the charges for which Judge Douglas had branded Trumbull as “an infamous falsifier.”

We have conversed with a number of democrats who were in town on Tuesday and Saturday, and they assure us that the two meetings demonstrate beyond a doubt that the county is sure to go for Douglas.

From this report, it is clear that the the 1949 Pekin Centenary’s statements regarding Lincoln’s speech in Pekin were mistaken not only in the date (Oct. 5, not Oct. 6) and in stating that Trumbull was present on the occasion. The mistake regarding Trumbull’s presence was perhaps due to the fact that printed handbills advertising the planned speech had said Trumbull would be there. The author of the Centenary text have have based his statement on what was said in the handbills.

NOTE: The day after publication, this article was updated, augmented and corrected with additional information and images. The assistance of Dan Toel and Connie Perkins is especially appreciated.

#abolitionism, #abraham-lincoln, #edward-roberts, #ernest-east, #george-patterson, #george-r-wagenseller-sr, #john-m-bush, #jonathan-haines, #joshua-wagenseller, #lincoln-speech-in-pekin, #lyman-trumbull, #market-street, #stephen-a-douglas, #thomas-j-pickett

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in March 2015 before the launch of this weblog.

Tazewell County Old Settler Joshua Wagenseller

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Among the biographies of the Old Settlers of Tazewell County featured in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County” is an extended account of the life of a Tazewell pioneer named Joshua Wagenseller. Joshua’s family is commemorated today in the name of Wagonseller Road south of Pekin. Following are excerpts of Joshua’s biographical essay — omitting most of the remarkably florid prose in which this and the other biographies in the 1873 “Atlas Map” were written.

“Joshua Wagenseller is a native of Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, born July 5, 1813. He is the fifth child of Peter and Susanna (Longaker) Wagenseller. Mr. W., father of Joshua, was a native of Montgomery county, Pa., and his parents were of German descent. He followed farming as the vocation of his life. He emigrated to Ohio about the year 1832, and settled in Columbus, Franklin county, where he resided until his death, which occurred about two years after. His wife, mother of Joshua, subsequently removed to Pekin, Ill., terminating a useful life in 1866, while residing with her son Joshua. . . .

“The subject of this biography acquired his early culture mostly at Green Tree Seminary, in his native country, where he acquired a knowledge of the rudiments of a good, practical, business education. His first business engagement after completing his course was in a wholesale dry goods house in the city of Philadelphia, where he obtained a position as bookkeeper and accountant. The next business engagement was with his brother in Union county, Pa., where he remained about two years. We would remark that these experiences of his early life laid the foundation for that successful business career which in after life distinguished him in his subsequent mercantile transactions.

“He was now of age, and, looking westward for a richer field in which to enlarge and develop his energies, he went to Columbus, Ohio, and erected a saw mill on Elm creek, and was engaged in the manufacture of lumber about three years, or until the spring of 1837, when he removed to Illinois, and settled in Pekin, Tazewell county. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller formed a partnership with his brother Benjamin, and, under the firm name of ‘B. & J. Wagenseller,’ he began, in Pekin, a course of mercantile life, which business he has since followed. This original firm ceased in 1844, by the death of his brother. They went through the financial crash of 1840 unscathed. . . . Since the dissolution of this firm, Mr. Wagenseller has been at the head of subsequent business houses, and although he has been identified with other business largely in life, merchandising has been his leading vocation. He has been engaged in milling covering an aggregate of nearly ten years. He rebuilt and owned the first good grist mill propelled by water in Tazewell county. . . .

This drawing of the downtown Pekin store of J. Wagenseller & Son was printed in the 1873 “Atlas Map of Tazewell County.”

“Mr. Wagenseller was married May 7, 1840, to Miss Harriet, daughter of Henry and Naomi Rupert, of Pekin, — formerly of Virginia. As the fruits of this union, they have had a family of six children. Two of his sons are now engaged with him in his present mercantile operations. Two of his sons are married, and all of his family are at this time (1873) residents of Pekin. Mr. Wagenseller and wife are both members of the Congregational Church of Pekin, and are among the original members of that church.

