William Eleazar Barton.

The influence of Illinois in the development of Abraham Lincoln (Volume 2) online

. (page 2 of 3)
Online LibraryWilliam Eleazar BartonThe influence of Illinois in the development of Abraham Lincoln (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 3)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the House of Representatives who voted for the disastrous "Inter-
nal improvement system." He was especially indignant when he con-
sidered how many of these men, who, as he believed, ought to have
been repudiated by the people, were continued in office. Ninian W.
Edwards and others were "since often elected or appointed to other
offices, and are yet all of them popular men. . . . Dement has been
twice appointed Receiver of Public Moneys. . . . Shields to be
Auditor, Judge of the Supreme Court, Commissioner of the General
Land Office, and Brigadier General in the Mexican War. . . . Lin-
coln was several times elected to the Legislature and finally to Con-
gress; and Douglas, Smith and McClernand have been three times
elected to Congress, and Douglas to the United States Senate. Being
all of them spared monuments of popular wrath, evincing how safe
it is to be a politician, and how disastrous it may be to the country to
keep along with the present fervor of the people."- — History of Illinois,
pp. 195, 196.

We need not claim for Lincoln in these matters wisdom superior
to that of his associates, but may remind ourselves that his errors of
judgment were not only shared by his associates in office, but that their
errors did not prevent his repeated re-election, much to the disgust of
Governor Ford, who counted him one of the "spared monuments of
popular wrath."

The historian of the future is certain to set enhanced value upon
Governor Ford's History of Illinois. The future student is not likely
to condemn with less severity than Governor Ford either the log-rolling
of early Illinois politics or the folly of the financial methods by which
it was undertaken to support the State banks and the Internal Improve-
ment system which ended with the financial crash of 1837. In the
main Governor Ford was right. But Governor Ford lacked perspec-
tive. He was not strictly accurate in describing Lincoln and his asso-
ciates as "spared monuments of popular wrath." There ought to have
been more wrath than there was. The men who were responsible for
those measures in the Legislature fairly represented the will and the
wisdom or unwisdom of their constituents. The law-makers and the
men who elected them to make laws were involved in the same attempts
to create values out of things that had no value. The long list which
Governor Ford gives us of men who were responsible for the financial


evils of tlu'ir time and who nevertheless were tliercaftcr elected and
re-elected to otVice is its own answer. These men were as wise as their
constituents, and not much wiser. Illinois ha<l to learn iro\u bitter
experience, and Lincoln was one of the men who ha«l his share in the
education which the whole State was compelled to undergo.

Lake and Rivi:r TRANsroKTATioN.

Lincoln became a factor in Illinois life just at the time when the
c|ucstion of transportation was becoming most acute. Whatever sur-
plus Illinois produced in the early days, was floated down the Mississ-
ippi, whose conunercial outlet was New Orleans; but there were other
apricultural states tributary to the Mississippi, and the wharves of
New Orleans were piled hiph in time with unmarketable produce. It
was less easy to float jjoods upstream than down, and New Orleans
was not a manufacturincj city. The floods which Illinuis retjuired for
her own use were largely protluced in Philadelphia f)r Xew York. The
accounts and bills payable of Illinois merchants tended to accumulate
in New York; the credits were in New Orleans. The money in circu-
lation was largely issued by wildcat banks, and afTordcd no suitable
basis of exchange. If this situation went on permanently. Illinois
could have no great commercial future. Her banking was principally
done in St. Louis. In 1831, for the first time, goods were imported
from the Last to St. Louis by way of Chicago at onc-thir*l less cost
than by New Orleans. That fact did more than we can now imagine
to compel the unification of Illinois. Lake Michigan became a neces-
sity to Menard and Sangamon Counties, as certainly as to Cook County
and the northern end of the State. We remember the disastrous experi-
ments in public improvements by means of which creeks were *o have
become rivers and canals were to have connected the heads of naviga-
tion through the State. Let us not forget that these conditions with
all their blundering and bankruptcy were potent in making Illinois a
commercial unit and in securing her a place of influence in the com-
mercial life of the nation.

Illinois and the Unification of the Nation.

