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Extension of slavery


Lincoln home national historic site
Lincoln home national historic site

On the eve of the Civil War (1861-1865) the extension of slavery to new territories and states was the major issue confronting Illinoisans. Many settlers in southern Illinois had migrated from the South and strongly sympathized with the proslavery cause. Northern Illinois, however, was inhabited mainly by antislavery settlers who had migrated there from Northeastern states.

Newspaper editor Elijah P. Lovejoy, a supporter of the elimination, or abolition, of slavery, had earned the hatred of proslavery supporters in St. Louis, Missouri, by writing antislavery editorials, and in 1836 he was forced to move his presses to Alton, Illinois, where he published the Alton Observer. Although his presses were destroyed three times by proslavery mobs, Lovejoy continued to attack slavery and urged the formation of a state abolition society. When his presses were again attacked on November 7, 1837, Lovejoy was shot and killed while trying to defend them. His death stimulated the growth of the abolitionist movement throughout the country.

In 1858 nationwide attention again focused on Illinois when the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Abraham Lincoln, and his Democratic opponent, Stephen A. Douglas, debated the extension of slavery into free territories in a series of seven debates across the state. Douglas, infuriating Southern voters, argued in Freeport, Illinois, that slavery could be prohibited in a territory by the voters of that territory. Lincoln countered, arguing that the Dred Scott case of 1857, in which Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney had asserted that slaves had always been property, opened the possibility that the federal government could force slavery upon nonslaveholding states.

Douglas won the senatorial election, but Lincoln gained a large following across the North, leading to his nomination for president in 1860. With the support of all the nonslaveholding states except New Jersey, Lincoln won the election. Soon afterward the slave states seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy, beginning the Civil War.

An overwhelming majority of Illinoisans supported the Lincoln Administration in the Civil War. The fighting never reached Illinois, but more than 250,000 men from the state served in the Union Army, including the famous general (and later president) Ulysses S. Grant, who had moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Galena, Illinois, in 1860. In the southern part of the state, some Illinoisans who sympathized with the South created a short-lived movement to found a separate state allied with the Confederacy later in the war, and secret societies opposed to continuing the war also flourished in Illinois. In the presidential election of 1864 Illinois again voted for Lincoln, and the Republicans also gained control of the state legislature. On February 1, 1865, near the end of the war, Illinois became the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which abolished slavery. "Illinois" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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