By john g. Nioolay and john hay

Download 4.94 Mb.
Size4.94 Mb.
1   ...   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   ...   45

chap. in. they dancing the while a merry jig." Wild oats of this kind seem hardly compatible with a harvest of civilization, but it is contended that such of these roysterers as survived their stormy begin­nings became decent and serious citizens. Indeed, Mr. Herndon insists than even in their hot youth they showed the promise of goodness and piety. "They attended church, heard the sermon, wept and prayed, shouted, got up and fought an hour,

tiers' Meet- and then went back to prayer, iust as the spirit

ing,Menard mi 1- 1-1

county, moved them." The camp-meeting may be said, with no irreverent intention, to have been their principal means of intellectual excitement. The circuit preachers were for a long time the only cir­culating medium of thought and emotion that kept the isolated settlements from utter spiritual stag­nation. They were men of great physical and moral endurance, absolutely devoted to their work, which they pursued in the face of every hardship and discouragement. Their circuits were frequently so great in extent that they were forced to be con­stantly on the route; what reading they did was done in the saddle. They received perhaps fifty dollars from the missionary fund and half as much m McLean more from their congregations, paid for the most pui9f.' part in necessaries of life. Their oratory was suited to their longitude, and was principally addressed to the emotions of their hearers. It was often very effective, producing shouts and groans and genu­flections among the audience at large, and terrible convulsions among the more nervous and excit­able. "We hear sometimes of a whole congregation prostrated as by a hurricane, flinging their limbs about in furious contortions, with wild outcries.


To this day some of the survivors of that period chap. in. insist that it was the spirit of the Almighty, and nothing less, that thus manifested itself. The minister, however, did not always share in the de­lirium of his hearers. Grovernor Reynolds tells us of a preacher in Sangamon County, who, before his sermon, had set a wolf-trap in view from his pulpit. In the midst of his exhortations his keen eyes saw the distant trap collapse, and he continued in the same intonation with which he had been preaching, " Mind the text, brethren, till I go kill that wolf ! " With all the failings and eccentricities of this singular class of men, they did a great deal of good, and are entitled to especial credit among those who conquered the wilderness. The emotions they excited did not all die away in the shouts and contortions of the meeting. Not a few of the cabins in the clearings were the abode of a fervent, religion and an austere morality. Many a traveler, approaching a rude hut in the woods in the gather­ing twilight, distrusting the gaunt and silent family who gave him an unsmiling welcome, the bare interior, the rifles and knives conspicuously displayed, has felt his fears vanish when he sat down to supper, and the master of the house, in a few fervent words, invoked the blessing of heaven on the meal.

There was very little social intercourse; a visit was a serious matter, involving the expenditure of days of travel. It was the custom among families, when the longing for the sight of kindred faces was too strong to withstand, to move in a body to the distant settlement where their relatives lived and remain with them for months at a time. The


chap. m. claims of consanguinity were more regarded than now. Almost the only festivities were those that accompanied weddings, and these were, of course, of a primitive kind. The perils and adventures through which the young pioneers went to obtain their brides furnish forth thousands of tales by Western firesides. Instead of taking the rosy daughter of a neighbor, the enterprising bachelor would often go back to Kentucky, and pass through as many adventures in bringing his wife home as a returning crusader would meet between Beirut and Vienna. If she was a young woman who respected herself, the household gear she would insist on bringing would entail an Iliad of embarrassments. An pld farmer of Sangamon County still talks of a feather-bed weighing fifty-four pounds with which his wife made him swim six rivers under penalty of desertion.

It was not always easy to find a competent au­thority to perform the ceremony. A justice in McLean County lived by the bank of a river, and his services were sometimes required by impatient lovers on the other bank when the waters were too torrential to cross. In such cases, being a consci­entious man, he always insisted that they should ride into the stream far enough for him to discern their features, holding torches to their faces by night and by storm. The wooing of those days was prompt and practical. There was no time for the gradual approaches of an idler and more conven­tional age. It is related of one Stout, one of the legendary Kimrods of Illinois, who was well and frequently married, that he had one unfailing for­mula of courtship. He always promised the ladies


whose hearts he was besieging that " they should chap. m. live in the timber where they could pick up their own firewood."

Theft was almost unknown; property, being so hard to get, was jealously guarded, as we have already noticed in speaking of the settlement of Kentucky. The pioneers of Illinois brought with them the same rigid notions of honesty which their environment maintained. A man in. Macoupin County left his wagon, loaded with corn, stuck in the prairie mud for two weeks near a frequented road. When he returned he found some of his corn gone, but there was money enough tied in the sacks to pay for what was taken. Men carrying bags of silver from the towns of Illinois to St. Louis rather made a display of it, as it enhanced their own importance, and there was no fear of robbery. There were of course no locks on the, cabin doors, and the early merchants sometimes left their stores unprotected for days together when they went to the nearest city to replenish their stock. Of course there were rare exceptions to this rule, but a single theft alarmed and excited a whole neighborhood. When a crime was traced home, the family of the criminal were generally obliged to remove.

