* From Slavery in the North…
After the Missouri Compromise, thousands of slave-holders migrated across the southern tier of Illinois on their way to the new slave state across the Mississippi. The Illinois settlers scattered across the prairie watched with envy these processions of rich, educated, ambitious men from the east and their trains of goods and slaves, wishing the immigrants would settle in Illinois instead, and knowing what prevented it was the ban on outright slave ownership in the state.
Many people in Illinois decided that the state should open itself entirely to slavery. The new sentiment got a test in the elections of 1822. The governor’s contest was a four-way race: two of the candidates were outright advocates of slavery in Illinois. They got a combined 5,000 votes, but the winner, by a small plurality, was an anti-slavery candidate, Edward Coles, who had been born in Virginia and had freed the slaves he inherited. But the pro-slavery faction carried both houses of the state legislature.
Coles set out to persuade the state government to free the remaining slaves in Illinois (those who had been in the land before the ordinance of 1787), loosen the harsh black codes, and crack down on kidnappings of free blacks. The legislature responded by refuting Coles and recommending instead that a referendum be put on the ballot at the next state election asking voters to decide whether Illinois should call a convention to amend its constitution and become a slave state.
This required a two-thirds majority in the legislature, and while the senate mustered it, in the state house it seemed destined to fall one vote short. But the pro-slavery forces unseated a man whose election had been disputed, and they replaced him with one who voted their way. The convention measure passed.
Citizens celebrated in the streets, holding processions, parades, and public dinners. At one, this toast was offered, “The State of Illinois: the ground is good, prairie in abundance; give us plenty of negroes, a little industry, and she will distribute her treasures.”
The next election was Aug. 2, 1824. The political campaign that ensued was impassioned, fractious, and intense. The subject was preached tirelessly in the pulpits and the newspapers. The turnout on Aug. 2 was enormous. At the presidential election that fall, 4,532 voted in Illinois. On the slavery question, 11,612 went to the polls. When the votes were counted, the slavery faction had lost, 6,640 to 4,972.
* John Calhoun was elected vice president during that same 1824 campaign. He had been a popular and successful Secretary of War prior to that…
Calhoun left the legislature in 1817 to become President James Monroe’s secretary of war and dedicated himself to strengthening the nation’s military. He succeeded, spurring revitalization of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point under the leadership of Superintendent Sylvanus Thayer and improving the army’s administrative structure with reforms that endured into the 20th century.
Check out all the towns, counties and places named for him.
Even Springfield’s original name was Calhoun - until 1832, around the time that Calhoun resigned the vice presidency under Andrew Jackson so he could more effectively lead the anti-North nullification battle in the US Senate. Calhoun residents decided a name change was in order.
* Anyway, after the 1824 election, on January 10, 1825, the Illinois General Assembly split Pike County into several parts and named one after the newly elected vice president. Calhoun County is up the river from Alton and is across the Mississippi from Lincoln County, Missouri. It’s a gorgeous place with lovely people.
* It didn’t take long for Vice President Calhoun to begin changing…
In the 1820s, Southerners grew increasingly anxious about the North controlling the federal government and about how that situation threatened the South and its distinctive institutions. They looked to leaders who would limit federal power. Calhoun unexpectedly found himself the target of sharp criticism from leading South Carolina figures, including Thomas Cooper, the president of the state college. In 1824, Cooper published a widely circulated pamphlet attacking Calhoun. ‘He spends the money of the South to buy up influence in the North,’ Cooper grumbled.
If Calhoun wanted to maintain his status as a Southern leader and reach his political goals, he could not ignore the changing political landscape. He recognized it would be a mistake to maintain his association with Adams, whose ideas to expand the use of federal power to promote national economic, intellectual, and cultural development drew a cold reception in South Carolina. So when Andrew Jackson began preparing to challenge Adams in the 1828 presidential election, Calhoun switched sides. The Democrats rewarded Calhoun by making him their candidate for vice president, and the ticket won.
* Calhoun became more radically secessionist as years went by, epitomized by his 1837 speech on the US Senate floor…
It is easy to see the end. By the necessary course of events, if left to themselves, we must become, finally, two people. It is impossible under the deadly hatred which must spring up between the two great sections, if the present causes are permitted to operate unchecked, that we should continue under the same political system. The conflicting elements would burst the Union asunder, powerful as are the links which hold it together. Abolition and the Union cannot co-exist.
I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good - a positive good.
Emphasis added for obvious reasons.
Whether he was a political opportunist hoping to hold onto power or a true believer or both, there is no doubting that Calhoun laid the political, philosophical and legal foundations which directly led to the Civil War.
* Lake Calhoun in Minnesota got its name from surveyors sent to the area by Secretary of War Calhoun in 1817. A move is now underway to change the lake’s name…
Today, Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds tweeted a link to a really strong story by KARE 11’s Jana Shortal on why we need to change the name of Minneapolis’s Lake Calhoun. For those who aren’t from Minneapolis, Lake Calhoun is the central feature of the city’s Uptown neighborhood. Uptown is diverseish by Minnesota standards, but is dominated by young White millennials with disposable income.
* Let’s get back to Illinois’ Calhoun County. Check out how the locals are using a rather oddly benign description of the man to promote it. From the Alton Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau…
WELCOME TO CALHOUN COUNTY
Welcome to Calhoun County! Calhoun County is a narrow pennisula of mostly high ground located between the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. The county was organized in 1825, and was named for John C. Calhoun, Vice President of the United States and a proponent of State’s rights.
A “proponent of State’s rights.”
* From GreatRiverRoad.com…
The new county was named after John C. Calhoun, a lawyer, politician, and statesman, from South Carolina
* Frankly, I think any official memorialization of that man in the Land of Lincoln should offend us all. It sure as heck offended the residents of what is now known as Springfield back in the day, and the guy only got much, much worse after that. Maybe we ought to belatedly follow their prescient lead.
For reasons that I’ve never been able to discern, we don’t have a Lincoln County in Illinois, even though plenty of other states do. Just a thought, but I’m betting the name “Lincoln” would draw a few more tourists than “Calhoun.”
And, really, isn’t it kind of an insult that the former slave state of Missouri has a Lincoln County right across the river from our own Calhoun County (even if it is named for a different Lincoln)?
* Look, this is obviously not the most important issue around. But at a time when people across the Old South are reexamining their governments’ glorification of their horrifically repressive pasts, it is most definitely relevant.
Besides, if the General Assembly can spend time debating our new state pie, we can surely take a few moments to reflect on this topic. And the county’s population is so small that a name change wouldn’t cost all that much. It could even be phased in over a number of years to keep costs lower.
* At the very least, the locals who are playing down the odious nature of Calhoun County’s namesake should just stop it already. It’s ignorant and insulting.
…Adding… Some folks are missing the point, perhaps willfully. This is not about Illinois places and things named after former slave owners. It’s about a county named after a notorious secessionist leader. There’s a difference here.