The relation of Illinois to the unification of the nation was no
accident. Governor Thomas Ford died in 1850. leaving the nianu-
script of his History of Illinois to be published after his decease. In
that work he clearly set forth the aim of Hon. Nathaniel Pope, delegate
in Congress from the Territory of Illinois, when, in lanuary, 1818. he
on his own responsibility amended the proposal for the admission of
Illinois to the I'nion by moving her boundary north from the southern
extremity of Lake Michigan to the line of 42" 30' so as to include
within the State fourteen additional counties and the port of Chicago.
Governor Ford said :

"It was known that in all confederated republics there was danger
of dissolution . . Illinois had a coast of \>0 miles on the Ohio

river, and nearly as much on the Wabash ; the Mississippi was its
western boundary for the whole length of the State; the commerce of
all the western country was to pass by its shores, and would necessarily


come to a focus at the mouth of the Ohio, at a point within this State,
and within the control of IlUnois, if, the Union being dissolved, she
should see proper to control it. It was foreseen that none of the great
States in the West could venture to aid in dissolving the Union, with-
out cultivating a State situate in such a central and commanding posi-
tion. What then was the duty of the national government? Illinois
was certain to be a great State with any boundaries which that govern-
ment could give. ... If left entirely upon the waters of these great
rivers, it was plain that, in case of threatened disruption, the interest
of the new State would be to join a southern and western confederacy.
But if a large portion of it could be made dependent upon the com-
merce and navigation of the great northern lakes, connected as they
are with the eastern States, a rival interest would be created, to check
the wish for a western and southern confederacy. It therefore became
the duty of the national government, not only to make Illinois strong,
but to raise an interest inclining and binding her to the eastern and
northern portions of the Union. This could be done only through an
interest in the lakes. At that time the commerce on the lakes was
small, but its increase was confidently expected, and indeed it has
exceeded all expectations and is still in its infancy. To accomplish
this object effectually, it was not only necessary to give to Illinois the
port of Chicago, and a route for the canal, but a considerable coast on
Lake Michigan, with a country back of it sufficiently extensive to con-
tain a population capable of exercising a decided influence upon the
councils of the State."- — Ford's History of Illinois, 22-23.

If Governor Ford had written these words after the Civil War,
we might have suspected him of attributing to Judge Pope more of
political foresight than either he or Judge Pope really possessed. But
he wrote before 1850, and we have no reason to doubt that this remark-
ably clear view of the influence of Illinois as a State that might bind
together the expanding Union was really possessed by Judge Pope
when he secured for the new State her fourteen additional counties,
including the port of Chicago, and keenly appreciated by Governor
Ford in his stern opposition* to the proposals of Wisconsin that the
northern counties of Illinois should be restored to the newer State.

The Courts of Illinois Developed Lincoln.

Illinois offered to Lincoln through her Circuit Courts an oppor-
tunity of widening his acquaintance and influence and also of meeting
in political and legal relations a circle of men admirably suited to his
intellectual development. The lawyers of early Illinois represented
widely divergent types. There were frontier shysters of small ability

* The fight of Wisconsin was very strong in Ford's administration. Not only so, but
the northern counties of Illinois were inclined to think they had more in common with
Wisconsin than with Bsrypt. Thore was more than one petition from the counties
themselves or from some party within thet asking that they be severed from Illinois and
joini'd to the State to the north. Governor Ford's argument in refutation of the claim
of Wisconsin is given in extenso in his History and is a document of permanent

A proposal to separate northern Illinois from southern Illinois is at this moment
pending before the General Assembly. Those who propose such a sundering of what
God hath joined will find instructive reading in some of the early literature of this


and less legal learning, but there also were men of large native ability,
whose wits were sharpened by much cx|Kriencc. I.incrdn's practice
soon brought him before the Supreme Court of Illinois, where he ha<l
to plead before judges of learning and high stan<ling. The courts pf
Illinois were not essentially ditTerent fnun those of Indiana and Mis-
souri in the same period. Any of the frontier States then rapidly
filling could have furnished him an arena for his legal skill ; but the
skill which Lincoln developed and the acquaintance which he formed
in Illinois had their relation to a political situation which no f)ther
State could quite have duplicated. Mr. Arnold relates an interesting
incident which occurred after Mr. Lincoln was elected President. He
was asked to app(»int a man nameil lUitterlield to a positiftn in the
Amiy. This man lUitleifuld was the son of Justin Hutterfield. who in
1849 had secured an appointment to the Land Ofilce, a position greatly
desired by Lincoln at the close of his term in Congress. ArnoUl says:

Whon the application was presontofl, the President paused, and after
a moment's silence, said: "Mr. Justin Butterfleld once obtained an appoint-
ment I very much wanted, and In which my friemls believpfl I covjld have
been useful, and to which they thoupht 1 wa.s fairly entitled, and I have
hardly ever felt so bad at any failure in my life; but I am plad of an oppor-
tunity of doing a service to his son." And he made an order for his commis-
sion. He then spoke of the offer made to him of the ^governorship of Oregon.
To which the reply was made: "Hoxv fortunate that you de«'lined. If you
had Rone to Oregon, you might have come back as- Senator, but mhi mnrr
would have been President." — Life of Abraham Lincoln. 81.

