John W. Pratt was born in Alleghany county, in the state of Maryland, on the third day of December, 1806. He was the son of Thomas G. and Christiana (Tyler) Pratt; the mother was a cousin of John Tyler, president of the United States.
Thomas G. Pratt was born in the year 1769. At an early day he removed from Prince George county to Alleghany county, Maryland; he afterwards lived in Frederick county, at a point but five miles distant from Harper's Ferry. He was an influential man of property and gave his son, John W., a liberal education, which he readily acquired, and he was admitted to the bar in the state of Maryland, where he doubtless would have risen to distinction in his chosen profession and remained a practitioner in his native state, had he not contracted a severe cold in 1823, when a lad of seventeen years, while suffering with an attack of measles. The result of this cold left him a victim of consumption. He began the practice of his profession and soon found himself famous as a public speaker and made numerous addresses on various subjects to large and intelligent audiences.
Hoping that a change of climate would arrest the progress of the terrible disease that had fastened itself upon him he removed to Florida, and after a thorough trial of that climate, finding the change had been of no benefit, he returned to his native state. The fame of the Illinois country had reached all sections of the east, and Mr. Pratt in the year 1835, when 29 years of age, came to this state, in company with a man named Case, making the journey on horseback, in search of a climate which would help him in the battle for life and health. The travelers were attracted to Beardstown, then a point of prospective importance, from its position upon the Illinois river, before the day of the steam roads of iron. He purchased 40 acres of land in Sec. 14 and 23, T. 17, R. 11, of Loudon Case, on July 10, 1835, which was located about one mile distant from the farm of John Savage, who was then a leading citizen of Morgan county, in whose family he became a boarder and on the 26th day of November, 1836, he was married to Emily, the oldest child of John Savage, by Rev. Benjamin Cauby, a minister of the Cumberland Presbyterian church.
The quiet and seclusion of life on a pioneer's farm in this new country was so different from his life in the east that Mr. Pratt soon tired of it and removed to Beardstown, where his oldest child, Thomas G. Pratt, now a resident of this city, was born, on the bank of the Illinois river, on September 6, 1837. In the meantime Cass county had been organized and Mr. Pratt had become a candidate for the office of county clerk and, at the election held in August, 1837, was elected over his opponent, Robert G. Gaines, and on August 14, 1837, filed his bond and took the oath of office; the sureties upon his official bond were Isaac C. Spence and Alexander Huffman.
The county commissioners soon found that Mr. Pratt was a man of integrity and excellent business capacity and on the 5th of June, 1839, they appointed him as the agent of Cass county, to demand and receive money due the county under the state Internal Improvement Law.
In 1842, Mr. Pratt, intending to become a candidate for the office of member of the legislature of the state from Cass county, on June 8th, of that year, resigned his office of county clerk, and was then appointed clerk pro tem. At the election held on Monday, August 1, 1842, he was elected over Joshua P. Crow, his opponent, and William H. H. Carpenter was elected to succeed him as county clerk; Mr. Pratt succeeding Amos S. West who represented Cass county in the Lower House, 1840 to 1842.
The Thirteenth General Assembly of Illinois for 1842-1844, convened at Springfield on December 5, 1842. John Henry, of Morgan county, was a member of the senate; Newton Cloud, David Epler and William Weatherford, all of Morgan county were members of the House of Representatives. Those who were active in the matter of the formation of Cass county, petitioned for its boundaries as they now exist, but, as it will appear later, by sharp practice, a strip three miles wide was retained by Morgan county; the south line of the county as formed being three miles north of the present county line. Mr. Pratt began a determined fight for this three mile strip, and was assisted by Mr. Epler who resided within the said strip, and was anxious to have it annexed to Cass county. But the other members from Morgan made a strenuous fight against Mr. Pratt and Mr. Epler, and their assistants had worked upon the citizens of the strip taking advantage of the bitterness that prevailed among the people on account of the rivalry that existed between Virginia and Beardstown over the permanent location of the county seat, which had been first established at Beardstown and afterwards removed to Virginia.
On the 7th day of February, 1843, Mr. Pratt made a speech upon his bill to extend the limits of Cass county, which we have been so fortunate as to find among his papers and which is here produced in full. It will be remembered that the precinct he refers to as the "Lucas Precinct" was located in the northeast corner of the county, and is now known as the Richmond Precinct. This speech contains recitals of historical facts entirely unknown to the present generation so far as this writer has been able to ascertain, and makes a most valuable addition to these Historical Sketches. It was furnished by Mrs. Ellen Treadway, of this city, a daughter of Mr. Pratt.
Remarks of Mr. Pratt, of Cass county, in the House of Representatives February 7, 1843, on the bill to extend the limits of Cass county:
Mr. Speaker: - It would be, at all times, with much difficulty, that I could address a deliberative body, and the difficulty is greatly increased on the present occasion by sickness, which has kept me from the house for several days, and a severe hoarseness which increases the embarrassment and lessens the change of my being understood. But, Sir, I am by no means willing to postpone the consideration of this question. I rejoice that it is now before the house, and that I have an opportunity of placing it on proper grounds, and of answering whatever may be urged by those who are opposed to this just claim.
