History & Architecture

Community Capital

Although Springfield’s place as the Illinois State Capital dates from Illinois’ second decade of statehood, few people know how it became so. Today, most have heard the story of Abraham Lincoln and the Long Nine “log-rolling” bills through Illinois’ General Assembly. According to many, it was through their efforts that the 1836-1837 General Assembly ultimately moved the capital from Vandalia to Springfield. Many other Illinois towns even competed to be named the Capital City when Springfield was selected. Without, however, the encouragement given by Springfield’s business community to the Sangamon County Legislative Delegation and without the business leaders’ ability to raise money, Springfield might not have been victorious.

In 1820, the newly platted town of Vandalia was created by statute to serve as Illinois’ capital. The legislation creating the new capital held a provision that the state government was to remain at Vandalia for a minimum of twenty years before the issue of moving could be raised. But as early as 1833, state legislators were speaking out to move the capital elsewhere. During the 1832-1833 session of the General Assembly, a resolution was adopted to place a referendum on the 1834 state-wide ballot. Voters were asked to choose a new seat of government from a list of six options: Peoria, Jacksonville, Alton, Springfield, Vandalia, or a town to be created at the geographic center of the state. Citizens from towns in the running became actively involved in spirited campaigns hoping to successfully become the site for the relocation. Various cities issued public statements explaining the particular benefits their town offered state government. When the referendum votes were cast, Alton led with over 7500 votes, Vandalia finished in second with about 7150, and Springfield came in third with slightly more than 7000. Soon after the ballots were counted, it was discovered that an alarming number of voters never selected a location and, accordingly, the General Assembly never held the vote as binding. This failed attempt to select a new capital set the stage for the Sangamon County legislative delegation, the “Long Nine” and the Springfield’s boosters to pull together once again. Springfield would have another opportunity at securing the seat of Illinois government.

As anticipated, with Vandalia’s twenty years coming to a close, the issue of relocating the capitol came up again with the opening of the 1836-1837 session of the General Assembly. Interestingly, Sangamon County sent a rather large delegation to an “Internal Improvements Convention” scheduled to meet in Vandalia at the roughly the same time the General Assembly was to open the legislative session. While the convention delegates were appointed to encourage the legislature to adopt a system of canals and railroads for the state, one can imagine not a few delegates did some lobbying for the relocation of the capital to Springfield as well. The sixteen men from Sangamon County nominated as delegates to this convention were important figures to Springfield and the state as well as men who knew their way around the state government. [1] Five of these sixteen had previous experience serving the Illinois state government: Jesse B. Thomas Jr. had served as secretary of the state senate during the 1830 and 1832 sessions, was a elected state representative in 1834, and had even served one year as attorney general; John Todd Stuart served as a state representative during the 1832 and 1834 sessions; David Pricket served as a representative in the 1826 General Assembly and as clerk of the Illinois House since 1830; George Forquer had previously served as both Illinois Secretary of State and attorney general; Elijah Iles served as a state senator in the 1826 and 1830 session. Together with many of Springfield’s prominent merchants, these men could be counted upon to promote Springfield’s interests in Vandalia. In addition to promoting internal improvements, they probably talked to many a representative and senator about the possibility of bringing the capital to Springfield.

Once the legislative session began, both legislative chambers decided to settle the issue themselves and held a special joint session on February 28, 1837. At the special session, every legislator was to vote for the location of their choice, but balloting would continue until one single location received a majority of the votes cast.

Once the joint session was held, Springfield led on the first ballot with thirty-five votes, Vandalia and Peoria followed with sixteen votes each, Alton carried fifteen, Jacksonville fourteen, and another twenty-five votes were divided among various locations. Springfield’s early lead has been held by many to be the results of the Long Nine’s astute bargaining, or log-rolling. The Sangamon delegation promised their support for other infrastructure projects elsewhere in the state in order to garner votes from other legislators to see the capital moved to Springfield.

Three additional votes were held and, on the fourth and final ballot, Springfield received seventy-three of one hundred and eight votes cast. Only fifteen votes held out on this final ballot for Vandalia and Springfield was announced as the new capital of Illinois. Pursuant to the legislation, the move was to take place once Vandalia’s twenty year term was complete.

In order to sell the plan, the City of Springfield had already begun positioning itself as a more desirable place to conduct the state’s business. The town already had a public square, especially well suited as the future location of the new statehouse. The town board began undertaking fire safety preparedness, as well as street and building improvements. Thanks to another bill passed during the 1836-1837 legislative session, Springfield was also to be artfully located on the state’s network of rail roads.

