Hilaire Belloc.

Biographical sketches of the leading men of Chicago online

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arrived Tuesday, a. m., the 25th, and took his dinner at the United States
Hotel, kept by Joiui Murphy (afterwards Alderman of the city), at tho
corner of Lake and Market streets, on the site of the Wigwam, where
Mr. Lincoln was iirst nominated for President.

About this time, a New Hampshire actpjaintaiu'e purcha.scd tlie
"Chicago Democrat," and made arrangements with Mr. Wentworth to
conduct it while he returned Etist. The "Democrat" was established in



674 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES.

1834, having been the first paper in the city, and there was but one other.
Tlie late Daniel Brainard, M. D., was his immediate predecessor in the
editorial chair. As the paper was only published weekly, he devoted his
leisure time to the study of law, at the office of Henry Moore, then a
lawyer of great promise, but whom consumption carried to a premature
grave, in his native Massachusetts. On the 23d of November, the first
number, under his management, appeared. Although he labored under
the disadvantages of youth and inexjierience, having been less than four
months out of college, and less than thirty days in the State, he soon
created a desire among the leading politicians of the Jackson school in
the Northwest, that he should become sole proprietor of the establishment.
And an opportunity was soon offered him, for misfortune attended the
new proprietor at the East, and he was unable to meet his Western
engagements. The liabilities for the Democrat were two thousand eight
hundred dollars, and it was the wish of all the creditors that Mr.
Wentworth should contrive in some way to liquidate them. But his
total means when he arrived at Chicago were but thirty dollars, and he
had received nothing since. He was unacquainted with business, and was
not a printer. It was proposed by some of the creditors that he write to
his father, who was a gentleman of respectable means for his locality, for
assistance. But his reply was: "I am the oldest of a large family of
children, and when my father has educated the others as well as he has
me, it will be time for me to ask for further favors."

They then assured him that it was the wish of all that he take the
paper, but they wanted him to tell how he was to pay for it. His answer
was characteristic of the future man. Although now surprising no one
Avho knows Mr. Wentworth's peculiarities, yet it then created a great deal
of surprise. He said, "I propose to pay for it out of my earnings and
savings. Come in every Saturday night and get what I have left after
paying the week's expenses. Determine among yourselves what debts
shall be paid first, and I propose to own the fixtures, types and presses, as
fast as I pay for them and no fiister. But I propose to OAvn the columns
from the start. Although young, I have very settled convictions, origi-
nating in inheritance, perhaps, Imt certainly confirmed l)y education, and I
propose to make the 'Democrat' their organ."

The result of this negotiation Avas, that in July of 1837, the words,
"Agent for the Proprietor," Avhich had thus long been beneath his name,
were dropped, and he continued sole editor, publisher and proprietor, until



JOHN WENTWORTH. 675

1861, when his responsibilities growing \vith the rapid growth of our city
and others outside, ineident, not only to his public life, but to the means
which he had accumulated, required him to give it U[). He had become
largely interested iu agriculture, having a farm of 2,500 acres, and he
would have nothing to do with a newspaper unless he could have all to do
with it. It must reflect his sentiments in every column. If public
sentiment was wrong, instead of catering to it, he thought it his duty to
correct it, and the earlier that correction was undertaken, the better. The
war had begun, and new questions were suddenly springing out of it,
which had to be promptly met, and he was unwilling to trust them in the
hands of those who might happen to be in liis employ, when im})ortant
midnight despatches might arrive, and, in particular, as he knew that
whatever was written would be attributed solely to him. And it is a
wonder how an independent editor like Mr. Wentwortli could ever have
secured so many public positions as he has. For it is the fortune of
independent editors to be treading upon the toes of influence. Mr. Went-
wortli, whilst an editor, was ten years elected to Congress, and two years
elected Mayor, with his paper in full blast upon every question that
agitated the public. Call over the roll of fearless political writers, and
see who have been more successful.

