THE NASTY ILLINOIS ELECTION CAMPAIGN OF 1862

By the Rev. William F. Moore of The Lovejoy Society

For the Illinois Historical Society Conference

December 6, 2002 at Springfield, Illinois

The Hon. Rev. Owen Lovejoy, Congregational minister from Princeton, Illinois

Antislavery Congressman since 1856, political ally and personal friend of Lincoln, faced an extremely bitter campaign in 1862. He was hated for his powerful rhetoric, his influence on Lincoln and his successes in Congress. He was influential in most of the great issues and was the leader in Congress on the slavery issue.

The remarkable achievements of the Second Session of the 37th Congress (Dec.2, 1861- July 17, 1862) included the formation of lasting domestic institutions, the establishment of an economic plan to sustain the war against the rebellious states, and the passage of national legislation limiting slavery.  Specifically it passed the Homestead Bill, the Morrill Act forming land grant colleges, established a Department/Bureau of Agriculture, and provided ways and means to establish the Pacific Railroad.   On the economic front it created a national currency, a national banking system and raised the enormous funds to sustain the war effort.  On the slavery issue it prohibited the military from returning fugitive slaves, ended slavery in the District of Columbia, delivered on the organizing principle of the Republican Party-- prohibiting slavery in all the territories, and legally authorized the military to confiscate the property (including slaves) from all those in rebellion against the country.  These were monumental achievements that shaped the nature of our democracy. 

Lovejoy’s experience, skill and commitment made him a powerful member of that Congress. Lincoln’s secretaries, John G. Nicolay and John Hay, reported in their history, “. . . among those whose zeal gave them (antislavery measures) especial prominence in these debates, the names of Charles Sumner in the Senate and of Thaddeus Stevens and Owen Lovejoy in the House need only to be mentioned to show what high qualities of zeal and talent pursued the peculiar institution with unrelenting warfare.”[2]

Equally irritating to the Democrats was Lovejoy’s cordial relationship with Abraham Lincoln. Though a Radical Republican committed to the goal of eventually ending slavery, Lovejoy refused to rant against the President for his slowness in the war effort. Instead he eloquently defended the difficulties facing the Lincoln Administration and exuded his confidence in the President. “If the President does not believe all I do, I believe all he does.  If he does not drive as fast as I would, he is on the same road, and it’s a question of time.” In the same speech he warned of the perilous conditions in the country, “Safe pilotage is quite as needful now as propulsive power, for there is a semi-secession foe crouching in the jungles of a sham Democracy, ready to spring upon the Union forces at the very first opportunity that promises any success.”[3]  Proslavery Democrats thirsted for Lovejoy’s defeat in the fall of 1862. He was a target for pro-slavery wrath not only because of his “indignant” language against slavery, but also because of his effective antislavery influence in Congress and with the Lincoln Administration. One newspaper, The Union Advocate in Geneseo, Illinois, claimed the defeat of Lovejoy’s reelection “would be worth an additional ten thousand troops to the rebel cause.”[4]

Lovejoy had won by 6,000 votes in 1856, by 9,000 votes in 1858, and by 10,000 votes in 1860.  In 1862, with his proven effectiveness having aroused deep emotions, with the opportunities of a redrawn district, with the troubles facing the Lincoln Administration, and with the sagging war effort, the opposition against him was highly energized.

Direct competition in the election with a proslavery Peace Democrat or a proslavery War Democrat was unlikely to defeat Lovejoy; so the opposition craftily ran a Conservative Republican, with war credentials, who blamed the antislavery agitators for the war.  The opposition forcefully claimed support of the Lincoln Administration to win votes, but found it difficult to support Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  They presented the Lincoln Administration as the “true” Democratic Party working to restore the Union through negotiation that would allow slavery to continue.  They seduced Col. Thomas J. Henderson, an able, respected, former Republican legislator from Stark County, by offering him political good fortune if he would oppose Lovejoy.

 The tactic of running a conservative Republican against Lovejoy in a three-way race with a Democratic candidate had been tried within the Republican Party in the three previous elections. Lincoln had helped to squelch each attempt.

 This time there was no district-wide Democratic candidate on the ballot, only a conservative anti-abolitionist Republican candidate spurred on by a hostile Democratic organization. With five new counties in Lovejoy’s reformulated 5th Congressional District, and Lincoln preoccupied by the war effort, the opposition saw their opportunity. They spent large sums of money and orchestrated a campaign of distorted information, personal invective, and racial bigotry. It was a bitter, confusing, deceptive campaign.  Lovejoy had a legitimate Democratic opponent in only one of the seven counties.

  This paper will explore Owen Lovejoy’s reelection of 1862 by looking at (1) the context of the national political issues, (2) the context of the issues in Illinois, (3) the tactics of the opposition, (4) the tactics of Lovejoy and, (5) some interpretations of the election.

 

I.  National Context

 

In the summer of 1862 the Lincoln administration was at low ebb. The Union Troops were suffering large numbers of fatalities from wounds and illness with little to show for it. The Border States were rebuffing his gradual, compensated emancipation plan. Inflation was causing hardships. The federal treasury was empty, and the bankers were upset about a national paper currency to solve that crisis. Business suffered from closed markets and interrupted trade.

Both political parties were fractured.  Lincoln was straddling them all. Some Northern Democrats sought peace through negotiation, seeking to restore the Union with slavery the way it was. Other Northern Democrats vigorously supported the war effort to force the traitorous rebels back into the Union. Of these Democrats, some wanted the South returned with slavery intact, while others wanted assurances that slavery was moving toward extinction.

