Calhoun County

1934 History of Calhoun County

Chapter 11 ~ Calhoun County in Politics


The first election of any consequence in which the settlers of this county took part was the election of 1822, out of which grew the famous Hansen-Shaw election contest. This contested election attracted not only the interest of the state, but the nation, because of its connection with the slavery question. To Calhoun people it is even more interesting because John Shaw, one of the county's most influential citizens was involved in the contest.

On August 5, 1822, an election was held in Pike County (Calhoun was a part of Pike at the time) to elect a member to the General Assembly. All of the people who lived in the territory now called Calhoun had to vote at Coles Grove (now called Gilead). On the day of the election there was some difficulty about the election judges. Some of the people were opposed to some of the judges and had new ones appointed. The result was that there were two voting places at Coles Grove, and when the election was over two sets of returns were sent to the County Clerk of Pike County. If he accepted one set, it would mean John Shaw was elected, and if he accepted the other set, Nicholas Hansen, Shaw's opponent, would be elected.

The County Clerk chose the set favoring Nicholas Hansen and he was given the certificate of election. Shaw immediately contested the election, and one of the bitterest fights in Illinois history took place.

John Shaw presented much legal evidence to show that he had been elected fairly and that he was entitled to the seat. The House disregarded this evidence and decided upon Hansen, because they said Shaw had not notified him at an early enough date that he (Shaw) was going to contest the election. Chief Justice Reynolds of the Supreme Court of the State gave a decision on December 9, 1822 in which he favored the returns which were favorable to Hansen.

But historians have disagreed as to the reason why John Shaw was kept out of the Legislature and the seat given to Hansen. The Legislature was closely balanced at the time and there were two important questions to be voted upon. One was the re-election of Jesse B. Thomas to the United States Senate and the other was the calling of a convention to revise the constitution of the state. Governor Thomas Ford made the following statement about the election:

"Hansen would vote for Thomas, but Shaw would not; Shaw would vote for the convention, but Hansen would not. The slavery party had use for both of them, and determined to use one after the other. For this purpose they decided in favor of Hansen, admitted him to a seat, and with his vote, elected their United States Senator; and then toward the close of the session, by mere brute force and in the most barefaced manner, they reconsidered their former vote, turned Hansen out of his seat, and decided in favor of Shaw, and with his vote carried their resolution calling for a new convention."

The newspapers took up the fight of the men, and the factions hurled charges and counter charges at each other. The papers of other parts of the country were interested because the slavery question was involved. The convention question was finally put to a vote of the people of the state and the proposition was defeated by a vote of 6,640 to 4,972. This was the last organized attempt to introduce slavery into the state.

In 1824 the same two rivals, John Shaw and Nicholas Hansen were again candidates for the office as member of the General Assembly. According to the official vote Shaw received 165 votes and Hansen received but 83, yet Hensen was given the certificate of election. Shaw contested the election but the House of Representatives voted in favor of Hansen. In 1825 John Shaw and Levi Roberts were candidates for the office. Shaw received 118 votes to 112 for Roberts, but again the certificate of election was given to Shaw's opponent.

Between the years 1926 and 1840 Calhoun had no representatives in the General Assembly, but this was due to no fault of the people or any lack of interest on their part. Calhoun had been placed in the same election district with Greene County, and at that time there were about two thousand voters living in Greene County and only about two hundred in Calhoun.

By the year 1840, Greene County had been divided and the election district now contained Greene, Jersey, and Calhoun. John McDonald, who had been the Sheriff of Calhoun County, lost Greene County in the race for Representative, but carried Jersey and Calhoun by a large enough majority to give him the victory.

The Calhoun men who were elected to the General Assembly in the period that ended in 1860, were:

John McDonald, 1840-1842; 1842-1844; 1844-1846.
George Pattison, 1849-1850.
William D. Hamilton, 1850-1852.
Henry B Buckanan, 1852-1854.

