Shelby Moore Cullom, First Republican Speaker
Illinois House of Representatives

Each day, hundreds of legislators, staff and visitors pass through the Illinois State Capitol building at 2nd and Monroe in Springfield. As they admire the architectural style and the rich history on display, they might want to take a moment to thank State Representative Shelby Moore Cullom (R-Springfield).

A newly-retired Congressman, Cullom came home to Springfield in 1871 amidst raging debate over the location of the “new” Capitol. The state had outgrown the building at 6th and Adams in Springfield and had begun preliminary work on a new building at 2nd and Monroe. But by 1871, a committee from Peoria had made such a strident case for moving the capitol to that city that work had stopped on the new statehouse. Concerned by the thought of losing the seat of state government, as Vandalia had a generation earlier, Springfield city leaders pleaded with Cullom to re-enter the world of politics and stand as a Republican candidate for the state House.

“I did not feel that I could disregard their wishes,” Cullom wrote in his autobiography Fifty Years of Public Service, “and so yielded to their demand; it was nothing less.”

Cullom and Rep. Milton Hay (R-Springfield) were both elected that fall. Where former Rep. Abraham Lincoln (R-Springfield) and the famous “Long Nine” legislators had fought so hard to move the Capitol to Springfield, Cullom and Hay brought such intensity to their desire to see the Capitol remain at 2nd and Monroe that the issue was soon dropped, and construction on today’s state house resumed.

Having first been elected Speaker of the Illinois House at the age of 31, riding into office on the coattails of Lincoln in 1860, Cullom was again chosen to preside over the House in 1873. After a term as Speaker and another as Minority Leader, Cullom was elected Governor in 1876, becoming the first Governor to preside over a Legislature in the current Capitol building when it opened in 1877.

“Only eleven years had elapsed since the close of the Civil War, and its after-effects still worked like an obnoxious ferment in the State’s political conditions,” Cullom wrote of the mood surrounding his inauguration.

In his inaugural address, Cullom set out his goal of reforming the state’s militia system, which had atrophied since the Civil War into just a few poorly-equipped and loosely-organized local companies. “A trained militia,” he said, “is an almost indispensable auxiliary to the civil power in the interests of peace and good order.”

Following Cullom’s lead, the General Assembly created the Illinois National Guard on May 18, 1877.

Cullom was elected to the U.S. Senate at the end of his term as Governor. He served in the Senate from 1883 until his death in 1914, becoming Dean of that body in 1911. Cullom served on the Foreign Relations committee during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt, when America started to become a force on the world stage. As Illinois’ senior senator, as well as a native of Springfield and personal friend of Abraham Lincoln, Cullom was the logical choice for Chairman and Resident Commissioner of the commission which designed the Lincoln Memorial in 1913. He died just two weeks before its dedication ceremony on Lincoln’s birthday in 1914.

Cullom looked back fondly on his time as Speaker. “I think I made more friends in the conduct of the office of Speaker during that term, than I ever did afterwards,” he wrote. “And in subsequent campaigns I was frequently gratified to find men, some of them Democrats, who had been in the Legislature with me at that time, working for me with a stronger zeal and earnestness because of the associations and intimate relations there formed and cemented.”

Having practiced law with Lincoln and run for office alongside him, having worked to secure the state Capitol building in Springfield as part of Lincoln’s legacy and led the design of the nation’s foremost monument to Lincoln, it was only fitting that Cullom was laid to rest just a short walk from Lincoln’s final resting place in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.