“Anti-Negro Steeling Society” Meeting at the Second Courthouse, and the Repeal Party Central Park
Backstory and Context
The death of Lovejoy did not deterred the local underground railroad in Jacksonville from continuing to help the runaways to freedom, if anything it gave the abolitionists a just cause. The next six years the underground railroad in Jacksonville helped enough fugitives to irritate the pro-slavery supporters. By 1843 the last straw came from the theft of a local slave girl during her and her master’s visit to Jacksonville. Instead of an all-out mob action, like the one that killed Lovejoy, a more civilized group of Jacksonville pro-slavery supporters took to a more level headed approached to their “abolition problem”.
Samuel Willard, a student from Illinois College, and his father Julius Willard, along with fellow students, William Carter, J.A. Coleman who were also sons of known local abolitionist, convinced Judy Green a young black slave woman, that she was free. Her owner Sarah Lisle claimed that she was abducted on February 9, 1843. Green fled when she learned that they were going to return to Louisiana. Green at first was hidden at Ebenezer Carter's farm, two mile south of town. This turn out to be unsuccessful because Green was recaptured and the Willard's arrested for harboring a fugitive slave under the 1827 Illinois Law.
The law said:
“If any person shall harbor or secrete any negro, mulatto, or person of color, the same being a slave or servant owing service or labor to any other person or persons, ...or shall in any wise hinder or prevent the lawful owner or owners of such slaves or servants from retaking or possessing, shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and fine not exceeding five hundred dollars, or imprisoned not exceeding six months.” Julius Willard was convicted of harboring a fugitive slave and fined $20.00. He tried to appeal his case to the state supreme court in which he lost. It turns out some of the judges on the Illinois Supreme Court were Conventionists supporters
In 1843 Samuel pleaded guilty and fine $1.00. A full account of Samuel Willard's story is in Mark E. Steiner's journal article. This abduction led to a notice in the local Jacksonville newspaper about forming an “Anti-Negro Steeling Society” in response to the theft of Judy Green by the Willards. A meeting was held on February 22, 1843 at the courthouse. Self-appointed leaders of the meeting included M. McCormick, chairperson and George Henry, secretary. W. B. Warren, A. Smith, and O. M. Long were appointed to write a draft of the preamble and resolutions expressing their feelings of the meetings and after much discussion adopted the resolutions. The society created three resolutions. First to make it clear that this was not about slavery vs. anti-slavery, nor abolition or anti-abolition, but breaking the law, but a belief that slavery is a curse upon the nation that is recognized and protected by law. Second, steeling slaves is not the honest way to give them their freedom. And the people of Jacksonville including the local abolitionists should show hospitably toward visitors from the South. The last resolution was about the students from Illinois College who took the women, has not been dealt with nor punished by the college. These proceedings were held at the courthouse at 10:00 a. m. also signed by 36 local Jacksonville citizens and published in the local paper.
“Anti Negro Steeling Society”
Listed as they appear, Jacksonville, Ill February 22, 1843
John A. Freeman
B. F. Heslep
Wm. C. Scott
R. H. Nelson
C. H. Simms
J. E. Denny
In 1854 the Missouri Compromise which was passed in 1820 to balance out free and slave states was repealed by the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This act was to allow the settlers who live in Kansas and Nebraska states to decide if they want free or slave states. The abolitionist in Jacksonville sparked several boisterous meetings to discuss the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The first meeting was called for the ones who wanted to stop the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. This group of concerned citizens called for a town meeting to showed their support by singing a petition. With over one hundred signatures, the meeting was published in the local newspaper and also by handbills that was posted all over Jacksonville. This assembly was held at the courthouse and became a hotly debated issue. This group that meet made Dr. N. English the chairman and J.W. Galbraith the secretary. Dr. Dave Prince started to present a set of resolution, and as he was about to give a speech, Murray McConnel and his son John McConnel interrupted Prince and both read their version of resolutions. The McConnel’s resolutions, who represents the “repeal party” were in favor of the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, however Dr. Prince’s resolution were against the Kansas-Nebraska Act. The crowd in the courthouse became confused with the two difference resolutions and thought the “repeal party” came there to break up the meeting. But in order to clear the miss understanding, Dr. English made a ruling that this meeting is open for all and to recognize both sides of the issue, that ruling made thing more confusing for the group so the “repeal party” wanted to hold another meeting the next night. The Kansas-Nebraska Act debate split Jacksonville in half, between “anti-repeal” and “repel” and the two sides decided to hold their own separate meetings.
The next evening, the “repeal party” held their own meeting. No location was given, but the crowd was heavy. Dr. Cassell was chairmen, and Cyrus Epler secretary. John McConnel restated his resolutions, a copy of McConnel’s resolution is lost to time. On the other side of the argument the “anti-repeal” party made Dr. Russel the chairperson and Joseph O. King secretary. Others involved with the “anti-repeal” was Dr. Adams, John Mathers, Isaac Rawlings, Johnathan Turner, Julian M. Sturtevant, and others. The first order of business was to passed Dr. Prince’s resolutions:
“That it is inexpedient to repeal directly or otherwise, the act admitting Missouri, known as Missouri Compromise, which section reads as following: sec.8 Be it further enacted, that in all that territory ceded by French to the United States, under the name of Louisiana, which is north of thirty-six degrees and thirty minutes north latitude, not included in the limits of the states contemplated in this act, slavery and involuntary servitude otherwise than as the punishment of crime, shall be and is hereby forever prohibited. The second resolution: That as good citizens we wish to abide by the second clause of the second section of the fourth Article of the Constitution which says: Congress shall have power to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting the territory or other property belonging to the United States.” (Eames, 149)
Unfortunately this was the only meeting that was held, a local document search did not present any other information.
The result to this debate over Kansas and Nebraska created the Anti-Nebraska Party formed in 1854 to oppose the Kansas-Nebraska Act. This became a movement all over the United States with support from the Whigs, Free Soil and some Democrat parties. Morgan and Scott County ran two candidate for this short lived party. The local newspaper The Morgan Journal printed a short story in the November 4, 1854 Extra edition.
“ To The People, Anti-Nebraska voter of Scott and Morgan, beware of the imposition! The anti-Nebraska party of Morgan has but one candidate for Morgan--- Dr. H. K. Jones, of Jacksonville, nominated in a county Mass Meeting, which also adopted Mr. Miner, of Scott, and the anti-Nebraska party has but one Ticket---Miner and Jones”.
The story mentioned that Judge William Thomas did not receive the nomination of the anti-Nebraska party. The article ends with “Let every friend of our cause exert himself to have this matter understood”.
Charles Frank, Pioneer's Progress, Illinois College, 1829-1979 (Southern Illinois University Press, 1979)
Charles Eames, Historic Morgan and Classic Jacksonville (Jacksonville: The Daily Journal Steam Job Printing Office, 1885)