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A History of Illinois' U.S. Senators

'An Uncertain Tradition' (photo from SIU Press)

By Tom Weber, KWMU

St. Louis, MO –

In its 185-year history, Illinois has had just 47 U.S. Senators. Aside from the fact that all but one has been a white man, each Senator has his or her own unique story that are now part of a new book called "An Uncertain Tradition.",

One of the book's co-authors is David Kenney, a retired professor from Southern Illinois University - Carbondale.

He spoke with KWMU's Tom Weber, saying Illinois has cropped a number of important Senators including Steven Douglas, Paul Simon, and Everett Dirksen.

Interesting facts about U.S. Senators from Illinois:

Shortest term: 1 month, David Baker. Baker was appointed in 1830 to serve the remaining month of John McClean's term. McClean had died in office.

(* - The shortest term distinction for a U.S. Senator from Illinois might also go to Frank Leslie Smith, but Smith was never actually allowed to become a Senator. He was elected by the people of Illinois in 1926, but corruption charges soon arose and the Senate refused to admit him. He formally resigned the post in 1928, having never officially assumed the office.)

Longest term: 30 years, Shelby Cullom. Served five terms from 1883-1913 after having also served as Illinois' Governor. Cullom's bid for a sixth term was unsuccessful.

First Senator born in Illinois: Samuel McRoberts (born in 1799, served 1841-43)

(* - Only 15 of the 47 Senators Illinois has had were born in Illinois. Ten were born in Kentucky.)

First Senator to be elected by people: Lawrence Sherman in 1914 (Senators were elected by state legislatures until the 17th Amendment became law in 1913, requiring the people to pick their Senators. Sherman was picked by the Illinois General Assembly in 1913, then by the people in 1914)

Senators who died in office: (9)
John McClean, 1830
Elias Kane, 1835
Samuel McRoberts, 1843
Stephen Douglas, 1861
John A. Logan, 1886
Joseph McCormick, 1925
William B. McKinley, 1926
James Hamilton Lewis, 1939
Everett Dirksen, 1969

Other interesting facts:

* - James Shields is the only man in history to have represented three states in the U.S. Senate. He was Illinois' Senator from 1849-55; was Minnesota's Senator from 1858-59; and briefly was a Missouri Senator in 1879.

* - Of the 47 U.S. Senators Illinois has had, 46 were/are white men. Carol Moseley-Braun, a black woman, is the only woman and the only person of Color who has ever served as U.S. Senator from Illinois.

* - Only five U.S. Senators' bodies have lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda upon their deaths. Two of them, John A. Logan (1871-77; 1879-86) and Everett Dirksen (1951-69), were from Illinois.

* - David Davis (1877-83) was elected by fellow Senators as Senate president pro tem in 1881, after Vice President Chester Arthur became President upon the assassination of James Garfield. There was no vice president under Arthur and the law in 1881 required the Senate to pick a president pro tem to serve as the next in line to the President. Davis remained next in line to Arthur for almost four years.

* - Jesse Burgess Thomas, who was elected to be one of Illinois' first two Senators in 1818, committed suicide 24 years after leaving office. According to Kenney's book, Thomas was upset about his wife's death.

Source: "An Uncertain Tradition"


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