In the elections to choose a man for the General Assembly, the politics of the candidate did not mean as much as it does today. The voters had an opportunity to meet the candidate personally and a man might run without saying what national political party he favored. But in the elections in which a president or governor was chosen, the party had more influence. To see the shift in the party affiliations it will be necessary to consider these contests.

The first presidential election in which the Calhoun people took part after their separation from Pike County was the election of 1828. In this election John Quincy Adams received 57 votes in the county to 42 votes for Andrew Jackson. By the next election Jackson had gained strength in the county and carried it over Henry Clay by a vote of 31 to 8.

In 1834, an election was held in all of the counties of the state to choose a location for the state capital. In the election, Alton received all of the 158 votes cast in Calhoun County. It was in this election that the people of the state voted to have the capital moved to Alton, but the Legislature later disregarded the vote of the people and chose Springfield, which had run third in the state vote.

In the election of 1836 Van Buren on the Democratic ticket received 48 votes while the candidate on the new Whig ticket received 53 votes. The Whig party gained strength in the county by the next election and in 1840 William Henry Harrison, their candidate, defeated Van Buren, the Democrat, by a vote of 213 to 133.

The Whig party lost their power by the election of 1844. The Democrat carried the county that year, and in every presidential election from 1844 down to 1920 the Democratic presidential candidate has carried the county.

In 1856, the new Republican party nominated Fremont for president. He received 70 votes in Calhoun, while Buckanan, the Democrat, received 391, and Fillmore, the American candidate, received 163.

Thus as the first period of Calhoun political history closes, we might say that the people took an active interest in politics and were fairly successful in obtaining representation in the General Assembly considering the fact that they were usually in the same senatorial district with counties that had a larger population, which fact would give the candidates from these larger counties an advantage.


To understand the feeling of the Calhoun people toward the Civil War is somewhat difficult due to the fact that no newspapers were being published in the county at that time, and because most of the available writings of Calhoun residents living at that time mention little about the conflict.

In the first place there were never any slaves in the county at any time, although a few free negroes did live in the county as early as 1840. In 1848, the people of the state voted on a clause of the new constitution which would have prohibited slave owners from bringing slaves to the state and then setting them free. The clause carried in the state by a 5 to 2 majority, and in Calhoun by a 30 to 1 majority. This would lead us to believe that the people of Calhoun were more opposed to having negroes in Illinois that the other people in the state. But we can not be certain about their, attitude toward slavery in the south.

The election of 1860 does not clear up the matter because of the advantage that Stephen A. Douglas had over Abraham Lincoln in so far as Calhoun County was concerned. Douglas had served for a number of terms as Congressman from the district of which Calhoun was a part, and was acquainted with many of the people and the political leaders of the county. Then, too, Douglas was with the party that had carried the county in several presidential elections previous to 1860, and had built up an organization that surpasses that of the new Republican party. The vote in this election was:

Douglas (Democrat), 668 votes.
Lincoln (Republican), 269 votes.
Bell (Union), 66 votes.
Breckinridge, 00 votes.

When the Civil War broke out there were many men from the county that went to join the Union army, but there were others who sympathized with the South. In 1903, C. C Squiers, one of the oldest men in the county at that time, wrote an account of conditions during the war. Mr. Squiers said, in part:

"The name of copperhead was given to those that aided and abetted the southern cause, by discouraging enlistments, and writing to the soldiers in the army to desert, aiding materially the southern cause by giving such news and comfort to the enemy of the Union as would encourage and prolong the struggle. Such, I claim, is a fair description of the men that merited the name of copperhead in Calhoun during the four years of our late war of the rebellion. The bushwacker or guerilla, while professing to be a Democrat and a southern sympathizer, was in reality a highwayman, and in the stealing and robbing business for the booty there was in it, rather than for love of country or the love of principle. As evidence of their brigandism they came over from Missouri and made raids in Calhoun in which they would steal horses, rob houses of money, blanket, quilts, wearing apparel, and provisions, regardless of the politics of the citizen they robbed. So this last character was considered an outlaw. When one of these raids had been committed, which was always at night, the citizens would gather the next day and hunt them down."

