The Lieutenant Governors

Lieutenant Governor John W. Chapman signs a document
at Secretary of State Charles F. Carpentier's desk, 1953.
Photo from the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum
They have names like Zadoc Casey, Stinson Anderson and Gustavus Koerner. Another was named John Smith. In all, the club has 48 members. Some aspired to join, some attained membership through fate. For some, it was the pinnacle of a career in public service, for others it was a stepping stone. The club got its first female member in 1999, and four of the five most recent to join have been women. It got its first African-American member just this year.

Some club members have been very active, some not. One even resigned from boredom. Eight of them ended up moving into the highest office in the state. These are the Lieutenant Governors of Illinois. Important figures in their time, some of them have been forgotten by history.

The office of Lieutenant Governor was established in the first state Constitution of Illinois in 1818, by Article III, Section 13 (just after the section creating offices of county sheriffs and coroners). The Constitution outlined the manner in which the Lieutenant Governor was to be elected, set a four-year term and set the qualifications for the office. The document also never explicitly said that the Lieutenant Governor would become Governor in the event of a vacancy in that office, only referring to those times when “the government shall be administered by the Lieutenant Governor,” and that “the Lieutenant Governor shall exercise all the power and authority appertaining to the office of Governor,” until the next election.

But the first state Constitution also gave the Lieutenant Governor an additional role in state government: Speaker of the Senate. “He shall by virtue of his office be speaker of the Senate, have a right when in committee of the whole, to debate and vote on all subjects; and whenever the Senate are equally divided, to give the casting vote.”

It was this role which created some intrigue in 1833, when Lieutenant Governor Zadoc Casey was elected to Congress. With the office of Speaker vacant, the Senate’s President Pro Tempore, William L.D. Ewing, moved up and became acting Lieutenant Governor. A little over a year later, when Governor John Reynolds stepped down after also being elected to Congress, Ewing assumed that office for the final two weeks of the term. Ewing thus became both Lieutenant Governor and Governor without having sought either office. Ewing was the first of six “Acting Lieutenant Governors” in Illinois history who succeeded to the office in the same way between 1833 and 1883.

The first Lieutenant Governor of Illinois was Pierre Menard; a Montreal-born businessman who had established a trading post in the Kaskaskia area more than 20 years before statehood. Historians say Menard was put in the office in order to appeal to the French settlers who still made up a significant percentage of the new state’s population. While many Lieutenant Governors have faded into obscurity, Menard is one of the most remembered. An Illinois county bears his name, his home in Randolph County is a state historic site, and he has a statue on the Capitol lawn in Springfield; a city he may never have visited.

The series of Lieutenant Governors who followed Menard were an ambitious bunch who reached for the top office but never quite made it. Adolphus Hubbard took the reins of power when Governor Edward Coles was traveling out of state, and when the Governor returned, he “was loath to abandon the chair whose occupancy he had thoroughly enjoyed,” according to historian John Moses. He had to be ordered out by the courts.

His successor, William Kenney, ran for the top office in 1830 and 1834, but was unsuccessful both times. Kenney was followed by Casey, who had a successful Congressional career and even returned to the Illinois legislature as Speaker of the House for a year.

Though each of the four state Constitutions have given the Lieutenant Governor a four-year term, quite a few holders of the office have not held it for that long. The state’s sixth Lieutenant Governor, Alexander Jenkins, quit to become President of the newly-chartered Illinois Central Railroad in 1836. Bob Kustra resigned six months before his term was up in 1998 when he was named President of Eastern Kentucky University. But perhaps the strangest departure from the office was that of Dave O’Neal on July 31, 1981, who quit the office for no other reason than sheer boredom.

Lieutenant Governor O'Neal with U.S. Senator Percy and Muhammad Ali.

Seven of them moved into the top office due to death, resignation or impeachment of the Governor. Lieutenant Governor John Beveridge; a former Civil War General, Cook County Sheriff and state Senator; barely had time to put his name on the office door, holding the post for just ten days before ascending to the Governor’s office which had just been vacated by U.S. Senator-elect Richard Oglesby.

