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Thursday, July 2, 2015 02:59 pm

The late Calhoun, Illinois

 Recently Rich Miller argued in a post on his Capitol Fax blog site that having a county named as John C. Calhoun, the secessionist Southern senator, was unbecoming to a progressive state.

In that post, Rich note that what is today the City of Springfield once was known as Calhoun. And yes, the town was platted in 1823 as Calhoun, after the South Carolinian, and it wasn’t officially changed to Springfield until the town site was  replatted in 1833. Rich explained that the change occurred when Calhoun became the standard-bearer for the nullification cause that claimed the right of each state to nullify aspects of federal law it deemed unconstitutional. “Calhoun residents decided a name change was in order,” wrote Miller.

Hmmm. Paul Angle’s account of the name change is strangely ambiguous. He explains that Calhoun was at the peak of his fame in the West as it then was, and that the locals shared Calhoun’s expansionist sentiments, but that the change was made to the “satisfaction of the people.” If it was, it seems unlikely to have been because the people were offended by Calhoun’s doctrines, given that three-quarters of the heads of household who immigrated to the Springfield area before 1840 came directly from homes in Kentucky, Tennessee, or the upcountry of Virginia and the Carolinas. One historian argues (to my mind persuasively, that the rejection of the  name Calhoun had naught to do with moral or outrage as such but his vote in Congress against a pork barrel bill that the locals wanted.

That rings true.

As so often when we get into a muddle about the past, we must turn to those helpful servants of Clio at Lincoln Library. A timeline compiled by Melinda Garvert at the Sangamon Valley Room (and made available at the Sangamon Link history website) reminds us that the new settlement was called Springfield when it was made temporary county seat in 1821. (One of the four men who founded the town – a group distinct from the one that settled it – came from a county in Ol’ Kaintuck whose seat was named Springfield.) Yes, in 1823 the first plat of the village bore the name Calhoun, but that was a fancy of the platter; apparently people who lived there still called it Springfield, as did the post office, and so it was called in 1825 when it was resurveyed on being named the county seat. When the town name was changed from Calhoun in a 1833 replat, it would seem to have merely confirmed local usage of some years. 

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