« PreviousContinue »
Census of 1810, shows that there were 168 slaves in the Territory; that of 1820, that there were 917 in the State; that of 1830, 747; that of 1840, 331, and that of 1850, that the institution had become utterly extinct so far as the force of law governed it. Slavery, however, did not exist in the sense that it did in the slaves States proper, but merely in the form of an indenture.
But the constitution of 1818 did not fully settle the agitation of the slavery question in the State, for a most determined effort was made during the administration of Governor Coles to change the organic law so as to make Illinois a slave State, and the effort seems to have been as dishonest as it was earnest.
In his inaugural address, in December, 1822, Gov. Coles took the ground that, notwithstanding slavery was prohibited by the Ordinance of 1787, and by the constitution itself, yet it existed in Illinois, and he sought to impress upon the attention of the law-making power the idea that the institution was inhuman and morally wrong, and that it was the duty of the General Assembly to pass such laws as would effectually overthrow the institution in whatever form it might exist. But this rational and just recommendation was utterly disregarded by the pro-slavery men, who, being largely in the majority, deliberately went to work to put in motion the machinery by which the constitution was to be so changed as to make of Illinois a slave State. In both houses the pro-slavery men had a large majority; but when the final test came in the House, they lacked one vote of having the required constitutional majority. The journal of the House of that session shows that there had been a contest between Nicholas Hansen, anti-slavery, and John Shaw, pro-slavery. both of Pike county; and that on the 9th of December, 1822, the House declared Hansen entitled to the seat. But when it became evident to the pro-slavery men that they needed one
additional vote to insure the passage of a resolution calling a convention to amend or revise the constitution, Alexander P. Fields, of Union county, moved to reconsider the motion by which Hansen was admitted. This was on the 28th of January, 1823, over two months after Mr. Hansen had been declared entitled to represent his district in that body. It was pretended that some new evidence had been developed, and on this pretext Hansen was unseated and John Shaw admitted in his place. The convention resolution having previously passed the Senate, needed only the formality of a vote in the House to render its passage. certain, and the election for a convention to frame a new constitution was therefore called for the first Monday in August, 1824. The contest was a bitter one from the very first hour the question was mooted, and it grew in bitterness as the canvass progressed.
Speaking of the passage of the convention resolution, Ex-Gov. Reynolds, himself a pro-slavery man, thus refers to the proceedings of the General Assembly: "This proceeding in the General Assembly looked revolutionary, and was condemned by all honest and reflecting men. This outrage was a death-blow to the convention."
Ex-Gov. Ford, in his History of Illinois, bears testimony to the same effect, wherein he says:
"The night after this resolution passed, the convention party assembled to triumph in a great carousal. They formed themselves into a noisy, disorderly, and tumultuous procession, headed by Judge Phillips, Judge Smith, Judge Thomas Reynolds, late Governor of Missouri, and Lieutenant-Governor Kinney, followed by the majority of the Legislature, and the hangers-on and rabble about the seat of Government; and they marched, with the blowing of tin horns and the beating of drums and tin pans, to the residence of Gov. Coles, and to the boarding houses of their principal opponents, towards whom they manifested their contempt and displeasure by a confused medley of groans, wailings and lamentations. Their object was to intimidate, and crush all opposition at once."
