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Illinois History
A Historical Overview of Illinois from Native American Inhabitants
through World War II

© 2005 Rickie Lazzerini

Page 3

Historical Review 1.2   
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Antebellum Settlement Continues with the "Modernizers" (1830-1860)

     Frontier Illinois became the fastest growing region during the Antebellum period. In 1830, Illinois was home to some 25,000 families and was the 19th most populous state, and by 1860, it had grown to house 300,000 families and was hailed as the fourth most populous state in the union. It was during this time that Illinois began to draw more diverse settlers and this continued up until end of the century. Prior to the onset of southern and eastern European migration to the United States in the later part of the century, the makeup of Illinois' population looked like this:

Origin/Ethnicity of Population
Percentage of Population
Mid-West (U.S.)
Northeast (U.S.)
South (U.S.)

     This group of people came west to Illinois to better their lives and create a successful prairie community, which is how they became labeled by historians as "moderinzers", in contrast to the pioneers who came before them. This group of settlers introduced new modes of transportation and economy, as well as a restructured family life. Families downsized and adopted higher moral and educational standards for their children. They also changed the dynamics of the parental relationship by moving away from male superiority and into "separate spheres ideology," which was a division of labor. The father was the breadwinner, and the mother was the keeper of the house and children. This was also linked to the change from a subsistence farming economy, to a market economy. This "separate spheres idealogy" drew the man out of the home and into the job market, giving him the title of provider. The motivation of the modernizers drove them into a modern, capitalistic, economy that facilitated growth and attracted new settlers to the state. This Yankee-dominated, urban Illinois was more pronounced in the north and eventually polarized the state along north-south lines.

     The two primary groups of immigrants during this period were the Germans and the Irish. The Germans were drawn to both the cities and the rural areas between St. Louis, Springfield, and Chicago. The German immigrants were a more conservative lot; they were literate, hardworking and had strong, extended families. They were usually farmers and devoutly religious, usually of Catholic or Lutheran denomination. By the latter part of the century, Germans became the largest ethnic group in St. Louis and Chicago.

     The Irish also presented a large ethnic factor in Illinois. The Irish came to the America in flight of Ireland's potato famine and British repression. Flooding into Illinois in the 1840s and 1850s, the Irish mostly populated the larger cities, particularly Chicago, where men worked as low-pay-day-laborers and women worked as servants and laundresses. Many Irish worked on the railroads and on canal construction crews as well. The Irish immigrants, as a group, were not noteably wealthy, and what little money they did accumulate went toward churches, convents, and parochial schools. These immigrants were particularly involved in politics and most allied themselves with the Democrats. Irish pubs and saloons doubled as precinct headquarters, and by the mid 1850s, one-fifth of the elected and appointed government officials in Chicago were Irish.

Antebellum Politics and the Road to Civil War

     Many factors contributed to the outbreak of the American Civil War, including abolition, pro-slavery, and the Mexican War. The sectional strife and division the country felt at the time was mirrored in Illinois. Illinois was divided in two politically. Southerners with ties to slavery comprised much of the southern part of the state, while the northern portion of the state was inhabited primarily of folks from New England, the Northeast, and abroad, and carried more "free soil" and Whig ties.

     In 1833, Elijah P. Lovejoy introduced abolitionism to St. Louis when he started his newspaper, the Alton Observer. His unwelcomed presence in St. Louis eventually led to him being killed by an angry mob. His murderer went unpunished. The abolition movement carried greater success in the northern part of Illinois where anti-slavery societies were created and gained broad acceptance, and where the Liberty Party was organized in 1840.

     The Mexican War also stirred up sectional tension over the issue of the expanse of slavery. Many northerners were upset with President Polk's decision to go to war with Mexico for potential slave territory, while only weakly bargaining with Britain for northern, free territory. Militarily, Illinois participated in the Mexican War by sending regiments to fight. The Illinois First and Second Regiments, under Colonels Hardin and Bissell, fought at Buena Vista, and the Third and Fourth Regiments served at Vera Cruz and Cerro Gordo. Two additional regiments served in Texas as well. After the war, the nation was torn over the issue of whether the new territories should allow slavery or not, and Illinois was divided on that issue as well.

     In May of 1860, Abraham Lincoln was nominated for the presidency at the Republican National Convention held in Chicago, Illinois. Lincoln ran opposed by Stephen Douglas, a northern Democrat, John Bell of the Constitutional Union Party, and by John C. Breckenridge of the Southern Democratic Party. Lincoln rallied to victory claiming essentially no southern votes, detonating a string of secessions in southern states.

     Illinoisans actively participated in the war, and many lost their lives. A total of 250,000 Illinoisans fought in the war, and 5,857 were killed in action. Another 3,051 later died from their injuries. More Civil War soldiers died from disease than from anything else, including 19,934 Illinoisans. Illinoisans were enthusiastic about the war, and quotas were always filled voluntarily. When the Conscription Act took effect in 1863, Illinois men began being drafted, but volunteers continued to fill quotas. Various ethnic groups participated in the war and German and Irish regiments were formed. No battles were fought in Illinois, but guerilla warfare and raids penetrated state lines.

African Americans after the Civil War

     The conclusion of the Civil War and the passage of the 14th Amendment and the Reconstruction civil rights acts required Illinois to revoke the laws that prohibited African Americans from voting and serving on juries. Black children began to receive schooling alongside white children, and blacks began to gain access to state colleges. Although progress was forthcoming, the small population of blacks in the north made the progress slow going.

     Many African Americans came to Illinois after the war to work in the coal mines, often being recruited to replace white workers who were striking. Despite this, by the end of the century, African Americans were permitted to join the United Mine Workers.
By Rickie Lazzerini
Staff Historian
Kindred Trails Worldwide Genealogy Resources

BA History
University of California, Santa Barbara

Index of Historical Reviews

2005 Rickie Lazzerini, All Rights Reserved
This page may be freely linked to but may not be reproduced
in any form without prior written consent from the author.

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