A trip around the rotunda

On session days, the Illinois Capitol is a crowded place to be. While either house is in session, members of the public tend to gather outside the chamber doors around the rail surrounding the third floor rotunda. Looking up, or down, a visitor to the Capitol has the chance to see statues of some of the towering figures of Illinois government.

Here is a quick jaunt around the center of the Capitol building to explore some of the stories of the figures depicted in the statues that line the 2nd floor and which tower above the center of the Capitol’s rotunda.

The statues which rise above the rotunda on pedestals anchored on the building’s 3rd floor depict the great figures of Illinois’ early days. These statues encircle the rotunda, beginning with those which flank the doors to the House chamber: Generals Ulysses S. Grant and John A. Logan.

Ulysses S. Grant
Each of these statues carries a plaque which is indicative of the post-Civil War period in which it was placed. Logan’s plaque reads “General of Volunteers and U.S. Senator,” while Grant’s says “General of the Armies and President of the United States,” reflecting the era’s tendency to recognize military rank before elected office. Logan, the man credited with saving Southern Illinois for the Union with a fiery 1861 speech in Marion, later led Illinois troops in combat throughout the western theater of the Civil War. He also represented Illinois in Washington as a Congressman and a U.S. Senator. Grant rose from a low-paid mustering clerk to taking command of the entire Union Army and leading it to the long-awaited victory. He then served two terms in the White House.

Moving to the right we come to Congressman William R. Morrison. Morrison was a veteran of the war with Mexico who also served in the Illinois House, including a term as Speaker in the 1859-60 session. When the Civil War broke out, Morrison was Colonel of the 49thIllinois Volunteer Infantry. He was wounded at Fort Donelson, Tennessee, early in the war. While still serving in the Army he was elected to Congress in 1862. He lost a bid for a second term in 1864, but was successful in 1872 and served another 14 years in Washington. He was appointed to the Interstate Commerce Commission by President Cleveland and re-appointed by President Harrison, eventually becoming chairman. Congressman Morrison died in 1909.

Ninian Edwards
A statue of Governor Ninian Edwards stands to the right of Morrison. Edwards started his career in Kentucky, where he was a judge and eventually chief justice of the Kentucky Supreme Court before being named Governor of the Illinois territory. He held that post for the entirety of Illinois’ nine years as a territory. Upon statehood, Edwards was appointed to the U.S. Senate, where he served for six years. He returned to Illinois as Governor from 1826-30. When he died in 1833 he was buried in his hometown of Belleville, but was subsequently re-interred in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield in 1855, which ten years later became the final resting place of Abraham Lincoln.

Shadrach Bond was the first Governor of Illinois, and the only one to take the oath of office in the state’s first capital city of Kaskaskia. He had previously served as the Illinois Territory’s delegate in Congress. As the state’s first governor he faced the critical task of establishing a state government and setting it upon the right course. One of his priorities was creating a transportation infrastructure for the new state, including roads and canals. Governor Bond served a single term and died in 1832.

Edward Coles succeeded Bond as Governor in 1822. A Virginian who was friends with Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe, he also served as personal secretary to President James Madison before coming to Illinois. Coles is actually depicted twice in the Capitol: his statue and also in a painting on the first floor which shows him freeing his late father’s slaves. As Governor he helped lead the fight against a pro-slavery state Constitutional convention. Coles is remembered today by the Edward Coles Fellowship, a program of the Illinois Human Rights Commission which awards an internship to law students looking to pursue civil rights and administrative law.

Sidney Breese has one of the most extensive resumes of government service of anyone in Illinois history. Between the time he was appointed postmaster in Kaskaskia in 1821 and his death in 1878, Breese was a local and federal prosecutor (1822-29), an officer in the state militia during the Black Hawk War (1832), a circuit judge (1835-41), a state Supreme Court justice (1841-42), a United States Senator (1843-49), Speaker of the Illinois House (1851), a circuit court judge again (1855-57), before once again reaching the Illinois Supreme Court (1857-1878) where he served several terms as Chief Justice (1867-70, 1873 and 1874).

