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Chapter 6

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Illinois in 1818

by
Solon J. Buck

in the sesquicentennial edition,
University of Illinois Press
Urbana, Chicago, and London 1967

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 8

This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

p180 Chapter 7
The Political Situation

Thayer's Note: When the various counties are mentioned, the boundaries of which changed constantly thruout the period covered by this book, it may be useful to you, as it was to me, to refer to Michael L. Hébert's excellent page of maps, Illinois County Boundaries 1790‑Present.

At the beginning of 1818 the region now included in the state of Illinois together with the extensive area to the northward stretching to the international boundary comprised the territory of Illinois. After the occupation of the French villages in the Illinois country by Virginia troops under George Rogers Clark, the region was organized as a county of Virginia,1 but in 1784 Virginia ceded her claims to the federal government. The act by which this cession was accomplished contained one clause of great importance for the future of the Illinois country. This provided "that the French and Canadian inhabitants, and other settlers of the Kaskaskies, Saint Vincents, and the neighboring villages, who have professed themselves citizens of Virginia, shall have their possessions and titles confirmed to them, and be protected in the enjoyment of their rights and liberties."2 At the moment this provision confirmed to the inhabitants their title to a few negro slaves; in future years it was to be invoked as a guarantee of the institution of slavery in the state.

The claims of other states to jurisdiction over the northwest also having been surrendered to the federal government, the congress of the confederation, as one of its last acts, passed the Ordinance of 1787, by which was organized the "territory of the United States northwest of the river Ohio."3 This ordinance laid the foundation of the American colonial or territorial system; and the political and governmental conditions in Illinois Territory cannot be understood without a consideration of its essential provisions. The government of the territory was vested for the time being in a governor, a secretary, and three judges, p181to be appointed by Congress.4 The governor and judges sitting as a legislature were authorized to adopt such laws of the original states as might be necessary; the governor singly was given the power to appoint all local magistrates and other civil officers and also all militia officers below the rank of general officers, the last being appointed by Congress. It will thus be seen that the people of the territory were given no voice whatever in their government, either general or local. This was only a temporary arrangement; whenever there should "be five thousand free male inhabitants, of full age, in the district" a legislature was to be established consisting of the governor, representatives elected by the freeholders, and a council of five members selected by Congress from ten nominated by the territorial house of representatives. This legislature was to have authority to make laws not repugnant to the ordinance; but to the governor was given the power to convene, prorogue, and dissolve the legislature, as well as an absolute veto over all its acts. The legislature, by joint ballot, was to elect a delegate to Congress, who should have the right to speak but not to vote. Among the qualifications required of members of the legislature was the possession of a freehold of 200 acres of land for a representative and 500 for a councilor.

The last section of the ordinance consisted of six "articles of compact, between the original States and the people and States in the said territory" which were forever to "remain unalterable, unless by common consent." It should be noted, however, that this was a one-sided compact, as the consent of the people residing in the district was never asked or secured. Two of these articles are of special significance in connection with a study of Illinois in 1818. One of these, the fifth, provided that "there shall be formed in the said territory not less than three, nor more than five States." The boundary between the two western states was to be the Wabash as far north as "Post Vincents" p182and thence a direct line drawn from the Wabash and "Post Vincents," due north, to the territorial line between the United States and Canada. Should the establishment of more than three states seem expedient, Congress was to "have authority to form one or two States in that part of the said territory which lies north of an east and west line drawn through the southerly bend or extreme of Lake Michigan." Each of these states was to be admitted into the Union whenever there should be 60,000 free inhabitants within its limits.

The most famous feature of the ordinance was that contained in the sixth of the articles of compact, which provided that "there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the said territory, other than in punishment of crimes, whereof the party shall have been duly convicted." This would seem to be a positive prohibition of the continuance of slavery northwest of the Ohio; but, in view of the guarantee in the Virginia act of cession, it was interpreted from the beginning as applying only to the future introduction of slavery; and slaves continued to be held in the region for half a century.

The government provided for by the ordinance was established at Marietta in 1788 and two years later it was extended to the Illinois country, which was organized at St. Clair County. Knox County, formed the same year with its seat at Vincennes, included the eastern half of what is now the state of Illinois.5 In 1795 Randolph County was established from the southern part of St. Clair. In accordance with the provisions of the ordinance, all the officials in these counties were appointed by the governor. After ten years of rule by the governor and judges, the territory passed to the second grade; and the first legislature met in Cincinnati in 1799. St. Clair and Randolph Counties were represented in the house by Shadrach Bond and John Edgar respectively. William Henry Harrison, recently appointed secretary of the treasury, was elected by this legislature p183as the delegate to Congress, and there in 1800 secured the passage of an act dividing the Northwest Territory and establishing the western part as Indiana Territory. He also secured his own appointment as governor of the new territory. The provisions for the government of Indiana Territory were practically identical with those contained in the Ordinance of 1787, with the exception that it might pass to the second grade whenever the governor should be convinced that the majority of the people desired the change.

