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Springfield politics  & government

While I never covered city hall as such, I wrote about Springfield politics often; in fact one of my very first published pieces was on that topic. Springfield became widely known as a political town when it was named Illinois capital in 1835, but in fact it was a political town before then. In fact, Springfield won the capital because its civic stalwarts—men ambitious for themselves and thus for their town—were adept at the political arts as then practiced.

In other Downstate cities, politics is the means  by which good governments are achieved; in Springfield, government is the means by which good political organizations are achieved. The capture of city hall by successive professional pols of both parties occasionally offended respectable local opinion, but never so much that a majority of citizens demanded a change. 

The articles listed below are only a selection. The rest are about issues that no longer are of consequence and people whose names are not longer familiar.

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The Best Show in Town

Nelson Howarth, Springfield citizen and mayor

Focus  March 27, 1971

Nelson Howarth

A Springfield mayor, upon his death

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  October 24, 1991

Class Act

Social  class and public office in Springfield

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  October 1, 1987

Municipal government reform

In the middle 1970s, Springfieldians unhappy with the city’s commission form of government undertook twice to change it. The dissidents acted through different organizations and they had different gripes about the status quo, but all under-estimated how attached their townspeople were to the status quo simply because it was the status quo. The dispute was familiar in its essence, pitting as it did cosmopolitan good-government types against the courthouse culture of Springfield.


Springfield did get a new form of local government, by the way, in 1987, but that was a result of a settlement of a civil rights lawsuit that found the at-large voting system used under the commission form to be inherently discriminatory. While the new council was more representative, it would achieve none of the other improvements the reformers hoped for in the 1970s, mainly because the reformers were not running it.

Running the City Machine

The failed hopes of commission reform

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 16, 1977

Wait a Minute

Springfieldians propose being herded by cats

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  January 6, 1978

Change of Government in Perspective

Government without politics in Springfield?

Illinois Times  March 17, 1978


When "justice" means a fairer distribution of spoils  

“Prejudices” Illinois Times  January 29, 1987

One's Own Sort

Making race the basis of citizenship

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 30, 1987

Form Over Function

Springfield’s “new” aldermanic government turns 30

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times January 26, 2017

Should Springfield Change Its Form of Government?

Is democracy the cure for democracy’s ills?

Illinois Times October 7, 1977


Springfield confronts its inner xenophobe

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  November 11, 1977

The Public Enterprise System

Of the developers, by the developers,

and for the developers

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  January 11, 1980

Bad Government Is a Cultural Defect

The sociology of the Illinois Way

"Forum"  Illinois Times  April 1, 1976

A Problem of Scale

The interests of City and city often are at odds

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 25, 1977

Nine Out of Ten

The Catholic ascendancy in capital city politics

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 23, 1979

Idealistic Thoughts

Remembering Springfield’s “greatest citizen after Lincoln”

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times  December 29, 2016

Daring to Imagine the Future
Mayor Davlin seeks advice on infrastructure
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  August 26, 2010

Conflicts and Conundrums

To disclose or not to disclose, that is the question

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  February 16, 1979

“I wish I was that smart”

Bill Cellini, Springfield’s politics pro

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  July 17, 1981

Business as Usual

Sangamon County tries to re-invent the wheel

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times November 9, 2017

Blacks and the Board

Democrats revolt in Sangamon County

Illinois Times  December 22, 1978

David Robinson: Born to Run

Smart Jewish kid runs in, not from, corn country

Illinois Times  July 17, 1977

Class Act

The real criterion for Springfield public office

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times   October 1, 1987

Blacks and the Grand Old Party

Springfield African Americans think of

being Republicans again

Illinois Times   February 2, 1979


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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