Lyman Trumbull served as a state legislator, Secretary of State and Illinois Supreme Court justice before edging out Abraham Lincoln for a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1855. His three terms in the Senate included a stint as chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Senator Trumbull returned to Illinois and took up his law practice before his death in 1896.

As the years went by and more Illinoisans achieved greatness, a second set of statues began to appear around the second floor of the rotunda. On either side of the grand staircase a viewer will see statues of two Illinoisans who need no introduction: Abraham Lincoln on the left and Stephen Douglas on the right. Both statues were designed by sculptor Leonard Volk and were placed in the Capitol in 1877, right around the time the legislature moved into the building.

Adelbert Roberts
Continuing to the right is the statue of Senator Adelbert Roberts of Chicago, Illinois’ first African-
American state senator. Sen. Roberts was first elected to the Illinois House in 1918 and then moved to the Senate in 1924 after being appointed to an unexpired term. In 1926 he became the first African-American elected to that body. An accomplished attorney, Roberts chaired the Senate’s Criminal Procedures Committee. He was re-elected in 1930 and in his final term he fought to outlaw discrimination on state public works contracts. Sen. Roberts died in 1937. His statue was placed in the rotunda in 1984.

Next to Senator Roberts is Senator Richard J. Barr. A former mayor of Joliet, Barr was elected to the Illinois Senate in 1902, and he held his seat there until his death in 1951. When he died, he was the Dean of the Senate, the body’s longest serving member. The Illinois Blue Book for 1949-50 contains this note in his biography, “He is understood to have served consecutively as a State Senator for a longer period than any other legislator in the world.” Barr’s colleagues honored his lengthy service by placing his statue in the Capitol shortly after his death in 1953.

On Senator Barr’s left is a statue of Richard J. Daley. Best known for his tenure as Mayor of Chicago, Daley also served as a member of the Illinois House of Representatives and Senate for ten years in the 1930s and 1940s. Daley rose to become the Senate Minority Leader before he was chosen by Governor Adlai Stevenson as Director of the Department of Finance. Daley also served as the Cook County Clerk before his tenure as Mayor began in 1955. He held that office until his death in 1976. His statue has stood in the rotunda since 1981.

Lottie Holman O'neill
Placed in 1976, the next statue on our tour honors the first woman elected to the Illinois General Assembly: Lottie Holman O’Neill of Downers Grove. Representative O’Neill was first elected in 1922, just two years after the ratification of the 19thAmendment to the U.S. Constitution, which extended suffrage to women. She went on to serve for 38 years in the House and Senate. O’Neill led the effort to enact legislation allowing women to serve on juries in Illinois, and was a staunch opponent of higher taxes and increased spending. By the end of her tenure she was known as the “conscience of the Senate.” She retired from the General Assembly in 1963 and died in 1967.

Speaker of the House David Shanahan of Chicago was honored with a rotunda statue in 1939. Shanahan served in the House for 42 years, including six terms as Speaker. He helped Governor Frank Lowden pass legislation which created the Bureau of the Budget and the Civil Administrative Code, reforms to state government which are still in effect today. It was Shanahan’s death in 1936 and the resulting vacancy which opened the door for Richard J. Daley to step in and join the legislature.

The eighth and final statue to be found in the 2nd floor rotunda is Governor John Wood of Quincy, which was placed in 1891. The 12th Governor, Wood served only for a few months, filling out the term of Governor William Bissell who died in office in 1860. Wood was very generous with his space as Governor: he allowed the Bissell family to remain in the Executive Mansion until the end of his term, and he allowed Abraham Lincoln to use his office in the Capitol for his run for the Presidency that year. Having worked to modernize the state militia as Governor, Wood remained in state service after his term was up, accepting a post as quartermaster in charge of supplying Illinois soldiers in the Civil War.