“Mr. W., in addition to his mercantile business, owns and carries on a farm near Pekin. He also owns a large area of land located in Iowa. . . . Politically, in early life, Mr. Wagenseller became a whig. His first vote for president was cast for Gen. Wm. H. Harrison, in 1836. He was anti-slavery in his sentiments, and the following circumstance, as related by himself, opened his eyes to the inhumanity of the slave traffic. While on a trip to New Orleans, on a steamboat, a slave owner came on board with a woman and six children. He witnessed the revolting spectacle of a slave girl sold on the block. ‘The scene,’ said Mr. W., ‘made me ever afterward an abolitionist.’ On the disorganization of the whig party, in 1856, he became identified with the republican party, to which he has since been strongly attached. He voted twice for the immortal Lincoln and twice for the valiant Grant, who so ably assisted in firmly planting the stars and stripes on the bulwark of American freedom. . . .

“Mr. Wagenseller has been required to represent the interests of his ward for several years in the common council of the city, and was vice president of the Peoria, Pekin, & Jacksonville Railroad Company. He has been one of the active, public-spirited citizens of Pekin for thirty-six years.”

#abolitionism, #joshua-wagenseller, #pekin-history, #preblog-columns, #slavery, #tazewell-county-history, #wagonseller-road

The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

This is a revised version of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in February 2012 before the launch of this weblog, republished here as a part of our Illinois Bicentennial Series on early Illinois history.

The abolitionists of Pekin and the formation of the Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On Friday, Aug. 3, at 11 a.m., in the Pekin Public Library Community Room, the library will have a showing of two videos about Pekin’s first astronaut Lt. Commander (ret.) Scott Altman. The videos are a part of the library’s Illinois Bicentennial Series.

First will be a 35-minute video of Altman’s keynote address at an April 1996 meeting of the Pekin Area Chamber of Commerce. Afterwards will be a showing of the footage of Altman’s recent induction into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Astronauts’ Hall of Fame, a video 20 minutes in length.

While the Bicentennial Series videos next week exemplify the astounding technological progress of the modern age, this week’s “From the Local History Room” column looks back to an important aspect of the push for moral and cultural progress in Illinois. This will we will take a trip back to the days of the slavery abolition movement, which made its mark in Pekin and Tazewell County, as it did in many other communities in the Northern States. The “Pekin Centenary 1849-1949” volume presents an enlightening narrative of that important time in our local history.

As we have seen from earlier columns in our Illinois Bicentennial Series, although Illinois was a “free” state, pro-slavery sentiment was predominant throughout southern and central Illinois. In our area, according to the Centenary (p.15), “Pekin was a pro-slave city for years. Some of the original settlers had been slave-owners themselves, and the overwhelming sentiment in Pekin was Democratic. Stephen A. Douglas, not Abraham Lincoln, was the local hero, although Lincoln was well-liked, and had some German following.

Lincoln, of course, was one of Illinois’ leading abolitionist attorneys and politicians, and in 1841 he argued and won a case before the Illinois Supreme Court that secured the freedom of “Black Nance,” a Pekin resident who was the former slave of Nathan Cromwell, whose wife Ann Eliza had chosen Pekin’s name. On Oct. 6, 1858, Lincoln and his fellow abolitionist politician, U.S. Senator Lyman Trumbull, came to Pekin and addressed a large crowd in the court house square. (Trumbull would later co-author the Thirteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution outlawing slavery.)

It was largely due to the influx of German immigrants into Pekin, many of whom had fled religious persecution in their home countries, that abolitionist sentiment began to flourish in our city. Many Baptists were abolitionists, and in 1853 a German congregation of Baptists organized in Pekin – the origin of Pekin’s Calvary Baptist Church.

Among Pekin’s abolitionist leaders, according to the Pekin Centenary, was Dr. Daniel Cheever, who engaged in Underground Railroad activities from his home at the corner of Capitol and Court streets (and whose farm near Delavan was a depot on the Underground Railroad), by which runaway slaves were helped to escape to Canada. Other early Pekin settlers active in the abolitionist movement were the brothers Samuel and Hugh Woodrow (Catherine Street was named for Samuel’s wife, and Amanda Street was named for Hugh’s). The Woodrows aided runaway slaves at their homes in the vanished village of Circleville south of Pekin.

With the onset of the Civil War in 1861, Illinois cities such as Pekin and Peoria were divided between the pro-slavery element, who favored the Confederacy, and the abolitionist and pro-Union element. In the early days of the war, a secessionist organization calling itself the “Knights of the Golden Circle” (which was something of a precursor to the Ku Klux Klan) boldly worked in support of secession and slavery. The Centenary says the Knights were “aggressive and unprincipled,” and “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid.”