Some Republicans encouraged the war effort vociferously. They wanted to end slavery in America once and for all time. These so called Radical Republicans embarrassed the President publicly with reports from the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War.  Conservative Republicans did not want to discuss slavery or to aggravate the Border States into leaving the Union. They approved of Union Generals moving slowly.

 

Lovejoy was a loyal supporter of Lincoln. He understood the need not to alienate the Border States. He assisted Lincoln in May 1862 in passing the White House Plan to compensate slaveholders for their slaves even though compensation went against the grain. On the other hand, he pushed the Congress and the President to pass a bill prohibiting slavery in all the territories. Border States rejected Lincoln’s final efforts for a gradual, compensated emancipation plan, and the Second Confiscation Act was passed in July of 1862.

The President began to consider an Emancipation Proclamation. Most cabinet members and advisors thought it would hurt the Republican cause in the mid-term congressional elections. Lincoln was just as aware that the Proclamation might be politically premature. However a leading War Democrat, Indiana’s Robert Owen, had written a letter to the President advocating an end to slavery in order to save the Union. His letter signaled a significant shift in public opinion in critical places, which Lincoln was waiting for. The letter was printed in local papers, including the Bureau County Republican.[5]

 

Popular opinion in the North was beginning to favor a broadening of the war’s purpose to ending slavery as well as saving the Union. Lovejoy contributed to this shift in opinion at the Cooper Institute in June 1862: “I here declare to you my deep and solemn conviction that the Emancipation of the Slave is essential to the safety and perpetuity of the Republic.”  This growing shift in public opinion was reflected in the legislation that Congress had passed prohibiting slavery in the District of Columbia and the Territories.

 

Conservative Republicans and Peace Democrats were encouraged by one aspect of Lincoln’s Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation: for Lincoln offered the Border States and the Confederacy a last chance for a negotiated peace--southern rebellious states had 100 days to return to the Union under guarantees to compensate masters for their slaves and to send freed slaves to the Caribbean or Africa.

 

On September 17, 1862, General George McClellan won a decisive victory at Antietam. On September 22 the President presented his conditional emancipation plan. The timing of Lincoln’s announcement played a critical role in Lovejoy’s election campaign. It challenged the body politic to come to grips with the issue of ending slavery.

Lincoln heard increasing reports and rumors of clandestine and treasonous resistance. Sensing the mood of the nation, he suspended the writ of habeas corpus on September 24, 1862. This led to the incarceration of some proslavery political leaders as well as proslavery plotters who planned physical resistance in the North.[6]This abrogation of civil rights became an issue used against Lovejoy in the 1862 campaign.

 

II. The Illinois Context

After Fort Sumter fell to confederate forces, the President on April 15, 1861, called for 75,000 volunteers to strengthen the Union Army.  He requested Senator Stephen Douglas to go home to quell the growing dissension in Southern Illinois. Governor Richard Yates called a special session of the legislature.  At the joint session on April 25, Douglas presented his famous dictum, “There are only two parties now--patriots and traitors. . . .  It is a duty we owe to ourselves, and our children, and our God, to protect this government, and that flag, from every assailant, be he who he may.”[7] This was Douglas’s last great act of service to Illinois and the Union he loved. He convinced Democrat John Logan of the Union cause.  Logan then became a Republican and directed many Southern Illinoisans away from proslavery activity. 

 

Other notable Democrats began to support the restoration of the Union by force.  In Illinois the distinction between party lines had become so blurred by August 1861, that the State Journal declared,  “. . . there are no more parties. We are all for the Union, for the preservation of the government and for the speedy suppression of the rebellion.”  However, the pretense of bipartisan cooperation evaporated on Nov. 7, 1861. On that day the Democratic Party won a large majority of delegates for the State Constitutional Convention winning not only in the southern counties and but also in Cook, Will, LaSalle, and Peoria in the north.[8]  The State Register declared, “If anything has been revealed by the election, it is the fact the people are beginning to discover that the Democratic Party is the true Union party.”   The leader of these old-line conservative Democrats in Illinois was William Richardson, former Douglas aid in the House of Representatives. 

 

Richard Yates, former Whig Congressman and friend of Lincoln, was elected Governor of Illinois in 1860. When Lincoln declared war and asked for troops, Yates speedily provided far more than Illinois’ quota of soldiers.  However, by the fall of 1862, he was weary of the slowness of Lincoln’s war efforts and openly criticized the administration.  Illinois Republican Senator Lyman Trumbull was also critical.  Some claimed that in Illinois, “Even the republican vote was not to be interpreted as an endorsement of Lincoln’s policies, for the main body of the republicans were following the radical leadership of Senator Trumbull and Governor Yates.” [9]  Yates questioned Lincoln’s ability to lead the country. In an open letter he demanded “the adoption of more decisive measures” and the “end of mild and conciliatory means to recall the rebels to their allegiance.” [10]

 

Conservative Republicans led by Orville Browning, one of Lincoln’s closest personal friends, urged Lincoln to hold back the final emancipation proclamation. He, along with the conservative Congressman from the fourth district, Judge William Kellogg, still begrudgingly supported the Administration but they detested the radical abolitionist wing of the party. In July of 1861 Browning had said, "I would rejoice to see all the States in rebellion return to their allegiance.” If they do they will be fully protected “in all their rights, including the ownership, use and management of slaves.” [11]

 

As indicated, proslavery Peace Democrats dominated the state constitutional convention, which began on January 7. 1862. The delegates tried to usurp the power of the governor in his war efforts. They failed. Then they passed resolutions to give equal votes to each county, thus allowing the sparsely populated counties of conservative Southern Illinois to control northern counties’ interests.  Next, they eagerly limited the powers of the banks in financially difficult times.  Finally the Convention passed a resolution to codify into law the 1853 resolution that prohibited free Negroes from moving into the state.

