Belleville, Ottawa, and Galesburg: Community and Democracy on the Illinois Frontier

Synopsis

Because Illinois stood at the center of the changes wrought by the national evolution from an agrarian to an industrial society, the history of the state's settlement, Carr argues, serves as an excellent laboratory in which to observe the momentous transformations of the time. With a few notable exceptions, however, historians have essentially ignored the social history of Illinois during that crucial period. Filling this gap, Carr examines the development of community social and political structures in Belleville, Ottawa, and Galesburg. Although they shared common problems, the people of these three towns chose different paths toward their eventual community development. Because Belleville's German population was divided on political, religious, and social grounds, its people eventually established a local political system relying on competitive democratic decision making to take them into the industrial age. In Galesburg, the dominant Yankee elite maintained control of local politics during that period; eventually, they joined with the Swedes to exclude the Irish from participation in a community that stressed cooperative decision making. In Ottawa, the initial Yankee developers joined with savvy Irish leaders to establish a political system that was both competitive and cooperative. Belleville's extreme political competitiveness and Galesburg's extreme political cooperation were the unusual cases. Ottawa's reaction to the challenges of American society during this period, Carr contends, was the more usual, reflecting the way many communities developed.