When Thompson Campbell assumed the office of Secretary of State on March 6, 1843, he found the State Library in total disarray. When he left three years later, the library was more systematically organized and boasted an increase in holdings.

Campbell’s good work in the library was just one stop in a successful political career. Born in Ireland in 1811, he was admitted to the bar in Pittsburgh and eventually made his way to Galena, Illinois, where he resided when appointed Secretary of State. He was the first person from far northern Illinois to hold the office. He inherited a position with increased responsibilities, but with the same salary and no office staff. Still, Campbell performed his duties smoothly before resigning on Dec. 23, 1846. 1

At the 1847 Illinois Constitutional Convention, Campbell became embroiled in a dispute with another Jo Daviess County delegate, O. D. Pratt, and the argument soon escalated into the challenge of a duel. This proposed fight for honor was to take place somewhere near St. Louis, but police intervened, and no blood was spilled. 2

Campbell was elected to the U.S. House in 1851 and served a single term, suffering defeat in his bid for re-election. From there, he moved west, and was the U.S. Land Commissioner for the Mexican land grant in California from 1853 to 1855. He later became one of the most vociferous supporters of the Union in the Sunshine State and served a term in the California House beginning in 1863. 3

He was back on the East Coast in 1864 as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Baltimore, where he nearly made the re-nomination speech for Lincoln, whom he had known from their days in Springfield. But he could not be recognized in time, and the honor ultimately went to Simon Cameron of Pennsylvania. Campbell made his speech anyway, but his words were lost in the thunder of the hall. 4

Campbell returned to California, helped deliver the state for Lincoln, and remained active in West Coast politics until his death in San Francisco on Dec. 6, 1868. 5

  1. Reports to the Illinois General Assembly 1847, 146; Sorenson, “The Illinois State Library 1821-1870,” 35-36; Howlett 57.
  2. Moses II-556.
  3. Howlett 58.
  4. Howlett 58-59.
  5. Howlett 59.