Having made up his mind to pay oif the indebtedness of the " Chicago
Democrat," and to own it, he brought to bear all those indomitable
energies which have ever characterized the descendants of the earliest
settlers of New England ; and although this had to be done in the midst
of one of the severest financial crises through which the country ever
passed, and although hLs views upon all the questions growing out of such
a crisis were considered radical and extreme, his paper never lost that bold
and defiant tone with which a conviction of right ever inspires a man. It
ought before to have been stated, that he is a descendant on both sides
from the old Puritan and revolutionary stock of New England, men who
left their native land, over two and a quarter centuries ago, to enjoy free-
dom of opinion, and whose descendants have all been members of the same
church which they came to New England to establish.

His maternal grand liither, Colonel Amos Cogswell, had served through
tlie entire war of the llevolution. His paternal great-grandfather, Judge
John AVentwortii, had presided at the first revolutionary convention in
New Hampshire. His grandfather, John Wentwortli, Jr., at the age of
thirty-three, was a member of the Continental Congress. And the pastor



676 BIOGEAPHICAX, SKETCHES.

of the church of which his parents were members, and by whom he was
christened, had been a soklier of the Revolution and had prayed in the
camp of Washington. He brought his New Eugkmd habits and inspira-
tions to bear upon tlie Avork he had undertaken. He made his bed among
the types and presses, and became not only editor, but folder, pressman,
clerk and mail boy. There was no industry that could have surpassed
his. By continuous daily and nightly toil, by denying himself everything
that the most pressing necessity did not demand, he had paid the last
dollar by the summer of 1839, and was then enabled to visit his native
New England, the sole proprietor of the leading administration paper in
the Northwest. During that visit, he delivered his first literary address
at the commencement of Norwich (Vt.) University, taking for his subject,
'' All education should be practical," which was highly commended by the
papers of the day as a literary production ; and he was the guest at the
time of General Truman B. Eausom, one of the Professors, Avho fell on the
battle fields of Mexico, and who was the father of our own General
Ransom of the War of the Rebellion.

The foresight of Mr. Wentworth, in early securing the entire control
of the columns of the " Democrat," Avas apparent when the financial crisis
of 1837 overtook the country, and which was attributed by many to the
Jackson- Van Buren policy, but which he attributed to a redundant paper
circulation and its natural consequences, speculation and extravagance;
claiming, as he has so often done since, amid similar crises, that the specie
redemption point should be the measure of paper circulation, and that all
excesses of paper issues must result in a disastrous inflation of prices. An
extra session of Congress was called, and the entire Democratic delegation
from Illinois in the House Avent over to the opposition, for Avhich the
"Democrat" A^ehemently denounced them, and took the most decided
administration ground. Its articles Avere copied into the " Washington
Globe," the " New York Evening Post," and all the leading administration
papers. The business men of Chicago, and the speculators univ^ersally,
Avere against President Van Buren, and so, of course, were against the
"Democrat," and so became many of its old creditors, aa'Iio refused to have
it left at their doors. It was then, as it many times afterAvards Avas, upon
the agitation of similar questions, denounced in public meetings for
creating an erroneous public sentiment, and threats AA'ere made of throAving
it in the river.' But it kept up an unremitting fire, and defied all denr.n-
eiatiou. The excitement Avas increased by the early call of a Congressional



•liniN AVENTWORTH. 677

Convention at Peoria, the (Icimiiciatidn of tlic iiu'inlxr of Congress, and
the nomination of8tq)lu'n A. Douglas in his pUiee. Mr. WVntworth \\:us
pressed as a eandidate by many (k'K',«;ati's who were aei^uainted with him
through his paper, but did not know that lie was under the required age.
One of them would insist upon voting for him, and made the prediction
in the Convention that he would some day be in C'ongnss,

The friends of the incumbent made a personal matti-r of tlu' jtroccrd-
ings of the Convention, and his son-in-law publicly shot <lown one of the
Committee upon Resolutions. Douglas and his opponent canvassed the
District together on horseback, and their discussions, confmcd entirely to
financial questions, were attended with great bitterness on the part of the
audience, which occasionally broke out into personal collisions. Douglas
made his headquarters, in Chicago, at the "Democrat" office, during
this canvass, and it was the necessity of defending the administration
that induced Mr. Wentworth to laboriously study the principles of
governmental finance, and wliicli qualified him to write and speak so
determinedly upon them in after years.