Another writer in speaking of Calhoun at the time of the Civil War, said:

"Her position was peculiarly favorable to the numerous criminal element of the then doubtful Missouri. Her isolated bluffs made a capital place for the bushwackers and horse-thieves. The main stage of operations was at the village of Hamburg."

The war and the bushwackers did not seem to have had much effect upon the election of 1864. The county was carried by General George B. McClellan, Democratic candidate, over Abraham Lincoln, the Union or Republican candidate, by a vote of 562 to 311. In light of the facts mentioned concerning their attitude toward the war, and also because Lincoln was an Illinois man, one might have expected him to carry the county, but such was not the case.

The following table will show the superior strength of the Democratic Party in the Presidential elections in Calhoun County:

1868 Votes
Seymour (D) 702
Grant (R) 393

1872 Votes
Greeley (D) 580
Grant (R) 426

1876 Votes
Tilden (D) 900
Hayes (R) 411

1880 Votes
Hancock (D) 505
Garfield (R) 505
Weaver (Greenback) 22

1884 Votes
Cleveland (D) 757
Blaine (R) 524

1888 Votes
Cleveland (D) 939
Harrison (R) 589

1892 Votes
Cleveland (D) 840
Harrison (R) 563
Weaver (People's) 146

1896 Votes
Bryan (D) 1162
McKinley (R) 795
Levering (Proh) 9

1900 Votes
Bryan (D) 1175
McKinley (R) 873
Wooley (Proh) 23

1904 Votes
Parker (D) 815
Roosevelt (R) 730
Swallow (Proh) 154

1908 Votes
Bryan (D) 905
Taft (R) 735
Chafin (Proh) 64

1912 Votes
Wilson (D) 602
Taft (R) 375
Roosevelt (Prog) 154

1916 Votes
Wilson (D) 1181
Hughes (R) 1168

1920 Votes
Harding (R) 1367
Cox (D) 703

1924 Votes
Coolidge (R) 1136
Davis (D) 1115

1928 Votes
Hoover (R) 1594
Smith (D) 1551
Thomah (Soc) 31

1932 Votes
Roosevelt (D) 2229
Hoover (R) 1239
Thomas (Soc) 29
Reynolds (Soc-Lab) 4
Upham (Proh) 3

In the period of 1864 to 1902, Calhoun was well represented in the General Assembly. They were represented in nearly every session while in the 36th Assembly, two Calhoun men were serving. The Calhoun men who served in the General Assembly after 1860, were:

John McDonald, 1864-1866 24th Assembly
Thos. B. Fuller, 1868-1870 26th Assembly
Stephen G. Lewis, 1872-1874 28th Assembly
Jos. S. Harvey, 1874-1876 29th Assembly
R. J. Hall, 1876-1878 30th Assembly
Jas. H. Pleasant, 1878-1880 31st Assembly
F. M, Greathouse, 1882-1884, Democrat 33rd Assembly
Peter C. Barry, 1884-1886, Democrat 34th Assembly
John McNabb, 1886-1888, Democrat 35th Assembly
John McDonald, 1888-1890, Democrat 36th Assembly
George B. Childs, 1890-1890, Republican....36th Assembly
Ernest Meyer, 1890-1892, Democrat 37th Assembly
Ernest Meyer, 1892-1893, Democrat 38th Assembly
William Mortland, 1893-1894, Democrat....38th Assembly
Chas. L Wood, 1896-1898, Republican 40th Assembly
George L. Aderton, 1900-1902, Republican..42nd Assembly
Thos. D. Bare, 1904-1906, Republican Senate
Thos, D. Bare, 1906-1908, Republican Senate

In 1900, Thomas Jefferson Selby, the State's Attorney of Calhoun, was elected to the United States House of Representatives. He served one term, and he had the distinction of being the only Calhoun man to serve as a member of Congress. He was also the last man to represent the old Sixteenth Congressional District. In 1902 Calhoun was placed in the Twentieth District and Henry T. Rainey of Carrollton was elected as the Representative. After his term in Congress, Mr. Selby returned to his home in Hardin, was elected State's Attorney, and continued to serve in that office until his death in 1917.