Lincoln assented to the foregoing and said he had always In en a
fatalist, believing with Hamlet in the Divinity that shapes our ends.

Oregon coidd have ma<lc Lincoln a Senator, but it is not certain
that any other State than Illinois could have made him President. He
needed essentially the conditions which he found in Illinois to develop
the qualities which were inherent in him; and he needed a political
situation such as existed in Illinois to make him at the opportune time
the President of the Ignited States. We can never be too certain con-
cerning the negative implications of a study like this. \\*e can never
be quite sure what another State might have done. We are quite
certain that no other State, then in the Union, could have furnished
all the conditions which Illinois supplied and which were so important
br>tb in flir <'Miliition of Liucoln and in his elevation.

IixiNois THE National Keystone.

Pennsylvania is proud of her soubriquet, "the Keystone state."
Had that name not been pre-empted when the I'nion formed a smaller
arch, it should have been reserved for Illinois. I'.oth the shape and
geographical position of Illinois entitle her to that designation. Her
superficial area exten<ls from the lakes to the confluence of the great
rivers, and hence virtually from the northern boundary of the nation
to Mason and Dixon's Line. In the beginning it shared with Ken-
tucky and Missouri the status of a southern State, but Lincoln saw
and had some reason to fear the development of its northern and larger
portion. It was an ominous sign for Lincoln when he who had <lonc
so much for the election of Zacharv Tavlor as President, was set aside


in his application for the Land Office and that position was given to
Mr. Justin Butterfield of Chicago.* Lincoln had good reason to fear
the growth of Chicago and of northern IlHnois. As late as the State
Convention of the Republican party at Decatur in 1860, the northern
part of Illinois was for Seward. Not even the sight of John Hanks'
two fence rails wholly convinced the politicians of the Chicago area
that Lincoln was the right man for President. His solidifying of his
own State was an important step toward the solidifying of the nation.

The River and Harbor Conventkdn.

So far as I am aware no biographer of Lincoln has ever heard of
the River and Harbor Convention of 1847. I do not find it mentioned
by Nicolay and Hay, by Arnold, by Morse, by Miss Tarbell, or by any
other biographer of Lincoln. But it was that which first brought
Lincoln to Chicago. The Chicago papers, truthful then as always,
stated that this was the first visit of the Honorable Abraham Lincoln
to the ."commercial emporium of the State."* He was more welcome
than he might have been at some earlier periods in his career. In the
first place he was the only Whig member of Congress from Illinois,
was just elected and had not yet taken his seat. In the second place
he was thoroughly committed to the policy of developing inland waters
and of connecting the lakes with the rivers. It will some time become
the duty of the historian to show what that convention did for Abra-
ham Lincoln. The presiding officer of that convention was Edward
Bates of Missouri. Lincoln probably did not know it at the time, but
then and there he probably formed the impression which later made
Bates a member of his Cabinet. It was there that Lincoln first heard
Horace Greeley, and Greeley heard Lincoln in a short and tactful
speech. Greeley did not know it, but he was forming an impression of
Lincoln, which thirteen years later was to influence his judgment in
accepting Lincoln as the compromise candidate who could not only
defeat Seward in the Convention, but defeat the Democratic nominee in
the election following. What Lincoln came to learn of the qualities
essential to unifying his own State went far toward making him capable
of unifying the nation.

* Justin Butterfield was born in Keene, N. H., in 1790. He studied at Williams
College, and was admitted to the bar at Watertown, N. Y., in 1812. After some years
of practice in New York state he removed to New Orleans, and in 18.35 to Chicago.
He soon attained high rank in his profession. In 1841 he was appointed by President
Harrison United States District Attorney. In 1849 he was appointed by President
Taylor Commissioner of the General Land Office. He was logical and resourceful, and
many stories are told of his quick wit. He died October 25, IS.jS.