This detail from an 1877 “aerial view” map of Pekin shows the building, marked by the number 55, where the Union League was organized on June 25, 1862.

To counter the dominance of the Knights and promote the cause of the Union, a secret meeting was held on June 25, 1862, above Dr. Cheever’s office at 331 Court St., where 11 of Pekin’s early settlers formed the Union League to promote the cause of Union and abolition. The anti-slavery Germans of Pekin quickly became active in the League. Soon a chapter of the Union League was organized in Bloomington, and then an important chapter in Chicago, where John Medill, founding publisher of the Chicago Tribune, was a leading member.

Very soon the Union League had “swept the entire North and became a great and powerful instrument for propaganda and finance in support of the War” (Pekin Centenary, p.21). After the war, the League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

The 11 founding members of the Union League were the Rev. James W. N. Vernon, Methodist minister at Pekin; Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

The building where these 11 men gathered in June 1862 was later the location of the Smith Bank and Perlman Furniture in downtown Pekin. Perlman Furniture burned down in 1968 and a few years later Pekin National Bank was built on the site. Plaques commemorating the Union League’s founding are displayed inside and on the outside of the bank building.

A historical plaque on the outside wall of Pekin National Bank at the corner of Court and Capitol streets in downtown Pekin marks the site where the Union League of America was founded. IMAGE COURTESY OF ILLINOIS STATE HISTORICAL SOCIETY

#abolitionism, #abraham-lincoln, #alexander-small, #ann-eliza-cromwell, #black-nance, #charles-turner, #dr-daniel-cheever, #first-slave-freed-by-abraham-lincoln, #george-h-harlow, #hart-montgomery, #henry-pratt, #hugh-woodrow, #illinois-bicentennial, #james-w-n-vernon, #john-medill, #john-w-glassgow, #jonathan-merriam, #knights-of-the-golden-circle, #levi-f-garrett, #lyman-trumbull, #nathan-cromwell, #pekin-national-bank, #perlman-furniture-co, #preblog-columns, #richard-northcroft-cullom, #samuel-woodrow, #stephen-a-douglas, #teis-smith-bank, #union-league

Free State of Illinois: Gov. Coles calls for emancipation

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously in our ongoing Illinois Bicentennial series, we saw how the controversy over slavery affected the history and development of Illinois from the formation of the Northwest Territory in 1787 right up to Illinois statehood in 1818. In fact, the dispute between Illinois’ pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers played a role both in the breaking off of the Illinois Territory from the Indiana Territory in 1809 and in the race to achieve statehood for Illinois prior to Missouri.

This week we’ll recall how the issue flared up again during the tenure of Illinois’ second state governor Edward Coles (1786-1868).

About two years after Illinois became a state, the U.S. Congress agreed to admit Missouri and Maine to the Union simultaneously under the Missouri Compromise of 1820, which sought to defuse tensions between America’s pro-slavery and abolitionist parties by keeping the numbers of new “slave states” and “free states” balanced. The Missouri Compromise stipulated that slavery would be illegal in any new states formed from the areas of the Louisiana Purchase north of Parallel 36°30′ North.

Looking ahead, we can see that although the issue of slavery continued to simmer in the next three decades, at the national level the Missouri Compromise had moved the issue to the back burner. This arrangement endured until 1854, when Congress passed Illinois Sen. Stephen A. DouglasKansas-Nebraska Act, which repealed the Missouri Compromise and made slavery possible north of Parallel 36°30′ North.

Douglas’ rival Abraham Lincoln sharply criticized the Kansas-Nebraska Act in his Peoria speech on Oct. 16, 1854, an important step on the road that would take Lincoln to the White House. The resulting outrage over the act on the part of the free states and the abolitionists led to the dreadful violence of “Bleeding Kansas” and, ultimately, to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 and the final abolition of slavery in 1865.

In the great conflict over slavery, Illinois was ranged with the free states. As noted before, Article 6 the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had outlawed slavery in any territories or states that later would be formed from the Northwest Territory. But in its early history Illinois’ place among the slave states was somewhat dubious and precarious. Most of Illinois’ early settlers came from slave states and territories, and from 1796 to 1806 there were repeated attempts to legalize slavery in the Indiana and Illinois territories.

