Last modified on April 9, 2019, at 21:51

Springfield, Illinois

Springfield is the capital of the state of Illinois. As of 2000, its population was just over 110,000.[1] It was the home of Abraham Lincoln, who as a state legislator was instrumental in moving the state capital here in 1839. The city has a drab reputation for corruption, but the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a major attraction.[2]


Party Politics

Winkle (1998) examines the historiography concerning the development of the Second Party System (Whigs versus Democrats) and applies these ideas to the study of Springfield, a strong Whig enclave in a Democratic region, mainly by studying poll books for presidential years. The rise of the Whig Party took place in 1836 in opposition to the presidential candidacy of Martin Van Buren and was consolidated in 1840. Springfield Whigs tend to validate several expectations of party characteristics as they were largely native-born, either in New England or Kentucky, professional or agricultural in occupation, and devoted to partisan organization. Abraham Lincoln's career mirrors the Whigs' political rise, but by the 1840s Springfield began to fall into Democrat hands, as immigrants changed the city's political makeup. By the 1860 presidential election, Lincoln was barely able to win his home city.[3]


Winkle (1992) examines the impact of migration on political participation in Springfield during the 1850s. Widespread migration in the 19th century United States produced frequent population turnover within Midwestern communities, which influenced patterns of voter turnout and office-holding. Examination of the manuscript census, poll books, and office-holding records reveals the impact of migration on the behavior of 8,000 participants in 10 elections in Springfield. Most voters were short-term residents who participated in only one or two elections during the 1850s, and fewer than 1% of all voters participated in all 10 elections. Instead of producing political instability, however, rapid turnover enhanced the influence of more persistent residents. Migration was selective by age, occupation, wealth, and birthplace. Therefore, more persistent voters were wealthier, more highly skilled, more often native-born, and socially more stable than nonpersisters. Officeholders were particularly persistent and socially and economically advantaged. Persisters represented a small "core community" of economically successful, socially homogeneous, and politically active voters and officeholders who controlled local political affairs while most residents moved in and out of the city. Members of a tightly knit and exclusive "core community," exemplified by Abraham Lincoln, blunted the potentially disruptive impact of migration on local communities.[4]

The business career of John Williams illustrates the important role of the merchant banker in the economic development of central Illinois before the Civil War. Williams began his career as a clerk in frontier stores and saved to begin his own business. Later, in addition to operating retail and wholesale stores, he acted as a local banker and then organized a national bank in Springfield. He was active in railroad promotion and as an agent for farm machinery.[5]

Civil War

Camp Butler, seven miles northeast of Springfield, Illinois, opened in August 1861 as a training camp for Illinois soldiers, but also served as a camp for Confederate prisoners of war through 1865. In the beginning, Springfield residents visited the camp to experience the excitement of a military venture, but many reacted sympathetically to the mortally wounded and ill prisoners. While the city's businesses prospered from camp traffic, drunken behavior and rowdiness on the part of the soldiers stationed there strained relations as neither civil nor military authorities proved able to control disorderly outbreaks.[6]


During the mid-19th century the spiritual needs of German Lutherans in the Midwest were not being tended. As a result of the efforts of such missionaries as Friedrich Wynecken, Wilhelm Loehe, and Wilhelm Sihler, this situation was remedied by the deployment of additional Lutheran ministers, the opening of Lutheran schools, and the creation in Ft. Wayne of the Concordia Seminary in 1846. The Seminary moved to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1861, and its practical division moved to Springfield in 1874. Through this seminary, during the last half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th, the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) succeeded in serving the spiritual needs of Midwestern congregations by establishing additional seminaries, and by developing a viable synodical tradition.[7]


Local poet Vachel Lindsay's notions of utopia were expressed in his only novel, The Golden Book of Springfield (1920), which draws on ideas of anarchistic socialism in projecting the progress of Lindsay's hometown toward utopia.[8]

The Dana-Thomas House is a Frank Lloyd Wright creation built in 1902-03. Wright began work on the house in 1902. Commissioned by local patron of the arts and public benefactor Susan Lawrence Dana, Wright's architecture harmonized with the owner's devotion to the performance of music. Coordinating art glass designs for 250 windows, doors, and panels as well as over 200 light fixtures, Wright enlisted Oak Park artisans. The house is a radical departure from Victorian architectural traditions and is the only historic site in Illinois acquired exclusively because of its architectural merit. Covering 12,000 square feet, the house contained vaulted ceilings and 16 major spaces. As the nation was changing, so Wright intended this structure to reflect the changes. Creating an organic and natural atmosphere, Wright saw himself as an "architect of democracy" and intended his work to be a monument to America's social landscape. It was opened to the public in September 1990.[9]


Sparked by accusations of rape and assault of white women by black men in Springfield, and angered by the high degree of corruption in the city centered in black neighborhoods, the white citizenry rose up against blacks and rioting broke out in August 14–15, 1908. Gangs of white youth attacked blacks in the inner city. The governor sent in 5000 militia and the riots ended after the two blacks were lynched and four whites killed by random gunfire.[10] Springfield had a population 45,000 whites and 5,000 blacks, the latter concentrated in a downtown district. The riot involved whites attacking and burning out the black district and occurred in a period of relative economic and social stability. The city's black population was small and posed little threat to the material interests of the white community, but a major threat to "law and order" and the popular fear that corrupt criminals and politicians controlled the inner city. The rioters were largely native white American from the working-class who deliberately targeted successful blacks, who, they believed, threatened their status and identity. Black success in business and politics, attributed to corruption, violated whites' assumptions about moral standards and blacks' "proper place," and the riot was an effort to reinforce the boundaries of black subordination. Influential whites seldom rioted, but they, too, were intimately connected to the riot's origins, course, and the nature of its aftermath. Better-off whites saw the riots as a means to remove black deviants and "undesirables" from the city, while rioters intended to enforce the subordination (or expulsion) of all blacks. About 3000 blacks left the city, many permanently. 117 whites were indicted, but only one was convicted. Commentators across the country underscored the symbolic importance of a riot in Lincoln's hometown. Militant eastern blacks decided the long-time alliance with the Republican party was inadequate protection, and formed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Union activism

