38. Governor Yates' Proclamation Proroguing the General Assembly (1863)

Background: On June 10, 1863, Republican Governor Richard Yates prorogued the 23rd Session of the Illinois General Assembly, meaning he adjourned the legislature without its consent. Yates was a strong supporter of President Abraham Lincoln and the North's prosecution of the Civil War. In 1862, with the war going badly for the North, Illinois elected a Democratic majority to the legislature. Many of the Democrats were critical of Lincoln and Yates, opposed the Emancipation Proclamation and favored a cease fire to end the war. When the two chambers could not agree on the same date for adjournment, Yates used an obscure rule in the state Constitution to send the troublesome legislature home. Because the legislature had not yet passed a budget, Yates and other government officials borrowed money to pay for state expenses.

The Document: In the two-page handwritten proclamation, Yates notes that the Constitution gives him the authority to adjourn the legislature if the two chambers cannot agree on an adjournment date. The purpose of the rule was to prevent one chamber from ending a dispute between them by adjourning quickly. In this case, there was no dispute but a misunderstanding that could have been worked out. Yates, however, seized on the technicality. Although the Democrats protested, calling Yates's action "a monstrous and revolutionary usurpation of power," the General Assembly did not meet again for more than a year. It reconvened on December 31, 1864 and met just long enough to formally adjourn before the newly elected legislature was sworn in.

Note: When the new legislature convened on January 2, 1865, it had a Republican majority. One of its first actions was to elect Yates to the U. S. Senate. This proclamation is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Governor Record Series 101.013, "Richard Yates (1815-1873) Correspondence."