Although the pro-slavery forces in Illinois failed to legalize slavery, effectively the practice of slavery still went on in Illinois due to an indentured servitude law that made it possible for slave owners to pressure their slaves to agree to continue to serve their masters after coming to Illinois. In Jan. 1818, the Illinois Territorial Legislature sought to emphasize to Congress that Illinois would be a free state by approving a bill that would have reformed labor contracts to eliminate the practice of indentured servitude. However, Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833), himself a wealthy aristocratic slave-owner, vetoed the bill, claiming it was unconstitutional – the only time Edwards ever exercised his veto power as territorial governor.

After Illinois achieved statehood, pro-slavery forces continued to strive to legalize it. In anticipation of Illinois’ admission to the Union, the territory framed a state constitution in Aug. 1818 – but it is significant that Illinois’ first constitution had a “loophole” of which pro-slavery leaders soon tried to avail themselves in order to legalize slavery. On the question of slavery, the 1818 constitution said, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall hereafter be introduced into this state otherwise than for the punishment of crimes.

In his 1933 history, “Illinois: the Heart of the Nation,” former Ill. Gov. Edward Dunne explained the loophole in Illinois’ first constitution in these words (pp. 240, 260, 262, emphasis added):

“The section of the constitution relative to slavery and prohibiting it in the state, as amended and finally passed, was a compromise between the pro-slavery and anti-slavery members of the convention. In effect, it practically admitted that the former indentured laws of the territory practically amounted to slavery, but provided that the children of indentured persons were to become free. Under that provision, no indentures made outside the state could be enforced within the state, but the constitution failed to bind the state not to make a revision of the constitution which would admit slavery. Notwithstanding that the constitution failed to have any provision in strict accordance with the Ordinance of 1787 relative to slavery, it was accepted and approved by Congress, . . .

“Slavery had already been introduced into the state. Slaves and indentured servants, who were in almost as abject a condition of service as slaves, were numerous in Illinois at the time this constitution was adopted and, noting the word ‘hereafter’ in the constitution, there was a rush to have indentured articles approved before the constitution went into effect. . . .

“To have framed a constitution favoring slavery, or one making no declaration on the subject, would have invited a denial by Congress of the application for statehood. Therefore, some declaration against slavery was necessary, but reserving a method of reopening the question, was devised and carried in the convention . . . .”

As expected, Dunne wrote, “That opportunity soon arose and was promptly seized by the pro-slavery element in the state.

It happened following the election of Virginia-born Edward Coles as Illinois’ second governor. In Virginia, Coles held a large estate and owned at least 20 slaves, and he served as President James Madison’s private secretary from 1809 to 1815 with a special assignment as ambassador to Russia. By 1814, Coles had come to oppose slavery, corresponding with ex-President Thomas Jefferson on the subject that year.

Edward Coles, 2nd Illinois governor, 1822-1826

After returning from his diplomatic work in Europe, Madison appointed Coles registrar of the federal land office in Edwardsville, Ill. After arranging matters at his Virginia estate, Coles struck out west for Illinois. On the way down the Ohio River, Coles made the decision to set his slaves free. “He promised them each emancipation from slavery,” Dunne wrote, “and 160 acres of land and help for farming, and they, of course, joyfully accepted their freedom and every one of them agreed to accompany him to Edwardsville. Before landing in Illinois Coles gave each of his slaves a written certificate of freedom and all settled around his home near Edwardsville.

Two years later, Coles and three other men entered the race to succeed Shadrach Bond as governor of Illinois. The other gubernatorial candidates were Illinois Supreme Court Justice Joseph Phillips, Associate Justice Thomas C. Brown, and Gen. James B. Moore – Phillips and Brown ran on pro-slavery platforms, while Coles and Moore were anti-slavery. Even though pro-slavery voters outnumbered those opposed to slavery, Coles managed to secure his election because the pro-slavery vote was split almost equally between Phillips and Brown, while Moore only won a few hundred votes.

Coles decided to force the issue of slavery on his very first day as governor in 1822, calling in his inaugural address before the Illinois General Assembly in Vandalia for the immediate emancipation of all slaves or indentured servants in Illinois. The pro-slavery members of the General Assembly responded by making plans to call for a new constitutional convention, with the unstated intention of crafting a constitution that would enshrine slave-owning as a right.