Tucked away in the bill to move the capital from Vandalia was a provision that the new seat of government would need to contribute $50,000 to the cost of constructing a new statehouse. This particular provision was most likely a strategy used by legislators to keep “paper towns,” towns like the geographic center which existed only on plat maps (if at all), from the running. For the people of Springfield, then numbering about one thousand, this required raising an average of $50 from each man, woman, and child in town. All this in at a time when some of the nation’s best farm land could be purchased for dollars an acre. The business community of Springfield also needs to be commended for their commitment to meet this enormous obligation.

To accept the $50,000 commitment, fifty Springfield businessmen entered into a bond in March, 1837, each individually promising the obligation would be paid. Some of the signers were already conducting business on the public square and welcomed the possibility. Regardless of their residence or business address, everyone was keenly aware of the impact the relocation of the Illinois State Capital would have on the future development of the growing town of Springfield. The fifty included many of Springfield’s most prominent lawyers, merchants, doctors, and businessmen: Edward D. Baker [2] (law partner of Stephen T. Logan), Simeon Francis (publisher of the Sangamo Journal, predecessor of the Illinois State Journal-Register), P. C. Canedy [3] (druggist and town board member), Vigil Hickox (merchant), Ninian W. Edwards(member of the Long Nine and son of Governor Edwards), Gershom Jayne (Sangamon County’s first doctor), John Todd Stuart (state representative and future law partner of Abraham Lincoln), George Pasfield (town board member and land speculator), Seth Tinsley (Dry Goods Store Merchant), Erastus Wright (early settler and teacher), among others. [4] Elijah Iles, the first to establish a settlement store in the county seat of Sangamon, was the only signer from the settlers that plated the original old town. By this time his interests were not only in land development but also in filling rooms for his new American House Hotel, located on the southeast corner of 6th and Adams. Abraham Lincoln is noticeably missing from the bond signers; as a legislator from the village of New Salem what was then a much larger Sangamon County, he did not move to Springfield from New Salem until later that spring and would not have been considered someone to make the pledge.

The boldness of the pledge by the citizens of Springfield to contribute $50,000 to the cost of constructing a new State House should not be overlooked. The amount of money was significant, but it was not a gamble rather an investment since rewards would certainly follow if the Springfield boosters were successful. The ultimate relocation would make it possible to amass the required funds.

With the capital promised and a payment scheme laid out, Springfield began removing the courthouse then located on the public square in readiness for the relocation. On July 4, 1837, the capitol building cornerstone was laid in Springfield, Illinois. Although the State Capitol Building was not yet complete, state government functions were transferred to Springfield in 1839.

When the capital relocation bill was passed and Springfield was selected as the new capital in February, 1837, the Illinois economy was riding high and few people imagined the town of Springfield would have trouble meeting a $50,000 obligation. By the spring, when a national money crunch reached Illinois, things began to look differently. Illinois and the nation were soon deep into the Panic of 1837, an economic crisis akin to some of our worst recessions and depressions. All the while, Springfield was faced with a looming $50,000 obligation. Fortuitously for Springfield, someone saw to it that the total $50,000 obligation was divided into three payments and Springfield was given six months between payments.

Although many written Springfield histories claim some of these payments were made easily, it is doubtful those who paid the installments ever thought so. The first payment was made months after it was due and the money was raised through the sale of interest yielding bonds to Springfield investors. The second payment, although it was made on time in 1838, was paid for through a personal loan of $16,666.66 executed by 101 private Springfield citizens. This time, Abraham Lincoln, many of the original fifty bond signers, and numerous other Springfield citizens joined together in raising the required funds. [5] Over the next decade, the city of Springfield would issue additional batches of investment bonds, the proceeds of which went to repay these 101 citizens.

That same year, a special session of the General Assembly met for the first time in Springfield, convening in local churches. The twelfth General Assembly of the State of Illinois met in December, 1840, with both houses being able to occupy the new Springfield capitol, though much of what we now recognize as the Old State Capitol remained unfinished. Springfield was incorporated as a City in 1839.

The final payment, due in 1838, proved to be a much greater obstacle than any of the original fifty bonds signers could ever have imagined. No doubt due to the financial panic, Springfield missed the due date for the final installment. The Illinois state treasurer was eventually forced to file suit in an effort to recoup the final payment. For reasons unknown, the suit targeted Thomas Mather, president of the state bank and first signer of the original $50,000 bond, alone. Mather was ultimately held responsible for the payment, which he in turn made in depreciated securities.

