The Heroic and the Notorious
U.S. Senators from Illinois
Publication Year: 2012
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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Preface to the 2012 Edition
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Rarely in the political history of Illinois have U.S. senators made more news outside the halls of Congress than while doing the nation’s legislative business inside. Even during infrequent occasions of scandals, deaths, and short-term appointments, the moments of distraction have had remarkably little...
Preface to the 2003 Edition
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Ronald Reagan, it is true, was a native son of the Prairie State, born in Tampico. He spent his boyhood in Dixon and was educated at nearby Eureka College. However, he wasted little time in going on to greener pastures, first across the Mississippi to Iowa, then on to California, where the glitter of Hollywood caught...
1. The Founding Fathers
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By 1809, when Illinois became a territory of the United States, settlers were flooding into its southern portions from Tennessee and Kentucky, guided there by the northward flowing Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers, and were coming down the Ohio. It was not a slave-owning society, by virtue of the prohibition...
2. The Appearance of Political Parties
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Gradually factional politics in Illinois gave way during the late 1820s and 1830s to the same sort of Democrat versus Whig alignments that were apparent on the national scene. As in other frontier states, an inherent Jeffersonian Republicanism was transmuted into Jacksonian Democracy...
3. The Calm Before the Storm
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A short period of relative calm settled over Illinois politics during the latter part of the 1830s. The early formative period of achieving statehood, determining the issue of slave or free, and the appearance of two distinct political parties lay in the past. Ahead were the gathering storms of secession and civil...
4. “The Little Giant” and “Lincoln’s Duelist”
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During the first thirty years of Illinois statehood, no individual senator had served two full terms or made much of an impact on the life of the nation. Early senators adequately represented Illinois, but before 1847, the state had no special ranking or position of influence in the Senate. Stephen A. Douglas changed...
5. A Puritan Conscience
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We have seen that early in its history, there was a significant group of men who came to Illinois seeking the opportunities that a frontier environment and an infant state might offer them. With roots in one of the more eastern states, usually well educated for the time before reaching Illinois, they filled the...
6. Civil War and Reconstruction
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Throughout Lyman Trumbull’s service in the Senate, Illinois was also represented there by another person. It is timely here to give consideration to the several senators who filled that other chair. There is no better example of the impact of Civil War and slavery politics on Illinois than the combined stories of the...
7. “Uncle Dick” and “Black Jack”
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One of the most durable political figures of his time in Illinois, Richard J. Oglesby survived a chest wound suffered in the Civil War at Corinth and was elected governor three times nonconsecutively, and to the U.S. Senate once. He replaced Lyman Trumbull in the Senate in 1873. Trumbull had fallen out...
8. Lincoln’s Campaign Manager
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Davis took an unusual route to the Senate—for legislative experience he had served only one term in the state legislature—but his whole public service was extraordinary. He managed Abraham Lincoln’s campaigns for the U.S. Senate and for president, and he gave up a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court to...
9. From Generals to Journeymen
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It was inevitable that the time would come when the Illinois political system would exhaust its supply of Civil War generals. Those who had come to prominence in public life on the basis of service in the Mexican and Civil Wars and who dominated political discourse for a generation were fading...
10. A System in Transition
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The new century brought with it a new sort of figure to the White House and changes in the way that U.S. senators were chosen. Theodore Roosevelt, vice president when President William McKinley was assassinated in 1901, was the first chief executive in many years whose thinking and emotions were not...
11. An Unraveling of the Republican Fabric
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The most troublesome foes of Illinois Republicans from the Civil War to the Great Depression were not Democrats. They were Republicans. Just as Republicans after Abraham Lincoln could not fully capitalize on their post–Civil War strength, from 1912 to 1932, internal quarrels, combined with a...
12. Democrats Come to Power
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The intraparty wars that engaged Republican leaders and office seekers during the third decade of the twentieth century were merely a prelude to the economic and social upheavals that came with the Great Depression of the 1930s. One of its results was a reversal of the traditional dominance in Illinois politics...
Gallery of Illustrations
13. Popular Election Comes of Age
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The decade of the 1940s was one in which Illinois was represented by two senators whose selection by the voters represented a maturing of the system of popular election. It was initiated by the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution thirty years earlier. Thereafter such decisions were to be made by vote...
14. A Professor in Politics
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When Paul Douglas took his seat in the Senate in 1949, he joined fellow Democrat Scott Lucas to make up a team of two from Illinois. Lucas was majority leader in the Senate, and the newly inaugurated president was one-time Senator Harry S Truman, who now had a term of his own in the nation’s highest...
15. “The Wizard of Ooze”
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As a young veteran of military service in World War I, Scott W. Lucas had recruited one of his friends from a nearby river town to join the American Legion. Both had political ambitions, and both understood the added strength at the ballot box that active legion membership might give. They shared that...
16. A Modern Republican
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In 1970, Illinois, as we have just seen, made the exchange of a Republican senator for one from Democratic ranks. Four years earlier, the tide ran in the opposite direction when Charles H. Percy beat Paul Douglas. Both events seem to be in accord with the image we have of Illinois being politically a...
17. Ending an Illinois Tradition?
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Perhaps the nearest thing Illinois has had to a “royal family” in politics has been the participation, for more than a century, of the Stevenson family in the public life of the state. The tradition began with the first Adlai Ewing Stevenson, who was state’s attorney of Woodford County during the Civil War. By...
18. “Al the Pal” and the “Cheshire Cat”
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Illinois set new standards for its senators during the years from 1948 to 1985, first with the Democrat-Republican pair of Douglas and Dirksen, who served together from 1951 to 1967, and then with the same sort of pairing of Stevenson and Percy from 1970 to 1980. A division of the two senators between the two...
19. A Moralist in Politics
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Paul Simon is one of the most durable figures in Illinois political history. With forty years of service as lieutenant governor and in the state legislature and Congress, he held elective office longer than all but two other U.S. senators in the state’s history. (Shelby Cullom was in office for fifty-one years and...
20. A Leader among Democrats
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Much like the descendants of a dynasty, those Democrats from Illinois who followed in the “Paul H. Douglas seat” in the U.S. Senate have carried the indelible philosophical imprint of a political family. After Douglas, there was Senator Paul Simon, an open admirer of Douglas. Richard Durbin, who served...
21. An Extended Period of Unrest
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Since 1993 turnover in the seat once held by Everett M. Dirksen, Adlai E. Stevenson III, and Alan J. Dixon resulted from an unlikely series of events, including ethical lapses, waning interest, an upset loss of an incumbent, a controversial lame-duck appointment that went sour, a special election for a short...
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A detailed look at the political lives of all the U.S. senators from Illinois provides a special perspective on the state’s history since 1818. The choices of senators are not made in isolation. They are a reflection of population shifts, attitudes of citizens, economic growth, and changes in cultural patterns...
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David Kenney is a professor emeritus of political science at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. In 1969–70 he was an elected member of the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention. He is the author of Roll Call, Making a Modern Constitution, Basic Illinois Government, and...
Publication Year: 2012