 

As soon as the Convention ended most Republicans, including Owen Lovejoy, organized to defeat the proposed constitution.  The Chicago Tribune headline was “Down with the Secession Constitution.” On June 17, the Constitution was easily defeated by 16,000 votes. However, the tag-a-long referendum to codify into law the 1853 resolution prohibiting free Negroes coming into Illinois passed by a majority of about 70,000 out of the 290,000 votes cast. This large majority confirmed the existence of strong racial prejudice in the state that Democratic candidates could tap into.[12]


 

Democrats and Republicans who strongly favored the war effort to save the Union decided to form a Union Republican Party.  They invited representatives from both parties to attend a convention on September 24,1862, which was two days after the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation had been announced.  The leaders had hoped that the popular John Logan, a former Democrat, would retire as General and return to be a strong candidate at-large for Congress.  The Sangamon district was realigned so that Judge David Davis could run for Congress from that district.  However both refused the honor for what they thought was higher duty—Logan to remain a General to suppress the rebels, Davis to become a member of the Supreme Court at the request of the President. By default then, the popular War Democratic Eben Ingersoll, brother of the agnostic lecturer Robert Ingersoll, became the Congressional candidate at large for the Illinois Republican Union Party.[13]

 

Another complication of the Illinois political scene was the action by The Secretary of War William Stanton. Just days before the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation was announced, he released what was perceived as a large number of black refugees for resettlement on farms throughout the State of Illinois.[14]  In a racially prejudiced state, where a recorded 62% had just voted to exclude free blacks, the action of the Secretary of War was not helpful to the Republican cause.

 

III.  Tactics of the Opposition

The opposition leaders planned to get votes against Lovejoy in any way they could from any group they could. They went after the Democratic vote by claiming that Lincoln was a “true” Democrat. The Bureau County Democrat wrote in March, “It is true that Lincoln is a Republican, but he is only a Republican in name--his principles as developed in his official capacity, are strictly in conformity with the principles entertained and advocated by the Democratic party.”[15]

 

In the middle of May the schemers of the opposition to Lovejoy went to the Princeton Republican caucus.  They walked out claiming that the platform had consisted only of   “denunciation and proscription of Democrats.” [16] The Bureau County Patriot painted the Republicans as hard-nosed. “We would give every rebel private time and opportunity for repentance and return to his loyalty, but if they persist in their treason, we would proceed against every scoundrel. . . .  But we have no sympathy with that rash class of men, who . . . endorse indiscreet, untimely and suicidal measures . . . and all hopes of an early and honorable close of the war frustrated.”[17]  As early as May this was one of the primary tactics of Lovejoy’s opposition--to separate him from the popular, cautious, moderate Lincoln Administration.

 

One of the major schemers was Charles J. Peckham, the editor of the Bureau County Patriot.  He was accused of converting the Bureau County Democrat into the Patriot not only to separate Lovejoy from Lincoln but also to receive $400 of public printing from a disaffected Republican County Treasurer.[18] The most notorious schemer was Mr. J. V. Thompson who spoke at a Princeton War Meeting on August 4, 1862.  The Bureau County Republican reported that,

“(He) tried his hand in the old stale trick of exciting Negro prejudice, a thing that once had some potency, but which all right minded people now feel to be sadly out of date. His buffoonery excited some laughter but no approval. Mr. Lovejoy was called upon to answer this attempted attack on him and his speech, but he expressed just enough contempt by quietly remarking, ‘that he was in earnest—that the cause of our country was a serious subject, and that he had great faith in the common sense of the American people.’ This was so applauded by the audience that Thompson seemed to shrivel up, and wonder where he was.” 

 

Thompson had felt similar embarrassment when he introduced Senator Stephen Douglas in Princeton in 1854. Then Lovejoy upset Douglas so much, that Douglas had to relinquish his promise to Lincoln, and continue to talk about the Kansas-Nebraska Act.[19]  In March of 1863 the Copperheads had a meeting at which J. V. Thompson and M. Kendall “recommended opposition to the administration by force of arms unless the President recall this emancipation and Nigger regiment policy.”[20]  Even though this is after the election of 1862, these treasonous attitudes indicate the depth of hostility of the leaders of the opposition to Lovejoy’s reelection.

 

The schemers went after the Republican vote before they even had a candidate. They brought the anti-abolitionist Republican Senator Orville Browning to Princeton with the intention of embarrassing Lovejoy. Much to the plotter’s dismay, it did not work.  Lovejoy’s carefully focused message supported the Lincoln administration and its war efforts to save the Union.  Not wanting to hurt his friend Lincoln politically, Browning would not attack Lovejoy. “I don’t want to hit Mr. Lovejoy. We are working to the same end.”[21] But Browning said these remarks ten days before the preliminary emancipation proclamation was announced.  A week later on October first, the Peoria Daily Transcript reported rumors that “Senator Browning and Judge Kellogg planned to stump against Lovejoy, in favor of some one on whom the Vallandigham (Ohio Leader of Peace Democrats) and other opposition may unite.”


 

The schemers waited until Lovejoy was officially nominated in Galesburg as the Union Republican Party candidate for the fifth district on September 17. The Geneseo Republic, October 8, 1862 explained the situation.