Although the obligation was now paid, as far as the state of Illinois was concerned, a number of the original bond signers also took responsibility and entered into a gentleman’s agreement with Mather to pay their portion of the final installment. Among those who paid promptly were John Williams, Bennet Johnson, William Grimsley, Washington Iles, Benjamin Talbott, George Pasfield, Elijah Iles, Samuel H. Treat, P.C. Latham, William Butler, John Todd Stuart, Ninian W. Edwards, Thomas Houghan, Robert Irwin, P.C. Canedy, Bella C. Webster, Erastus Wright, and Virgil Hickox. The amount paid by each of the signers was to be based on the amount of property each owned in the city at the time of the relocation, although they could have just as easily required an even division of the remaining obligation among the 50 signers, approximately $334 a person. Because of this arrangement, many paid more than their equitable share, greatly reducing the amount others had to pay. The largest payments came from three signers, Elijah Iles, Ninian W. Edwards, and George Pasfield, who paid $1962, $967, and $932 respectively. Mather then sued the remaining signers for their portion of the obligation before the matter was finally settled in 1845, by which time Springfield had been the state capital for five years.

  1. The sixteen were: Elijah Iles, Jesse B. Thomas, Jr., John Todd Stuart, Stacy B. Opdyke, Robert Allen, William Craig, David Pricket, George Forquer, John Calhoun, John E. Canfield, John Taylor, Bella C. Webster, Col. Bradford, Thomas Mather, Wharton Ransdell, and A.G. Henry. back
  2. Edward D. Baker was the namesake of Lincoln’s son, Eddie. Baker was later elected U.S. representative from Illinois, state senator from Sangamon County, and U.S. Senator from Oregon. Baker served in the Black Hawk, Mexican, and Civil Wars, during the last of which he died in battle. back
  3. Peleg C. Canedy later served as President of Springfield’s town board and was part of the committee to receive Lincoln’s remains when returned to Springfield. back
  4. The first signers were: James Adams, Robert Allen, Edward D. Baker, James Bell, Nicholas Bryant, William Butler, Peleg C. Canedy, John Capps, Ephraim Darling, Ninian W. Edwards, Garret Elkin, Simeon Francis, James R. Gray, William P. Grimsley, Archer G. Herndon, Josephus Hewett, Virgil Hickox, Thomas Houghan, Elijah Iles, Washington Iles, Robert Irwin, Gershom Jayne, Bennet C. Johnson, Thomas Jones, Joseph Klein, Moses L. Knapp, James L. Lamb, Philip C. Latham, Thomas Mather, Mordecai Mobley, Thomas Moffett, Stacy B. Opdyke, George Pasfield, William Porter, David Pricket, Wharton Ransdell, Edmund Roberts, David Spear, John Todd Stuart, Benjamin Talbott, Francis Taylor, Jesse B. Thomas, Jr., Seth M. Tinsley, John Todd, Samuel H. Treat, Foley Vaughn, Bela C. Webster, Jonas Whitney, A. D. Wright, and Erastus Wright. back
  5. The 101 were: John Hay, Thomas Mather, Charles R. Matheny, Lemuel Higby, Thomas Houghan, William Butler, Joseph Thayer, David Prickett, Peleg C. Canedy, William Thornton, John Calhoun, Joseph Klein, Milford O. Reeves, Josiah Francis, Philip C. Latham, William P. Grimsley, Washington Iles, Anson G. Henry, William Wallace, Joel Johnson, Ninian W. Edwards, John B. Watson, Charles B. Francis, John Todd Stuart, Charles H. Ormsby, William S. Burch, Jonas Whitney, Moses Coffman, J. M. Shackleford, Erastus Wright, George Pasfield, Benjamin Ferguson, John Todd, Bela C. Webster, Benjamin Talbott Edward D. Baker, Seth M. Tinsley, Jesse Cormack, Abraham Lincoln, Ephraim Darling, Bennet C. Johnson, Garret Elkin, Jonathan Merriam, Thomas Moffett, John Capps, Ira Stanford, John F. Rague, Alexander Garrett, Charles Arnold, Simeon Francis, Gershom Jayne, John L. Turner, Nathaniel Hay, Thomas M. Neale, Joshua F. Amos, Robert Irwin, William G. Abrams, Sullivan Conant, Virgil Hickox, Dewey Whitney, And~ McClellan, George Trotter, Mordecai Mobley, Alexander Shields, Stephen T. Logan, Foley Vaughn, Archibald Trailor, Robert Allen, Abner Y. Ellis, C. C. Phelps, James R. Gray, N. A. Rankin, R. B. Zimmerman, James Adams, Samuel H. Treat, William Hall, Isaac S. Britton, Elijah Iles, James L. Lamb, William B. Powell, Henry F. Luckett, Moses L. Knapp, Francis C. Thornton, James P. Langford, C. M. Henkle Henry Carrigan, James W. Keyes, John M. Cabanis, William Porter, James Maxey, William H. Marsh, Zebulon P. Cabanis, Wharton Ransdell, E. G. Johns, Joshua S. Hobbs, Amos Camp, John G. Bergen, T. J. Goforth, B.S. Clement, Benjamin F. Jewett, and William M. Cowgill. back