Beautiful SCARCE $1000 Six Per Cent Liquidation Bond Certificate from the State of Illinois issued in 1858. This historic document has an
ornate border around it. This item has the signatures of the state of Ilinois Governor, William Harrison Bissell and Treasurer, James Miller and is over 149 years old. The bond was issued to George Barnell.
Illinois' eleventh governor, William H. Bissell, was a man of many firsts. Bissell was the first Republican governor, first Catholic governor, and first governor to die in office in the Prairie State. He also was the only invalid elected governor.
William Harrison Bissell was born in Hartwick, Otsego County, New York, on April 25, 1811. Because Bissell's parents were poor, he attended public school. However, through hard work he graduated from the Philadelphia Medical College in 1835. Bissell practiced medicine for a short time in Chumung County and Painted Post, New York, before moving to Monroe County, Illinois, where he opened an office at James Mills in the Bluff Precinct.
In 1840 Bissell was nominated and elected as a Democrat to a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives from Monroe County. His single term in the Illinois General Assembly (1840-1842) gave Bissell an appetite for public service. Bissell realized that he could better fulfill his public service ambitions if he was qualified in law instead of medicine. He earned his law degree in the spring of 1844 from Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky. Shortly before graduation from law school, Bissell opened a law office in Belleville with James A. Shields, to practice in the Monroe, Randolph, and St. Clair counties' courts. As of 1976 only 170 Americans held degrees in both medicine and law.
Discouraged during his first months in Illinois, Bissell traveled to St. Louis to fulfill a long-standing desire for military life by trying to enlist in the army at Jefferson Barracks. But, at the time, he was rundown and failed his physical examination.
With the outbreak of the Mexican War, Bissell took another chance for military life. Governor Ford was asked to provide three regiments of infantry from Illinois to fight in the Mexican War, and his call went out on May 25, 1845. Ten days later thirty-five companies (4,000 men) volunteered. Bissell volunteered as a private and joined Company G of the Second Illinois Volunteer Regiment. At the time of the Mexican War, volunteer units elected their own officers, and Bissell was elected captain and then colonel of the Second Regiment.
The First and Second regiments were among the 4,500 men who joined forces under General Zachary Taylor in the Battle of Buena Vista. The troops successfully fought a bloody, two-day, defensive battle against 20,000 of Santa Anna's men. General Taylor said, "Colonel Bissell, the only surviving colonel of the three (Illinois) regiments, merits notice for his coolness and bravery on this occasion (Buena Vista)."
After the end of his voluntary service, Colonel Bissell resumed his law practice with the Belleville firm of Kinney, Bissell, and Engelmann. While working as a lawyer, Bissell was asked to run as the Democratic candidate for Congress from the first congressional district of Illinois that included Alexander, Union, Jackson, Monroe, Perry, Randolph, St. Clair, Bond, Washington, and Madison counties. Bissell was elected to Congress without opposition in 1848, then reelected without opposition in 1850.
In 1852 St. Clair County was switched to the new Eighth District, comprised of Randolph, Monroe, Bond, Madison, Clinton, Washington, Jefferson, and Marion counties. Bissell found himself running as an independent against Philip B. Fouke, Jr., of Belleville, and Joseph Gillespie of Edwardsville. Bissell was reelected and served his third term from 1853 to 1855.
In 1850 Congressman James A. Seddon of Virginia declared in Congress that the Mississippi troops commanded by Jefferson Davis saved the day at Buena Vista. Bissell, who had been in the heaviest fighting at Buena Vista, countered as an eyewitness, saying that Congressman Seddon's remarks were not true, and denounced Southerners for glorifying themselves and belittling Northerners. Later, two of Senator Davis's friends told Bissell that he insulted the Mississippi Rifles and Colonel Davis, and they requested that Bissell duel Davis. Bissell accepted Davis's challenge and stipulated that the weapons would be army muskets loaded with ball and buckshot. President Zachary Taylor soon learned about the duel and threatened Senator Davis with arrest. A peaceful settlement was quickly reached.
During Bissell's third term, he was stricken with paralysis that was attributed to the effects of his wartime exposure. He walked with crutches for the rest of his life.
In July 1856 the Democratic convention strongly endorsed the Kansas-Nebraska Act. That action drove Bissell and hundreds of other anti-Nebraska Democrats out of the party. Bissell then switched to the newly formed Republican Party. The Republicans held their state convention in Bloomington and, by acclamation, the delegates nominated Bissell as the first Republican candidate for governor. Bissell sent word to Bloomington that although he was recovering the use of his legs, he would campaign very hard to win. Bissell accepted the nomination for governor, and campaigned as well as he could despite his continued paralysis and a three-week illness in September.
Bissell was elected governor over Democratic candidate William A. Richardson by 5,000 votes. But Democrats controlled the legislature and heckled Bissell. They insisted that because Bissell accepted a challenge to a duel he was constitutionally ineligible to be governor. The oath of office for the governor of Illinois included the provision that the governor-elect had not fought a duel or accepted the challenge to a duel. Bissell insisted that the incident with Senator Jefferson Davis was not a formal challenge, and Davis corroborated Bissell's account.
Bissell was inaugurated in the Governor's Mansion, because of his paralysis, on January 12, 1857. Immediate family and a few friends attended the ceremony. Once inaugurated, Bissell did not attempt to deliver his inaugural address in person. Instead he sent it to the General Assembly where it was read for him.
During his term as governor, Bissell succeeded in redistricting the state according to the census of 1855. That change permitted a more representative legislature. In 1857 a railroad connection was established between the east coast and the Mississippi River, although the route was through O'Fallon rather than Belleville, which Bissell preferred. The same year, Bissell also faced a financial panic.
Ten months before his term was to expire, Bissell contracted a cold which then developed into pneumonia, causing his death on March 18, 1860, at age 49. He was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, where his tombstone bears the epitaph, "Patriot-Statesman-Hero.'' —[From Rose Josephine Boyland, "William H. Bissell: Patriot-Statesman-Hero," Journal of the St. Clair County Historical Society (1975-1976); Edward F. Dunne, Illinois; Robert P. Howard, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State; Alvin Louis Nebelsick, A History of Belleville; Theodore Calvin Pease, The Frontier State 1818-1848.]
William Harrison BISSELL was the first Republican to serve as Governor. He took office Jan 12, 1857 and died in office in Springfield, Sangamon on Mar 18, 1860. He was buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield. He was succeeded by his Lt. Governor, John Wood. He was born in Hartwick, Otsego, NY on Apr 25, 1811. He attended the public schools there and graduated from Philadelphia Medical College in 1835. He moved to Monroe County, IL in 1837 and practiced medicine there along with teaching school until 1840. He was a member of the State House of Representatives from 1840 to 1842. He then studied the Law and was admitted to the Bar and practiced law in Belleville, St. Clair co., IL. He was the Prosecuting Attorney for St. Clair county in 1844. He served as a Colonel of the Second Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry in the Mexican War. He was elected as a Democrat to the Thirty-First and Thirty-Second Congress and as an Independant Democrat to the Thirty-Third Congress from Mar 4, 1849 to Mar 3, 1855. His wife was Emily Susan Jones. His father in law was Elias Kent Kane, known as the father of the Illinois Constitution.
History from Illinois Periodicals Online (IPO) is a digital imaging project at the Northern Illinois University Libraries funded by the Illinois State Library
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