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Volume 14: 2—Politics in Nineteenth-Century Illinois

iht14020701-2.jpgIt is not an exaggeration to suggest that the nineteenth century was an eventful period in Illinois politics. After entering the union in 1818, Illinois politicians endured a factious debate and campaign over legalizing slavery in the state. Swept up in the railroad mania of the 1830s, Illinois cratered into a debt burden that took decades to retire. The sectional debate leading up to the Civil War rocked the state political establishment, and thousands of Illinoisans served in the army and bled on the hellish battlefields of the ensuing war, a conflict so controversial it left the state government nearly paralyzed by partisan discord. After the war, state politicians struggled with the problems of an expanding and industrializing economy, and the changing—some would say dehumanizing—role of the American worker in the evolving workplace. The labor strife that came in response to the new economy regularly consumed Illinois politics, with strikes that were markedly violent, bloody, and often had racist overtones.

Each of the papers and accompanying curriculum materials examines a topic on Illinois politics in the action-packed nineteenth century. Although the Northwest Ordinance prohibited slavery in Illinois territory, Dennis K. Boman examines how the "peculiar institution" nonetheless existed in the territory and then state. Boman notes the cultural underpinning for slavery in Illinois and the legal subterfuges that allowed it to survive and even prosper in the home state of the eventual emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.

Incredibly, amid civil war, Illinois held a constitutional convention to replace the increasingly archaic state constitution that dated to 1848. Matthew D. Norman describes how the 1862 convention became a venue for frustrated Democrats—who had lost decisively in the 1860 state and congressional elections—to wage political war on the Republicans in an attempt to resurrect their fortunes in Illinois. The convention became a political bear-pit with investigations on the war and Republican governor Richard Yates's handling of state finances, with the reform of the state constitution often taking a backseat.

Partisan politics during the war was not limited to state conventions or the state legislature. The war's divisive nature roiled local politics as well. Robert D. Sampson provides a window into how the war altered the character of politics in Macon County, a pre-war bastion of the Illinois Democratic Party. A micro-study of politics in Macon County illustrates how the political world in the North dramatically transformed in response to the carnage and partisan antipathy the war engendered.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the war influenced the attitudes of individual politicians. John A. Logan was a committed Democrat from southern Illinois who served in the state legislature and Congress prior to the war, and he thought the abolition movement was a contemptible, fanatic-lediht14020701-3.jpg threat to the continued viability of the American republic. Logan had written anti-black legislation while serving in the General Assembly. Yet, as Bruce Tap notes, the sectional debate and civil war in which Logan served as a soldier in the Union cause altered both Logan's party affiliation and his ideas on race in Illinois.

We are fortunate to have contributions on these issues from an especially talented group of scholars and teachers. The study of Illinois history is a process of continued reassessment and reevaluation that requires the participation not only of teachers and historians, but also of students. We hope that the materials in this issue of the Illinois History Teacher stimulate classroom discussion, debate, and ultimately, understanding.

Dan Monroe
Guest Editor,
Illinois History Teacher


Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library