There were still, even so late as the time to which we are referring, two alien elements in the popula­tion of the State — the French and the Indians. The French settlements about Kaskaskia retained much of their national character, and the pioneers from the South who visited them or settled among them never ceased to wonder at their gayety, their peaceable industry and enterprise, and their domes-


chap. in. tic affection, which they did not care to dissemble and conceal like their shy and reticent neighbors. It was a daily spectacle, which never lost its strangeness for the Tennesseeans and Kentuckians, to see the Frenchman returning from his work greeted by Ms wife and children with embraces of welcome "at the gate of his door-yard, and in view of all the villagers." The natural and kindly fraternization of the Frenchmen with the Indians was also a cause of wonder to the Americans. The friendly intercourse between them, and their occasional intermarriages, seemed little short of monstrous to the ferocious exclusiveness of the Anglo-Saxon.1 The Indians in the central part of Illinois cut very little figure in the reminiscences of the pioneers ; they occupied much the same relation to them as the tramp to the housewife of to-day. The "Winnebago war in 1827 and the Black Hawk war in 1831 disturbed only the northern portion of the State. A few scattered and vagrant lodges of Pottawatomies and Kickapoos were all the pioneers of Sangamon and the neighboring counties ever met. They were spared the heroic struggle of the advance-guard of civilization in other States. A woman was sometimes alarmed by a visit from a drunken savage; poultry and pigs occasionally disappeared when they were in the neighborhood; but life was not darkened by the constant menace of massacre. A few years earlier, indeed, the re­lations of the two races had been more strained, as may be inferred from an act passed by the territo­rial Legislature in 1814, offering a reward of fifty

1 Michelet notices this exclu- style. '' Crime contre la nature! siveness of the English, and in- Crime contre Phumanit6! II sera veighs against it in his most lyric expie" par la ste"rilit4 de Pesprit,"



dollars to any citizen or ranger who should kill or take any depredating Indian. As only two dollars was paid for killing a wolf, it is easy to see how the pioneers regarded the forest folk in point of relative noxiousness. But ten years later a handful only of the Kickapoos remained in San­gamon County, the specter of the vanished people. A chief named Machina came one day to a family who were clearing a piece of timber, and issued an order of eviction in these words : " Too much come white man. T'other side Sangamon." He threw a handful of dried leaves in the air to show how he would scatter the pale faces, but he never fulfilled his threats further than to come in occasionally and ask for a drink of whisky. That such trivial details are still related, only shows how barren of incident was the life of these obscure founders of a great empire. Any subject of conversation, any cause of sensation, was a godsend. When Vannoy murdered his wife in Springfield, whole families put on their best clothes and drove fifty miles through bottomless mud and swollen rivers to see him hanged.

It is curious to see how naturally in such a state of things the fabric of political society developed itself from its germ. The county of Sangamon was called by an act of the Legislature in 1821 out of a verdant solitude of more than a million acres, inhabited by a few families. An election for county commissioners was ordered; three men were chosen; they came together at the cabin of John Kelly, at Spring Creek. He was a roving bachelor from North Carolina, devoted to the chase, who had built this hut three years before on the margin

chap. ill.

N. W. Edwards, " Life and Times of



chap. in. of a green-bordered rivulet, where the deer passed by in hundreds, going in the morning from the shady banks of the Sangamon to feed on the rich green grass of the prairie, and returning in the twilight. He was so delighted with this nun^ers? paradise that he sent for his brothers to him. They came and brought their friends, so it happened that in this immense county, several thousand square miles in extent, the settle­ment of John Kelly at Spring Creek was the only place where there was shelter for the commis­sioners ; thus it became the temporary county-seat, duly described in the official report of the commissioners as "a certain point in the prairie near John Kelly's field, on the waters of Spring Creek, at a stake marked Z and D (the initials of the commissioners), to be the temporary seat of justice for said county; and we do further agree that the said county-seat be called and known by the name of Springfield." In this manner the future capital received that hackneyed title, when the distinctive and musical name of Sangamon was ready to their hands. The same day they agreed with John Kelly to build them a court-house, for which they paid him forty-two dollars and fifty cents. In twenty-four days the house was built — one room of rough logs, the jury retiring to any sequestered glade they fancied for their deliberation. They next ordered the building of a jail, which cost just twice as much money as the court-house. Constables and overseers of the poor were ap­pointed, and all the machinery of government prepared for the population which was hourly expected. It was taken for granted that malefactors


would come and the constables have employment; chap. in. and the poor they would have always with them, when once they began to arrive. This was only a temporary arrangement, but when, a year or two later, the time came to fix upon a permanent seat of justice for the county, the resources of the Spring Creek men were equal to the emergency. When the commissioners came to decide on the rel­ative merits of Springfield and another site a few miles away, they led them through brake, through brier, by mud knee-deep and by water-courses so exasperating that the wearied and baffled officials declared they would seek no further, and Spring­field became the county-seat for all time; and greater destinies were in store for it through means not wholly dissimilar. Nature had made it merely a pleasant hunting-ground; the craft and the industry of its first settlers made it a capital.