As early as February, 1840, in answer to an invitation to address the
Bay State Association, at Boston, he wrote a letter upon the relation of
banks to the Government, which was extensively circulated in pamphlet
form, and copied into the administration papers. The "Boston Post"
of that day said: "An ample apology for its great length will be found
in the sound doctrines it contains, and the powerful and eloquent style in
which thev are communicated. Mr. Wentworth's views of the banking
system, statesmanlike and e(|uitable as they are, cannot fail to meet with
approbation from all Democrats, and from none more lully than the
generous sons of the West."

It was not mitil 1840 that Mr. Wentworth commenced addressing:
])nblic assenddies outside of the city. The Presidential election was to
take place that year; and, looking upon the prospects of Mr. Van Bureu
as unfavoraide, he started the first Democratic daily paper in the North-
west, and having got it well under way, he commenced addressing the
[)eople in Xorthern Illinois, and so continued until the end of the
campaign, often riding in the same conveyance, and speaking from the
same stand, with Douglas. But the adnunistration of Mr. Van Buren
was overthrown, ami with it all those measures of linance to whi<'h Mr.
Wentworth had l)ecome so early a devotee. Rut when the term of the
new administration had half expired, Douglas and Wentworth entered



678 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES.

Congress together, and assisted in restoring them to the national code.
At the close of the contest, he received a very complimentary letter from
Governor Thomas Carlin for his services, enclosing a commission as his
Aid-de-Camp, signed by Stephen A. Douglas, as Secretary of State.
Hence is derived his title of Colonel.

He continued his legal studies as political excitement subsided, and in
the spring of 1841 entered the Law School at Cambridge, Massachusetts,
with the intention of remaining a year, and had secured the services of
the late Judge George Manierre, as editor in his absence. But, in the
autumn his friends became uneasy lest his absence should provoke
competition for the nomination to Congress, and prevailed upon him
reluctantly to return home. Calling to take leave of Judge Story, one
of the Professors, he was asked why he left before the close of the term.
" Private business," was the reply. Scarce had two years elapsed, before
he met Judge Story, as Congressman, who observed: "Your private
business has assumed public importance. Two years ago, my student;
now, my law-maker. Truly, a young man of rapid growth."

Soon after his return, he was examined by the late Governor Thomas
Ford, wliilst holding court at Sycamore, DeKalb County, and the late
Thomas C. Brown, who was holding court at the same time in Dixon, in
the adjoining county of Lee, and admitted to the bar. But his early
election to Congress, and long continuance therein, with his other public
positions, have left him with only the name of lawyer.

In August, 18-13 (the election being a year later than usual in conse-
quence of a delay in the apportionment), before he had been in the State
seven years, he was elected to the twenty-eighth Congress, the youngest
member of that body. Before that time, there had been no Member of
Congress from Illinois north of S})ringfield, and none from any State,
who resided upon Lake Michigan. He was in Congress eight years
under the census of 1840, two under that of 1850, and two under that
of 1860. He was in the Twenty-eighth, Twenty-ninth, Thirtieth, Thirty-
first, Thirty-third and Thirty-ninth Congresses, comprising a period of
Tyler's, Fillmore's and Johnson's administrations, being that of all the
Vice-Presidents who ever acted as Presidents. He was under the
Speakerships of Jones, of Virginia, Davis, of Indiana, Winthrop, of
Massachusetts, Cobb, of Georgia, Boyd, of Kentucky, and Colflix,
of Indiana; and under the administrations of Tyler, Polk, Taylor,
Fillmore, Pierce and Johnson. His first District was composed of the



JOHN AVENTWORTH. 679

counties of Cook, Boone, JJuivaii, Cli;uiip:ii<i;ii, iKKalh, I)ul*a};c, (JiiukIv,
Troqiiois, Kaue, Kendall, Lake, LaSallo, Livin<!;st(«n, .Melleiiry, McLean,
Vermillion and Will; and iVoin these new counties and parts of counties
have since been created. This ti-rritory is now represented, in whole or
in part, by seven different Members of Congress. \\'hen first elected, the
canal was not completed, and tlu're was not a railroad in the State. The
northern part of the State did not contain the population that Chicago
now do'es. Wisconsin and Iowa were not admitted into the Union,
and Minnesota was only known as a part of Wisconsin Territory. But
little more than half the pul)Iie land in the State iiad been sold. He
could only cauviiss his District in a buggy, and oftentimes his appoint-
ments could not be fulfilled from the rise of streams by sudden rains.
This District extended from the AVisconsin SUite line about two hundred
and fifty miles south, and from the Indiana State line about one hundred
miles west; and there were distances which would require from eight to
ten hours' travel without meeting a single inhabitant.