The Judge Phillips referred to was then the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the State, and his appearance in such company and in such a cause, shows how deeply seated was the slave power upon the very vitals of our State. The contest, as we have said, was waged with wonderful energy on both sides. Gov. Coles was the chosen leader of the anti-slavery party, and to his courage and sagacity may be ascribed the fact that Illinois was not cursed with the blight of slavery. We quote another passage from Ford's history, as the best means of getting before the reader the true character of the campaign:
"The anti-convention party took new courage, and rallied to a man. They established newspapers to oppose the convention: one at Shawneetown, edited by Henry Eddy; one at Edwardsville, edited by Hooper Warren, with Gov. Coles, Thomas Lippincott, George Churchill, and Judge Lockwood, for its principal contributors; and finally, one at Vandalia, edited by David Blackwell, the Secretary of State. The slave party had established a newspaper at Kaskaskia, under the direction of Mr. Kane and Chief Justice Reynolds; and one at Edwardsville, edited by Judge Smith; and both parties prepared to appeal to the interests, the passions, and the intelligence of the people. The contest was mixed with much personal abuse; and now was poured forth a perfect avalanche of detraction, which, if it were not for the knowledge of the people that such matters are generally false, or greatly exaggerated, would have overwhelmed and consumed all men's reputations. Morris Birkbeck, an Englishman, who settled an English colony in Edwards county, Gov. Coles, David Blackwell, George Churchill, and Thomas Lippincott, wrote fiery hand-bills and pamphlets, and the old preachers preached against a convention and slavery. Elias K. Kane, Judge Thomas Reynolds, Judge Samuel McRoberts, Judge Smith, and others, wrote hand-bills and pamphlets in its favor. These missive weapons of a fiery contest were eagerly read by the people. The State was almost covered with them; they flew everywhere, and everywhere they scorched and scathed as they flew. This was a long, excited, angry and bitter contest. It was to last from the spring of 1823, until the August election of 1824; the rank and file of the people were no less excited
than their political leaders. Almost every stump in every county had its bellowing orator, on one side or the other; and the whole people, for the space of eighteen months, did scarcely anything but read newspapers, hand-bills and pamphlets, quarrel, argue, and wrangle with each other whenever they met together to hear the violent harangues of their orators. The people decided by about two thousand majority in favor of a free State. Thus, after one of the most bitter, prolonged and memorable contests which ever convulsed the politics of the State, the question of making Illinois a slave State was put to rest.'
The vote of the counties, and there were then but thirty in the entire State, as shown by the election returns in the office of the Secretary of State, was, for convention, 4,950; against, 6,822-majority against convention, 1,872.
Subsequently, the question as to the right to hold slaves in the State under the indenture system, was frequently brought before the Supreme Court, but no further attempt was ever made to fasten the institution upon the State through the organic law.
The third State government was inaugurated December 6, 1826, with Ninian Edwards, of Madison, as Governor; Wm. Kinney, of St. Clair, Lieutenant-Governor; George Forquer, of Sangamon, Secretary of State and AttorneyGeneral; Elijah C. Berry, Auditor of Public Accounts, and Abner Field, of Union, Treasurer.
The Fifth General Assembly convened December 4, 1826, and adjourned February 9, 1827. Lieut.-Gov. Kinney presided over the Senate, and Emanuel J. West was elected Secretary. John McLean was elected Speaker of the House, and Wm. L. D. Ewing Clerk.
In this Assembly was Wm. S. Hamilton, of Sangamon, a son of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, who was killed in a duel with Aaron Burr, who was Vice-President under Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Wm. S. Hamilton was born in New York, and came to Illinois in 1817, settling in Sangamon county. He emigrated to Wisconsin in 1827, and from thence to California, where he distinguished himself. He died in that State October 9, 1850, and a monument marks his resting place.
CAIRO IN 1818.
As far back as 1818, the territory now occupied by the city of Cairo was regarded as one of the best sites in Illinois for a flourishing city, and it will be both interesting and amusing to read the following preamble to an act which was approved January 9, 1818, incorporating the place:
"AND, WHEREAS, the said proprietors represent that there is, in their opinion, no position in the whole of the extent of these Western States better calculated, as respects commercial advantages and local supply, for a great and important city, than that afforded by the junction of these two great highways-the Mississippi and Ohio rivers; but that nature, having denied to the extreme point formed by their union a sufficient degree of elevation to protect the improvements made thereon from the ordinary inundations of the adjacent waters, such elevation is to be found only upon the tract above mentioned (the present site of Cairo), so that improvements made and located thereon may be deemed perfectly and absolutely secure from all such ordinary inundations, and liable to injury only from the concurrence of unusually high and simultaneous inundations in both of said rivers-an event which is alleged