Ill.) McLean County Historical Society (McLean County.

Meeting of May 29, 1900 commemorative of the convention of May 29, 1856 that organized the Republican party in the state of Illinois: online

. (page 2 of 14)
Online LibraryIll.) McLean County Historical Society (McLean CountyMeeting of May 29, 1900 commemorative of the convention of May 29, 1856 that organized the Republican party in the state of Illinois: → online text (page 2 of 14)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

University and the Soldiers' Orphans' Home at Normal. An
idealist, yet a man of the greatest practical common sense. He
and Lincoln were kindred spirits. He was secretary of the
state Republican committee in 1858 during the memorable
campaign between Lincoln and Douglas. In 1856 when Mr.
Lincoln was obliged to decline the appointment of Illinois
member of the Kansas national committee he recommended
Mr. Fell to fill his place. He early conceived of Mr. Lincoln
as the proper candidate- f or the presidency in 1860 and entered
upon the accomplishment of that design with his usual energy
and persistence. To him Mr. Lincoln addressed in December.
1859, his brief autobiography. By personal address, by corres-
pondence and though the press at home and in other states he
was unceasing in his advocacy of Mr. Lincoln. Leonard
Swett, a native of the state of Maine, was the advocate of the
west, tall, swarthy, handsome, with the most melodious voice
man ever possessed. Mr. Fell by reason of his intelligence,
earnestness, persistence and disinterestedness was singularly
persuasive. Mr. Swett by the clearness of his mental concep-
tions, the melody of his voice, his geniality and eloquence
was equally influential. Last but not least was David Davis,
judge of the circuit court, a large and portly man of singular
physical and mental quickness and energy, a native of Mary-

Convention, May 29, 1856.


Jand and by temperament and education a conservative, he was
profoundly attached to Mr. Lincoln and resisted all attempts
to detach him from the political fortunes of his friend. As
soon as he saw there was a possibility of Mr. Lincoln's nomi-
nation he threw himself into the movement with the whole
force and weight of a strong personality. Each of these three
men read their fellow men as they would read a book, instinc-
tively perceiving their character, the motives and influences that
would affect them. In the Chicago convention that nominated


Born at Turner, Maine in 1825. studied law,
came west, served in Mexican War, Whig
elector 1848, settled in Bloomington 1849 and
became one of the ablest lawyers in the
northwest, traveled the circuit with Mr.
Lincoln and was one of his most trusted ad-
visers during the Civil War. Died at Chica-
go, Illinois, June 8, 1889.

By permission and courtesy of the S. S.
McClure Co.

Mr. Lincoln in 1860 their influence was most potent. Judge
Davis by common consent took charge of the Lincoln forces.
Davis, Fell and Swett were incessant in their labors, addressing
delegations, laboring with individual delegates and caucusing
and directing the contest and with the aid of Palmer, Yates
and other earnest friends, won the victory.

The bar of the eighth circuit were hardworking men of the
highest integrity, character and ability. Their influence upon
Mr. Lincoln's career has never been properly recognized. We
hope some one may write a paper fully treating of this subject.


24 Anti-Nebraska Republican










GEORGE PERRIN DAVIS, President of the Historical Society.

EZRA M. PRINCE, Secretary of the Historical Society.









J. E. WYNNE. Delegates to the Convention of May 29, 1856.



Social Re-union of the Delegates to the Convention of May 29,
1856, and their friends.


Reading the call of the Convention of May 29, 1856.

Reading the roll of the Convention.

Welcome to the survivors of the Convention Ex-Governor Joseph
W. Fifer.

The Editoral Convention of February 22, 1856 Paul Selby,

The Germans and German Press Col. Wm. Vocke, Chicago.

Abraham Lincoln John G. Nicolay, Washington, D. C.

8:00 P. M.

Lovejoy the Constitutional Abolitionists and the Republican
Party Benj. F. Shaw, Dixon.

The Whigs and Whig Leaders I. L. Morrison, Jacksonville.
General Address Gen. John M. Palmer, Springfield.

