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CHAPTER 4 The Constitution of 1848 Reconstructing Government, Balancing Powers, Oppressing Free Blacks Dissatisfactionwiththefrontier-era1818constitutionbecamewidespreadwithin two decades. Criticism grew over the weakness of the governor and the dominanceofthelegislatureoveralllevelsofstateandlocalgovernment ,itsprofligate spending, and its excesses in financing internal improvements, creating banks, and writing laws for private and special interests.1 Newspapers,popularopinion,andactivistsinboththeWhigandDemocratic politicalpartiesurgedmodificationofthe1818constitution.Effortsinthe1830sto have the legislature call for a constitutional convention failed, however. Finally, in 1841, the general assembly submitted the question of holding a convention to the voters at the next general election, in August 1842. The proposal failed by a narrow margin.2 In 1845 the general assembly voted again to submit to the electorate a new proposition to call a convention at the general election, on August 3, 1846. This time, convention backers’ increased efforts to inform the public of the need for a new constitution carried the day. The call was approved by a substantial majority of 72 percent of the vote on the question at the general election. The general assembly designated April 3, 1847, as the date for electing delegates to the convention, and June 7, 1847, as the date for the convention to meet in Springfield.3 The Constitution of 1848 111 Even before the August 1846 vote that approved holding delegate elections and a convention in 1847, the state entered into one of the most turbulent halfdecades in its history. On May 13, 1846, Congress declared war against Mexico. PatrioticexcitementwasfiredbyCongress’srequestforfiftythousandvolunteers nationwide. Governor Thomas Ford issued a call for Illinois volunteers on May 25. Illinois responded promptly and enthusiastically, with a greater number of volunteers than any other state except Missouri. Abraham Lincoln’s two preceding Whig rivals for election to the U.S. House of Representatives volunteered. The charismatic politician and militia general John J. Hardin of Jacksonville was among the first to do so. Hardin had been elected to Congress after a contest for thenominationwithEdwardD.BakerandAbrahamLincolninthedistrictWhig convention in 1843. By agreement at the convention, he served one term, from 1843 to 1845, and was succeeded by Baker, who was serving the 1845 to 1847 term when the war began. Baker quit his seat in January 1847 to volunteer for the war. Lincoln remained in Springfield to win the house seat in the general election on August 3, 1846. Once in Washington, in contrast, he spoke out against the war, criticizing President Polk over which nation was the aggressor and objecting to western expansion as opening the way to slavery.4 The summer of 1846 was consumed with the frenetic activity of marshaling volunteersandsendingthemofftowar.GatheredinAltoninJuneandJuly,men, materiel,horses,andvehiclescomposedagrandscene. Each statehad a uniform designated by the U.S. Army. The Illinois volunteers were resplendent in dark blue coats trimmed in yellow, light blue pants, and blue cloth caps with glazed covers.Officersbroughttheirownhorsesandothermateriel.Manyalsobrought servants, most of whom were African American. Thousands of family members andothersjourneyedtoAltontoseethetroopsofftowar.Hardin’sfirstregiment departed by steamboat on July 10, 1846. They disembarked August 3 on the gulf coast of Texas. The other Illinois regiments soon followed.5 August 3 was also Election Day in Illinois, a fact Hardin noted in a letter that evening to his wife in Jacksonville. Back in Illinois, Whigs celebrated the large majority Abraham Lincoln won in the race for Congress. Democrats statewide hailedtheelectionoftheothersixcongressmenandAugustusFrenchasgovernor. Proponents of a constitutional convention celebrated the substantial majority vote to hold a constitutional convention in 1847.6 The Mexican War dominated the news in the early months of 1847, especially afterwordofthewar’sheavycasualtiesreachedIllinois.Amongmanyothers,John 112 Chapter 4 Hardin was killed at Buena Vista on February 23 leading a valiant—many later said foolhardy—charge against the much more numerous forces of Santa Anna. William Bissell, who in 1856 would become Illinois’s first Republican governor, was also seriously wounded at the Battle of Cerro Gordo.7 ThewarintrudeddirectlyintotheconventionafteritsbeginninginJune1847, interrupting substantive debate on three occasions in July and August for the adoptionofresolutionsmourning thedeathsofHardin and other Illinois volunteers .Inmid-July,theconventionalsoadjournedfortwodaystoenabledelegates to attend funeral ceremonies for Hardin in nearby Jacksonville.8 Democrats Prevail in the Delegate Elections Politicalpartiesplayednoroleinthe1818constitutionalconvention.Bythe1840s, however, the Democratic Party dominated the legislature. In the run-up to the electionofdelegates,Democratssought tobenefit byappealing to obligations of party loyalty and emphasizing issues important to the party. Whigs campaigned openlyinfavorofthedemandforeconomyandreform,butadopteda“noparty” posture on issues.9 Fig. 8. The first known photograph of Abraham Lincoln, taken in 1846 when he was a candidate for Congress. Courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. The Constitution of 1848 113 The Democrats’ superiority prevailed in election of convention delegates on April...


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