During the period from 1800 to 1809, when Illinois was a part of Indiana Territory, the principal issues of a political character were the passage to the second grade and the division of the territory; and inextricably bound up with these was the question of the admission of slavery. There is no evidence that national politics affected to any appreciable extent the politics of the territory during this period, but the people and their political leaders divided on the above issues and also to some extent into personal factions. The more influential of the new settlers in Illinois country as well as the old French inhabitants were strongly in favor of the repeal or at least the suspension of the slavery article in the ordinance, probably because they believed it hampered the development of the territory. As early as 1796 a petition was sent to Congress praying for the repeal of the article, signed by John Edgar, William Morrison, William St. Clair, and John Dumoulin, leading men in St. Clair and Randolph Counties. These men professed to sign "for and on behalf of the inhabitants" of the counties and there is little doubt that they expressed the sentiments of a large majority of those inhabitants; but they presented no evidence to that effect and the petition was rejected.6

When Indiana Territory was established it is probable that p184a majority of its inhabitants were in favor of a change in the slavery article. The Illinois people at once prepared another petition to Congress praying for such a change and for the extinction of the Indian title in southern Illinois. This document, dated October 1, 1800, bears 270 signatures, mostly French, but including the names of such leading Americans as John Edgar, John Rice Jones, William Morrison, Robert Morrison, and Shadrach Bond. The fact that Congress ignored the petition was probably a factor in inducing the Illinois leaders the following year to agitate for advance to the second grade, in order that the territory might have a delegate to urge the desired measure p185in Congress. In this action, however, they met with the opposition of Governor Harrison, who had no desire to give up so soon a part of his extensive power. The governor had a numerous coterie of followers in Knox County and by means of the patronage exerted a powerful influence throughout the territory. He had little difficulty, therefore, in suppressing the movement by issuing a letter in which attention was called to the increased expenses which would be involved.

Harrison and his party differed with what may for convenience be called the Edgar and Morrison party as to methods rather than ends, for both factions were in favor of the introduction of more slaves. The method selected by the governor was the calling of an extralegal convention which met in Vincennes in 1802 and petitioned Congress for a suspension of the slavery article for a term of ten years. Neither Edgar nor William Morrison were among the six Illinois men in this convention although Robert Morrison, a brother of William, was one of them. In the national House of Representatives this petition was referred to a committee, which through its chairman, John Randolph, presented an adverse report. In later sessions other committees reported in favor of suspension, but no action was ever taken.

Having failed in this direction the governor and judges proceeded in 1803 to pass "A Law Concerning Servants" which provided that a person coming into the territory "under contract to serve another in any trade or occupation shall be compelled to perform such contract specifically during the term thereof." The purpose of this act was to introduce a form of slavery in the guise of indentured servitude, but the legislative powers of the governor and judges were so limited that the Harrison faction executed an about-face on the question of advancing to the second grade; for it was believed that an unrestricted legislature could pass a more satisfactory indenture law. On August 4, 1804, therefore, the governor issued a proclamation for an election to be held September 11 to determine the wishes of the people on the subject.

p186 Meanwhile the members of the Edgar and Morrison faction in Illinois, probably because of dissatisfaction with the distribution of the patronage, were becoming more and more hostile to the governor and his supporters, and in 1803 they grasped at what appeared to be an opportunity at once of escaping from his control and of securing the coveted admission of slavery. Learning of the purchase of Louisiana, they prepared petitions asking Congress to join the Illinois country to the new territory to be formed west of the River. Congress instead placed the new district of Louisiana temporarily under the governor and judges of Indiana Territory but not as a part of that territory.a

In spite of the advantages for the proslavery advocates which the advance to the second grade offered, the Edgar and Morrison faction reversed their former position and opposed the change, apparently for no other reason than their hostility to the governor and his faction. They were able to carry St. Clair County against the measure, the vote being 22 to 59, but Harrison's friends and appointees in Randolph, led by Dr. George Fisher and Pierre Menard, carried that county by a vote of 40 to 21. Knox County voted overwhelmingly for the change, but the attitude of Dearborn County in eastern Indiana, where all the 26 votes were cast against the measure, indicates the appearance of a new faction in Indiana politics, a faction strongly opposed to the introduction of slavery. The totals were 269 to 131, making a majority on the face of the returns of 138 in favor of the change. No election was held in Wayne County (Detroit), however, and the light vote cast would indicate that there was some truth in the charge that the whole affair was a snap election.

Governor Harrison at once issued a proclamation for an election of nine representatives; these assembled in Vincennes in 1805 and proceeded to nominate councilors to the President. The representatives from the Illinois counties were Shadrach Bond and William Biggs of St. Clair and Dr. George Fisher of Randolph, while Jesse B. Thomas, later of Illinois, represented Dearborn County. Of the five councilors selected by Harrison p187from the ten nominated by the house — for the President secretly delegated his power of choice to the governor — two, Pierre Menard and John Hay, were from the Illinois country. The legislature selected Benjamin Parke of Vincennes, a personal and political friend of the governor, as delegate to Congress, and then proceeded to the passage of an indenture law. This act of 1805, which was revised and re-enacted in 1807, provided that a slave over 15 years of age might be brought into the territory and within 30 days enter into a formal agreement to serve as an indentured servant for a certain number of years. The agreement was to be made a matter of record, and should the slave refuse to bind himself, the master was allowed 60 days in which to remove him from the territory. Children born of indentured servants were to serve the master of the mother, males to the age of 30, and females, of 28. Slaves under 15 might be brought in and simply registered to serve, males until 35 and females until 32 years of age.

It is useless at this date to raise the question as to whether the indentured servitude established by this act was or was not "slavery or involuntary servitude" and thus in violation of the ordinance. Certain it is that the ends sought by the act were approved by a majority of the people in Illinois and in the western part of what came to be the state of Indiana. Only in Dearborn and Clark Counties of Indiana was there any considerable opposition to it.

During the summer of 1805 the anti-Harrison faction in Illinois circulated a petition for the division of Indiana Territory. In this they were probably actuated principally by the belief that such a division would improve their political fortunes and would be distasteful to their opponents, the Harrison faction; but they may have been influenced also by a feeling that a separate Illinois might secure complete and unrestricted slavery and also by a fear that the growing antislavery population of eastern Indiana would put in jeopardy the indenture system. Besides praying for division they asked that the slavery article might be repealed or modified so far as it affected the proposed p188new territory. Among the grievances alleged by the petitioners was their "having been unwarrantably precipitated into the second grade of territorial government," and the story of that transaction was recounted at some length.