The history of his public acts would require a review of the history
of the times. The journals of the House will speak for his votes, and
the "Congressional Globe" for his speeches. He entered public life with
his present motto— ''Liberty and Economy." He constituted one of the
small majority that rescinded, during his first term, on the motion of
John Quincy Adams, the rule that prohibited the reception of all petitions
upon the subject of slavery. He was present in the House when John
Quincy Adams fell, and was one of the committee to escort his remains
to Massachusetts. In all measures of finance, he took an equally early
stand with the most radical of the anti-debt and anti-repudiation, as well
as of the specie-jm'ing and low-taxation jxirty.

The local legislation required for his District, and the business of his
constituents with the various Departments at that day, can hardly be
appreciated at present. There was no telegraph, and but very little
railroad communication between Chicago and AVashington, and the water
communication was very circuitous. The postage on an ordinary letter
was then twenty-five cents. He had to get maritime jurisdiction extended
over the Lakes, harbors constructed, light-houses erected, jwrts of entry
established. United States District Courts and court-houses, marine
hospitals, post office buildings, eti;., etc. New mtiil routes and post
offices were wanted; and all over Northern Illinois towns and villages
have assumed names that Mr. Wentworth gave to their (Original prairie



680 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES.

post office. Contested land cases, arising under the various pre-emption
laws were numerous, and required time at the Departments, as well as .in

Congress.

The Mexican war was begun and ended whilst he was in Congress,
and this brought the claims of soldiers and their heirs for back pay,
pensions, bounty, etc., etc.; and Mr. Wentworth ever took pride in being
the gratuitous agent for all of his constituents.

He never relaxed his effi)rts, until they were crowned with success, to
repeal the non-resident speculators' law, exempting lands from taxation
until five years after they were sold, and to enact pre-emption, graduation
and homestead laws. He was the first man from the West to introduce a
bill in favor of the bonded Avarehouse system.

The premature adoption of an extensive railroad system had brought
upon the State financial embarrassments, from which it seemed impossible
to extricate it, unless Congress should make a railroad grant of land
similar to that made for the canal. Tlie Illinois delegation labored
industriously for this, but they found almost insurmountable obstacles in
the way. One party, to keep the tariff low, wanted to apply all tlio
proceeds of the public lands to defraying the expenses of the General
Government. The other, to keep it high, Avantcd to divide the proceeds
of their sales among the States. Three Congresses had pas?^ed away in
ineffectual attempts. The Senate had been favorable; but the House,
where the older States where in greater preponderance, was immovable.
Whilst the finally successful negotiations were pending to get the Illinois
bondholders to complete the canal, ^Ir. AVcntworth had formed the
acquaintance of many very influential bondliolders in New York and
Boston ; and, from the complexion of the House, he believed these men
had influence enough to gain the necessary votes to pass the bill. The
canal had been a success, and the registered canal bonds were far above
the others in the market. ]Mr. Wentworth opened a correspondence with
them to show that a railroad grant could be so managed as to complete
the road and bring the bonds to a par with tlic canal bonds. They sent a
delegation to Washington, who soon made the report that the tariff
question was in the way. " And what I sent for you for was because, as
tariff men, I supposed you could get it out of the way," said Mr. Went-
worth. A few days more, and they brought to him a notification that a
distino'uished Member of Conoress from Massachusetts had been chosen
mediator, and would insist upon a slight modification of tlie tariff bill, as



JOHN WENTWORTH. 681

a condition of passing all the \\'cst('ni kuul hills. Mr. Wentwortli called
a meeting at his room, and made known tlu' i)roposition. Ho took the
ground that the modification of the tarilf might work well, and, if so,
there would bo no censure attached to its passage; and, if not so, then it
could be repealed ; whereas the land grants coidd not be repealed.

