12. House Roll Calls for a Constitutional Convention to Legalize Slavery (1824)

Background: At the 1818 State Constitutional Convention, slavery was one of the major issues delegates debated. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 had forbidden slavery in the Northwest Territory, of which Illinois was a part. However, the French had brought slaves to Illinois in the early 1700s and American settlers to Illinois from the South had also brought their slaves with them. The compromise at the convention seemingly pleased neither pro-slavery nor anti-slavery elements. The 1818 Illinois Constitution did not legalize slavery in a way similar to Southern states. However because it did not go far enough to ban slavery, 34 anti-slavery congressmen voted against admitting Illinois into the Union. When anti-slavery Edward Coles was narrowly elected governor in a four man race in 1822, the pro-slavery forces in Illinois decided to call a State Constitutional Convention with the purpose of changing the state Constitution to allow slavery in Illinois. To call a constitutional convention required a two-thirds vote in both the Illinois House and Senate. It also required approval by referendum of the voters in Illinois.

The Document: The resolution required three separate votes to reach the 24 votes needed for passage in the Illinois House. On the first ballot, on January 27, 1824, the resolution only received 22 votes. A second roll call vote on February 11 shows it receiving 23 votes, as Representatives Thomas Rattan and William McFatridge switched from "no" to "yes" votes but Representative Nicholas Hansen switched from a "yes" to a "no" vote. That night, a pro-slavery mob that included legislators and a Justice of the Illinois Supreme Court, burned Hansen in effigy, as he refused to change his "no" vote. However, Hansen had been seated to his post after the House had ruled him the winner in a contested election. Following the second vote on the convention, the pro-slavery majority in the House decided that the stubborn Hansen had, in fact, lost the election and so seated his opponent, John Shaw. On February 12, the same day Shaw was declared the winner of the election contest, the pro-slavery majority made a third attempt to pass the resolution. The newly seated Shaw voted with the pro-slavery contingent and the resolution passed. Note that on the third ballot, the pre-printed roll call sheet has Hansen's name crossed out and Shaw's penciled in.

Note: The pro-slavery forces were able to successfully pass a resolution calling for a constitutional convention that may have resulted in Illinois becoming a slave state. The next step in the process required a referendum asking the voters of Illinois if they favored a convention. At the 1824 referendum, the anti-slavery forces, led by Governor Edward Coles, defeated the proposal and a constitutional convention was not held. The three House roll calls are available at the Illinois State Archives as part of General Assembly Record Series 600.001, "Bills, Resolutions and Related General Assembly Records."