Bicentennial birthday bash

Edgar County Historical Society marks Illinois’ big 200th by recreating the past

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The Edgar County Historical Society celebrated the state bicentennial Sunday, Dec. 2, with a presentation by Roger Stanley highlighting key points of state history, with assistance of some historical re-enactors.

People from Illinois and Indiana filled the meeting room of the museum annex for the program. The PowerPoint presentation covered many of the events that made Illinois possible from the establishment of European settlements invading Indian Country to the events that happened along the way.

One of the noted achievements of a country or state is to recognize and celebrate a significant time in its history. Americans have celebrated the creation of our nation every Fourth of July and have done so for 242 years. On Dec. 3, 2018, Illinois becomes 200 years old, something to take note of and to honor as a tribute to our forefathers of the Prairie State.

From first hearing the name of Illinois by Native Americans along the Illinois River by the French until the present day, citizens should remember important events. That is the making of our land that is so special along the rivers passing through fertile prairies and rich woodlands.

The Indians were in the area first and were followed by the French, then the British and finally the Americans. The changing of the guard was evidenced by the French and Indian War, the American Revolution and the War of 1812. One of the very historic locations was found at Kaskaskia, which saw the many changes of character for not only Illinois, but also the nation. The victory at Kaskaskia by George Rogers Clark during the Revolution was celebrated by the ringing of the Liberty Bell of the west on July 4, 1778.

After Kaskaskia and Vincennes were taken by Clark and his contingent, a form of government, the Northwest Ordinance, was set up by a new republic. It not only dramatically increased the area of the original 13 colonies, but also created a set of laws that was a precursor to the United States Constitution.

A few years later Illinois became the Illinois Territory with Kaskaskia as the capital and a new state became eminent.

The steps to statehood included creating a state constitution by delegates from the 15 counties of Illinois at that time. It was ratified by the U.S. Congress Dec. 3, 1818, and Illinois was added as the 21st state of the union. Kaskaskia, the territorial capital, continued as the state capital, but that was only short lived. The more centrally located Vandalia was subsequently made the capital city, and the new Illinois constitution stated the site chosen needed to serve as the capital for 20-year period of time.

Pictures were shown of Abraham Lincoln and Stanley said, “Lincoln was so important to Illinois and U.S. history that we find him in this bicentennial story. Lincoln became a lawyer and met Stephen Douglas where they began their oratory duels.” Even today it seems we can feel the breath of Lincoln in this place because he gave it from his heart and soul and that should abide forever.

Lincoln and the Long Nine, a group of fellow legislators, successfully relocated the state house from Vandalia to Springfield. As the political currents became stronger just before the Civil War Lincoln gave his House Divided speech in the capitol building.

Even though Lincoln lost the 1858 Senate race to Douglas, the now famous Lincoln-Douglas Debates from the campaign brought Lincoln national notice and helped propel him toward the presidency in 1860.

Barack Obama, our first black president, announced his presidential campaign from the steps of the same building where Lincoln served as a legislator and delivered the House Divided speech. These were noteworthy events shown in the presentation and were included in the celebration of our state.

Stanley showed pictures of the present state capitol and explained, “In 1888, an architectural wonder of the whole Midwest was built for the present capitol of Illinois. It was included as being significant to Illinois history because it still represents with much of its artwork and statues the importance of some of the events that made Illinois important for its citizens. The state seal at the very top and pictures and statues of past statesmen including Patrick Henry and George Rogers Clark. Also in a place of honor in front of the building is Abraham Lincoln standing guard over the past.”

The presentation followed almost full circle with a depiction of Patrick Henry.

“As governor of Virginia he (Henry) started George Rogers Clark on his way,” said Stanley.

The event concluded with two statements, one uttered by Patrick Henry in his address to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1775 as a response to how the king of England was mistreating colonists. His speech included, “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”

Stanley’s closed with his own observation, “What course is now for Illinois – we certainly want liberty, let it not be with the death of our state, but with a fresh breath of freedom and justice for all.”

After the presentation, three guests from Vincennes, Ind., and the George Roger’s Clark Memorial dressed as people from the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries answered audience questions about what life was like in early Illinois.

George Sanquenetti portrayed a French trapper and explorer. Chuck Valentine was a French marine and Frank Doughan was a U.S. Army rifleman who fought at the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe.

Program director Sean Robison made the connections to bring the historical re-enactors to the local bicentennial celebration, which added a lively bit of color to the afternoon.