Springfield had a large contingent of coal miners and a railroad workers; both groups were militant unionists in the early 20th century. Gaytas (1998) recounts the events surrounding the citywide general strike that occurred in Springfield, in September 1917, with the U.S. at war. The strike evolved from a small-scale wage strike among streetcar workers into a large-scale "control strike," a week-long walkout by miners, railroad workers, and other union members that sought to ensure workers' control over labor conditions rather than simply the attainment of higher wages. A wartime shortage of labor led to pressure for higher wages, but the need for war mobilization also made union activism appear unpatriotic. Despite such pressures and the fact that streetcar workers remained on strike for a year, the general strike ended without violence. Most workers returned to their jobs believing that they had furthered workers' control.[11]


Springfield is representative of how small cities nurtured the growth of commercial aviation during the 1920s. In the face of public apathy and legislative delay, the Chamber of Commerce took the lead in providing a temporary air field for airmail service and arranging for a permanent field for passenger service. It selected sites for airfields, raised funds for field construction and improvements, and publicized the services offered. By 1931 the value of commercial aviation was apparent to the people of Springfield, and the city, with help from the state and federal governments, was ready to assume responsibility for airfield development.[12]


  • Angle, Paul M. "Here I have lived": A history of Lincoln's Springfield, 1821-1865 (1935, 1971)
  • Crouthamel, James L. "The Springfield Race Riot of 1908." Journal of Negro History 1960 45(3): 164-181. Issn: 0022-2992 Fulltext: Jstor
  • Harrison, Shelby Millard, ed. The Springfield Survey: Study of Social Conditions in an American City (1920), famous sociological study of the city vol 3 online
  • Laine, Christian K. Landmark Springfield: Architecture and Urbanism in the Capital City of Illinois. Chicago: Metropolitan, 1985. 111 pp.
  • Lindsay, Vachel. The Golden Book of Springfield (1920), a novel excerpt and text searc
  • Senechal, Roberta. The Sociogenesis of a Race Riot: Springfield, Illinois, in 1908. 1990. 231 pp.
  • VanMeter, Andy. "Always My Friend: A History of the State Journal-Register and Springfield." Springfield, Ill.: Copley, 1981. 360 pp. history of the daily newspapers
  • Wallace, Christopher Elliott. "The Opportunity to Grow: Springfield, Illinois during the 1850s." PhD dissertation Purdue U. 1983. 247 pp. DAI 1984 44(9): 2864-A. DA8400427 Fulltext: ProQuest Dissertations & Theses
  • Winkle, Kenneth J. "The Second Party System in Lincoln's Springfield." Civil War History 1998 44(4): 267-284. Issn: 0009-8078

Primary sources

  • Chicago Commission on Race Relations. Negro in Chicago (1919), section on Springfield Riot, pp 66–71 complete edition online
  • History of Sangamon County, Illinois (1881)


  1. [1]
  2. See website
  3. Winkle, (1998)
  4. Kenneth J. Winkle, "The Voters of Lincoln's Springfield: Migration and Political Participation in an Antebellum City." Journal of Social History 1992 25(3): 595-611. Issn: 0022-4529 Fulltext: Ebsco
  5. Robert E., Coleberd, Jr. "John Williams: a Merchant Banker in Springfield, Illinois." Agricultural History 1968 42(3): 259-265. Issn: 0002-1482
  6. Camilla A. Quinn, "Soldiers on Our Streets: the Effects of a Civil War Military Camp on the Springfield Community." Illinois Historical Journal 1993 86(4): 245-256. Issn: 0748-8149
  7. Roger Howard Dallmann, "Springfield Seminary." Concordia Historical Institute Quarterly 1977 50(3): 106-130. Issn: 0010-5260
  8. Ron Sakolsky, "Utopia at Your Doorstep: Vachel Lindsay's Golden Book of Springfield." Utopian Studies 2001 12(2): 53-64. Issn: 1045-991x Fulltext: Ebsco
  9. Alexander O. Boulton, "ride of the Prairie." American Heritage 1991 42(4): 62-69. Issn: 0002-8738 Fulltext: Ebsco; Donald P. Hallmark, "Frank Lloyd Wright's Dana-thomas House: its History, Acquisition, and Preservation." Illinois Historical Journal 1989 82(2): 113-126. Issn: 0748-8149
  10. Chicago Commission on Race Relations (1919); Crouthamel (1960); Senechal (1990)
  11. Kenton Gatyas, "Springfield's General Strike of 1917." Journal of Illinois History 1998 1(1): 43-56. Issn: 1522-0532
  12. Horace A. Waggoner, "An Alfalfa Field, with Lights, Will Do." Aerospace Historian 1982 29(1): 13-21. Issn: 0001-9364