Chapter 21

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The convention question--John Reynolds, My Own Times, Chicago, 1879, pp. 241-243. Back

Governor Coles expended all of his salary--In his letters home, Coles does not suggest that he has given any money at all to the cause. On the contrary, he seems to say that even with all of the income at his disposal, he can barely make ends meet. Owing to the depreciation of the paper of the State Bank of Illinois, he writes to his niece Rebecca, I do not in reality receive one half of my nominal salary--that is, I do not receive what is equivalent to $500, though I nominally receive $1000. But as my salary depreciates, in the same proportion my economy appreciates . . . The state of party feeling, and party contention, are alone enough to render the office [of Governor] disagreeable; but the want of competent means to live comfortably greatly increases it. It is very fortunate for me that my desires are so moderate, and my republican simplicity so great--else I should be driven into the vortex of debt or melancholy (Edward Coles to Rebecca E. Coles, Sept. 6, 1823, Historical Society of Pennsylvania). Rebecca E. Coles, born in 1802, was the daughter of Edward Coles' brother Walter. See also Edward Coles to Andrew Stevenson, April 7, 1824, Princeton University Library, for a similar description of Coles' financial condition.

It is perhaps understandable that Coles would be loathe to tell his pro-slavery family in Virginia precisely how great a sacrifice he was making to the cause. Besides, his money was financing activities that were secret. Had he bragged of donating money, someone might wonder just how the money was being spent.

In his 1844 autobiography Coles says directly, I purchased a newspaper press, contributed much to fill its columns, published several pamphlets, and in various other ways gave my money and time, and did everything in my power, both officially and individually, to prevent Illinois from being made a slave-holding state . . . Since there is no evidence that he sold land during this time (in fact in his letter to Stevenson he complains that his land could be sold only at a great loss), his only sources of income were his salary as governor and income from his farm, his city lots, and perhaps some small amount of interest on capital left over after he had made his unfortunate investments in real estate. If he did contribute his entire salary as governor to the anti-slavery cause, his contribution amounted to a large proportion of his income. Back

writing under the pseudonym--The articles signed "One of Many" can be found in manuscript in Coles' handwriting in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. See also "Edward Coles, Second Governor of Illinois--Correspondence with Rev. Thomas Lippincott," Journal of the Illinois Historical Society, vol. 3, no. 4 (January 1911) p. 62. Lippincott there also gives Coles credit for inspiring many articles that he did not personally write. His chief efficiency, Lippincott says, was, perhaps, in procuring and circulating, in pamphlet form mainly, any popular work on slavery that could be got by an extensive correspondence. His daily counsels and hints, however, to a little band of men in Edwardsville suggested and encouraged many an article which he saw not and knew not of until he saw it in print. (p. 61).

On the unseating of Hansen--Edwardsville Spectator, Feb. 15 and 22, 1823. Coles did subsequently try to get Hansen a federal job as Indian agent but failed, as there were no vacancies (John Calhoun to Edward Coles, Sept. 1, 1823, Princeton University Library). Back

The source of this story--See letter by Lippincott and editor's reply in the Illinois Intelligencer, June 28, 1823. See also the Republican Advocate, June 1, 1824, for a conventionist version of the story, in which it is alleged that $1400 was paid to Warren out of the state treasury. Warren's version of the story is as follows: [The anti-conventionists] also concerted measures to increase the circulation of the Edwardsville Spectator. For that purpose, the sum of $1000 was subscribed at once, to be paid over to the Editor of the Spectator, provided he would agree to supply them with it at half the subscription price; and they appointed a committee to call upon him with the proposition. It was accepted, though in the end it proved a loss, owing to the great depreciation of the currency (Editorial by Warren in The Free West, in Clarence Alvord, Governor Edward Coles, Illinois Historical Society Library, 1920, p. 316). The affair obviously raises the possibility that Pope gave Warren money to lay off Coles during the gubernatorial campaign (another instance of Warren suddenly and inexplicably switching sides), but there is no evidence that on that occasion Warren was bribed. Back

It has occurred to me--Edward Coles to Richard Flower, April 12, 1823, in Alvord, pp. 118-120. Back

But Coles' letter to Birkbeck--Edward Coles to Morris Birkbeck, April 12, 1823, in Alvord, pp. 143-147. Back

he wrote to his friend Biddle--Edward Coles to Nicholas Biddle, April 22, 1823, in Alvord, pp. 121-123. Back

Biddle wrote back--Nicholas Biddle to Edward Coles, May 20, 1823, in Alvord, p. 123. Back

On May 26 he wrote again--Washburne prints two letters from Biddle addressed to Coles, both dated May 26, 1823 (in Alvord, pp. 123-125). The explanatory material on p. 124 is confused; it is difficult to tell why there are two letters on the same date. But it seems that one was sent to Coles and the other was given to Vaux to send to Coles along with Vaux's first letter. The first paragraph of quoted material is from the letter Biddle gave to Vaux, while the second paragraph is from the letter Biddle sent directly to Coles. Back