“The pipes were so admirably laid, beforehand, by the schemers, that when the self styled ‘Union Convention,’ met on Friday last (Oct. 3, 1862), the delegates had nothing to do but cast their votes for Col. Thomas J. Henderson. . . .  Is there no limit to their madness?  Of course the delegates from this town were not permitted a sight behind the curtains, for they were honest men, and the slightest intimation of what was going on, or a hint of the object of the convention, would so change the complexion of the vote that it was not deemed safe to let them into the wire-puller’ secrets, lest their cake should become dough, and the fat thrown into the fire. . . . And Col. Henderson—a man whom we respect and admire, as a man—has suffered himself to be made a cat’s-paw of—has injured himself beyond redemption. . . . Nobody with common sense will say that he can hold a candle to Mr. Lovejoy—everybody knows that Mr. Lovejoy’s election is as sure as the sun rises.”

 

The opponents’ strategy was to win the well-meaning conservative Whig Republicans who identified with Lincoln, by blaming the disillusionments of the war on the Lovejoy “abolitionists.”  At the same time they wooed the disaffected Republican leaders who were “soreheads”[22] upset from not getting the spoils of office they thought they deserved. They wooed a Republican who desired opportunities for advancement rather than to act on principle. 

 

The opposition attempted to bring together the conservative Lincoln Republicans, disaffected Republicans, citizens tired of the war, and War Democrats committed to the saving the Union, with or without slavery. They did this under the conniving influence of the proslavery Peace Democrats who loathed the successful antislavery leaders, especially Lovejoy.  Their scheme relied on the assumption that Lincoln, the “Great Delayer,”[23] was planning to restore the Union by negotiating a compromising deal with the South.

 

However, the President upset their political plans, when he announced the Preliminary Emancipation Act. Now, how could they claim that Lincoln was conservative? Now, how could they claim he had abandoned the antislavery Republican cause?  All they could hold on to was that Lincoln was giving the Border States one last chance for peace.

 

On the other hand, the early emancipation proclamation and the proclamation suspending habeas corpus turned into effective projectiles to throw at Lovejoy. Ironically, Lovejoy’s previous assets were turned against him as liabilities. He became vulnerable on two fronts. First, for many years Lovejoy, under great pressure of being labeled an abolitionist, had insisted he was not a Garrisonian abolitionist who advocated immediate emancipation of all slaves.  To prove it he repeatedly claimed he was for leaving slavery alone where it already existed. Now his integrity was in question. Now he supported ending slavery where it already existed. “Democrats throughout the North howled, ‘I told you so [;] this is an Abolition war and nothing else.’”[24] 

 

Secondly, another insistent theme, since his brother Elijah Lovejoy’s death, was the encroachment of the rights of the people of the North by the southern slaveholding power of the Democratic Party. Now, the Lincoln administration that he supported was openly suspending the basic and precious right of habeas corpus. The Democrats in Illinois exploited this point for several months, charging that the federal government was “seeking to inaugurate a reign of terror in the loyal states by military arrests . . . of citizens, without trial, to browbeat all opposition by villainous and false charges of disloyalty against whole classes of patriotic citizens, to destroy all constitutional guaranties of free speech, a free press, and the writ of habeas corpus.”[25]

 

The opposition used a variety of other unusual tactics.  In order to counter balance Lovejoy’s military experience in Missouri in the fall of 1861 the opposition brought Col. Henderson out on his war-horse. Then they accused Lovejoy of giving patronage only to strong antislavery friends. He had in fact been so even handed that two appointees had worked against him in former elections.[26]   On the other hand the opposition found some former Liberty Party members to accuse Lovejoy of granting patronage only to former Whigs and Democrats, which was true for one session when only two out of nine appointments went to former Liberty Party members.[27]  The Democrats did not object to intimidating tactics.  In Peoria during one of Lovejoy’s speeches a man hollered out that “he wished he had one end of a rope around his (Lovejoy’s) neck and the other around a niggers’ so that he might hang them.”[28]

 

Political labels were blurred. Republicans such as Orville Browning were against Lovejoy and Democrats such as Eben Ingersoll, who frequently appeared with him at speaking engagements, were for Lovejoy.  The Republican Governor and Senator were critical of Lincoln’s prosecution of the war; yet Lovejoy was fully supporting Lincoln. These distinctions began to fade away once the preliminary emancipation proclamation was announced. The Geneseo Republic exposed Henderson’s efforts to fudge the issue. It noted that in his letter to the nominating convention he said

“that he was opposed to a proclamation of emancipation—had said it would be unwise and impolitic, and does not say in that letter or elsewhere, that he approves the Proclamation of Emancipation issued recently by President Lincoln. The Times (Chicago) and State Register (Springfield) have therefore good reason to claim him as anti-proclamation.”

 

Lovejoy’s ability to smoke out this duplicity was crucial to the effectiveness of his campaign.

 

IV. Tactics of Lovejoy

 

At huge War Meetings held in Milwaukee and Chicago in late July and early August, Lovejoy supported a vigorous prosecution of the war effort to suppress the rebellion with all resources available, including Negro troops.  On August 2, in Chicago he said, “Rather let us say that behind and beyond the temporary reverses now afflicting us, there will come up the great uprising of popular patriotism, which in its certain flood, shall cover with its proper element and spirit the ground lost in those temporary reverses.”[29] The Pontiac Signal, no longer in his district, reported that the opinion of Owen Lovejoy “is deferred to with more alacrity and cheerfulness by the Executive head of the nation than of any other man in Congress.”[30]

 

On August 27, Lovejoy met with Lincoln on patronage matters, at which time Lincoln asked, “Tell me how you would proceed in my place, and with due respect for the thousands of loyal people who differ with you.” Lovejoy is reported to have responded, “Is not Mr. Greeley right in asking you to promulgate the law known as the Confiscation Act, which you have approved, liberating every slave whose owner is in the rebellion, or who gives it aid and comfort?”[31]

 

Lovejoy’s new district included only Bureau and Putnam counties from his old district and five new counties to the west and south of Bureau. This made it necessary for him to build a new campaign organization and get acquainted with many new constituents. All the counties except Peoria, however, had gone for Lincoln in 1860. The counties of the new district gave Lincoln a majority of 6,266 votes in 1860. Drawn up by Republicans in the legislature, this new Fifth Congressional District should have been favorable toward Lovejoy.

