John Cushman Abbott Exhibit Supplement

Gov. Thomas Ford
Gov. Thomas Ford (1)

vi. A history of Illinois

A history of Illinois, from its commencement as a state in 1818 to 1847: containing a full account of the Black Hawk War, the rise, progress, and fall of Mormonism, the Alton and Lovejoy riots, and other important and interesing [sic] events.

By Thomas Ford.
Chicago: Published by S. C. Griggs & Co., 111 Lake Street; New York: Ivison & Phinney, 1854.

xvii, [2], 20-447, [9] pages; 21 cm -- Signatures: [1]-19¹² -- Blue cloth embossed covers with gilt on spine. -- Library catalog record.

Click here for the entire book.

Thomas Ford moved to Illinois with his widowed mother and family when he was four years old, in 1804. This began his lifelong connection to the state.

By the time he was in his twenties, Ford was a practicing lawyer in Edwardsville. He was married to Frances Hambaugh and they would have five children together. Ford became a state's attorney, a circuit judge, and then an Illinois Supreme Court justice. He ran for Illinois governor as a Jacksonian Democrat in 1842, a last-minute replacement for the slot vacated when Adam W. Snyder died three months before the election. In Ford's words:

Mr. Snyder had been nominated because he was a leader of the party. Mr. Snyder died, and I was nominated, not because I was a leader, for I was not, but because I was believed to have no more than a very ordinary share of ambition; because it was doubtful whether any of the leaders could be elected, and because it was thought I would stand more in need of support from leaders, than an actual leader would. (2)

Ford defeated his Whig opponent.

The Mormons had established the town of Nauvoo in Hancock County. In 1844, some members of the Mormon community separated from leader Joseph Smith and set up an opposition newspaper in Nauvoo. Smith destroyed the press and ran the editors out of town. Anti-Mormon factions in the surrounding territories rallied and called for Smith's arrest. Eventually Smith surrendered. Ford failed to ensure Smith's protection in jail, where he was murdered by a mob. Violence against the Mormons escalated beyond Ford's control over the next two years. Nauvoo's approximately 15,000 Mormons left Illinois in 1846, ultimately settling in Utah.

Ford's other major challenge as governor was the state's dire financial situation. Upon taking office, Ford calculated the state's debt exceeded $15 million. Ford did a better job handling this crisis. He developed a successful compromise with the failed banks, obtained loans to complete the Illinois and Michigan Canal (to be paid off with canal tolls), and levied a property tax to pay off the state's remaining debt.

Ford was prohibited by the Illinois constitution from seeking a second term as governor in 1846. He wrote A History of Illinois in 1847-1848. In it, Ford praises Peck's Gazetteer as "a work of considerable labor and well written." (3) Ford's book also includes frank and scathing criticisms of his fellow politicians. In any case, the book is a valuable source of first-hand information about frontier politics in Illinois. Ford died of tuberculosis in 1850.

---Written by Mary Z. Rose

Footnotes to exhibition text:

1. This image of Ford is published in Stevens, Frank E. The Black Hawk War. Chicago: Frank E. Stevens, 1903. Page 94.

2. See page 271. Click here to access the entire book. Page number refers to the page of the pdf file, not the page number printed in the book.

3. See page 231. Click here to access the entire book. Page number refers to the page of the pdf file, not the page number printed in the book.

References consulted for exhibition text:

Davis, Rodney O. "Ford, Thomas." American National Biography. Eds. John A. Garraty, Mark C. Carnes. Vol. 8. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. (Library catalog record.)

Flanders, Robert Bruce. Nauvoo: Kingdom on the Mississippi. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1965. (Library catalog record.)

Howard, Robert P. Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors, 1818-1988. Springfield: Illinois Issues, Sangamon State University; Illinois State Historical Society, 1988. (Library catalog record.)