As Illinois prepares to celebrate its 200th birthday, it is fitting to look at the place of one of Southern Illinois’s favorite sons, Gen. John A. Logan, and his place in history.
Take for instance the words of the state song, “Illinois,” written in the early 1890s by C.H. Chamberlain. Only three names are mentioned in the verses. Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. president who issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863; Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president of the U.S. who worked to remove the vestiges of slavery; and Logan, Civil War general and politician.
“Not without thy wondrous story, Illinois, Illinois,
Can be writ the nation's glory, Illinois, Illinois,
On the record of thy years, Abraham Lincoln's name appears, Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois, Illinois,
Grant and Logan, and our tears, Illinois.”
Michael Jones, director of the General John A. Logan Museum in Murphysboro, said Logan seems to be totally forgotten in both Illinois and national history.
He believes that is due in part to Logan being known as a racist. To be fair, Jones said, that is true through the early part of the Civil War.
“He hated abolition. In that, he reflected the attitudes of the place he lived,” Jones said, adding that there was a kind of shared racism throughout the state.
Logan graduated from University of Louisville, Kentucky, law school in 1851, and won election to the Illinois House of Representatives in November 1853. Logan fought to enact the state’s harsh Black Code, which imposed a $50 fine on any immigrant negro or mulatto staying in Illinois more than 10 days and worked to defeat a bill allowing blacks to testify in court.
In 1861, Logan asked President Lincoln for permission to raise a regiment, and in early August, Illinois Gov. Richard Yates commissioned Logan as a colonel authorizing him to do so. On Aug. 19, 1861, he told his constituents in Marion square, “The time has come when a man must be for or against his county … The Union once dissolved, we should have numerous confederacies and rebellions. I, for one, shall stand or fall with the Union …”
Logan also promised those listening that if Lincoln freed the slaves, he would lead his men back home.
Jones explained that Logan was a Jacksonian Democrat when he entered the Civil War.
“It was the belief of Andrew Jackson that the union should prevail," Jones said. "Jackson put that into the minds of the party members."
In Jackson, Tennessee, in 1862, Logan first witnessed some of the “brutal realities” of slavery, seeing black families separated as children, wives and husbands were sold to new masters.
In July 1862, the Pantagraph, a Republican newspaper in Bloomington, printed a small article quoting Logan as saying he had seen enough of the southern politicians “cursed institution, and hoped never to sheathe the sword until it was thoroughly wiped out.”
By mid-war, after the Battle of Vicksburg, Logan gave a speech in Du Quoin called the Great Union Speech on July 31, 1863. He also spoke in Chicago for the first time in his life.
“He listed out why he was fighting in the war, and said if this makes me an abolitionist, so be it,” Jones said.
Both speeches were printed as pamphlets and sold across the north.
“He kept evolving in his attitudes toward African Americans,” Jones said.
In 1866, Logan returned to Congress, this time as a Republican. He served two terms as a U.S. Congressman and three terms as a U.S. Senator.
“I think a lot of people don’t know he was very much a figure in national history from after the war until his death,” Jones said.
He supported ratification of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery and involuntary servitude in the United States, calling it “the right thing to do” in a speech in Kentucky.
Logan supported ratification of the 14th Amendment, granting citizenship to every man as human beings, including African Americans. In addressing a meeting of former Union comrades, Logan said he had his own prejudices, “But as the deep, dark hour of night, the poor colored man, bowed down the chains of slavery, would crawl through the marches, through the thickets and come into your picket lines, into your camps, and tell you where the Rebel forces lay, and how you might attack and destroy it … Hence I want him to have the protection of the law, I am in favor of his having it.”
Logan also supported the 15th amendment which granted the right to vote to Negro men. In speeches, he challenged opponents to give him a reason why they should not have that right. “I don’t care whether a man is black, red, blue or white” he should have a voice in choosing the men who control the government, Logan said in a speech in Ohio in fall 1867. The Evening Star in Wilmington, North Carolina, said Logan favored the election of negroes to Congress and is not opposed to having a negro for President in an article on Oct. 7, 1867.
When Logan ran as a vice presidential candidate in 1884, Frederick Douglass endorsed him, and that endorsement is in the collection of the Library of Congress.
“But what of John A. Logan: I will tell you. If there is any statesman on this continent, now in public life, to whose courage, justice and fidelity, I would more fully and unreservedly trust the cause of the colored people of this country, or that cause of any other people, I do not know him … no man has been bolder and truer to the cause of the colored man and to the country, than has John A. Logan,” Douglass said.
“Seems to be out there still is the idea that Logan was a racist. But the story doesn’t stop there. At the end of his life he definitely was not. He saw that the granting of opportunities to African Americans was an important thing to do,” Jones said.
Logan did not fulfill his dream of higher office, dying Dec. 26, 1886.