Convention, May 29, 1856. 25












George Perrin Davis, president of the Historical So-
ciety, having" called the meeting 1 to order, said:

The McLean County Historical Society, knowing from their own
experience how fatal delay is to historical accuracy, felt it proper to
lay aside for the time being their labors on local affairs and bring
together the surviving members of the most momentous convention
ever held in this state, hoping, from the papers read and remarks of
the delegates, much of interest to the state and nation might be res-
cued from the memory of individuals and put in enduring form for our
descendants. The papers have all been prepared by men familiar
with the branch of the subject treated by them.

The secretary will read the call for the conyention of
May 29, 1856, which was read as follows:


A state convention of the Anti-Nebraska party of Illinois will be
held in the city of Bloomington on Thursday, the 29th day of May T
1856, for the purpose of choosing candidates for state officers, appoint-
ing delegates to the national convention and transacting such other
business as may properly come before the body. The committee have
adopted as the basis of representation the ratio of one delegate to
every 6,000 inhabitants and one additional delegate for every frac-
tional number of 2,000 and over but counties that have less than
6,000 inhabitants are entitled to one delegate. W. B. Ogden, S. M.
Church, E. A. Dudley, Thomas J. Pickett, R. J. Oglesby, G. D. A.
Parks, Ira O. Wilkinson, W. H. Herndon, Joseph Gillespie, State Cen-
tral Committee.

The secretary then read the roll- of the delegates to
the convention of May 29, 1856, to which the following an-
swered present:

General John M. Palmer, Benjamin F. Shaw, Dr. William Jayne,
J. M. Ruggles, George Schneider, Thomas J. Henderson and David

26 Anti- Nebraska Republican

Address of Welcome,

FELLOW CITIZENS : It is generally understood, I believe,
that this celebration is held under the auspices of the McLean
County Historical Society. Through the courtesy of the of-
ficers of that association, it becomes my gracious privilege to
say a few words of welcome upon this most interesting oc-

Friends, we are here to celebrate one of the most im-
portant events in history. Here in this city forty-four years
ago today, was held our first republican state convention. It
was the first organized opposition within the limits of our state
to the further spread of human slavery, and the cause of
liberty found here many of its ablest advocates, among whom
were David Davis, Jesse W. Fell and Isaac Funk.

In a short address of welcome I cannot of course, enter
upon any full discussion of the causes which led to that con-
vention ; nor will the proprieties of this occasion permit me to
speak at length of the historic events that soon followed.

In that assembly were gathered our ablest and most
conscientious statesmen. They came from all political par-
ties, and were united in the single purpose to resist at any cost
the further aggressions of slavery. It was not a time for the
success of busy little men, and therefore not a demagogue was
to be found in their midst. They were men of noble purpose
and high courage; men who believed that right makes might,
and consequently were not afraid to shake their fists in the
face of majorities.

The movement here inaugurated under the leadership of
Abraham Lincoln, Richard Yates, John M. Palmer, Benjamin

Joseph W. Fifer was born at Staunton, Va., Oct. 28, 1840; came to McLean Co.,
111., 1857; enlisted private. Co. C, 33d 111. Vols. Aug. 15. 1861: severely wounded at
Jackson, Miss., July 13, 1863: discharged Oct. 11, 1864; entered Illinois Wesleyan Uni-
versity and graduated 1868; studied law and was successively city attorney of
Bloomington, state's attorney for McLean county, state senator, and governor of
Illinois, and is now member of interstate commerce commission.

Convention May 29, 1856.



28 Anti-Nebraska Republican

Shaw and others, was not destined to have an easy or a bloodless
victory. In its cause we piled up a national debt of nearly
$3,000,000,000. In the bloody conflict that ensued five hun-
dred thousand American citizens laid down their lives count-
ing those on both sides. After this unparalleled sacrifice of blood
and treasure, the .doctrines here proclaimed finally triumphed
with Grant at Appomattox. The chains were all broken, the
auction block for the sale of human, beings, was forever ban-
ished from the land, and today, thank God, the foot of no slave
presses the soil of the continents discovered by Columbus.

No human sagacity could see the end from the beginning.
A movement undertaken for the purpose of enforcing wise re-
strictions against the spread of slavery, finally, through the
irresistible logic of events, resulted in the total removal of that
foul blot from our national escutcheon.

