Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The 1830 Contest for Governor and the Politics of Resentment

Academic journal article Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society

The 1830 Contest for Governor and the Politics of Resentment

Article excerpt

On October 15, 1829, Lieutenant Governor of Illinois William Kinney sent a letter to Samuel D. Ingham, newly installed as Andrew Jackson's Secretary of Treasury. Kinney prayed that "the policy of the late [Adams] administration upon... public lands" be repudiated, for "the whole western country... disapproved" it. The new administration ought instead to encourage Congress to "reduce the price" of existing public lands; "to make donations of the public lands to actual settlers;" and "to make a final surrender of the lands to the states respectively in which they are situated." Knowing that these policies would be unpopular in Congress, Kinney supported his request with compelling evidence. He quoted a U.S. Marshall's census report on the number nationwide of "free taxable inhabitants which are not freeholders." The report revealed that approximately 140,000 heads of families in the nation's nine newest states were not freeholders; there were 9,000 such families, about half the total, in Illinois alone. Kinney concluded his letter: "When I consider the great number of poor people whose hearts would be gladdened by the adoption of a law in Congress to give donations to actual settlers, it creates in me an anxiety in favor of those measures which words cannot express."1

William Kinney was clearly taking land reform in the egalitarian tradition to heart. Since today we think of the "Age of Jackson" as epitomizing equality for white males, it is perhaps surprising to learn that Kinney's public lands proposal did not attract much attention in the 1830 contest for governor. The story of how "Governor Kinney" lost the contest is worth telling if only to explain how and why his egalitarian politics failed to take root in the state's rich Jacksonian loam. But Kinney's failure is also noteworthy because of the light it sheds on the American political system. It illuminates the system's structural bias against egalitarian policies. The bias is significant because it shaped how the Democratic Party developed in Illinois and nationally2

Called the "ultra Jackson" candidate for governor, Kinney announced his campaign for the office in the spring of 1829 well before the letter to Ingham. He had just returned from a triumphant visit to Washington, D.C.. He attended the Inauguration and met President Jackson several times. He was an "ultra" in the eyes of his opponent John Reynolds because he favored removal of Adams men from federal offices simply because they were Adams men. Jackson sent Kinney to deliver commissions in Boston; he came back more convinced than ever of "the necessity of removals... [for] the republicans had fought hard and had gained a great victory but if the old Federalists were left in office the same battle will have to be fought over again." Kinney told the president "if it was left to [me, I] would drive them all out as. . .a parcel of dogs out of a meat house." Jackson laughed, "hartily (sic) at this remark but made no reply." Kinney repeated the story gleefully as he traveled Illinois during the summer of 1829.

Yet one year later in June of 1830, whatever momentum Kinney's campaign once had was gone. In hindsight, the last of his steam was used to deliver a keynote speech in April. A large crowd of citizens had gathered at the statehouse to hear him defend himself. Over the next few weeks he proceeded to deliver the fiery oration from memory, sounding unctuous while sweating in the shade of the county seats. It was not surprising that Kinney grew hot and animated while defending his reputation from the "arrows of calumny." Heat and rhetoric rose together throughout that summer and everything converged on the August 2 poll. Nor was mudslinging new to an Illinois election. It was second nature for Kinney, a political veteran, former state senator, incumbent lieutenant governor, and selfproclaimed defender of "poor people." What was new was finding so prominent a devotee of Andrew Jackson on the defensive in a state gushing with support for Old Hickory. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.