Knowing that such a petition was in circulation, the supporters of Harrison introduced in the legislative session of 1805 a memorial to Congress, praying among other things for the introduction of slavery and protesting against the proposed division of the territory. A proposition was also embodied in this memorial for the admission of the territory as a state before division, together with a suggestion that division when it should come might well be by an east and west instead of a north and south line. Obviously such a division would be greatly to the advantage of Vincennes. The memorial was not adopted by the legislature but was sent to Congress as a "Petition of the subscribers, members of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of the Indiana Territory, and constituting a majority of the two Houses, respectively." The five members whose names do not appear on the petition were the councilors and representatives from St. Clair and Clark Counties. Councilor Menard and Representative Fisher of Randolph, both followers of Harrison, signed, as did also Representative Jesse B. Thomas of Dearborn. The name of another Dearborn man, Benjamin Chambers, president of the council, appears; but he afterwards denied that he signed the petition. Both Thomas and Chambers, if Chambers signed, probably misrepresented their constituents. The people of Dearborn County the same year prepared a petition to Congress complaining of the advance to second grade, protesting against the indenture law, and praying that they might be joined to the state of Ohio.7

These three documents emanating from three distinct factions and representing the views of three distinct sections of the territory reached Congress in December, 1805, and on the eighteenth p189were referred to a select committee, of which the delegate from Indiana Territory was a member. A month later a number of additional documents from the Illinois counties were referred to the same committee. They consisted of a memorial prepared by "a Committee from the Several Townships in the Counties" and the minutes of the committee, including a series of resolutions. It would seem that the anti-Harrison faction felt some further action to be necessary to counteract the effect of the legislative petition. The resolutions, after calling for a division of the territory, express the respect of the people for the ordinance and call attention to "the Violation thereof By the late act of the Legislature of this Territory Authorizing the importation of Slaves, and involuntary servitude for a term of years." From this it might be inferred that the committee was hostile to the introduction of slaves, but the succeeding sentences show that this was for political effect entirely. "And altho' this Committee entertain no doubt but that the Act in Question will render service, by adding a Spring to the Growth of this Country, They express the disapprobation of a people, who never will Consent to a Violation of that ordinance, for this privilege of slavery. When Congress should deem a Change of the Ordinance expedient, they will Cheerfully agree to the measure." The memorial itself sets forth many reasons for desiring a division of the territory, condemns the petition of the members of the legislature, and asks for the permission to hold slaves as "promotive of the prosperity of this Country." No mention is made of the indenture law in the memorial, but other acts of the legislature are denounced because they increased the power of the governor. Accompanying the memorial and the minutes was a census estimate by Robert Morrison, who had taken a census in 1801; he reckoned the population of St. Clair and Randolph Counties at 4,311.

The special committee, in its report of February 14, 1806, to the House of Representatives, opposed the admission of the territory as a state before the division and also the proposals for immediate division, but favored the suspension of the slavery article for ten years. No action was ever taken on the report, p190but it was clear that Congress would never authorize the admission of the territory as a single state. The result was a momentary truce between the two proslavery factions in the legislative session of November, 1806, and the adoption by unanimous vote of a series of resolutions asking for a suspension of the "sixth article." Benjamin Parke, the delegate from Indiana, was chairman of the committee of the House of Representatives to which these resolutions were referred; and on February 12, 1807, he presented a report favoring suspension of the slavery article. This report was referred to the Committee of the Whole House but was never considered.

Meanwhile the advocates of division in Illinois were continuing their campaign and on February 20, 1807, another memorial from their committee was referred to the same committee of the House of Representatives which had reported on the legislative resolutions. At the same time a counter-petition from Randolph County was received which denied the representative character of the Illinois committee and opposed division. This petition bears 102 signatures, but nearly all the names are French and 42 are signed with a mark. Among recognized supporters of Harrison who signed were Dr. George Fisher, James Gilbreath, and two of the Menards. Six days after receiving these petitions the committee reported to the House a resolution declaring the expediency of division. This resolution was adopted, but no further action followed.

The election of the second house of representatives of the Indiana territorial legislature in February, 1807, showed an increase in the strength of the factions opposed to Harrison, but all three of the Illinois representatives were re-elected. At the first session of the legislature, in August, 1807, the principal matters of interest were the re-election of Parke to Congress and the adoption of another memorial asking for the suspension of the slavery article. Between the first and second sessions of the second territorial legislature the political situation changed materially. John Rice Jones, member of the council from Knox County, broke with Harrison, probably on a matter of patronage, and joined p191the opposition. Menard and Hay resigned from the council, and Fisher and Bond8 were promoted to their places, thus necessitating the election of a representative in each of the Illinois counties. These elections resulted, after a bitter contest between the factions, in victories for the anti-Harrison party in both cases, the successful candidates being Rice Jones, a son of the councilor, in Randolph, and John Messinger, the first "Yankee" in Illinois politics, in St. Clair. As a result of these changes the anti-Harrison factions had a majority in the legislative session of 1808 and were able to effect a combination on the question of division. This was possible in spite of their radical differences on the slavery issue because the elimination of the Illinois counties would in all probability give the antislavery forces a majority in Indiana proper. Early in the session resolutions in favor of division were adopted and forwarded to Congress, but it took several weeks for the two factions to agree on a delegate to take the place of Parke, who had resigned. The man finally selected was Jesse B. Thomas, of Dearborn County, who pledged himself to work for division. The Harrison men supported Michael Jones, register of the land office at Kaskaskia, possibly with the object of inducing the Illinois representatives to support an Illinois man, but Jones received only three of the ten votes.

