Editor’s note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is brought to you by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at 200illinois.com.
The Gettysburg Address. Hull House. The nation’s first African-American president — and first lady. All of these are due to Illinois’ bumper crop of political figures and politicians, who represent a diverse range of viewpoints and contributions throughout history.
Here, in alphabetical order, are some of the leaders who came from our state:
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A social worker and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, Addams was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She ran Hull House, a settlement house for poor immigrants in Chicago, and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union. She also chaired a women’s conference for peace in the Netherlands in 1919 and worked unsuccessfully to get the United States to serve as a mediator between warring countries in World War I. She died in 1935 in Chicago. I-90 in Illinois is named after her.
Hillary Rodham Clinton
Clinton’s 2016 Democratic nomination for president culminated a lifetime of public service, including terms as U.S. secretary of state, U.S. senator and first lady, a job where she chaired a task force that devised a plan to provide universal health care for Americans. Raised in Park Ridge, she moved to Arkansas in 1975 and married Bill Clinton, who became the 42nd U.S. president. Her first run for president was in 2008, when she lost the nomination to fellow Illinoisan Barack Obama.
Richard J. Daley
Born into a working-class Irish family in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, Daley worked in the Union Stockyards to pay for law school. He was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives, then became Chicago’s 38th mayor with a 21-year tenure that ended with his death in 1976. Daley delivered key Democratic votes from Cook County in the 1960 presidential election of John F. Kennedy. He received national attention, and criticism, for authorizing the use of police force during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. His son, Richard M. Daley, followed him as Chicago mayor from 1989 to 2011.
A native of Pekin, Dirksen helped steer the United States through the turbulent 1960s. As U.S. Senate minority leader, the Republican held a crucial role in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. A World War I Army veteran, he was one of the Senate’s strongest supporters of the U.S. role in Vietnam. He died while in office in 1969 and is buried in Pekin. Did Dirksen say, “A million here, a million there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money”? No written or recorded record has been found, reports The Dirksen Center in Pekin. While a few people emphatically recall him uttering the famous words, at least one remembers the senator denying it.
A rising figure in Illinois’ early years, Douglas served in the Illinois House of Representatives and as Illinois secretary of state and Illinois Supreme Court associate justice, all by age 27. A few years later he was elected to the U.S. House, then the Senate and became one of the Democrats’ leaders. The chief nemesis and sparring partner of Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Douglas was nicknamed “the little giant” because of his diminutive stature and political forcefulness. Douglas (along with Lincoln) championed the Illinois Central Railroad, now part of the Canadian National Railway. He designed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which brought the question of slavery into the national spotlight by allowing slaves in U.S. territories. He died of typhoid fever at age 48 in 1861 and is buried on Chicago’s South Side.
Born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in 1918 in Chicago, she moved with her family to Michigan before traveling at 18 to study dance in Vermont and New York. She married and divorced, then married Gerald Ford as he was campaigning for the U.S. House of Representatives. He later became the 38th president of the United States. As first lady, Betty was known for her frank and outspoken nature and irked some conservatives because of her support of socially liberal causes, including the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion access. Five years after leaving the White House, she founded the Betty Ford Center after recovering from alcohol and painkiller addiction. She died in 2011 at age 93; her husband died 74 days later.
Ulysses S. Grant
Born in Ohio, Grant served in the Mexican-American War and moved at age 38 with his wife to Galena to join the family leather goods business. The Civil War began a year later and Grant led a regiment south. Eventually promoted to commanding general and reporting directly to President Abraham Lincoln, he helped lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. As the 18th president from 1869 to 1877, he oversaw Reconstruction. He kept a home in Galena. He died in 1885 and is, with his wife Julia, buried in Grant’s Tomb at the General Grant National Memorial in New York.
Jackson lived under Jim Crow laws during his youth in South Carolina, but later participated in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery marches for civil rights and went to work for Martin Luther King Jr., which led Jackson to Chicago to establish an office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He attended the Chicago Theological Seminary and was ordained, then later received a master of divinity degree. Jackson was at the Memphis hotel when King was assassinated. As one of the most influential civil rights leaders in the nation, he founded Operation PUSH and organized the National Rainbow Coalition, now merged as Rainbow/PUSH. Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988 and later assumed a role in negotiating internationally for release of U.S. hostages and prisoners abroad. President Bill Clinton awarded Jackson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
A human rights activist, widow of late U.S. Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and mother of 11, she was born Ethel Skakel in Chicago and later moved to Connecticut. She married Kennedy in 1950 and founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights after his assassination in 1968. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014 by President Barack Obama.
A lawyer and member of the Illinois House of Representatives and U.S. House, Lincoln became the 16th president of the United States, serving from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln’s presidency was marked by the Civil War and he is credited with preserving the Union. His Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declared that all slaves within the Confederate states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” Lincoln is considered a leader in building the new Republican Party. He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield.
Barack and Michelle Obama
Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, came to Chicago to work as a community organizer after graduating from Columbia University. He taught at the University of Chicago Law School before being elected to the Illinois Senate and U.S. Senate. In 2008, he became the 44th president of the United States. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Michelle Obama was born in Chicago, attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School, and returned to Chicago to work at the law firm Sidley and Austin, where she met her husband. As first lady, she made healthy eating and exercise for children a focus.
A former actor and California governor who became the 40th president of the United States, Reagan was born in Tampico and attended Eureka College. The two-term president was dubbed “the great communicator” and was credited with cutting taxes and bringing a quicker end to the Cold War with the Soviet Union. He survived an assassination attempt in 1981 outside the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., and died in 2004 after battling Alzheimer’s disease.
Born in Oregon, Simon moved to Illinois and borrowed $3,600 to take over the Troy Tribune, becoming the nation’s youngest editor and publisher at 20 and building the newspaper chain to 14 weeklies in the late 1940s. He railed against gambling, prostitution and government corruption and, after Army service during the Korean War, began his political career in the Illinois House of Representatives. A Democrat, he was lieutenant governor under Republican Gov. Richard Ogilvie, the only time those two offices have been held by people from different parties. He was elected to the U.S. House, then the Senate, where he served for 12 years until 1997. Simon ran for president in 1988, but lost in the primary to Michael Dukakis. Simon lived in Makanda and founded the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University before his death in 2003.
Adlai Stevenson II
Born into a family of prominent Illinois politicians, Stevenson was raised in Bloomington, where his family ran The Daily Pantagraph, and spent his adult life calling a farm along the Des Plaines River near Libertyville his home. His grandfather Adlai Stevenson was vice president of the U.S. under Grover Cleveland, his father Lewis Stevenson was Illinois secretary of state, and his son Adlai Stevenson III was a U.S. senator from Illinois from 1970 to 1981. As for Adlai II, he was Illinois governor from 1949 to 1953 and was the Democratic nominee for U.S. president in 1952 and 1956. Unsuccessful in both attempts, he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to be the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and served during the Cuban missile crisis. He died in 1965 in London while traveling on U.N. business. He’s buried in Bloomington; the public Adlai E. Stevenson High School in Mettawa is named after him.