It is only just to say that this happy result was achieved,
not by the efforts of any single political party, for slavery was
abolished and the union preserved by the common patriotism
of the great American people; and men of all shades of politi-
cal belief now applaud the wisdom and courage of the conven-
tion held here near a half century ago. Instead of sectional
strife and discord, we now behold a nation of .70,000,000 of
people, with happy homes, and with a trade and commerce that
covers all the seas; a people, too, that are forever united in the
bonds of friendship under a single flag. And so the prophecy of
1 86 1 has been fulfilled. ''We are not enemies, but friends. We
must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained,
it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords
of memory stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave
to every living heart and hearth-stone all over this broad land,
will yet swell the chorus of the Union when again touched,
as surely they will be by the better angels of our nature."

Possibly most of the men who stood with Lincoln in that
historic convention, are now in their graves. Some are still
living, and some we have with us here today. We thank them
all, both the living and the dead for their patriotism, and for
their noble example of unselfish devotion to the cause of truth

Convention, May 29, 1856. 29

and justice. One of their number was afterwards elected presi-
dent of the United States, and as he lay upon his bloody bier,
Secretary Stanton could point to him and truthfully say "there
lies the greatest leader of men that ever lived." Many others be-
came distinguished, both in civic and in military life, and ren-
dered honorable and conspicuous service to the nation.

The distinguished chairman of the convention, we are
glad to know, is present with us here today. Of his patriotic
services to his country in the darkest hour this nation ever
saw, time will not allow me to speak. In the cause of liberty
he was no laggard ; he early heard the call of duty and nobly
risked his life for the integrity of the Union and the glory and
honor of his country. The memory of his sacrifices will
remain fresh so long as patriotism and courage are appre-
ciated and admired by a grateful people.

My friends, the event you celebrate today is very close to
the hearts of our people. We appreciate your presence here,
and with the hope that your meeting may prove both pleasant
and profitable, I take great pleasure in extending to you on
behalf of the people of Bloomington and of McLean county,
a most sincere and cordial welcome.

30 Anti-Nebraska Republican

The Editorial Convention, February 22, 1856,

Pres. Davis:

One of the most important factors in establishing the Republican
party was the Anti-Nebraska press. The convention which we cele-
brate was called by a meeting of Anti-Nebraska editors held at Deca-
tur, February 22, 1856, presided over by Paul Selby, of the Morgan
Journal, of Jacksonville. He was also a member of the Anti-Nebraska
State Convention held in October, 1854, at Springfield. He has been
connected with many of the papers of this state, but mainly with the
State Journal of Springfield, for eighteen years.

He has held many offices of trust and profit, and for the past ten
years has lived in Chicago and been engaged in literary and histori-
cal work.

Our next paper is on "The Editorial Convention of February 22 r
1856." I have the pleasure of introducing Hon. Paul Selby.


President of that Convention.

The task assigned me today is the presentation before
your society of the "inside history'' of the Convention of Anti-
Nebraska Editors held at Decatur, Illinois, February 22, 1856,
and this duty I shall endeavor to discharge with as much brev-
ity as circumstances will allow. The theme being strictly histor-
ical, you will expect no displays of either rhetoric or oratory,
but 1 shall confine myself to a narrative of facts, which I hope
may prove of value to your society and of interest to the in-
vestigators of history generally.

It is a fact well known to all familiar with the political
history of the time, that the decade following the year 1846
was one of intense political excitement and constantly increas-
ing agitation. Beginning with the annexation of Texas,

Paul Selby. editor, was born in Pickaway county, Ohio, July 20. 1825. In 1852 he
became the editor of the Morgan Journal, of Jacksonville, Illinois, with which he
remained until the fall of 1858. covering the period of the organization of the Re-
publican party in which the Journal took an active part. He was a member of the
republican Illinois State convention of 1854, was chairman of the Anti-Nebraska
Editorial convention of February 22, 1856. Was associate editor of Journal at Spring-
field, Illinois, from July 1862 to November 1865. Afterwards on the staff of the
Chicago Journal, also on the Republican from May 1868, to January 1874. Was edi-
tor of the Quincy Whig and in 1874 became editor of the Springfield Journal. Was
postmaster at Springfield from 1880 to 1886. With Newton Bateman as editor
of the Historical Encyclopedia of Illinois.

Convention, May 29, 1856.