Sometime in the spring of 1808 the Illinois advocates of division had prepared three petitions to Congress which on April 16 were referred to a committee of the House of Representatives of which Parke was a member. The first of these petitions points out the weakness of the counter-petition presented in 1807, as signed by so large a proportion of illiterate Frenchmen, and asserts that the committee which signed the memorials of 1806 and 1807 was truly representative of the sentiment of the counties; the second contains an elaborate series of charges against Governor Harrison including among them his sanctioning of the indenture law "which may properly be entitled 'A Law for the p192Establishment of disguised slavery in opposition to the National Will' "; while the third was merely a brief request for division. Inasmuch as the names of John Edgar and William Morrison appear at the head of the signatures to the second petition it is clear that the reference to the indenture law was not an indication of antislavery sentiment.

Parke failed to secure a favorable report on these petitions, although he had agreed to support the division movement, and in December, 1808, they were referred to a new committee appointed to inquire into the expediency of dividing Indiana Territory and headed by Jesse B. Thomas. This committee had various other documents before it — the legislative resolution already mentioned, a petition from the grand jury of St. Clair County praying for division, presented December 2, depositions denying their signatures from men whose names appeared on the petition containing the attack on Harrison, and a petition from Harrison's followers in Knox County, including Benjamin Parke, opposing division. Thomas appears to have had little difficulty in securing a report favorable to division, and the passage of an act, approved February 9, 1809, for the establishment of the territory of Illinois.

From the foregoing account of politics in Indiana Territory it is evident that there were in Illinois in 1809 two parties or factions which had been working at cross-purposes for a number of years. These may be classified as the Harrison and anti-Harrison parties, the former comprising most of the holders of office and the latter headed by a number of men of considerable wealth and influence. It is doubtful if the great majority of the people owned affiliations with either of the factions, and on the rare occasions when elections were held the voters were doubtless influenced as much by the personality of the candidates as by their party alignments or their positions on the issues of the day. In the struggle over division, the anti-Harrison party had been victorious, but that struggle was only an incident in the hostility between the two groups, which persisted for a number of years and exerted an appreciable influence upon the politics of Illinois Territory.

The Ordinance of 1787 again formed the basis of the constituent p193act of the new territory and for the third time the people of Illinois found themselves under the rule of a governor and judges.9 The faction which had favored division apparently expected to secure the offices, and Jesse B. Thomas, who as delegate had brought about the separation, did succeed in securing one of the judgeships for himself. For governor, however, the President selected Ninian Edwards, chief justice of the court of appeals of Kentucky, who endeavored to hold himself aloof from both of the factions. Both of the other judges were from outside the territory, while the secretary was Nathaniel Pope, also of Kentucky, and a personal and political friend of the governor. Around these two men there gradually grew up a new party composed largely of importations but receiving, on the whole, more supporters from the ranks of the old anti-Harrison faction than from those of their opponents.

Had Edwards accepted the suggestions made to him that none but advocates of division should be appointed to the office, he would doubtless have received the complete support of the anti-Harrison men, and the old factions would have been continued as the "ins" and the "outs." With reference to the patronage, however, the governor adopted the policy of refusing to remove men who were giving satisfactory service and of following the wishes of the people concerned, so far as they could be ascertained, in such appointments as were made. Thus the militia companies were allowed to select their own officers, and civil appointments were frequently based on recommendations or petitions from the township or county. Occasionally, however, personal factions played a part as when Benjamin Stephenson, a newcomer from Kentucky, was appointed sheriff of Randolph County in 1809.10 Stephenson was soon recognized as one of the leaders of the Edwards party and in 1814 was sent as delegate to Congress, a position which enabled him to secure an appointment as receiver of the new land office at Edwardsville.

p194 For the first three years of the territory the attorney generalship was the chief piece of territorial patronage at the governor's disposal, but after the passage to second grade he had the appointment of a territorial treasurer and an auditor of public accounts as well. In 1816 Edwards appointed to the latter office Daniel Pope Cook of Kentucky, a young nephew of Nathaniel Pope, the secretary.11 At the close of the territorial period Cook was a close personal and political friend of the governor and later became his son-in‑law.

The principal local officers in 1809, all of whom were appointed by the governor, were three judges and a clerk of the court of commons pleas, sheriff, coroner, surveyor, treasurer, recorder, and as many justices of the peace as might be needed in each of the counties. By the Indiana law in force at the time of the division, the court of common pleas conducted the administrative business of the county, heard appeals from justices' courts, and had original jurisdiction in civil and criminal cases, with appeal to the general court of the territory. These courts of common pleas were notoriously inefficient so far as their judicial functions were concerned, for the compensation was too low to induce men trained in the law to serve as judges; and by a series of laws adopted by the governor and judges in June and July, 1809, the systems of judicature and local administration were reorganized. The courts of common pleas were abolished. Their administrative functions were transferred to courts made up of the justices of the peace of the county, which were also empowered to hear appeals from decisions of individual justices of the peace in cases of judgments not exceeding $20. All other jurisdiction of the courts of common pleas, both civil and criminal, was transferred to the "general court," composed of the United States judges, which was required to hold two terms annually in each of the two counties. This simple system was doubtless satisfactory to all parties concerned, so long as the amount of litigation was small and there were only p195two counties. In January, 1811, however, possibly in anticipation of the increase in the number of counties which came in the following year, the governor and judges passed an act restoring the courts of common pleas in the place of the county courts made up of justices, but from the phraseology of the act it would appear that the jurisdiction over civil and criminal cases transferred to the general court in 1809 was not at this time restored to the courts of common pleas.12

