Augustus C. French

Governor of Illinois, 1846-1853.
Joseph B. Wells, Lieutenant Governor.
William McMurtry, Lieutenant Governor.

Augustus C. French was born at Hill, Merrimack County, N. H., August 2, 1808. He attended Dartmouth College for a time but did not graduate. In 1831 he was admitted to the bar. He emigrated to Albion, Illinois, and in 1832 he removed to Paris, Illinois, where he built up a good law practice. He was a Representative in the General Assembly of the State, 1836-40. In 1832 he was appointed receiver of public money at Palestine. In 1844 he was presidential elector on the Democratic ticket. In 1846 he was elected Governor of Illinois and served from December 9, 1846, to January 10, 1853. He was appointed bank commissioner by Governor Matteson in 1858. He was a candidate for the office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, but was defeated. He became professor of law in McKendree College, Lebanon, and was a member of the Constitutional Convention of 1862. Governor French was re-elected under the Constitution of 1848, and was the first Governor of Illinois to be re-elected.

Governor French married Miss Lucy M. Southworth about 1842.

The Mexican War had begun in the administration of Governor Ford, but French was Governor during most of the period of the War. During the administration of Governor French the new Constitution was framed which was ratified by the people in 1848.

Governor French died at Lebanon, Illinois, September 4, 1864.

Source: "The Governors of Illinois, 1818-1918"; Issued by the Illinois Centennial Commission

AUGUSTUS C. FRENCH, 1847—1853.

AUGUSTUS C. FRENCH, the ninth governor of Illinois, was the first one to fill that office as a native New Englander. He was born in the town of Hill, New Hampshire, coming from early New England stock, being a descendant in the fourth generation from Nathaniel French, who emigrated from England and settled in Saybury, Mass., in 1687. He was the oldest of six children and at the age of nineteen, when his mother died and left the younger ones to his care, he discharged his trust faithfully. Besides this common school, he attended Dartmouth College, but because of this care of his brothers and sister, he could not remain long enough to complete the course. He read law and was admitted to the bar, shortly after which time he moved to Albion, Edwards County, Illinois.

The following year he moved to Paris, Edgar County, which county he represented in the State Legislature where he was thrown with Stephen A. Douglas, with whom a warm attachment was soon formed. In 1839, Mr. French was appointed receiver of the United States land office at Palestine, Crawford County. In 1844, he was a Presidential Elector voting for James H. Polk.

He was elected governor of Illinois in 1846. By the new constitution of 1848, a new election of state officers was ordered to be held in November of that year, at which time Gov. French was re-elected for a term of four years, thus making his term of office six consecutive years.

Gov. French was a man of medium height, squarely built, with light complexion. His face was ruddy and his countenance pleasing. He was, generally speaking, diffident in manner but he could speak out his convictions when duty demanded. He was an accurate and methodical business man, and made a personal trust of the affairs of the state. He filled the chair in law at McKendree College after his term as governor expired. He died at Lebanon, St. Clair County, in 1865.

It was during the administration of Gov. French that the Mexican war closed. His party held the policy committed to that war.

During his term of office in 1847, the State Legislature, by permission of Congress, declared that all government lands sold to settlers should be immediately subjected to state taxation and not be, as hitherto, exempt for five years. The settlements of the state were greatly increased by the distribution of government land warrants among the Mexican soldiers as bounty. The same Legislature authorized the sale of the Northern Cross R. R. The governor also authorized the sale of the salt wells and canal lands in the Saline reserve in Gallatin County, to apply on the state debt. This raised the state revenue to the point of meeting current demands.

Two years later the Legislature adopted the township organization law, and when it proved defective amended it the following session so as to be satisfactory. This was a triumph to the sentiment of northern Illinois.

In 1850, Congress granted nearly 3,000,000 acres of land in aid to the completion of the Illinois Central R. R. This was a very important event in the history of Illinois. The institution for the blind was chartered during the administration of Gov. French.

Saline county, created from Gallatin during Gov. French’s term of office, was given its present boundaries and territory was added to Hardin county at same session of the legislature.

Source: Decisive Dates in Illinois History, A Story of the State, By Lottie B. Jones. Danville, Illinois: Illinois Printing Company, 1909.

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