The following day--Roberts Vaux to Edward Coles, May 27, 1823, in Alvord, pp. 125-127. Back

Roberts Vaux was born--Thomas Pettit, "Memoir of Roberts Vaux," Memoirs of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, vol. IV, part 1, Philadelphia, 1840. All of the information about Vaux's life, including the quote from Vaux, is taken from this memoir. Back

The benevolent sentiments you express--Edward Coles to Roberts Vaux, June 27, 1823, in Alvord, pp. 127-129. Back

Vaux answered on July 24--Roberts Vaux to Edward Coles, July 24, 1823, in Alvord, pp. 129-130. Back

Surely you recollect--John M. Peck to Hooper Warren, March 27, 1855, in Alvord, pp. 332-337. Back

The pamphlet you forwarded me--Edward Coles to Roberts Vaux, Dec. 11, 1823, in Alvord, pp. 133-134. Back

Coles writes Vaux--Edward Coles to Roberts Vaux, Jan. 1, 1824, Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Back

As soon as I arrived--Edward Coles to Mary Carter, March 15, 1823, University of Virginia Library. See also Edward Coles to John Coles III, April 5, 1823, Roberts Coles Collection. A description of the two dinners in Edwardsville can be found in the Illinois Intelligencer of March 15, 1823. The anti-convention dinner took place on March 5; the pro-convention dinner on March 6. Back

Soon as the news--John M. Peck to Hooper Warren, March 27, 1855, in Alvord, pp. 332-337. See Washburne in Alvord, pp. 138-139 for evidence that Peck himself was the man who served as secret liaison among the various county societies. See also the editorial by Warren in the Free West of May 3, 1855 in Alvord, pp. 337-338.

Rufus Babcock, the editor of Peck's journals, insists that Peck was not the liaison: But it is not true, he says, that he [Peck] traversed the State, under cover of his commission as a missionary and a Bible agent, but really as an emissary opposed to the proposed convention. He seems on the contrary to have prudently guarded his whole deportment, so as not to be obnoxious to censure in this respect (John M. Peck, Forty Years of Pioneer Life, ed. Rufus Babcock, Carbondale, 1965, p. 195). Merton Dillon agrees with Babcock, saying that Peck's letter to Warren, upon which my account is based, represents the faulty memory of an old man who desired to garner for himself some of the honors that were accorded to abolitionists in the 1850's. As evidence of this theory, Dillon presents only the fact that there is little independent evidence that Peck is telling the truth. The corroboration of Peck by Reynolds in My Own Times is suspect, Dillon says, because Peck helped Reynolds prepare his manuscript. Dillon points to Babcock's denial of Peck's involvement and Pease's sketch of Peck in the Dictionary of American Biography as evidence that skeptics, finding no corroborative evidence, have long discounted [Peck's] vast claims (Merton Dillon, "John Mason Peck: A Study of Historical Rationalization," Illinois State Historical Society Journal, vol. 50 (1957) 385-390).

On the contrary, as Paul Harrison points out in his introduction to Babcock's edition of Peck's journals, Pease did believe the Illinois tradition that Peck labored assiduously against a convention though no contemporary evidence of his activity appears. And Babcock, who disapproved strongly of mixing politics with religion, did not include entries from Peck's journal from the period of the convention struggle and deliberately minimized Peck's role in the affair (Peck, p. lxix). Since Peck says his role was secret, and since the only likely contemporary evidence other than hearsay is the missing section of Peck's journal, we are left only with Peck's letter to Warren, written thirty years after the fact, as evidence of Peck's activities during this period. I believe that Dillon is too quick to dismiss "Illinois tradition." In 1855 no one questioned Peck's story, perhaps because there had been enough smoke back in 1824 for most contemporaries to believe that there had been fire as well. Certainly Warren, who disliked Peck for his support of the Fugitive Slave Act, was not likely to have accepted Peck's claim to abolitionist glory without a murmur if he had not found it plausible. That Peck may have exaggerated the importance of his role is possible; that his letter to Warren was a fabrication is not likely. Coles, by the way, who was the only person in 1855 who could corroborate or deny the story Peck told about the recruitment of David Blackwell, says nothing to refute Peck on that or any other point. Back

Coles complained to his niece--Edward Coles to Mary Carter, March 15, 1823, University of Virginia Library. Back

The writer was in Edwardsville--John Peck to Hooper Warren, March 27, 1855, in Alvord, pp. 332-337. Back

David Blackwell, Esq., of Belleville--In an editorial in the Free West of Dec. 21, 1854 (in Alvord, p. 316), Warren states that David Blackwell was Robert Blackwell's brother. Robert Blackwell may have aided his brother to force out Berry and take over the newspaper (William H. Brown, An Historical Sketch of the Early Movement in Illinois for the Legalization of Slavery, Chicago, 1876, pp. 24-26). Back

Edward Coles

Chapter 21