Mr. Butterfield probably owed his appointment over Mr. Lincoln to the influence
of Daniel Webster, who was his personal friend, and also to the growing importance
of the northrrn portion of the State of Illinois. Taylor was, according to his own
pre-election statement, "a Whig, but not an ultra-Whig." The Whig interests in
Illinois could better afford to overlook the claims of a down-state ex-congressman than
those of a strongly backed representative from the Wliig end of the State.

* "Abraham Lincoln, the only Whig representative to Congr.'ss from this State,
we are happy to see in attendance upon the Convention. This is his first visit to the
commercial emporium of the State, and we have no doubt his first visit will Impress
him more deeply, if possible, with the importance, and inspire a higher zeal for the
great jnterest of river-and-harbor improvements. We expect much from him as an
representative In Congress, and we have no doubt our expectations will be more than
realized, for never was reliance placed in a nobler heart and a sounder judgment.
We know the banner he bears will never be soiled.'" — Chicago Journal, July 6, 1847.


The Chicago Journal in an inihgnant editorial inquired whether
of the River and Harbor bill, on Aupusi 3, 18-k), by I " ; James

K. I'olk. that bill had contained appropriations of ;"V the

Harbor of Huflalo. :?_'().<)00 for Cleveland. $-K).()()t) foi liic .^t. Clair
Hats, $80,(;0() for Milwaukee, Racine. Chicago .md other nearby iH)rts,
and sums for other lake harbors. President Polk aflirmed that as these
ports were not liarbors of vessels used in international trade, "It would
seem the dictate of wisdom under such circumstances to husband our
means, and not waste them on comparatively unimportant objects."

The Chicago Journal in an indignant editorial intjuired whether
this same James K. Polk was not squandering millions upoti an inva-
sion of Mexico for the sake of the extension of slavery? Was he not
buying steamboats at exorbitant prices for u.se in the tran.sportation
of troops and supplies to Mexico, and leaving our legitimate commerce
on the lakes unprotected, with lives liable to be lost for lack of safe
harbors, and great territory of our own undeveloped while he sought
to accjuirc other territory by bloody means ancl for ignoble ends?
What an insult to the intelligence of the nation for him to declare that
these lake harbors were "comparatively unimportant objects!"

A great convention assembled in Chicago on July 5. 1847, to pro-
test against James K. Polk and all his works, to advance the interests
of the lake harbors, and incidentally to promote the welfare of the
Whig party. The significance of that convention has never been ade-
(juately understood.*

The attendance upon the River and Harbor Convention was not
limited to residents of lake cities. There were seven delegates from
Connecticut, one from Florida, two from Georgia, twelve from Iowa,
two from Kentucky, two from Maine, twenty-eight from Massachu-
setts, forty-five from Missouri, two from New Hampshire, eight from
New Tersev, twenty- seven from Pennsylvania, three from Rhode
Island, one from South Carolina. I have not tried to count the long
lists from Xew York. Ohio. Indiana. Illinois. Michigan and Wiscon-
sin. These are all located by counties, and show a widespread repre-
sentation from all parts of these States. The Convention was felt to
be of vast economic interest, and was by no means lacking in political
importance. Theoretically it was assembled for the consideration of
internal improvements; but in addition to this it was convened for the
sake of opposing James K. Polk and all his political associations.

Daniel Webster. Henry Clay. Thomas H. Benton, Lewis Cass
and other national leaders all were invited, and responded in letters,
that of Webster especially being a docmncnt of consi«lerable size and
importance. Anson P.urlingame headed the Massachusetts delegation,
and Ohio followed the lead of Thomas Corwin.

Horace (irccley was there, and he wrote up the convention for
the Xew York Tribune, and ever afterward advised young men to
"Go West, and grow up with the country." Thurlow Wee.l rep.rted

• I nm Indpbtrd to Mr. Jnmoii Shnw. of Aurorn. for flr»t calling my •ttentlon to
thp nlKDlflranre of this conventtoD.


it in full for the Albany Joitnial. and gave an interesting account of
his own journey ground the lakes on "the magnificent steamer,

The political aspects of the convention are suggested by the fact
that Lewis Cass of Michigan, which State might have benefited by
river and harbor improvements, remained away and sent a very dis-
tant note of regret, while Daniel Webster, from Massachusetts, in a
long letter read at the convention, came out unqualifiedly for all that
the convention stood for. Cass wanted to be President, and greatly
needed the vote of the slave States ; Webster's position was, of course,
that of a politician who greatly desired to link the political and eco-
nomic future of the new States with the North and East.

