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What's the Matter with Illinois?
June 3, 2009 - 12:34am

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No, I don’t mean this.

Or this.

Or this.

I’m not even referring to the governor of Illinois at the time that the events in my novel take place: “Lennington Small was indicted, while governor, for embezzling $600,000 and running a money-laundering scheme when he was state treasurer. He was acquitted, but four jurors later got state jobs, raising suspicions of jury tampering.” Small, when accused of mishandling the events leading to the Herrin Massacre, complained that Attorney General Edward Brundage had kept him distracted with silly accusations.

No, what surprised me in the research I’ve been doing is that a group in the county I’m originally from actually worked up the juice to draft and adopt a resolution to secede from the union in 1861. I always knew many of the original settlers came from the Carolinas to Tennessee to Kentucky to Southern Illinois. Most of them up to the end of the Civil War were northern Democrats—not the party of Lincoln—and some were Copperheads. The region is made more southern by its two great rivers, and most of it sits at a latitude lower than Richmond, Virginia, capital of the confederacy. My dad, who grew up in Southern Illinois, remembered anvil shoots when he was a kid to celebrate the anniversary of the murder of Lincoln.

But running across the actual resolution was a surprise.

Resolved that we, the citizens of Williamson County, firmly believing, from the distracted condition of our country—the same being brought about by the elevating to power of a strictly sectional party, the coercive policy of which toward the seceded states will drive all the border slave states from the Federal Union, and cause them to join the Southern Confederacy.

Resolved that in that event, the interest of the citizens of Southern Illinois imperatively demands at their hands a division of the state. We hereby pledge ourselves to use all means in our power to effect the same, and attach ourselves to the Southern Confederacy. [etc.]

The resolution was repealed the next day by a group of fellow townspeople in the county seat, and four months later John A. Logan, also from the area and a future Union major general, delivered an impassioned speech on the importance of the union that supposedly changed many minds.

Yet a 1994 article in the Illinois Historical Journal, “Aiding and Abetting Disloyalty Prosecutions in the Federal Civil Courts of Southern Illinois, 1861-1866,” says,

While southern Illinois reportedly contributed more than its share in filling enlistment quotas, federal court records reveal that it also had its share of difficulties in executing the draft. Enrollment officers were assaulted, shot, and threatened, and some were forced at gunpoint to relinquish their enrollment lists. Martial law was declared in Williamson County in order to complete the enrollment. At least fifty-six individuals in eleven cases were indicted for resisting, obstructing, or opposing the draft, including John Birge and Joseph Kern, who allegedly advised men to avoid the draft by maiming themselves and using noxious drugs.

Somebody once suggested that Illinois is the most representative of the United States, not only for its geographical position in the heart of the country, but also because it contains all the country’s promise, problems, and divergent opinions. And a deposed First Lady eating spiders on national TV. If that's not American, I don’t know what is.

 

 

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