Ward Room
Covering Chicago's nine political influencers

Illinois' First Abolitionist Wasn't Lincoln -- It Was An Alderman

View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Illinois' First Abolitionist Was A Chicago Alderman

The first abolitionist elected to public office in Illinois was not Abraham Lincoln. It was a Chicago alderman, Ira Miltmore, who won a seat on the City Council in 1844.

In the 1840s, abolition was still considered a radical notion, a far-out doctrine promoted by sects on the liberal religious fringe, such as Quakers and Unitarians. The few Illinoisans who favored freeing the slaves also favored deporting them to Africa -- they didn’t want a large population of free blacks in the United States. Up to the time he was elected president, Lincoln presented himself only as an opponent of extending slavery into territories where it did not exist. He refused to describe himself as an abolitionist.
 
In Illinois, the few who did describe themselves that way belonged to the Illinois Anti-Slavery Society, whose house organ, the Genius of Liberty, declared itself an “unflinching opponent of oppression in every form, and particularly slavery in the United States.”
 
However, the society was so generally unpopular that when its spokesman undertook a tour of Southern Illinois, he was banned from the Presbyterian Church in Alton and harassed by mobs in Manchester and Jerseyville. In 1840, the Liberty Party, which had been organized to oppose slavery, ran its first candidate for president. He received 160 votes in Illinois -- 47,000 fewer than Democrat Martin van Buren, who carried the state.
 
In 1844, the Liberty Party tried again -- and received 3,469 votes for president. The party also elected Miltmore. Chicago, which was primarily populated by settlers born in Upstate New York and New England, was one of the most anti-slavery sections of the state.
 
During the Civil War, Miltmore served as a captain in the Union Army, present at the capture of Vicksburg in 1863. The Liberty Party faded away as the anti-slavery feeling grew across the country, and its platform was adopted by larger parties -- the Free Soilers, who ran Van Buren for president in 1848, then the Whigs, and finally the Republicans. 
 
Illinois contributed more than any other state to the abolition of slavery -- and the movement started on the Chicago City Council.

Leave Comments