Thomas Carlin, the sixth Governor of the State of Illinois, serving from 1838 to 1842, was also a Kentuckian, being born near Frankford, that State, July 18, 1789, of Irish paternity. The opportunities for an education being very meager in his native place, he, on approaching years of judgment and maturity, applied himself to those branches of learning that seemed most important, and thus became a self-made made; and his taste for reading and study remained with him through life. In 1803 his father removed to Missouri, then a part of “New Spain,” where he died in 1810.
In 1812 young Carlin came to Illinois and participated in all the “ranging” service incident to the war of that period, proving himself a soldier of undaunted bravery. In 1814 he married Rebecca Huitt, and lived for four years on the bank of the Mississippi River, opposite the mouth of the Missouri, where he followed farming, and then removed to Greene County. He located the town site of Carrollton, in that county, and in 1825 made a liberal donation of land for county building purposes. He was the first Sheriff of that county after its separate organization, and afterward was twice elected, as a Jackson Democrat, to the Illinois Senate. In the Black Hawk War he commanded a spy battalion, a post of considerable danger. In 1834 he was appointed by President Jackson to the position of Receiver of Public Moneys, and to fulfill the office more conveniently he removed to the city of Quincy.
While, in 1838, the unwieldy internal improvement system of the State was in full operation, with all its expensive machinery, amidst bank suspensions throughout the United States, a great stringency in the money market everywhere, and Illinois bonds forced to sale at a heavy discount, and the “hardest times” existing that the people of the Prairie State ever saw, the general election of State officers was approaching. Discreet men who had cherished the hope of a speedy subsidence of the public infatuation, met with disappointment. A Governor and Legislature were to be elected, and these were now looked forward to for a repeal of the ruinous State policy. But the grand scheme had not yet lost its dazzling influence upon the minds of the people. Time and experience had not yet fully demonstrated its utter absurdity. Hence the question of arresting its career of profligate expenditures did not become a leading one with the dominant party during the campaign, and most of the old members of the Legislature were returned at this election.
Under these circumstances the Democrats, in State Convention assembled, nominated Mr. Carlin for the office of Governor, and S. H. Anderson for Lieutenant Governor, while the Whigs nominated Cyrus Edwards, brother of Ninian Edwards, formerly Governor, and W. H. Davidson. Edwards came out strongly for a continuance of the State policy, while Carlin remained non-committal. This was the first time that the two main political parties in this State were unembarrassed by any third party in the field. The result of the election was: Carlin, 35,573; Anderson, 30,335; Edwards, 29,629; and Davidson, 28,715.
Upon the meeting of the subsequent Legislature (1839), the retiring Governor (Duncan) in his message spoke in emphatic terms of the impolicy of the internal improvement system, presaging the evils threatened, and urged that body to do their utmost to correct the great error; yet, on the contrary, the Legislature not only decided to continue the policy but also added to its burden by voting more appropriations and ordering more improvements. Although the money market was still stringent, a further loan of $4,000,000 was ordered for the Illinois & Michigan Canal alone. Chicago at that time began to loom up and promise to be an important city, even the great emporium of the West, as it has since indeed came to be. Ex-Gov. Reynolds, an incompetent financier, was commissioned to effect the loan, and accordingly hastened to the East on this responsible errand, and negotiated the loans, at considerable sacrifice to the State. Besides this embarrassment to Carlin’s administration, the Legislature also declared that he had no authority to appoint a Secretary of State until a vacancy existed, and a. P. Field, a Whig, who had already held the post by appointment through three administrations, was determined to keep the place a while longer, in spite of Gov. Carlin’s preferences. The course of the Legislature in this regard, however, was finally sustained by the Supreme Court, in a quo warranto case brought up before it by John A. McClernand, whom the Governor had nominated for the office. Thereupon that dignified body was denounced as a “Whig Court!” endeavoring to establish the principle of life-tenure of office.
A new law was adopted re-organizing the Judiciary, and under it five additional Supreme Judges were elected by the Legislature, namely, Thomas Ford (afterward Governor), Sidney Breese, Walter B. Scates, Samuel H. Treat and Stephen A. Douglas—all Democrats.
It was during Gov. Carlin’s administration that the noisy campaign of “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” occurred, resulting in a Whig victory. This, however, did not affect Illinois politics very seriously.
Another prominent event in the West during Gov. Carlin’s term of office was the excitement caused by the Mormons and their removal from Independence, Mo., to Nauvoo, Ill., in 1840. At the same time they began to figure somewhat in State politics. On account of their believing—as they thought, according to the New Testament—that they should have “all things common,” and that consequently “all the earth” and all that is upon it were the “Lord’s” and therefore the property of his “saints,” they were suspected, and correctly, too, of committing many of the deeds of larceny, robbery, etc., that were so rife throughout this country in those days. Hence a feeling of violence grew up between the Mormons and “anti-Mormons.” In the State of Missouri the Mormons always supported the Democracy until they were driven out by the Democratic government, when they turned their support to the Whigs. They were becoming numerous, and in the Legislature of 1840-1, therefore, it became a matter of great interest with both parties to conciliate these people. Through the agency of one John C. Bennett, a scamp, the Mormons succeeded in rushing through the Legislature (both parties not daring to oppose) a charter for the city of Nauvoo which virtually erected a hierarchy co-ordinate with the Federal Government itself. In the fall of 1841 the Governor of Missouri made a demand upon Gov. Carlin for the body of Joe Smith, the Mormon leader, as a fugitive from justice. Gov. Carlin issued the writ, but for some reason it was returned unserved. It was again issued in 1842, and Smith was arrested, but was either rescued by his followers or discharged by the municipal court on a writ of habeas corpus.
In December, 1841, the Democratic Convention nominated Adam W. Snyder, of Belleville, for Governor. As he had been, as a member of the Legislature, rather friendly to the Mormons, the latter naturally turned their support to the Democratic party. The next spring the Whigs nominated Ex-Gov. Duncan for the same office. In the meantime the Mormons began to grow more odious to the masses of the people, and the comparative prospects of the respective parties for success became very problematical. Mr. Snyder died in May, and Thomas Ford, a Supreme Judge, was substituted as a candidate, and was elected.
At the close of his gubernatorial term, Mr. Carlin removed back to his old home at Carrollton, where he spent the remainder of his life, as before his elevation to office, in agricultural pursuits. In 1849 he served out the unexpired term of J. D. Fry in the Illinois House of Representatives, and died Feb. 4, 1852, at his residence at Carrollton, leaving a wife and seven children.
Source: “Portrait and Biographical Album of Champaign County, Illinois,” Chapman Brothers, Chicago, 1887.