A few others enjoyed longer tenures in office, though Lieutenant Governors, like Governors, were not allowed to seek re-election under the first two state Constitutions. Fred Sterling served three full terms, under two different Governors from 1921 to 1933, the longest term of office for any Lieutenant Governor in Illinois history. William Northcott (1897-1905), Hugh Cross (1941-1949), John Chapman (1953-1961) and George Ryan (1983-1991) are the only other Lieutenant Governors to serve two full, consecutive terms. John Oglesby served two full, non-consecutive terms in 1909-1913 and 1917-1921, also with different Governors. He is the only Lieutenant Governor to serve non-consecutive terms, while his father, Richard, was the only Governor to serve non-consecutive terms.

Though seven Lieutenant Governors ascended to the office unexpectedly, no sitting Lieutenant Governor has ever run for Governor and won. Ryan is the only former holder of that office to become Governor through an election, winning a single term in 1998, eight years after leaving the Lieutenant Governor’s office. Ryan’s running mate, Corinne Wood, was the first woman elected Lieutenant Governor. Among her successors in the office were Sheila Simon, Evelyn Sanguinetti and our current Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, the first African-American elected to the office.

In addition to those eight who eventually became Governor, the second spot on the ticket has also led to a seat in the U.S. Senate for at least three of its holders: EwingLawrence Sherman and Paul Simon. Lieutenant Governor “Honest John” Moore was later elected to two terms as state Treasurer in the 19th century. Several Lieutenant Governors went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.

For others, it marked the end of a distinguished career in government. Hubbard and Anderson never held another elected office. Illinois’ Civil War Lieutenant Governor, Francis Hoffman, went into railroads and banking after leaving office. Cross had been Speaker of the House before he was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1941, serving until he retired from elected office in 1949. Koerner was a legislator and a state Supreme Court justice, as well as a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, before he took the Lieutenant Governor’s office in 1853. He was a general in the Civil War, and was a pallbearer at Lincoln’s funeral. Many others had served at least a few terms in the General Assembly.

Under the first three state Constitutions, Lieutenant Governors were elected separately from the Governor with whom they served. Surprisingly, it took 150 years for the state to elect two top officeholders from different parties: Republican Governor Richard Ogilvie and Democrat Lieutenant Governor Simon in 1968. The 1970 state Constitution required that the two offices be elected as a team, similar to the President and Vice President of the United States. In 2011, the law was changed again to require candidates for the office to run together in the primary as well as the general election.

Lieutenant Governors have few Constitutional duties. Their role in the Senate was removed in the 1970 state Constitution. The Constitution clearly states that the Lieutenant Governor shall succeed to the office of Governor should it become vacant. It also outlines the procedure for filling vacancies in the other statewide offices, but Article V, Section 7 explicitly states that if the Lieutenant Governor’s chair should become empty, “it shall remain vacant until the end of the term.”

Section 14 makes clear the dearth of Constitutional responsibility for the state’s second-highest elected official: “The Lieutenant Governor shall perform the duties and exercise the powers in the Executive Branch that may be delegated to him by the Governor and that may be prescribed by law.”

John Stelle rides mule, 1940. Photo from the Abraham
Lincoln Presidential Library & Museum.
But while the duties of the office are vaguely defined in the Constitution, the office has picked up responsibilities, both through statute and through delegation from the Governor. Some Lieutenant Governors were close partners with the Governors they served and played an important role in policymaking. Others did not. Governor Henry Horner so disliked his Lieutenant Governor, John Stelle, that he refused to leave office while fighting a terminal disease, just to keep Stelle out. Horner died in October 1940, just three months shy of the end of his term.

Recent Lieutenant Governors have had such varied tasks as chairing councils established by the Governor, such as the Illinois River Coordinating Council or the Rural Affairs Council. Lieutenant Governors have chaired the state’s Rural Bond Bank, which provided low-interest loans to rural communities for capital improvements. More recently, the Lieutenant Governor has coordinated the state’s relations with military bases in Illinois and chaired the task force to tackle the challenges of the opioid abuse epidemic. Lieutenant Governor Pat Quinn became known for attending the funeral of every Illinois serviceperson killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and was also known to visit Illinois soldiers serving overseas at the holidays.

Constitutional amendments have been introduced in the General Assembly in recent years calling for the office to be abolished as a cost-saving measure. The House passed the legislation for the amendment in 2016, but the Senate took no action. Legislation introduced in the 100thGeneral Assembly was not called for vote. The amendment was introduced yet again in 2019, but did not advance.