32 Anti-Nebraska Republican

which marked an immense expansion in the area of slave ter-
ritory, the growth of this excitement was temporarily checked
by the diversion of the popular mind from the great issue, by
the advent of the Mexican War on the one hand, and the admis-
sion of California as a free state on the other, with the virtual
exclusion of slavery from the territory acquired from Mexico
under operation of the compromise measures of 1850. But
even these were not sufficient to counterbalance the intense feel-
ing produced by the harsh features of the fugitive slave law.
which constituted a leading feature of that celebrated series
of acts the last compromise with which the name of Henry
Clay was associated. The hostility to this act, which mani-
fested itself in many sections of the north in open resistance to
the return of fugitive slaves to their southern masters, and sys-
tematic efforts made in certain northern states to neutralize
the law and thwart its enforcement by the enactment of state
laws, gave evidence of the constantly rising tide of public senti-
ment on this subject at this time.

The very climax of conditions tending to promote agi-
tation of the slavery question was reached in the approval, by
the president, on May 30, 1854, of the Kansas-Nebraska bill re-
pealing the Missouri Compromise and thereby removing the
restriction against the introduction of slavery into territory
north of the parallel of 36 degrees and 30 minutes. There
is a curious coincidence in the fact that, while one Illinois sen-
ator (Jesse B. Thomas) was accredited with the introduction,
in 1820, of the measure which took the name of the "Mis-
souri Compromise," as was then believed in the interest of
slavery, another Illinois senator (Stephen A. Douglas),
thirty-four years later, in compliance with the demands of the
friends of slavery, introduced, and pushed to a successful issue,
the act which accomplished the repeal of that measure. Yet
this was not accomplished until five years after the author of
the repealing measure had spoken of the act which he was
about to destroy, as having "an origin akin to that of the con-
stitution," and as having become "canonized in the hearts of
the American people as a sacred thing which no ruthless hand

Convention, May 29, 1856. 33

would ever be reckless enough to disturb." And it fell to the
lot of another Illinoisan (Abraham Lincoln) not only to lead
the forces which put an effectual check upon the further spread
of slavery, but to give vitality to the act which was to wipe
the institution out of existence.

The condition of political affairs existing throughout the
nation between 1854 and 1856 was one of practical chaos. It
was a period of unrest and commotion such as the country had
not seen since the adoption of the constitution, and which was
only surpassed by the agitation which attended the outbreak
of the Civil War seven years later, of which it was the precursor.
Parties were disintegrating and their mutually repellant ele-
ments were seeking new associations. Anti-slavery Demo-
crats and anti-slavery Whigs were found in sympathy and al-
liance with each other, while the pro-slavery factions of both
parties were drifting in a similar manner towards a common
center. By "anti-slavery" in this connection I do not mean
those who had espoused the cause of practical "abolition,"or
even those who were known as "Free Soilers, " but those
who objected to the repeal of the Missouri Compromise and
were opposed to the introduction of slavery in territory already
free, or which had been dedicated to freedom by that most
solemn of compacts.

Jn nearly every community during this period, especially
in the more densely populated portions of the northern states
and among the more intelligent classes, were groups of men
gathered from both of the old parties, as well as avowed Abo-
litionists and Free-Soilers, who were accustomed to meet and
anxiously confer together over the political situation. This
was especially the case in the citv of Jacksonville, my home at
that time a college town which embraced among its popula-
tion many familie's of eastern origin, or those from education,
association or natural impulse, in sympathy with the spirit of
freedom. Among those who held advanced views on the sub-
ject of slavery, I may mention the names of the late Prof.
Jonathan B. Turner, President Julian M. Sturtevant, of Illi-
nois college, Dr. Samuel Adams, of the same institution, Elihu