The advance of Illinois to the second grade of territorial government took place in 1812, apparently without any opposition. As had been the case with Indiana Territory the governor was authorized to make the change whenever convinced that a majority of the freeholders desired it. On March 14 he issued a proclamation calling for a vote on the question on the second Monday in April. The result of the election was favorable, and in the normal course of events a restricted form of popular government would have been established in Illinois similar to that set up in the Northwest Territory in 1798 and in Indiana in 1805. A strong sentiment had been developing, however, especially in the west, in favor of greater participation by the people in their governments. Several of the state constitutions recently adopted had dropped all property qualifications for suffrage; and Congress, by an act of 1809, had liberalized the government of Indiana Territory to the extent of providing for the election of the delegate and the councilors by the people, although the suffrage qualification remained unchanged.

In Illinois the restriction of suffrage and officeholding to freeholders would have been especially objectionable in 1812, for there were no sales of land until 1814 and the great majority of the inhabitants were squatters waiting patiently for the opportunity to purchase the land on which they had located. On the very day on which he issued the proclamation for the election, Governor Edwards wrote a long letter to Colonel Richard M. Johnson, congressman from Kentucky, explaining the situation p196and asking for his assistance in securing an act removing the property qualification for suffrage and providing for the election of the delegate by popular vote. Should the provisions of the ordinance remain in force, he claimed, a majority of the present freeholders, who constituted less than one-tenth of the male population of voting age, would be able to control the government for at least five years. The establishment of new counties, moreover, would be hampered by the impossibility of finding men with requisite qualifications to represent them in the legislature.

Two weeks later, March 30, Edwards transmitted to the speaker of the House of Representatives two petitions numerously signed, praying for the extension of the suffrage and the privilege of electing the delegate by popular vote.13 One of these petitions, from "Inhabitants of the Land district East of Kaskaskia," in which the squatters comprised practically the whole population, rehearsed the arguments presented in Edwards' letter to Johnson. The other, from "citizens of the Territory," was signed by many of the leading residents of Kaskaskia. Colonel Johnson secured prompt action by Congress, and on May 20 the President approved a law which enabled the people of Illinois to establish the most democratic form of territorial government to be found in the United States at that time. By the terms of this act suffrage was granted to all free white males, 21 years of age, who had paid a county or territorial tax, no matter how small, and had resided in the territory one year. It was further provided that the five councilors should be elected in five districts to be designated by the governor, and finally the delegate to Congress was to be elected by the people instead of by the legislature.

On September 14, 1812, Governor Edwards issued two important proclamations. The first of these established three new counties, Madison, Gallatin, and Johnson, making five in all, to serve as the districts for the five members of the council. The second p197proclamation made provision for an election to be held October 8‑10, for delegate, members of the council, and representatives. Two representatives each were assigned to St. Clair and Gallatin counties and one each to the other three. The returns of this election are not known to be in existence, but Shadrach Bond, who had been representative and councilor in the Indiana territorial legislature before the division, with leanings toward the Harrison party, was elected delegate to Congress. Apparently there was some opposition to his election, for on November 11 a petition from Benjamin M. Piatt, attorney general of the territory and an appointee of Governor Edwards, was presented to Congress "complaining of the undue election" of Bond and praying for an investigation. No investigation appears to have followed and Bond took his seat on December 3, 1812.

Aside from the patronage the only political issue of a general nature during the existence of Illinois Territory had to do with the judiciary system. As has already been seen, several changes were made in this system during the period when the governor and judges had complete control. With the assembling of the first territorial legislature on November 25, 1812, the question came before the representatives of the people. The establishment of the three new counties made some readjustment necessary, and the outcome was the complete restoration to the courts of common pleas of the jurisdiction which they had exercised under the laws of Indiana Territory. This of course relieved the general court of the local work which had been imposed upon it in 1809 and in fact left it with very little to do, a situation which appears to have been quite satisfactory to the judges. All of them were absent from the territory for long periods of time, much to the dissatisfaction of the people. "The grand jury of St. Clair and Randolph Counties," wrote Bond to Edwards, August 17, 1813, "presented all our judges for non-residence and non-attendance, but before they [the presentments] arrived judge Stuart resigned." This resignation did not, however, improve conditions, for William Sprigg, who was appointed to take the place of Stuart, absolutely refused to recognize the right of the legislature to p198regulate the court. On February 23, 1814, Bond wrote that he was "trying to get a law passed to compel our judges to perform such duties as our Legislature have required of them."14


[image ALT: A woodcut of a small house, ground-floor, upper floor and a pair of chimneys.]

Building in Which Territorial Legislature First Met in Kaskaskia

(Drawing owned by Chicago Historical Society)

Two years' experience with the courts of common pleas apparently convinced the people of the necessity of having trained judges, and in December, 1814, the legislature reversed its action of 1812. The court of common pleas was again abolished and its administrative functions transferred to a county court of three men, while the United States judges were organized as a supreme court and directed to hold two courts annually in a county and a court of appeals at the capital. Upon the former devolved the judicial functions formerly exercised by the courts of common pleas. It was expected that the judges would divide up the counties into circuits and hold the local courts individually, but these were to be termed sessions of the supreme court in order to avoid objections which the judges had raised to any breaking up of the unity of their court. There was nothing in the act to prevent all or several of the judges from holding court jointly in each county if they so desired, as had been done when there were only two counties. Judges Thomas and Sprigg, however, at once addressed a letter to the legislature protesting against the change and denying the authority of the legislature over them. They took the position that the supreme court established by the act was a new court to which "the court established by the ordinance" was to be subjected, and asserted that "an appeal from the same court to the same is a solecism."