 

Lovejoy returned to Illinois in early September. He began his canvass at Galesburg, where he had once been an examiner for Knox College and was well received by the strong antislavery community. The delegates at the Fifth District Congressional Convention at Galesburg unanimously nominated him for reelection on Sept.17. “Eight resolutions passed on conduct of the war, opposition to compromise with the South, upholding Lincoln and endorsing Lovejoy’s conduct in the House.”[32]

 

At Peoria the theme of his message was the suppression of the rebellion, and preservation of the Union under the leadership of Lincoln.  The Peoria Transcript reported “his individual opposition to slavery was in the present crisis subordinate to his love for the Union.” He advocated confiscation measures against the rebels, but denounced indiscriminate plunder by the troops of the Union. He supported Lincoln’s answer to the Greeley letter, adding that an emancipation policy would be but a means to the preservation of the Union.[33]  He proclaimed himself for the Union, first last and all the time. He professed, “hostile though he was to slavery, he would place saving the republic before abolishing that hated institution, if he must.” [34] The Editor summed it up, saying the main question is “Not who shall administer the government, but shall we have a government to administer.”[35]

 

A few days later in the presence of the troops of the 77th Illinois Regiment he again placed suppression of the rebellion at the head of the tasks facing all loyal men.  He ignored a question about the “n-----r”, as the Transcript reported, and moved on to supporting Lincoln. “Old Abe is captain and I am prepared to pull the ropes just as he orders.”[36]

 

A week later Lincoln issued the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Two days later he attended the Republican Union State Nominating Convention at Springfield. When the platform that was presented had not one line endorsing the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, Lovejoy asked for the floor. This is how Joseph G. Cannon, a later Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, recalled the scene years later. “[37]

“I shall never forget the scene which then occurred.  Owen Lovejoy addressed the chair.  There were cries of ‘Sit down’ from all over the hall.  Lovejoy exclaimed, “God helping me, I will not sit down.  I will be heard”—and he was heard.  For five minutes he spoke as never a man spoke before, fighting for the Republican policy and for the Illinois convention to sustain the proclamation. At the close he offered a resolution endorsing the proclamation.  A vote was taken and the resolution was carried.  Lovejoy then arose in his place and said, ‘I can now say with Simeon of old, now, Lord, let thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have beheld Thy salvation.’”

 

The resolution read in part, “We cordially endorse the proclamation of freedom and confiscation of the President.”[38]

 

Edward Magdol in his thorough biography of Lovejoy in 1967 reports that Lovejoy “embarked on a tour of almost daily speech-making. His supporters in the field were most efficient including many young men some of them not old enough to vote.”[39]   Veteran antislavery leaders like William Allen who for many years had been his colleague and the four editors of the major Republican papers in Geneseo, Princeton, and Peoria made a big difference in the campaign. In early October the Peoria Daily Transcript asserted, “it is useless to charge Lovejoy with being radical—The President of the United States has issued a proclamation as radical as anything Mr. Lovejoy has uttered.”[40] The Transcript aptly scolded Henderson, “The opposition candidate said he was for Lincoln but opposed the preliminary emancipation proclamation.” Since the Peace Democrats who supported Henderson not only opposed the Proclamation, but also adamantly opposed the Lincoln Administration, the Transcript asked, “How could Henderson consort with these deadly enemies of Lincoln?”[41]


 

John W. Forney, a Pennsylvania journalist close to Lincoln, complained that Lincoln didn’t support any Republican in the 1862 election, not even his friend Owen Lovejoy.[42] David Donald suggests that, “he (Lincoln) held aloof from the congressional contests because there was not much he could do to influence their outcome.” He goes on to quote Lincoln saying in September 1862, “I believe that I have not so much confidence of the people as I had some time since.”[43]  It may be that Lincoln, however, did speak to Browning and Kellogg confidentially, as he had done on behalf of Lovejoy in previous campaigns, since there is no record of their publicly supporting the Henderson campaign. Lincoln was delighted with Lovejoy’s victory and would have done whatever he could, if he thought it would have been helpful.

 

V.  Some Interpretations of the Election

 

Lovejoy won over Henderson by 641 votes. If there had not been a Democratic candidate on the ballot in Henry County who received 589 votes, and if in a few other counties Democrats hadn’t received 32 votes, Lovejoy would have won by only 20 votes out of the 23,324 votes cast. The longstanding antislavery communities of Galesburg, Geneseo, Princeton and Granville gave him his victory.  Lovejoy carried his home county  (Bureau) by only 192 votes.  In 1860 he had carried it by 1,938 votes. “It is admitted on all hands that the fight in this county against me has been unparalleled in unscrupulous ferocity. In addition to this, I have spent but little time in the county and in my absence the enemy sowed tares.”[44]  Larger cities tended to be Democratic and Lovejoy lost Peoria County by over a 1,017 votes. Lincoln in 1860, however, had lost it by only 199 out of 7,398 votes cast. In the statewide offices the Democrats won with majority of 16,500 votes and took over the legislature.[45] The Democrats also won state control of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, New York and New Jersey with a net gain of 35 seats in the U. S. House of Representatives.

