Antebellum Politics


John A. Logan. From the Library of Congress.

In the decades prior to the Civil War Little Egypt’s politics were notably different from the central and northern counties of Illinois. With a strong Democratic representation and cultural ties to the Old South, many Southern Illinois politicians aggressively lobbied for statewide acceptance of slavery. Pro-slavery arguments in the Illinois state Congress where common, and politicians pushed legislation such as the Black Codes of 1818 (discriminating against rights of African Americans in Illinois) and a call for the legalization of slavery in the state of Illinois in 1824. (Cross) While the Little Egypt Democrats were often unsuccessful, they still managed to create animosity with the north.

After the firing on Ft. Sumter occurred in 1861, government officials such as Governor Yates, and President Lincoln were worried about Little Egypt . In discussing the issue the Cairo Gazette had this to say, “The statement that the inhabitants of Egypt are in favor of the perpetuation of the Union by force, is unauthorized. No such feeling exists. On the contrary, so far as our observations have extended, the sympathies of our people are mainly with the South.” (Cole p. 253) The Gazette went on to say that Cairo, “would prosper whether the union was dissolved or not.” Egypt’s economic success from trade between the two regions left many residents siding with the peace Democrats.


Illinois Senate

Moving towards 1860, Little Egyptians began to recognize that a unified nation would be more beneficial for their communities. This change of heart was best illustrated at the Illinois Democratic Convention on Jan. 16th, 1860. The convention agreed upon a, “platform advocating any plan of conciliation and compromise by which harmony might be restored, denying the right of secession.” (Cole, p.257) This movement towards preserving the Union was led by Stephen A. Douglas, a U.S. Senator, Democrat, and longtime favorite of many Southern Illinois residents. After Ft. Sumter, Douglas wanted the Democrats to throw away their party ideals, and adhere to their President’s call for troops. This had a major impact on Illinois Democrats who began to adopt Douglas’s call to save the Union. However, Little Egypt had not completely supported the Democrat convention, nor had they fully accepty Douglas’s words.  Many Southern Illinois communities were rumored to have pledged themselves to the rebellion, such as Williamson and Pope Counties. Other formidable Egyptian politicians such as John A. Logan, were said to have given pro-secession speeches, and raised troops for the Confederacy.

The Little Egypt rebellion movement became a hot topic for Northern Illinois newspapers, and remained a concern to the start of the war. Governor Yates was so afraid of an uprising that he sent troops down to Cairo, in order to establish a federal presence in the region. Stephen A. Douglas went down to Springfield on April 25th, 1862, where he conducted a series of speeches towards Southern Illinois residents to defend the Union saying he, “had made a mistake leaning too far to the Southern Section of the Union.” (Cole p. 260) Douglas was not alone, after the firing at Ft. Sumter all of Illinois watched anxiously to see which side of the conflict Little Egypt would end up.