The legislature forwarded the letter to Governor Edwards and requested of him an opinion upon the subject, which he furnished at great length in a communication of December 12, 1814. The governor explained that the words of the ordinance "are that 'there shall be appointed a court, to consist of three judges, who shall have a common law jurisdiction,' but how, when or where p199that jurisdiction is to be exercised is not pointed out, and therefore it is subjected to the modification and direction of the Territorial Legislature."15 The judges still refused to acknowledge the validity of the law, and on December 21 the legislature forwarded all the documents to Congress together with a memorial praying for relief. One sentence of this memorial reads: "There being no intermixture of party spirit or individual hostility with this proceeding, the objections of the Judges to executing the law doubtless arise, more from a conviction in their own minds of the want of Power in the Legislature to pass it, than from any indisposition on their part to perform the duties therein assigned to them." This was probably a bit of subtle sarcasm, for the judges certainly were not anxious to assume any additional burdens and the politicians were certainly grouping themselves into supports and opponents of Governor Edwards, of whom the former upheld the judiciary law and the latter supported the judges. Together with these documents in the House files is a long letter from Edwards, dated January 2, 1815, recounting the arguments in favor of the validity of the law.

The result of this appeal to Congress was the passage of an act "Regulating and defining the duties of the United States Judges for the territory of Illinois" which required them to hold circuit courts in each county. That this victory of the Edwards party was not won without opposition is evident from Benjamin Stephenson's review of his work as a delegate in Congress, in which he says: "With regard to our judiciary system, I should at all times, have been happy to see such a one established, as would, if possible, have been agreeable to the judges, and convenient to the people. But I felt it my duty to oppose, and I did oppose with success, the attempt that was made when this subject was before the last Congress, to destroy the circuit system, and to have a general court to sit in two or three places only."16

p200 Just at this point in the fight, Griswold, the one judge who had not actively opposed the territorial law, died; and the efforts of the two factions to get their respective candidates appointed throw light on the alignment of men in 1815, particularly in Gallatin County. Griswold died in Shawneetown on August 21; and four days later a meeting was held there at which a petition was circulated in favor of Thomas Towles of Kentucky as his successor. The men present at this meeting were Towles himself, Leonard White, Benjamin Talbott, Thomas Sloo, and John Caldwell. The opposition at once put up Jeptha Hardin, a Kentuckian, who had been practicing law in Gallatin County since 1813 and a man who, according to John Reynolds, "possessed a strong original mind, and seemed to disdain scholastic education." Hardin's chief support came from Judge Thomas; and his political manager in the campaign appears to have been Joseph M. Street, clerk of both the county and circuit courts of Gallatin County. Towles, however, secured the appointment.

The victorious faction at Shawneetown in this contest was composed largely of men connected with the United States saline, and in that way closely associated with Edwards, who had been appointed superintendent of the saline in 1809. Leonard White was United States agent at the saline, while Sloo and Caldwell were register and receiver of the Shawneetown land office and thus concerned with the reservation. Towles himself, according to information given to Hardin by Caldwell, "was at the lick" with White and Talbott when Griswold died, and may have been connected with the saline in a private capacity. The men opposed to Towles were also opposed to the management of the saline, and in 1816 they sent two petitions to Congress against the renewal of the lease of John Bate. Street's name is first on one of these and Hardin's on the other. It would seem probable, therefore, that the saline was a considerable factor in Illinois politics. It added a business interest to the struggles over the patronage.

Among the members of the anti-Edwards faction at this time was Elias Kent Kane of Kaskaskia, one of the most promising p201of the younger lawyers, and a "keen, shrewd, talented politician." Born in New York and educated at Yale, he began practice in Illinois in 1814 when only 20 years of age. From the first he seems to have been on terms of intimacy with Judges Thomas and Sprigg, and Street considered him a person of influence in 1815. Another member of this faction and an intimate friend of Kane was John McLean, a young Kentuckian, who came to Shawneetown in 1815 and was admitted to the bar the following year. Mention should also be made of Thomas C. Browne, another lawyer from Kentucky, who located in Shawneetown in 1812 and who threw in his lot with the Edwards men. In 1815 Browne was one of the leaders in an attempt to deprive Street of his position as clerk of the circuit court.

The usual alignment of party leaders during the territorial period runs Edwards, Pope, Cook, White, and Browne on one side and Bond, Thomas, Michael Jones, Kane, and McLean on the other. This is derived from a statement of John Reynolds, who being to take an interest in politics about 1818, and it is in the main correct.17 The Michael Jones referred to may have been the young lawyer who was located in Shawneetown as early as 1812 and who played a prominent part in politics after the admission of the state. He was a half brother of Jesse B. Thomas and a brother-in‑law of Hardin so that his family affiliations were with the anti-Edwards party. There was another Michael Jones, however, a native of Pennsylvania, who came to Kaskaskia in 1804 as register of the land office, and held his position there throughout the territorial period. He had been the candidate of the Harrison faction against Thomas for delegate from Indiana Territory in 1808 and served for a time as lieutenant colonel of the militia, from which position Edwards removed him in 1811. There was bitter feeling between him and the governor over the settlement of land claims also, and he could doubtless be p202included as a member of the faction opposed to the governor.18