From the standpoint of local elections, Calhoun has usually been Democratic since the Civil War. Occasionally a Republican would be elected, but it would be the exception. A prominent attorney of Hardin, in the early days, was said to have advised a new voter in this manner: "Young man, when you vote, always vote the Republican ticket, but if you run for office, run on the Democratic ticket." In the election of 1920, the Republican Party captured most of the county offices, but in the election of 1928 the Democrats again gained a majority of the county offices. The results of the elections of 1930 and 1932 show that the Democrats have an advantage of 150 to 300 votes in the county elections.


A great influence in politics that is sometimes overlooked is that of the newspaper. The first newspaper to be established in Hardin was the "Calhoun County Union", the first issue appeared about April 1, 1861 with Josiah Woodward as editor. The paper was still being published in 1862, but we have no record of how long publication continued.

In 1870, the "Independent", a Democratic paper, was established in Hardin. Since two other papers were started soon after this date, it is likely that this paper lasted but a short time.

The "Calhoun County Democrat" was established in 1871 and continued until 1876. Albert G. Ansell was the editor and publisher. It was a Republican paper.

The "Calhoun Herald" was started in 1872 by a stock company, with John Lammy as editor. In 1876 the plant was sold to Argust and Keating, and in 1879 Greathouse and Argust were the editors and publishers. James McNabb was the editor from 1880 to 1886. He sold the paper to T. J. Selby, who served as editor until 1890. From 1890 to 1894 John D. Rose was the editor and publisher. H. M. Cornick was in charge of the paper in 1894 and 1895. Charles Lamar was the editor from 1895 to 1902. H, M. Cornich, publisher of the "Calhoun Times", established in 1901, bought the "Herald" and combined the papers as the "Calhoun Herald-Times". In 1903 Charles Lamar bought the entire plant, changed the name back to "Calhoun Herald" and continued as editor and publisher. After Mr. Lamar's death in 1930, the "Herald" was taken over by his son, C. Fred Lamar, who is the editor and publisher at the present time. The "Herald" is a Democratic paper.

In 1894, Thomas D. Bare purchased the "Calhoun Leader", which had been established sometime before in Hardin. He continued to edit this paper until 1898, when he sold it. In 1901, George B. Childs and Mr. Bare established the "Calhoun Republican". In 1902, Bare purchased his partner's interest and continued to edit the paper until about 1910. The paper was taken over by a stock company and Charles Temple acted as the editor until it was discontinued in 1915.

On the first day of April, 1915, the first issue of the "Calhoun News" appeared. The editors and publishers were G. C. Campbell and A. B. Greathouse. The News is an Independent paper.

All of the papers that have been mentioned were published in Hardin, the county seat. Several other newspapers were started in other towns in the county, but most of them lasted but a short time. One of the most successful of these was the Batchtown "Pilot", which was started in 1880 by John J. Smith. In 1891, he was still publishing the paper.

Papers were also established in Kampsville, Hamburg and Brussels. None of these gained a wide circulation and were soon abandoned.

As will be noticed in the accounts of the different papers, the ownership of the paper frequently changed, and none of the men who served as editors in the early days were men who had been trained in the newspaper work. Most of them were men who had taught school for awhile or had held some political office and then decided to try their hand at newspaper work. Since most of the men were interested in politics, they devoted a considerable part of their paper to political discussion. The political editorial that is now found in the city papers was then found in the county papers. This did much to educate the people on public questions and the attacks of the editors of opposing parties did much to keep the county officials of the times from using their offices as a means for personal gain.

Extracted 20 May 2017 by Norma Hass from History of Calhoun County, pages 76-82.

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