Illinois Bicentennial | A diverse range of political figures

Illinois Bicentennial | A diverse range of political figures

The Daily Herald

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:

Jane Addams

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.

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.

Everett Dirksen

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.

Stephen Douglas

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.

Betty Ford

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.

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.

Abraham Lincoln

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.

Ronald Reagan

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 and died in 2004 after battling Alzheimer's disease.