34 Anti- Nebraska Republican

Wolcott, Hon. Richard Yates, Prs. David Prince and Hiram
K. Jones (the latter still surviving and now a professor in Illi-
nois college), and among business men or those not engaged in
the professions, John Mathers, J. W. and J. O. King, J. H.
Bancroft, J. W. Lathrop, Peter Melendy, Anderson Foreman,
and many others. There was a widespread, an almost uni-
versal, demand among this class and their sympathizers
throughout the nation, for the organization of a new party
based upon resistance to the further extension of slavery, a
chief incentive being, found in the wrongs and outrages per-
petrated in the effort to plant that institution in Kansas, fol-
lowing immediately upon the congressional legislation of 1854.
It was my fortune at this time to be the editor of "The
Morgan (now Jacksonville) Journal," originally a Whig
paper, but which, on taking charge of it early in 1852 fore-
seeing, as I believed, the impending disruption of parties
had been made "independent." On the enactment of the Ne-
braska bill, however, it promptly took ground in opposition to
that measure. As the result of a conference with my partner,
Mr. Alvah C. Clayton for many years past the proprietor of
a printing house in St. Louis and now a resident of Webster
Groves, near that city about the holidays in December, 1855,
"The Journal" published an editorial suggesting a meeting of
the Anti-Nebraska Editors of the state for the purpose of
agreeing upon a line of policy to be pursued in the campaign
of the year then just opening. Owing to the destruction of
the files of "The Journal" of that period by fire, I am unable
to quote the article referred to, or even give its exact date. The
following quotation from the Chicago Tribune, published a
few weeks before the date of the convention, will indicate the
tenor of the article, as well as its origin :


"It was moved by The Morgan Journal and seconded by
The Winchester Chronicle, that there be held a convention
of Free State Editors at Decatur .on the 22d of February. The
question has met the approval of the Pike County Free Press,
Decatur Chronicle and other papers. The Morgan Journal

Convention, May 29, 1856. 35

calls on The Alton Courier, Democrat (of Chicago), Demo-
cratic Press, Tribune, Journal and Staah Zeitung, of Chicago ;
the Springfield Journal and the Belleville Advocate, and the
Anti-Nebraska press generally, from one end of the prairie
state to the other, to express their sentiments on the propriety
of the proposed convention."

Then follow quotations upon the subject from The
Pike County Free Press and The Morgan Journal, after which
the Tribune concludes its indorsement of the proposition as
follows :

"The reasons set forth by The Journal so clearly and well,
are sufficient. If it be the will of the Free State Editors of
Illinois to hold such a convention, the Tribune will be repre-
sented. We need only add that the proposition meets our cor-
dial approbation, and we hope a ready response will be heard
from every section of the great prairie state on the part of the
editorial corps not bound to swear in the words of Douglas and

The Winchester Chronicle, which was the first to second
the proposition of The Morgan Journal, was, as I think, then
under the editorial charge of the late Judge John Moses, who
later was secretary for a number of years of the Chicago His-
torical Society and author of Moses' History of Illinois. The
Decatur Chronicle, then edited by W. J. Usrey, was an early
indorser of the movement, and, at its suggestion, Decatur was
named as the place of meeting, and accepted by common con-
sent. A call in the following form was printed in the papers
indorsing the proposition :


"All editors in Illinois opposed to the Nebraska bill are re-
quested to meet in convention at Decatur, Illinois, on the 22d
of February next, for the purpose of making arrangements for
the organization of the Anti-Nebraska forces in this state for
the coming contest. All editors favoring the movement will
please forward a copy of their paper containing their approval
to the office of The Illinois State Chronicle, Decatur."

According to my best information, obtained by consulting
the files of papers which took part in the movement, it received
the formal indorsement of twenty-five, representing nearly the

36 Anti-Nebraska Republican

entire strength of the Anti-Nebraska press of the state at that
time. Those whose names were appended to the call as avowed
supporters of the proposition were:

The Morgan Journal, Jackson- The Fultonian, Vermont, Pulton

ville. County.

The Chronicle, Winchester. The Journal (German), Quincy.

The Illinois State Chronicle, De- The Beacon, Freeport.

catur. The Pantograph, Bloomington.

The Quincy Whig, Quincy. The Tme Democrat, Joliet.

The Pike County Free Press, Pitts- The Telegraph, Lockport.

field. The Gazette, Kankakee.

The Gazette, Lacon. The Guardian, Aurora.

The Tribune, Chicago. The Gazette, Waukegan.

2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14

Online LibraryIll.) McLean County Historical Society (McLean CountyMeeting of May 29, 1900 commemorative of the convention of May 29, 1856 that organized the Republican party in the state of Illinois: → online text (page 2 of 14)