The resolution to put the question of calling a new convention to the people for a vote narrowly passed the Illinois House of Representatives by the slimmest of margins, and under extremely questionable circumstances. Initially the resolution failed by one vote when Nicholas Hansen of Pike County switched sides and voted against the resolution. But Hansen’s own election to the House had been marred by a vote-counting dispute – so his outraged pro-slavery colleagues expelled Hansen from the House and replaced him with his opponent in the election, John Shaw, who then obediently voted in favor of the resolution.

Even though the majority of Illinois voters and members of the General Assembly favored slavery, Dunne observed that, “The high-handed, arbitrary and unfair methods pursued by the House in evicting Hansen and securing thereby a two-thirds vote for the convention, disgusted many fair-minded citizens who had been tolerant of slavery.” Furthermore, although those who sought a new constitutional convention had the goal of turning Illinois from an officially free to an officially slave state, they were not forthright about their intentions, and that cynical approach probably cost them support.

Consequently, despite the numerical advantage and the initial momentum of those who wanted to call a constitutional convention, in the end their effort was resoundingly defeated on Aug. 2, 1824, by a vote of 6,640 to 4,972, “after a campaign of exceeding violence, lasting about eighteen months,” Dunne wrote. It had been an ugly fight, but Gov. Coles and his anti-slavery allies, including the influential journalists Morris Birkbeck and Daniel P. Cook (eponym of Cook County), managed to prevent the prospect of a pro-slavery constitution.

In retrospect, it can be seen that the very fate of the nation hung upon the outcome of Illinois’ convention battle – for if Illinois had switched from free to slave, the proponents of slavery would have gained permanent control of the U.S. Senate, “and no law thereafter could have been passed by Congress limiting or restricting slavery in the United States,” Dunne wrote.

The 1818 constitution limited governors to a single term, so Coles left office in 1826. Though he was able to defeat the convention movement, he was otherwise impotent against the pro-slavery General Assembly, which rejected all of his nominees to state office and ignored his legislative recommendations. Afterwards Coles was sued by the State for freeing his slaves without paying bonds of $200 to vouch for the good behavior of each freed slave. Even though he’d free his slaves before entering Illinois, the State initially won the politically-motivated suit – Coles would have had to pay $2,000, a great financial blow, but Coles appealed to the state Supreme Court and won on appeal.

Wearied by his bitter political experiences in Illinois, Coles returned to the East, finally settling in Philadelphia. He was gravely disappointed by his son Robert, who became a slave-owner and fought for the Confederacy – but he did live to see the abolition of slavery and emancipation of all slaves in the U.S. in the 1860s.

In 1929, a bronze portrait of Gov. Coles was erected in his memory in Valley View Cemetery in Edwardsville. Also, in recognition of Coles’ commitment to the abolition of slavery, the State of Illinois Human Rights Commission offers the Edward Coles Fellowship, a scholarship for law students.

#abolitionism, #abraham-lincoln, #daniel-pope-cook, #gen-james-b-moore, #gov-edward-coles, #illinois-bicentennial, #illinois-constitution, #joseph-phillips, #kansas-nebraska-act, #missouri-compromise, #morris-birkbeck, #ninian-edwards, #northwest-ordinance, #northwest-territory, #peoria-speech, #rep-john-shaw, #rep-nicholas-hansen, #shadrach-bond, #slavery, #stephen-a-douglas, #thomas-c-brown

Remembering the Pekin Union League

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

On the east side of the Pekin National Bank, on the wall facing N. Capitol Street at the Corner of Court Street, is an informative plaque telling of an important event in Pekin’s history – the founding of the Union League during the Civil War.

This column on Feb. 4, 2012, briefly told of the founding of the Union League. In addition, an article in the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times that lacked a byline but was accompanied by two photographs not only told the story of the Union League but also related the history of Pekin’s historical plaques that have commemorated the Union League.

Shown in this photograph from the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times are Marty Perlman, left, and Gerald Conaghan, right, president of Pekin National Bank, holding a historical plaque commemorating the founding of the Union League. The plaque was first placed on the east wall of the old Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture building at the corner of Court and Capitol in 1920, but in 1975 was remounted in the lobby of the Pekin National Bank, which was built on the same site as the Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture building which burned down in 1968.