 

Lovejoy invited 60 of his associates to a victory dinner at the American House in Princeton, Nov. 14, and delivered a most candid report of the election.

 

(1) He described the nature of the campaign and his feelings during it.

 

“The campaign was without a parallel in the bitterness of its animosity, the acrimony of its spirit, and the unscrupulousness of the means. . . . There have been times, I confess, when standing alone, and receiving the murderous fire of regular and irregular and guerila and bushwhacking from life long enemies and former friends that I felt resentment and thirsted for revenge.  But I can say, with unaffected sincerity, these feelings have passed away with the hour. I am too old a man and too good a Christian and patriot, to harbor feelings of malice and revenge.  Anger testeth in the bosom of fools.  I have lived long enough to know that these sentiments and evil passions hurt their subjects more than their objects.”

 

(2) He was clear about his opposition.

 

 “Among the curiously made up crowd from the Republican ranks were leaders whose love of office was stronger than their attachment to principle. . . . One of the wickest things the rebels do is to raise the Union flag, and under its protection, march close to the loyal soldiers and then pour murderous fire into their ranks.  So the Democrats and the disaffected Republicans arrogated to themselves the name of Union, which never meant the union of loyal men, but the union of all pro-slavery men, with the immediate purpose of defeating me, and the ultimate design of throttling the administration in its policy of emancipation.”


 

(3) He saw the election as a struggle between freedom and slavery, liberty and despotism.

 

“The intense and invigorated opposition to me is because I am supposed to embody and represent an intensified opposition to slavery . . . I look upon the recent context as one of those steps in the progress of freedom towards a final triumph. Friends of Universal Freedom in the 5th Congressional District, let me thank God and take courage.  Let us move onward yielding principle to no one, and say to all, ‘Come and go with me and we will do good, for God hath spoken good concerning the Zion of Freedom.’”[46]

 

The Geneseo Republic believed in October 1862 that Col. Henderson has “injured himself beyond redemption, and politically the resurrection hour can not fetch him home.[47] However, he was politically resurrected. In late November after the election he wrote a letter, which the Union Advocate published in full. He claimed “that I have been most outrageously wronged, abused and slandered, and that others will repent of the injury done me, when repentance is too late.”[48]  He was referring to articles in the newspapers such as Geneseo Republic.  “Officers of high rank and lower rank . . .write home that Col. Henderson has already taken the opportunity to show the slave-holders that he is not an enemy of slavery.”[49] Whether he was wronged or not is not known. However, he served in the Union Army until the end of the war. And in 1874 he was elected to Congress from Princeton and served from 1875 to 1895.[50] 

            Why was the campaign so close? Did the Republican newspapers that predicted an easy Lovejoy victory simply underestimate the power of racial prejudice in their own districts?  Did the Trumbull and Yates criticisms of the President cut into Lovejoy’s base? Did Secretary of War Stanton’s resettlement of Negro refugees on the farms of Illinois hurt Lovejoy politically?  Did the Browning and Kellogg conservative Republicans decide for a non-agitating Republican?  Did weariness of the war and placing blame for it upon the “abolitionists” reduce his support?  Did Col. Henderson’s reputation as a Republican with deep roots overcome the implication that he was a tool in the hands of the pro-slavery Democrats?  Did anybody predict that the “shrewd, scheming wire-pullers” of the pro-slavery Democrats would be able to win the votes of both War Democrats and Peace Democrats in six out of seven counties with a “Republican” candidate?  Did Lovejoy’s support for the suspension of habeas corpus alienate voters who felt their political allies were being harassed for being accused of giving physical assistance to rebel forces?  Did the apparent loss of Lovejoy’s integrity by his appearing to have changed his position on emancipation and on the encroachment of basic rights hurt him?  Probably all of the above eroded his support.

 

            Another factor was the absence of the soldiers’ vote. Large numbers of Democrats fought valiantly especially from the southern section of the state under John Logan.[51]  In the northern part of the state larger numbers soldiers were Republicans.  In Lovejoy’s Bureau County where the vote in 1860 was two to one in favor of the Republicans one could assume a similar proportion at least were soldiers. An even larger number could be estimated considering Lovejoy had helped form a number of regiments from his area.  The Joliet Signal of January 15, 1861 wrote “As Democrats we claim exemption from service in this Black Republican war. Let the Black Republicans of Illinois do the training, and fighting, if necessary, for it was their party that brought the calamity upon the country.  We trust that the Democratic members of our Legislature will vote against arming and drilling our people to prepare for murdering and butchering their Southern brethren.”[52]  Though this was three months before the war broke out, it still reflects a Democratic attitude. In the 1864 election Union soldiers were given the right to vote in 13 of 25 states.[53] They voted 78% Republican.[54]  Though Presidential election of 1864 was a different set of political circumstances, such a high percentage does indicates the Republican strength in the military. Probably the absence of the soldier vote was a factor in the Bureau County 1862 election, especially in light of the formation of a militant Copperhead group by 1863. Lovejoy surely thought so. He said that the Democrat ranks had suffered “but little from depletion by the recent enlistments.”[55]

 

The question of the campaign was which coalition would win?  Would the coalition of Conservative Republicans and Peace Democrats who wanted to protect slavery, be able to defeat the coalition of Antislavery Republicans and War Democrats who wanted to preserve the Federal Union and eventually eliminate slavery?  The proslavery Democrats needed to blame the war on the agitating abolitionists and Radical Republicans.  As long as the proslavery Democrats could confuse the public by asserting they were for saving the Union, they had a chance of reaching into the ranks of the conservative Republicans and also some War Democrats. The Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation became the instrument to expose their proslavery leanings.