The courts which were held in these log huts were as rude as might be expected; yet there is evidence that although there was no superfluity of law or of learning, justice was substantially administered. The lawyers came mostly from Kentucky, though an occasional New Englander confronted and lived down the general prejudice against his region and obtained preferment. The profits of the profession were inconceivably small. One early State's At­torney describes his first circuit as a tour of shifts «History of and privations not unlike the wanderings of a ScBy^ mendicant friar. In his first county he received a p'83< fee of five dollars for prosecuting the parties to a sanguinary affray. In the next he was equally successful, but barely escaped drowning in Spoon River. In the third there were but two families at


chap. in. the county-seat, and no cases on the docket. Thence he journeyed across a trackless prairie sixty miles, and at Quincy had one case and gained five dollars. In Pike County our much-enduring jurist took no cash, but found a generous sheriff who entertained him without charge. " He was one of nature's noblemen, from Massachusetts," writes the grateful prosecutor. The lawyers in what was called good practice earned less than a street-sweeper to-day. It is related that the famous Stephen A. Douglas once traveled from Springfield to Bloom-ington and made an extravagant speech, and hav-'«oidTimes ing gained his case received a fee of five dollars.

county?'11 In such a state of things it was not to be wondered at that the technicalities of law were held in some­what less veneration than what the pioneer regarded as the essential claims of justice. The infirmities of the jury system gave them less annoy­ance than they give us. Governor Ford mentions a case where a gang of horse-thieves succeeded in placing one of their confederates upon a jury which was to try them ; but he was soon brought to reason by his eleven colleagues making prepara­tions to hang him to the rafters of the jury room. The judges were less hampered by the limitations of their legal lore than by their fears of a loss of popularity as a result of too definite charges in civil suits, or too great severity in criminal cases. They grew very dexterous in avoiding any com­mitment as to the legal or moral bearings of the questions brought before them. They generally refused to sum up, or to comment upon evidence; when asked by the counsel to give instructions they would say, " Why, gentlemen, the jury under-



stand this case as well as you or I. They will do justice between the parties." One famous judge, who was afterwards governor, when sentencing a murderer, impressed it upon his mind, and wished him to inform his friends, that it was the jury and not the judge who had found him guilty, and then asked him on what day he would like to be hanged. It is needless to say that the bench and bar were not all of this class. There were even at that early day lawyers, and not a few, who had already won reputation in the older States, and whose names are still honored in the profession. Cook, McLean, Edwards, Kane, Thomas, Reynolds, and others, the earliest lawyers of the State, have hardly been since surpassed for learning and ability.

In a community where the principal men were lawyers, where there was as yet little commerce, and industrial enterprise was unknown, it was natural that one of the chief interests of life shoulda be the pursuit of politics. The young State swarmed with politicians; they could be found chewing and whittling at every cross-roads inn; they were busy at every horse-race, arranging their plans and extending their acquaintance; around the burgoo-pot of the hunting party they discussed measures and candidates; they even invaded the camp-meeting and did not disdain the pulpit as a tribune. Of course there was no such thing as organization in the pioneer days. Men were voted for to a great extent independently of partisan questions affecting the nation at large, and in this way the higher offices of the State were filled for many years by men whose personal character com­pelled the respect and esteem of the citizens, The

chap. III.


"History of


p. 83.


chap. in. year 1826 is generally taken as the date which witnessed the change from personal to partisan politics, though several years more elapsed before the rule of conventions came in, which put an end to individual candidacy. In that year, Daniel Pope Cook, who had long represented the State in Congress with singular ability and purity, was de­feated by Governor Joseph Duncan, the candidate of the Jackson men, on account of the vote given by Cook which elected John Quincy Adams to the Presidency. The bitter intolerance of the Jackson party naturally caused their opponents to organize against them, and there were two parties in the State from that time forward. The change in polit­ical methods was inevitable, and it is idle to deplore it; but the former system gave the better men in the new State a power and prominence which they have never since enjoyed. Such men as Governor Ninian Edwards, who came with the prestige of a distinguished family connection, a large fortune, a good education, and a distinction of manners and of dress — ruffles, gold buttons, and fair-topped boots — which would hardly have been pardoned a few years later; and Governor Edward Coles, who had been private secretary to Madison, and was familiar with the courts of Europe, a man as notable for his gentleness of manners as for his nobility of nature, could never have come so readily and easily to the head of the government after the machine of the caucus had been perfected. Eeal ability then imposed itself with more authority upon the ignorant and unpretending politicians from the back timber; so that it is remarked by those who study the early

Share with your friends:
1   ...   4   5   6   7   8   9   10   11   ...   45

The database is protected by copyright © 2020
send message

    Main page