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Richard Yates

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Governor of Illinois, 1861-1865.
Francis A. Hoffman, Lieutenant Governor.


Richard Yates, Civil War Governor of Illinois, was born in Warsaw, Kentucky, January 18, 1815. In 1831 he accompanied his father to Illinois, the family settling first at Springfield and later at Berlin, Sangamon County. He soon after entered Illinois College from which he graduated in 1835, and subsequently read law with Col. John J. Hardin at Jacksonville, which thereafter was his home. On July 11, 1839, he was married to Miss Catherine Geers of Jacksonville.

In 1842 he was elected Representative in the Illinois General Assembly from Morgan County, and was re-elected in 1844, and again in 1848. In 1850 he was candidate for Congress from the Seventh Illinois District and elected over Major Thomas L. Harris, the previous incumbent, being the only Whig Representative in the Thirty-second Congress from Illinois. Two years later he was re-elected over John Calhoun, but was defeated in 1854, by his old opponent, Harris. He was one of the most vigorous opponents of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill in the Thirty-third Congress, and an early and earnest supporter of the movement for the organization of a new political party to resist the further extension of slavery. He was a member of the Bloomington Convention of 1856 and was one of the vice-presidents of that body.

In 1860 he was elected Governor of Illinois on the ticket headed by Abraham Lincoln for the presidency, and, by his energetic support of the National Administration in the measures for the suppression of the Rebellion, won the sobriquet of "the Illinois War Governor." In 1865 he was elected United States Senator, serving until 1871. He died suddenly in St. Louis, November 27, 1873.

He is buried in Diamond Grove Cemetery, Jacksonville, Ills. A sketch of the life and services of Governor Yates by his lifelong friend Dr. William Jayne is published in the Transactions of the Illinois State Historical Society for 1902.


Source: "The Governors of Illinois, 1818-1918"; Issued by the Illinois Centennial Commission



RICHARD YATES — 1861-1865.


RICHARD YATES, the thirteenth governor of Illinois, was a native of Kentucky. He was born on the banks of the Ohio River at Warsaw, Gallatin Co., Ky., January 18, 1818. His father moved to Sangamon County, Illinois, in 1831. Richard Yates attended school at Illinois College, Jacksonville, and there imbibed the strong doctrine of individual rights to liberty which was taught by the staunch patriots who formed the faculty. He graduated in 1837, with first honors. He studied law, and, gifted as he was with fluent and ready speech, he soon became a favorite in political meetings. He was an ardent admirer of Henry Clay and as such became a strong advocate of the Whig doctrine.

The exciting campaign for Harrison and Tyler received his earnest support. Two years later he was elected to the Legislature from Morgan County, although it was a stronghold of the Democrats. He served his state until, in 1850, his large Congressional district sent him to Congress. He was returned and at this second term in Congress that the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, which he earnestly opposed, brought him into identification with the rising Republican Party. This lessened his popularity in his district, which was strongly Democratic.

The Republican State Convention which met at Decatur, May 9, 1860, nominated Richard Yates for governor, and he was duly elected.

The ensuing four years were serious years in every state. The life struggle of the nation turned upon the loyalty of the states. Gov. Yates realized the situation, and was firm in upholding the government, wise in using his popularity to lead the people of the state, and, withal, well deserved the title of the “Soldiers’ Friend.” Immediately after the battle of Shiloh he, himself, went to the battlefield and cared for the wounded and disabled, arranging comforts for them and bringing them by boatloads to hastily-established hospitals in the North. His special message in 1863 to the Democratic Legislature, pleading for material aid for the sick and wounded Illinois soldiers, was a masterpiece of noble sentiment expressed in a most tactful way.

Gov. Yates was deservedly popular. He was erect and symmetrical in person, always winning friends because of his pre-possessing appearance and magnetic nature, together with his scholarly and captivating manner of speaking. His hearers could never tell why they were transported, but such was always the case. He was social and convivial. In March, 1873, Gov. Yates was appointed government director of the United Pacific Railroad in which office he continued until his death in St. Louis, Mo., the 27th day of the following November.

Illinois has the distinction of sending the first volunteer soldier to the Civil War. This was George Wheeler, who enlisted at Elgin. The entire number of soldiers from the state reached about 200,000.

The administration of Gov. Yates was marked with few events of local civil character although there were many partisan quarrels of great bitterness. The Knights of the Golden Circle gave much annoyance. Another source of anxiety was the riot in Fulton County. Again there was the attempted suppression of the Chicago Times and the usurping State Constitutional Convention.

In 1863, Gov. Yates astonished the Democrats by proroguing their Legislature. This body after a recess met June 2, and began wasting time upon various partisan resolutions. While the two houses were disagreeing upon the question of adjourning sine die, the governor took advantage of his authority and adjourned them to the “Saturday next preceding the first Monday in January, 1865." The supreme court sustained his action.

The death of Stephen A. Douglas, June 3, 1861, in Chicago, comes within this administration. John A. Logan resigned his seat in Congress in August, 1861, to take a regiment into battle. There was no more brave nor beloved man in the whole army than Gen. Logan. U. S. Grant took command at Cairo, Sept. 4, 1861. During the autumn of 1864, a conspiracy for the liberating of the prisoners of war at Camp Douglas, the burning of the city, and the inauguration of rebellion in the north was discovered and punished.


Source: Decisive Dates in Illinois History, A Story of the State, By Lottie B. Jones. Danville, Illinois: Illinois Printing Company, 1909.

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