 

The Lincoln administration had to effectively keep a respectful distance from the agitating radicals and yet tap into the emerging northern consensus that slavery was wrong and should be on the course of ultimate extinction. This was the position that Lincoln and Lovejoy had carefully and eloquently claimed from the formation of the Republican Party in Illinois in 1856.  During 1862, northern public support grew for the freeing of the Negro slaves who were giving logistical support to the rebel army and for their enlistment into the Union Army. Enough northerners, even Democrats had come to comprehend the South’s irrational self-affliction at rejecting gradual, compensated emancipation.  When other international, and military events made it propitious, President Lincoln decided to test the political waters.  His tentative partial emancipation plan was based on the military powers of the Constitution.  In order to save the Union militarily, he argued it would become necessary to free some of the slaves. 

 

One of the test cases of this policy would be in the Fifth Congressional District of Illinois. Would the belief that slavery was wrong and should eventually be ended have enough staying power in a district where that message was clearly known and upheld by its popular Congressman?  Lovejoy would effectively use the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation to expose the insidious proslavery democratic scheme of enticing Conservative Republicans to vote against the administration of the Union.  Lovejoy’s approach exposed that the intention of the Democrats was for saving slavery more than saving the Union.  After this election Lincoln and the Republican leaders developed policy that did emerge—that you couldn’t save the Union without ending slavery. 

 

The Fifth District, the state of Illinois, and the Nation went solidly Republican by large margins in 1864 due to successful military efforts and the efforts of many political leaders led by Lincoln in exposing an attempted alliance between conservative Republicans and proslavery Democrats, which was experimented with in the Fifth District in 1862.

 

            Lovejoy’s congenial personality, hard work, accomplishments in Congress, oratorical and organizational ability led him to victory.  Yet, his support of the Preliminary Emancipation Proclamation during the campaign was also an important factor in his reelection. Magdol and others claim that Lovejoy downplayed the proclamation, quoting a Quincy paper in a more conservative district than his, “Lovejoy supports the proclamation, but has never been officious in urging it.”[56]  Lovejoy did claim in Peoria that he had quit agitating the emancipation question long ago, “believing the wagon had got to the top of the hill; and would go down fast enough without any aid.”[57]

 

Despite that caveat, Lovejoy did adamantly stand by the president and the emancipation issue.  The Union Advocate wrote, “Mr. LOVEJOY honestly avows himself a radical.  As such he goes for a radical support of the Administration, and a radical prosecution of the war.  He most heartily approves the two late Proclamations of the President.”[58]  The Democratic paper, the Springfield Register, reporting on the Republican Union Convention in Springfield wrote, “Lovejoy and Co. are for suppression of the rebellion, and ergo all who do not agree with their mode of suppression and their schemes for profit are against suppression.”  It went on to say, “The convention only indorses one of these efforts (of suppression) and that one is the issuing of a proclamation announcing to the rebels what the government will do three months hence. . . . then Negro insurrection, murder, arson and rapine will be invoked. . . . They indorse him only so far as he accedes to their revolutionary demands.”

 

In the Democratic stronghold of Peoria, Lovejoy amended Lincoln’s famous reply to Horace Greeley, “ If we could best save the Union by saving slavery, he said amen; if we could save it best by partially saving slavery, he said amen to that; if to save it was thought necessary to destroy slavery, twenty amens to that.”[59]  Lovejoy’s message was clear: Support the Lincoln administration’s prosecution of the war to preserve the Union and the emancipation of the slaves as a means to that end. 

After the election, the Peoria Daily Transcript Nov.20, 1862, reported that, “During his late canvass, Owen Lovejoy compared the Emancipation Proclamation to Ithuriel’s spear.”  In John Milton’s poem Paradise Lost, Ithuriel was a loyal angel when Lucifer let his revolt of the heavenly hosts.  When Ithuriel’s spear touched the toad whispering in Eve’s ear, Lucifer himself was exposed for who he was.

 

 

The Transcript continued. “So Lovejoy said, ‘just touch the secesh (pro-slavery) democracy with this proclamation of the President and up pops the Devil!’ We think Lovejoy’s illustration holds good so far as the proslaveryism of the Democratic Party is concerned.  It has unmasked them on that subject, and exhibits them as standing forth in the free North the unblushing advocates and defenders of human bondage of an institution at deadly warfare with the vital principles on which this republic was founded—at war with all which has contributed to the glorious progress of the free loyal States as contrasted with the rebel slave States.”[60] 

 

Lovejoy’s successful 1862 campaign effort was just one of many other supportive efforts for the Lincoln administration that earned Lovejoy the accolade from Lincoln, “Throughout my heavy and perplexing responsibilities here, to the day of his death, it would scarcely wrong any other to say, he was my most generous friend.”[61]



[1] Bogue, Allan G., The Congressman’s Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 148.

 

[2]  Nicolay, John G. and Hay, John, Abraham Lincoln: A History Vol. IV  (New York: The Century Co.)  p. 107.

 

[3] Lovejoy, Owen,  “Cooper Union Address June 17, 1862,” McLean Historical Society.

 

[4] The Union Advocate, Oct. 31, 1862

 

[5] Bureau County Republican, Aug. 28, 1862.

 

[6] Cole, Arthur Charles, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870. Vol. III of the Centennial History of Illinois (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1919), pp. 308-309.