The placing of Bond's name first in Reynolds' list has led many local historians to speak of the opposition to Edwards as the Bond party. The real leaders of this faction, however, at the close of the territorial period were Thomas and Kane; and there is no strictly contemporary evidence to indicate that Bond was counted as a member of the party until, as first governor of the state, he fell under the influence of Kane, the secretary of state. Bond had been considered a member of the Harrison faction in the Indiana territorial legislature, and in 1809 he objected strenuously to Edwards' proposition that he go into an election with William B. Whiteside for the position of colonel of the militia, then held by Bond. Whiteside received the appointment. In 1812, however, as has been seen, Bond was elected delegate to Congress, and his letters to the governor during his term indicate that at that time they were working in perfect harmony. Bond came back from Washington in 1814 with an appointment as receiver of the land office at Kaskaskia. Two years later when Nathaniel Pope resigned the secretaryship to run for the position of delegate to Congress, Bond secured Pope's support for the position of secretary and wrote confidentially to the governor: "I now ask, and flatter myself, that you will support my view."19 The appointment went to Captain Joseph B. Phillips of Tennessee, who was the first chief justice of the supreme court of p203the state and the candidate of the Thomas and Kane party for governor in 1822, but there is no evidence that Edwards was in any way responsible.

The truth seems to be that Bond and many of the other men, such as Pierre Menard and Dr. George Fisher, who had been prominent in politics during the period when Illinois was a part of Indiana Territory, held aloof from both of the new factions and relied upon their popularity with the voters for political preferment. Menard represented Randolph County in all three sessions of the legislature of Illinois Territory, serving as president of the council, while Fisher was the representative from the same county and speaker of the house in the first and third legislatures. In 1816 these two men had only to announce their candidacy in order to assure their elections, and the same seems to have been true of Bond whenever he aspired to an elective office.

On the whole, it would appear that the political factions during the last years of Illinois Territory may be characterized as combinations of men for the purpose of holding or seeking appointive offices, either local or territorial. The people as a whole played little part in politics, for the only elections were those for delegate and members of the legislature every two years. It is doubtful if any considerable number of voters considered themselves as members of either of the political parties, and in the elections they were concerned less with questions of policy regarding the territory as a whole than with what the representatives whom they sent to the legislature could procure for their particular county. This local interest was often a desire for a dam, a ferry, a road, or some other public improvement; and in 1818 the legislature was satirized as "discussing, whether nature had designed such and such rivers to be navigable or not." In 1816 the important issue of the judiciary system was pending, but the fight in St. Clair County centered around the purely local issue of the division of the county, and the candidates pledged themselves to give primary consideration to local interests. In Randolph, as has been noted, the popular candidates had little opposition, regardless of their stand on territorial issues, p204and such seems to have been the situation wherever no local issue was at stake.20

The action of the third territorial legislature on the judiciary question illustrates the lack of political convictions on the part of the members and the absence of strict party affiliation.21 The United States law of 1815 having proved unsatisfactory in some of its details, the legislature of 1816 asked Congress to make certain changes and also to give to the legislature the power to make such changes as might be required in the future. This request was granted by a law of April 29, 1816, but unfortunately the phraseology of the act was such that the judges could claim that it would be of no effect after the close of the following session of the legislature, although the obvious intent of Congress was merely to limit those parts of the law making specific provisions for the time being and to leave the legislature absolutely free to regulate the judicial system of the territory in the future. The interpretation of the judges, if accepted, would have had the effect of throwing the question back into the same situation as before the passage of the United States law of 1815, with only the brief and doubtful language of the Ordinance of 1787 to fall back upon.

At the first session of the third territorial legislature, a committee of the house on the "state of the Judiciary" reported a bill "to establish circuit courts of their own creation; to give a salary of about $800 — to have two judges; and to hold three p205courts in each county." This bill, if enacted, would have relieved the United States judges of circuit work entirely, but the members of the legislature felt that the people of the territory should not be called upon to pay for service which they had a right to demand of the United States judges. Another bill was substituted, therefore, which practically continued the system then in force under the United States statute, and this was enacted into a law. Judges Thomas and Towles held courts in their circuits in accordance with this act although the former expressed doubts of its validity, but Judge Sprigg absolutely refused to recognize the act on the ground that the United States law had expired and that the territorial act was a violation of the ordinance. In March, when he should have been making his first round of counties, he was on his way to Maryland. He returned to the territory in October and shortly afterward announced his refusal to obey the law. As a result the people of the circuit assigned to him were deprived of facilities for the determination of lawsuits, and criminals went untried.22

When the same legislature met for its second session in December, 1817, it was obvious that something must be done to relieve the situation. Representatives Bradsby and Matheny of St. Clair opposed any concession to the judges and advocated "an appeal to that tribunal which is competent for that purpose." This would have meant more delay, however, and the majority of the legislature appears to have governed by expediency. The first bill considered would have re-established the old courts of common pleas but this was killed in committee of the whole house and a measure was adopted similar to the one which failed to pass in the first session. This provided for two circuit judges appointed by the governor, with salaries of $1,000 a year. The United States judges were relieved of all circuit duty and required to hold only four general courts a year, two at Kaskaskia and two at Shawneetown. "The object of this act," commented p206the editors of the Intelligencer, "is to remove the inconveniences under which the people labor, in consequence of the refusal of one of the U. States Judges to act, and because it is believed to be a better system than to allow the same Judges to hold courts of original jurisdiction, and of appellate jurisdiction also."23 That the legislature was not entirely subservient to the judges is indicated by the fact that it adopted resolutions requesting the delegate in Congress to lay before the House of Representatives charges against Judge Sprigg for his refusal to hold courts as required by the territorial law and for absenting himself from the territory "for an unreasonable time."24

When in November, 1817, the question of advance to statehood was suddenly thrust before the people of Illinois, the political situation may be summed up as follows: two coteries of politicians, the one led by Edwards and the other by Thomas and Kane, were opposing each other in a contest of several years' standing over the patronage and the judiciary; Menard, Bond, and others of the old established politicians, relying on their personal popularity, refused to align themselves with either of the factions; while the people, a simple people concerned principally with local interests and the advancement of material prosperity, readily gave their votes to any man who had won their personal liking. Besides these there was a small band of antislavery men watching and waiting for the opportune moment in which to free Illinois from any semblance of slavery.


