TBT: Some Illinois ‘Tuesday Trivia’

Election Day crowd at Springfield Marine Bank in 1966.
Photo from the Illinois Digital Archives.
Next Tuesday is Election Day. It will be the 52nd time that Illinois voters have gone to the polls to choose a governor. While we won’t relive the many colorful stories of 200 years of Illinois politicians, here are some facts about elections in our state from 200 years of Illinois history.

Two hundred years ago in October 1818, Illinois held its first statewide election. It was to put in place a government for when statehood became official a few weeks later. Shadrach Bond was chosen as the first Governor and Pierre Menard as the first Lieutenant Governor. While that first election was held in the fall, an early 20th-century Illinois Blue Book reports that for a time in the 1800s, gubernatorial elections were held as early as the first Monday in August.

Bond was elected to a single four year term. Illinois governors have always served a four-year term, except for two occasions in state history. In 1848 a new state Constitution took effect. Among its changes was a move of gubernatorial elections from off-years to Presidential years. Under the current state Constitution (from 1970) gubernatorial elections were shifted back to off-years, starting in 1978. To conform to the changes, a two-year gubernatorial term was included as part of the transition between old and new Constitutions.

Illinois governors were prohibited from seeking consecutive terms under both the first and second of the state’s four Constitutions. But there is an exception to this rule.

Governor Augustus French was elected to a two-year term in 1846 under the original state Constitution. He then sought a second term in 1848 under the new Constitution. Reasoning that he would only be serving one term under each Constitution, and since his term had been cut in half by the changes under the new Constitution, he was able to successfully pursue the office a second time and was, therefore, Illinois’ first two-term Governor.

When the third Illinois Constitution took effect in 1870, it allowed governors to seek consecutive terms, and in 1880 Governor Shelby Moore Cullom was the first to be elected twice under the same Constitution. However, Governor Cullom did not finish his second term, as he was appointed to the U.S. Senate in 1883, where he would represent Illinois for the next 30 years.

Interior of the Illinois State Capitol building showing members who were elected to the state government
in 1884.  Photo from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Abraham Lincoln’s friend Richard J. Oglesby found a creative way of dealing with the limits imposed on Governors. Oglesby ran for and won the governorship in 1864, and served the one four-year term the existing Constitution allowed him. He then came back in 1872 and won another term, but only served part of it before being appointed to the U.S. Senate. Apparently missing Springfield, Oglesby returned yet again in 1884 and won a third term, serving for the entire four years. He was the first governor to serve three terms and the only one to serve non-consecutive terms.

Lieutenant governors were elected separately from governors until the 1970 Constitution. While this created the possibility of having a governor and lieutenant governor from different parties, this only happened once in Illinois history. Ironically, that one occasion was the election right before the new Constitution: in 1968 Republican Richard Ogilvie was elected governor and Democrat Paul Simon was picked as lieutenant governor.

Though the 1970 Constitution mandated that candidates for governor and lieutenant governor would run on the same ticket in the fall, candidates still sought the office independently in the spring primary. That was changed in the early part of this decade and candidates for governor and lieutenant governor began running as a team in both the primary and general in 2014.

Charles S. Deneen for Governor campaign banners
and posters, likely from the election of 1905.
Photo from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
Library and Museum.
Several statewide offices which used to be filled by the voters will not be on the ballot next week because they have been replaced by other offices (Auditor of Public Accounts was replaced by the Comptroller) or because they are now appointed positions (Superintendent of Public Instruction and Clerk of the Supreme Court became appointed offices under the 1970 Constitution). Others have been added to the ballot over the years. Under the 1818 Constitution, the Secretary of State was appointed by the Governor and the Treasurer was appointed by the General Assembly. Both became elected offices with the 1848 Constitution.

The state treasurer was elected every two years until legislation in 1959 switched to a four-year term.

Supreme Court justices were also appointed by the General Assembly in the early days of statehood, another matter that was changed in the Constitution of 1848. The Court was set at its current size of seven members by the 1870 Constitution.

Illinois Attorneys General were initially appointed by the General Assembly, starting with Daniel Pope Cook in 1819. For the first 20 years of the second state Constitution, Illinois did not have an attorney general as the Constitution was unclear as to how the officer would be chosen. In 1867, legislation was enacted formally re-establishing the office and Governor Oglesby appointed Robert Ingersoll to the post. Attorneys General have been elected statewide since the 1870 Constitution.

State senators formerly served four-year terms exclusively. Senators from even-numbered districts were chosen at one election and senators from odd-numbered districts chosen at the next election. Now senators serve staggered terms, with various combinations of of four, four and two years because the districts are re-drawn every ten years with the new Census figures. Until 1980, three representatives and one senator were chosen from each legislative district.

That year, the “Cutback Amendment” changed the state Constitution to create our current system of electing state legislators: one senator from a legislative district, which was itself subdivided into two representative districts, each sending one representative to the Capitol. The number of state legislators has fluctuated over 200 years, but the Cutback Amendment; so named because it cut back the number of House members from 177 to 118; set the current total.

Illinoisans first cast votes for President and Vice President in 1820. President James Monroe, who had signed the act making Illinois a state two years earlier, was standing virtually unopposed for a second term that year. Monroe easily captured Illinois’ three electoral votes on his way to victory. Since then, Illinois has put together a pretty good record in presidential elections, as the Prairie State has sided with the winner in 43 out of 50 contests.

Henry Horner rides to an unknown destination, possibly
campaigning during the election of 1936.  Photo from
the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum.
Fifteen times, an Illinoisan has appeared on a major party’s national ticket (18 if you add in the three unsuccessful runs by the Illinois-born Nebraska populist William Jennings Bryan). Eleven of those times the Illinoisan won his home state, including Abraham Lincoln who in 1860 defeated Stephen Douglas, the only time two Illinoisans faced off for the same national office. Vice presidential nominee John A. Logan became the only Illinoisan to carry our state but lose the national election. That happened in 1884.

Illinois’ influence in the Electoral College peaked in the 1920s and 1930s, when our state had 29 electoral votes. At the time, we were third in the nation behind only New York and Pennsylvania. Today Illinois has 20 electoral votes, tying us with Pennsylvania for #5 in the nation.

This column barely scratches the surface of Illinois’ long and interesting electoral history. For more information about the Illinois election system of today, visit the Illinois State Board of Elections.