First, here’s the story of the Union League as reported in the Aug. 16, 1975 Pekin Daily Times:

“It was June, 1862, and the early summer weather in Pekin had taken a back seat to the bad news coming from such places as Shiloh, the valley of the Shenandoah and communities in Indiana and other northern states which had been hit by Confederate raiders.

“There were reports of sabotage by southern subversive groups like the Golden Circle and the Sons of Liberty, and these, plus inflation and the draft, were beginning to shake the faith in President Abraham Lincoln’s Civil War policies.

“It had become clear to a handful of Pekin leaders that something should be done to firm up the North’s support for the war and to strengthen their resolve to abolish slavery in the South.

“Then came the one bright spot: the capture of Ft. Donelson by Gen. U. S. Grant and the freeing of Tennessee, much of which had remained fiercely pro-union despite harsh Confederate measures to crush Union sympathizers.

“As a result, those Tennesseeans (sic) remaining true to the north had met secretly to encourage each other to oppose the Confederate government. These groups called themselves Leagues of Union men or Union Leagues. . . .

“The concept was brought to Pekin by the Rev. J. W. N. Vernon, the new minister of Pekin’s First Methodist church, who had just come to this community from Tennessee.

“And so it was that on June 25, 1862, Rev. Vernon and ten other Pekin men gathered secretly on the third floor of the old brick building at Court and Capitol known for many years as the Smith Bank building.

“From that meeting came the Union League, an organization which became one of the most influential and fast-growing movements in the nation’s history.

“Within a year of the original meeting, the League had 606 councils and 75,000 members in Illinois alone and eventually may have had 2 million members in councils in nearly every local township and village in the North.

“It was the basis, in fact, of the Union party which elected Lincoln and Johnson in 1864. At the close of the Civil War, the military councils of the League were to become the Grand Army of the Republic.”

As this column recounted over five years ago, in the initial stages of the Civil War pro-Confederacy and pro-slavery sentiment remained prominent even as far north as Peoria and Pekin (both communities having been founded by slave-owning families). Consequently, prior to the formation of the Union League “those who believed in the Union spoke often in whispers in Pekin streets and were wary and often afraid,” says the 1949 Pekin Centenary.

Besides Rev. Vernon, the founding members of the Union League were Richard Northcroft Cullom, former Illinois state senator; Dr. Daniel A. Cheever, abolitionist and Underground Railroad conductor; Charles Turner, Tazewell County state’s attorney; Henry Pratt, Delavan Township supervisor; Alexander Small, Deer Creek Township supervisor; George H. Harlow, Tazewell County circuit clerk; Jonathan Merriam, stock farmer who became a colonel in the Union army; Hart Montgomery, Pekin postmaster; John W. Glassgow, justice of the peace; and Levi F. Garrett, Pekin grocery store owner and baker.

After the Civil War, the Union League became a Republican Party social club, but would carry on its abolitionist legacy through support of civil rights for African Americans.

But here in Pekin, the founding of the Union League was commemorated by a plaque placed on the side of the old Smith Bank building in 1920. Later the building housed Marty Perlman’s business, the Perlman Furniture Co., which was destroyed by a fire in Oct. 1968. But, the Daily Times reported, “Perlman pried the charred plaque off the east wall after the flames had been extinguished, had it reconditioned and saw that it was kept safely until it could be remounted in an appropriate place at a significant time.”

That time and place came on Tuesday, Aug. 19, 1975, when the old 1920 plaque was remounted in the lobby of Pekin National Bank (built on the site of the Smith Bank/Perlman Furniture Co. building) on the occasion of President Gerald R. Ford’s visit to Pekin to dedicate the Pekin Public Library and Everett M. Dirksen Center.

But a few days before that, the outside plaque on the east wall of the Pekin National Bank had already been mounted. That plaque, donated by the Union League of America and the Illinois State Historical Society, was formally dedicated at the same time as the remounting of the 1920 plaque.