 

[7] Church, Charles A., History of the Republican Party in Illinois 1854-1912 (Rockford, Illinois: Wilson Brothers Company, 1912), p. 86.

 

[8] Cole, p. 267.

 

[9] Ibid, p. 297

 

[10] Ibid, p. 277.

 

[11] Courtlandt,  Canby, Ed. Lincoln and the Civil War (New York: Dell Publishers, 1958), p. 175.

 

[12] The entire paragraph is based on Cole, pp. 259-272.

 

[13] Cole, p. 296.

 

[14] Donald, David, Lincoln (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 383.

 

[15] Bureau County Republican March 20, 1862.

 

[16] Bureau County Patriot, May 19, 1862.

 

[17] Ibid.

 

[18] Bureau County Patriot May 19, 1862

 

[19] Kansas Historical Quarterly (Topeka) Winter, 1961,  “The letters of Peter Bryant, Jackson County Pioneer-Concluded,” Edited by Donald M. Murray & Robert M. Rodney. Peter Bryant to Aunt Melissa Dawes, Princeton, Nov. 10, 1854. 

 

[20] Ibid, Peter Bryant to brother Cullen Bryant, March 1, 1863.

 

[21] Magdol, p. 363.

 

[22] Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1874, from Burton C. Cook’s tribute to Lovejoy.

 

[23] Freehling, William W., The South vs. the South (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), p. xiv.

 

[24] Donald, p. 382.

 

[25] Ibid.

 

[26]  Ibid, Nov. 19, 1862.

 

[27]  Ibid.

 

[28]  Peoria Daily Transcript, Sept. 15, 1862.

 

[29]  Lusk, David W., Eighty Years of Illinois Anecdotes and Incidents, Politics and Politicians of Illinois, 1856-1884 (Springfield: H.W. Rokker, 1889), p.127.

 

[30] Pontiac Sentinel, Aug. 27, 1862.

 

[31] Magdol, p. 364.

 

[32] Peoria Daily Transcript,  Sept.18, 1862.

 

[33] Springfield Journal, Sept. 22, 1862. The full text of the speech at Peoria on Sept. 13, 1862 as reported in the Peoria Transcript. “The speaker next referred to the conduct of the war.  He said he was no faultfinder.  He was in favor of giving a cordial support to the President and his Generals and all who were engaged in the work of suppressing the rebellion.  He had confidence in Old Abe—believed in him ‘through and through,’ and what was more ‘up and down.’ When the ship is at sea in a storm it is no time to find fault with captain; our duty is to pull the ropes as he directs, and to man the pumps when he asks us.  We must let him steer the ship and direct her management.  Old Abe is Captain, and I am prepared, said the speaker, to pull the ropes just as he directs.

                On the emancipation question, Mr. Lovejoy defined himself.  He said he had quit agitating the question long ago, and in the last session Congress did his best to keep old brother Wickcliffe, of Kentucky, from spouting on it, but he did not succeed.  Believing, he said, that the wagon had got to the top of the hill; it would go down fast enough without any further aid.

                His individual opposition to slavery was in the present crisis subordinate to have love for the Union.  He indorsed (sic) President Lincoln’s letter to Horace Greeley.  If we could best save the Union by saving slavery, he said amen; if we could save it best by partially saving slavery, he said amen to that: if to save it it was thought necessary to destroy slavery, twenty amens to that.  The grand object of the war was the preservation of the Union and the constitution, and Emancipation, if adopted, would be only a means to that end.

                The speaker reviewed the position in which Slavery stood with regard to the rebellion, his views being precisely the as those urged by all loyal men not influenced by a love for the peculiar institution.  He showed the aid given the rebels by their slaves, and the great advantage of depriving them of their services.  The remainder of the speech was confined to an explanation of the provisions of the confiscation bill, and a defense of the justice of that measure.

 

[34] Peoria Daily Transcript, Sept. 15, 1862.

 

[35] Peoria Daily Transcript, Sept. 15, 1862

 

[36] Ibid.

 

[37] Hon. Joseph G. Cannon Address at the State convention in Springfield, October 1910 from an unidentified newspaper, Clements Library, University of Michigan, Owen Lovejoy Papers.

 

[38] Springfield Journal, Sept. 25, 1862.

 

[39] Magdol, p. 369.

 

[40]  Ibid.

 

[41]  Ibid. p. 370.

 

[42] Donald, p.381

 

[43]. Ibid.

 

[44] Geneseo Republic, Nov. 19, 1862.

 

[45]  Allen, Howard W., Illinois Elections, 1818-1990 (Carbondale: southern Illinois University Press, 1992) pp. 150-151.

 

[46] Geneseo Republic, Nov. 19, 1862.

 

[47] Ibid, Oct. 8, 1862

 

[48] Geneseo Union Advocate, Nov. 28, 1862.

 

[49] Geneseo Republic, Oct. 29, 1862.

 

[51] Cole, p. 279.

 

[52] Ibid, p. 259

 

[53] Not in Illinois which was controlled by Democratic legislature.

 

[54] Neeley, Mark E. Jr., The Abraham Lincoln Encyclopedia (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1982), p. 100.

 

[55] Geneseo Republic, Nov. 19, 1862.

 

[56] Magdol, p. 368.

 

[57] Springfield Journal, Sept. 22, 1862.

 

[58] Geneseo Union Advocate, Oct. 3, 1862.

 

[59]  Ibid.

 

[60]  The Peoria Daily Transcript, Nov. 20, 1862.

 

[61] A. Lincoln to John Howard Bryant, May 30, 1864, in Bureau County Republican, June 10, 1864.