David Dudley Field was present to speak for the administration.
He did it with shrewdness ; Greeley gives the gist of his address. The
convention did not treat him any too courteously ; and Lincoln followed
with his one speech, a tactful one, of which we have no report, but
one that appears to have stood for fair play while being ardently in
favor of the whole plan of internal improvements. The convention
at its next session apologized to Mr. Field for the uncivil treatment
he had received, but did not alter its program or change its convictions
on account of this apolog}' for bad manners.

* The River and Harbor Convention of 1847 put Chicago upon the
nation's map. It did more than any previous or subsequent assembly
to link the fortunes of the great State of IlUnois with the North and

It must have been a ver\- illuminating event to Lincoln. It was
his first visit to Chicago, his first view of the great lakes.* It was his
first important reminder that, while he was elected from Central Illi-
nois, he, as the only Whig member of Congress from the State, must
find his political support thereafter largely in the newer portion of
the State where the Whigs were more largely in control. It must have
reminded him, and he was soon to be rudely reminded again, that
Chicago, and Northern Illinois with her, was thenceforth to be reck-
oned with as an important political as well as economic factor. He
had hoped to effect the unit}' of Illinois by a canal connecting the lakes
with the rivers ; whether this ever was accomplished or not, the whole
future of Illinois, central and southern as well as northern, was tied
up with Chicago, and through Chicago Vv'ith the East and North. Illi-
nois, with her whole western boundary washed by the Mississippi, her
southern border hemmed in by the Ohio, and a large part of her east-
em border determined by the Wabash, and all of these streams bearing
their cargoes through slave territorv* to New Orleans, was an indivis-
ible political and economic unit, bound by Chicago and the great lakes
to New York and New England, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

* My good friends. Mr. .T. Seymour Currey. of Evanston, and Prof. Julius E. Olson,
of the State University of Wisconsin, are of opinion that Lincoln made two earlier visits
to Chicago : and they may be correct. To me, however, the evidence does not appear
entirely conclusive ; and in any event, those earlier visits, if they occurred, were with-
out important significance. Prof. Olson's interesting study is published by the Wis-
consin Historical Society. Vol. 4. p. 44. 1920. and Mr. Currey's sufrgestive article is in
the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Societv, VoL 12, No. 3, Oct., 1919, p. 412.


Ilunois and Slavery.

In 1808, ryne ymr hrfnrc the Hrrh cf I.:T:<-<-i!n. the s!ave tra^fe
ceased by c

out with ti ^. - , - - -

nation had been quite otherwise. It
Missouri Compromise. ^ '^ •« aci >
Union as a slave State. en* wh:

held south of ^'
west side '^t t^-
upon, ^
in free
utes north :

four years :..: ..,

time, and slavery- had been , id. The l^

had brouisht in material for ,i : '-.; •' -
Mexican War had brought in others. >
t!'ie T'Difin ?.? a free S"
hoMin^ e'crr.er.t in Cc
White House.

The remo\-al of the V- .^ ... . .- , • ' ^•- -i -. ,•_:.-.,

and later from Philadelphia to a small di -

by the two slave :~

5tren<rthen slaver\-

Nebraska Bill -

bleeding, set !■ ^ ^

that led to the ?aiiows. and raham Lincoln back into politics.

from which he had retired ;;.

.\hraham Lincoln miild not rememher the time when b^ had not

be' ver>- to "

pc' -: to m->'

the n.'-.iion that ' his own

px'sition on the . . - . _- ... ...

Illinois as a part of the Northwest Tcrriton- v edi-

cated as ?. sh-ine of freedorr

tuck} permitted a prwi m?.^

intn the State and

"P.lack Code" of ' ^

1837. Abraham Lincoln and L>an Stone. -

County of ^ • r —'-in. filed the^'- - ••-• -

on the pre: v by their :'

re- ■


its two sicners. ' b^

both injustice and \

Nanc>-. resi:lted in •


Online LibraryWilliam Eleazar BartonThe influence of Illinois in the development of Abraham Lincoln (Volume 2) → online text (page 2 of 3)