It was arranged to i'lirnish votes enough to pass the bill, which was
called up early next morning, and defeated by the absence of a few of the
strongest tarilf men in the House. So, to all appearances, ended the
Illinois land orant, and Mr. Wentworth felt the discomfiture keenlv. It
was his fourth Congress of labor for it, and he luul declined a re-election.
He felt that the tarifl'bill was lost through no fault of his, or his Western
allies. They had all worked up to their agreement, and he resolved
on an appeal to the magnanimity of the tarifi' men. He suggested
that they pass the Illinois bill, and thereby show what they could do, and
then keep back the other bills until the tariff bill should pass. This
policy was approved, and the gentleman from ^Massachusetts, Hon. George
Ashmun, engineered the bill safely through the House. But the tariff bill
could not be passed, and its friends would allow no other land grant to
pass, and this fact made the Illinois grant still more valuable, as the
company that secured it had no competition at its organization in
disposing of that class of securities. The men who were thus instrumental
in securing the passage of the bill Avere not long in submitting to Mr.
"Wentworth the original draft of the present charter, which still exists,
interlined in Mr. AVentworth's own handwriting, making the Governor
an ex-officio director, and strengthening the clause making the State's
income therefrom applicable to the liquidation of Illinois indebtedness.
President Polk pocketed the harbor and river bill that passed the Twenty-
ninth Congress ; and Mr. Wentworth, thinking that he saw a disposition to
make opposition to such bills a party test, deemed some immediate popular
action necessary, and consulted Members of Congress upon the subject,
and the result was the calling of a convention at Chicago, July 5, 1847.
;Mr. Wentworth, as Chairman of the Citizens' Committee, drafted the
address. The most prominent of the party Avith which ]Mr. Wentworth
acted gave the convention the cold shoulder, as tending to injure the
administration. But this only inspirited him, and nothing that he eould
do through his newspaper, or by public speeches or private letters, was
left undone. The magical effects of that convention are proverbial.

He resisted with all his enertries the surrender of" the United Stiites



632 BIOGEAPHICAL SKETCHES.

claim to any portion of the Pacific Territory south of the Russian Posses-
sions, and ^^-as one of twelve who voted that our right to the whole
country should not be the subject of negotiation or compromise. He was
one of the few Democrats who attended a private meeting under Mr.
Polk's administration, and resolved to defeat any measure looking to the
acquisition of new territory unless slavery was prohibited therein, and the
fruits of which meeting was the celebrated " AVilmot Proviso."

Wheeler, who was at Washington during all these eight years, in his
Biographical and Political History of Congress, Volume II, says :

"We mark liim down a man of untiring energy, whose mind, once fixed upon a
project, is not apt to be diverted from it, but will make every consideration secondary to
its accomplishment. Possessing a good knowledge of parliamentary tactics, and conver-
sant generally with the means of success in any movement he may make, he calculates
coolly and afar oif, and turns every little circumstance to good account. We have seen
him stand up in the face of denunciation and excommunication fierce enough to awe into
submission any mind accustomed to acknowledge the obligations of that austere disci-
pline which is characteristic of the Democratic party. If he has winced, we never saw
him."

And the "United States Democratic Review," published about the
same time, said of him :

" Colonel Wentworth's political career has been marked by untiring industry and
perseverance; by independence of thought, expression and action; by a thorough know-
ledge of human nature; by a moral courage equal to any crisis; by a self-possession that
enables him to avail himself of any chance of success, when on the very threshold of
defeat; and by a steady devotion to what he believes the wishes and interests of those
whose representative he is."

Under the census of 1850, Chicago was placed in a District composed
of the counties of Cook, DeKalb, DuPage, Kane, Lee, Whiteside and Rock
Island, the three latter counties not having been in the District formerly
represented by Mr. Went worth in Congress. He was its first Repre-
sentative. He and Senator Douglas canvassed the entire District in
company, lioth urging the claims of General Pierce to the Presidency.
But the introduction of the Missouri Compromise Repeal, by Senator
Douglas, and the support given that measure by General Pierce, soon
separated them politically. Mr. Wentworth left them with regret. He
had been an admirer of Douglas ever since he had known him, and hoped
to see him President of the United States. And his admiration for



JOHN WENTWORTH. 683

President Pierce was inherited, as his own liithrr (Hon. Panl Wentworlh)



Online LibraryHilaire BellocBiographical sketches of the leading men of Chicago → online text (page 60 of 61)