Springfield, IL became the state capital in 1839, two years after a young Abraham Lincoln proposed a bill that moved the government to the city from Vandelia, Il. Though it took nearly twenty years to construct the building, it was home to one of the Lincoln-Douglass debates, was visited by numerous Presidents and is one of three historic governor's mansions to have run, continuously since the mid-nineteenth century. Of course, along the way, more than a handful of Illinois Governor's have committed crimes and served time in prison -- not all history is good.
Backstory and Context
Despite its lengthy construction process, and the numerous renovations that proved necessary to maintain and update the building, the Executive Mansion is one of Illinois' oldest historic and one of the three oldest continuously occupied governor's mansions in the country.
Lincoln first debated Stephan A. Douglas, his rival in the bid for U.S. President in 1860, at the Executive Mansion where he made his famous "House Divided" speech. Lincoln had also attended legislative sessions in the building, argued cases as a lawyer before the Supreme Court (also located in the building) and and maintained an office in the building after his election to the Presidency in 1860. Lastly, his body rested in the building during May 3-4, 1865, prior to his burial at nearby Oak Ridge.
Other dignitaries graced the residence such as President Ulysses S. Grant; President Rutherford B. Hayes; General William Sherman; President William McKinley; President Herbert Hoover; and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. As well, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Annie Oakley visited the building.
A fire in 1961 led to a movement to replace the mansion with something more modern. However, historical preservationists along with many former governors helped save the building, which led to its restoration and protection as an historic site. More renovations occurred during the 1970s and, just recently, private funding believed to amount nearly $15 million dollars was raised to provide the mansion with its biggest renovation and restoration to date.
The governor's residence is limited to a seven-room apartment upstairs while the downstairs exists as a historical site, retaining its nineteenth-century look. One recent governor, Rob Blagojevich refused to live there, instead choosing to work remotely from the Chicago area. However, he, along with four other governors, have been convicted of federal crimes and/or found to have cheated the state.
- Len Small, 26th governor, was found to have defrauded the state of a million dollars.
- Otto Kerner, Jr., 33rd Governor (1961 to 1968) was convicted on 17 counts of mail fraud, conspiracy, perjury, and related charges. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison.
- Dan Walker, 36th Governor of Illinois (1973 to 1977), pleaded guilty in 1987 to bank fraud and perjury (all occurring after he left office). He was sentenced to seven years in prison.
- George Ryan, 39th Governor of Illinois (1999 to 2003), was found guilty of fraud and racketeering charges. He was sentenced to six and a half years in prison.
- Rod Blagojevich, 40th Governor of Illinois (2003 to 2009), was found guilty of 18 counts of corruption, including attempting to sell or trade an appointment to fill newly elected President Obama's vacant U.S. Senate seat. He was sentenced to 14 years in prison.
Illinois News Network. "Private funds to cover executive mansion repairs." The Rock River Times(Rockford, IL.), July 21, 2016.
"Mansion History." Illinois.gov. Accessed October 31, 2017. https://www.illinois.gov/.
Miller, William Lee. Lincoln's Virtues: An Ethical Biography. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2002.