The Author's Notes:

1 Alvord, Cahokia RecordsLII.

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2 Thorpe, Constitutions, 2:956.

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3 Thorpe, Constitutions, 2:957‑962.

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4 When the new government under the Constitution was established, it was provided that the appointments should be made by the President instead of by Congress. Thorpe, Constitutions, 2:963‑964.

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5 In 1801 the boundaries of St. Clair and Randolph counties were extended nearly to the Wabash, and the remainder of Knox County in what became Illinois was incorporated with them when the division took place in 1809. Illinois Blue Book, 1905, p376.

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6 The best account of the politics of Indiana Territory from 1800 to 1809 is in Dunn, Indiana, chs. 8‑10. The originals of the petitions and memorials referred to below are in House and Senate Files. Some of them have been printed in Indiana Historical Society, Publications, 2:447‑529. See also Woollen, Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early Indiana, 4‑5; American State Papers, Miscellaneous, 1:450, 467, 477, 484‑485, 922, 945.

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7 Indiana Historical Society, Publications, 2:476‑483, 492‑494; American State Papers, Miscellaneous, 1:485; Dunn, Indiana, 336‑341, 345.

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8 This Bond was the nephew of the Shadrach Bond who served in the legislature of the Northwest Territory. He was sometimes known as Shadrach Bond, Jr.

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9 Thorpe, Constitutions, 2:966.

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10 Edwards, History of Illinois, 28‑41; Washburne, Edwards Papers, 42‑46, 76; James, Territorial Records, 8.

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11 James, Territorial Records, 40.

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12 Alvord, Laws of the Territory, 2‑6, 28.

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13 Edwards, History of Illinois, 306‑309. The original of this letter and the petitions noted in the following paragraph are in House Files.

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14 House Files, March 14, 30, 1812; Laws of Illinois Territory, 1812, pp15‑16, 46‑48; Pope's Digest, 2:311‑312; Washburne, Edwards Papers, 103, 110.

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15 A Law Establishing a Supreme Court and Documents; Edwards, History of Illinois, 86‑92.

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16 Statutes at Large, 3:237‑239; Intelligencer, June 19, 1816.

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17 Street to Kane, March 26, 1815, and Hardin to Kane, September 29, 1815, in Chicago Historical Society Manuscripts; Lippincott, "Early Days in Madison County," no. 13; Reynolds, Pioneer History, 330; Reynolds, My Own Times, 210.

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18 Illinois Gazette, August 5, 1826; James, Territorial Records, 18, 28; Washburne, Edwards Papers, 71‑78; Reynolds, Pioneer History, 351.

The secondary writers have all treated these two men as one, the usual statement being that he moved from Kaskaskia to Shawneetown in 1814. The conclusion that there were two men of this name was first based on a comparison of signatures and on a cumulation of circumstantial evidence. Finally, however, positive proof was found in a letter from Edward Humphreys, receiver of the land office at Kaskaskia, of that commissioner of the General Land Office, dated November 30, 1822, which announces the death of "Col. Mich. Jones Regr. of the Land Office at this place" on the twenty-sixth. Land records, auditor's office, Springfield.

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19 Lippincott, "Early Days in Madison County" no. 13; Washburne, Edwards Papers, 42‑46, 93‑98, 101‑117, 126, 150.

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20 Intelligencer, September 9, 1818; July 9, 24, 1816.

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21 The list of representatives in this legislature in the Illinois Blue Book, 1913‑14, p133, is inaccurate and incomplete. It is supplemented in the following list from a vote reported in the Intelligencer of December 25, 1817. All of these men were elected in 1816 and all were present at the second session. Davenport may not have attended the first session but there is evidence that all the others were present, in the issues of the Intelligencer for December 4, 11, 18, 25, 1816, and January 22, 1817. George Fisher (speaker), Randolph; C. R. Matheny, St. Clair; William H. Bradsby, St. Clair; Nathan Davis, Jackson; M. S. Davenport, Gallatin; Joseph Palmer, Johnson; Seth Gard, Edwards; Samuel Omelveny, Pope; Willis Hargrave, White; John Mordock, Monroe; ––––– Gilham, Madison; Edward N. Cullom, Crawford.

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22 Street to Kane, March 31, 1817, in Chicago Historical Society Manuscripts, 52:167; Intelligencer, December 4, 11, 18, 1816; October 23, November 6, 1817.

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23 Intelligencer, January 13, 1818. See also ibid., December 25, 1817; Laws of Illinois Territory, 1817‑18, pp90‑98. This act also restored the "Justices' Courts," composed of all the justices of the peace in each of the counties, such as had existed from 1809 to 1811.

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24 Intelligencer, January 13, 1818. According to Edwards, History of Illinois, 28, Richard Graham was appointed judge on April 20, 1818. If this is correct Sprigg must either have resigned or have been removed. At the first session of the first general assembly of the state in October, 1818, he failed in an attempt to secure a nomination for the office of United States district judge for Illinois. House Journal, 1 General Assembly, 1 Session, 28.


Thayer's Note:

a Not exactly; while most of the "Province of Louisiana" did pass under the control of the Indiana Territory, the core of it, the small but more densely inhabited part that corresponds roughly to today's State of Louisiana, was set up as the Territory of Orleans (J. S. Kendall, History of New Orleans, pp69‑70).


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