Joel Aldrich Matteson, Governor 1853-1857

Governor of Illinois, 1853-1857.
Gustavus Koerner, Lieutenant Governor.

Joel Aldrich Matteson was born at Watertown, N. Y., August 8, 1808. In early life he was employed in a store in Prescott, Ontario, and later taught school and engaged in business in Brownsville, N. Y. In 1831 he went South and began work as foreman on the first railroad in South Carolina. In 1834 he removed to Illinois where he became a contractor on the Illinois and Michigan Canal. He engaged in manufacturing at Joliet. From 1842-53 he was a State Senator. In 1855 he was defeated by Lyman Trumbull for the United States Senatorship. He traveled extensively in Europe after retiring from office. He resided in later life in Chicago, and he was lessee and president of the Chicago & Alton Railroad.

The Bloomington Convention of 1856, Kansas-Nebraska agitation, and the reduction of the State debt, were some of the important events which occurred during his administration.

Governor Matteson was married at Watertown, N. Y., October 7, 1832, to Miss Mary Fish. His death occurred in Chicago, January 31, 1873.

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

JOEL A. MATTES0N — 1853—1856.

JOEL A. MATTESON, the tenth Governor of Illinois, was born in Jefferson County, New York, August 8, 1808. He was the first man to fill that office whose home was not in the southern part of Illinois.

He had but a common school education, and early left his father’s farm making a tour of the south, working on railroads, at the Georgia gold diggings and elsewhere, returning by way of St. Louis through Illinois to his father’s home. After his father’s small farm came into his possession, he sold it and entered a claim on Government land near the head of Au Sable River, in what is now Kendall County, Illinois. There were not more than three or four homes between him and Chicago. Here he opened a large farm and two years later bought largely at the Government land sales. When the next year the speculative real estate mania broke out in Chicago and spread over the state, he sold all his land at a great profit and moved to Joliet.

He was a heavy contractor on the Illinois and Michigan Canal from 1838-41, when he bought the 700 tons of railroad iron the state offered at a bargain, and selling it, made much money. He then started a woolen mill at Joliet, which, too, proved to be a valuable investment.

In 1842 he was elected a state senator, where, because of his being known as a business man of such great discretion, he was made chairman of the committee on finance, which position he held during the two and a half termss of his place in the Legislature. He was elected governor of Illinois on the Democratic ticket in 1852. His candidacy for the United States senatorship in 1854, unexpected as it was, so complicated matters as to defeat Lincoln and elect Lyman Trumbull.

A heavy disgrace has alwaya been attached to his name because of the fact that he was implicated in a false re-issue of redeemed canal scrip amounting to $224,182.66. He would never offer an explanation although he voluntarily turned over his property to, as far as possible, refund the amount.

Ex-Gov. Matteson died in the winter of 1872-73 at Chicago. His administration was marked by success in physical development and advancement of the state in its increase of commercial and business enterprise. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise and the passage of the Nebraska Bill occurred during the time of the administration of Gov. Matteson. The election of Lyman Trumbull, the organization of the Anti-Nebraska Press and Party and the Bloomington Convention all were important events of his term of office. The first state fair was held at Springfield in 1853. Ninian Edwards was appointed first state superintendent of Public Instruction in 1854, and the General Education Act, the basis for the present school system was had in 1855. All of these dates come within the administration of Gov. Matteson.

Kankakee county, with very nearly present boundaries was created from Iroquois and Will counties in 1856. The act creating Kankakee reduced Iroquois and Will in present limits.

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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