#abolitionism, #alexander-small, #charles-turner, #civil-war, #copperheads, #dr-daniel-a-cheever, #george-h-harlow, #hart-montgomery, #henry-pratt, #john-w-glassgow, #jonathan-merriam, #levi-f-garrett, #marty-perlman, #perlman-furniture-co, #rev-j-w-n-vernon, #richard-northcroft-cullom, #teis-smith-bank, #union-league

Eliza Farnham’s ‘Life in Prairie Land’

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

This column usually features resources from the Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection. These are items that remain in the library and may not be checked out. But this week we’ll turn our attention to a book in the library’s regular collection – a biographical narrative titled “Life in Prairie Land,” published in 1846 by an early feminist and abolitionist writer from New York State named Eliza W. Farnham.

The book describes Farnham’s experiences living in Illinois during the 1830s, a period when most of the state was a part of America’s wild frontier. Her book’s relevance to the history of Tazewell County and Pekin may be discerned from the following passage on page 24, in which Farnham tells the story of her arrival in central Illinois in 1836:

“We worried on through the flood of water that was pouring down the bed of the Illinois and submerging its banks, till the night of the fifth day brought us to the landing place of our friends in the town of Pokerton. It was at that time the county seat of one of the largest and wealthiest counties in the state. Its name is faintly descriptive of its inhabitants in a double sense: one of their favorite recreations being a game at cards, which is indicated by the first two syllables of this name. . . .”

The county to which Farnham referred is none other than Tazewell County, and “Pokerton” is the disdainful monicker that Farnham invented for Pekin. It’s clear from the way Farnham describes Pekin and its residents that she was greatly unimpressed by Pekin, which was then hardly more than an undeveloped frontier village.

"Life in Prairie Land" (1846), by Eliza W. Farnham, reprinted in 1988 by University of Illinois Press, tells of the author's experiences while living in Tazewell County during the 1830s.

“Life in Prairie Land” (1846), by Eliza W. Farnham, reprinted in 1988 by University of Illinois Press, tells of the author’s experiences while living in Tazewell County during the 1830s.

Born Eliza Wood Burhans (but later called Eliza Woodson) on Nov. 17, 1815, at Rensselaerville, N.Y., she was the fourth of five children of Cornelius and Mary (Wood) Burhans. Farnham, still unmarried when she came to Tazewell County, had left New York to live with her sister Mary for a while. Mary and her husband, John M. Roberts, an abolitionist involved in the Underground Railroad, settled near Groveland in 1831, on a homestead that they named Prairie Lodge. Another likely reason Eliza moved to Groveland was to be near a young man she’d met back East, Thomas Jefferson Farnham, a Vermont lawyer who had purchased land near Groveland in the summer of 1835. Eliza and Thomas married on July 12, 1836, settling in Tremont, which became the county seat that very year. (Remarkably, she never mentions Tremont by name in her book, not even using an alias of her own invention.)

The Farnhams lived in Tazewell County until the spring of 1839. While here, Eliza experienced the double sorrow of the death of her sister Mary in July 1838, followed two weeks later by the death of her own firstborn child during an epidemic. In her book, Farnham tells of her meditations on her bereavement that in time led her to move from her youthful atheist views to “a religious state of mind.”

The Farnhams brief stay in Tazewell County ended when Thomas organized a trip to Oregon, exploring the possibility of leading a group of settlers to the Pacific Northwest. Eliza stayed behind in Groveland and Peoria while her husband led the expedition. Upon his return in August 1840, the couple moved back to New York. So ended her experiences of “Life in Prairie Land.”

Farnham would go on to write several articles and books, and in particular was an advocate of feminism (she held that women were morally and biologically superior to men). She also became matron of the women’s half of Sing Sing Prison in Mount Pleasant, N.Y., where she implemented a series of reforms that were oriented toward rehabilitation of the inmates. Due to strong opposition to her reforms, she resigned her position in 1848.

That same year, her husband Thomas died in San Francisco, Calif., which necessitated her own move to California to settle his estate. Those years in California were unhappy ones – she suffered the loss of two of her children, and her second marriage in 1852 to William Fitzpatrick ended with her divorcing him in 1856. Farnham returned to New York for a few years, promoting her feminist views, then moved back to California for a while, then back to the East to advocate for the abolition of slavery. In 1863, as a volunteer nurse at Gettysburg, she contracted tuberculosis. She died Dec. 15, 1864, in New York City and was buried in the Quaker Cemetery at Milton-on-Hudson, N.Y.

#abolitionism, #eliza-farnham, #feminism, #groveland, #life-in-prairie-land, #pokerton, #tremont