Personally, I am but little interested, - pecuniarily I have little or nothing to gain or lose by the issue of this question: but Sir, my feelings have been warmly enlisted from the fact, that the people of the county which I have the honor to represent on this floor - the whole people - do feel a deeper and more absorbing interest in this matter than any other that has engaged the consideration of the Legislature. They must not be charged with making their principles subordinate to their interest in, their zeal on this point. Sir, there is a great principle as well as heavy interests involved in this matter - a principle which I am willing to contend for and which they are not willing to surrender. We deny the right of any county in the state, or the state itself, to inflict an unnecessary wrong. We claim that when it is inflicted, it is the bounden duty of the state to redress that wrong, more especially when it can be done without serious injury to others. the people of Cass county have been wronged in the formation of the county, and without stopping to inquire who inflicted the wrong we call upon the Legislature to redress it.
Mr. Speaker, I will first give a brief history of the formation of the county, vouching in my place, from my personal knowledge, for the truth of the statements and facts presented. I will then answer the gentleman from Morgan, (Mr. Cloud) and pledge myself triumphantly to refute every argument adduced by him adverse to our claims, and will especially show, that a majority of the people of Cass county, not only did not accept of the county, as asserted by him, but that a clear majority - a large majority, were opposed to its formation.
During the winter of 1836 and ‘37, petitions were circulated in the northern part of Morgan county, for a new county The proposed county was to be made from the northern part of Morgan, which laid north of the line dividing township 16 and 17, running from the Illinois river east to the Sangamon county line. This line included the three mile strip that is now proposed to attach to the county of Cass. These petitions were signed by some five hundred voters in Morgan county, which then contained, and at the previous August election had polled, about 3600 votes. Acting on these petitions the legislature passed a law conditionally creating the present county of Cass, making the line not where the petition called for, viz: the line dividing township 16 and 17, but making it run in the middle of township 17, thus leaving a strip 3 miles wide on the entire length of the county, and curtailing the claims of the petitions upwards of 80 square miles. The condition of the law was, that at a time appointed in the law, an election should be held in Morgan county, then composed of the present counties of Morgan, Scott, and Cass, for the purpose of accepting or rejecting the proposed county. At the time appointed, April 1837, an election was held under the said law for that purpose. About 1000 votes were polled in a county which, as I before observed, at that time contained, and at the previous August election had given, 3000 votes. Of these 1000 votes a majority of 48 was cast against the formation of the county, but the poll book of the Meredosia precinct, in the present county of Morgan, having been returned by a citizen of Cass county, who was neither a judge nor a clerk of the election, and the poll book of the Lucas precinct, in the county of Cass, having been returned by mail - both precincts giving almost an unanimous vote against division - they were rejected by the officers authorized by law to count the votes on account of this informality. The county of Cass was thus established, when a majority of the votes polled had been cast against its formation: when a majority of the people within her bounds, were opposed to it, and when nearly three-fourths of the people had failed to attend the polls.
Mr. Speaker, here are several important facts that present this claim on grounds different from any question of county divisions that has even been presented to the Legislature. the claims of the petitions were curtailed - the boundaries reduced; nearly three-fourths of the people did not vote; of those voting a majority was cast against the division of the county; and what is of still greater importance, and a still greater hardship, a majority of the people within the curtailed limits of the new county of Cass were opposed to this formation - first changing the boundaries of the county they petitioned for, and then forcing it on them against their will. I do not mean to cast censure on the then existing delegation from Morgan county, for changing the lines and referring the question back to a vote of the people; nor do I mean to charge the majority of the people of Morgan county with the intention of forcing the county on the people of Cass, for they had the power and did not exercise it. but I do mean to say that it is a fact beyond controversy, the people of Cass county have a county that they did not petition for; a county they were opposed to; a county they were not willing to accept; a county against the formation of which they remonstrated until remonstrance was vain - until the legislature declared the county established; a county which they now call upon the legislature to enlarge.
At every subsequent session of the legislature the people of Cass county, and the people living on the three mile strip, have petitioned for this disputed territory, to be attached to the county of Cass, but as yet without success. The county of Cass, thus singularly and unfairly established, is in territorial limits one of the weakest in the state, and deducting from its nominal surface the inundated lands bordering on the Illinois and Sangamon rivers, the sand ridges and bluffs by which they are skirted, and the waste and untillable lands in the interior, amounting in the aggregate to more than a third of the whole county, Cass county contains, I believe, less productive land than any other county in the state.
Besides, Sir, this county has been created by dispensing with those preliminary checks to imposition and surprise for which the law was wisely enacted; and created virtually and in truth contrary to the will of those immediately interested. It has been formed out of one of the largest counties in the state, and made one of the smallest; when the required notice of intention to petition had not been given; when the required number of petitions had not been obtained; when a majority of the votes polled had been cast against its formation, and when a majority of the new county were opposed to it. then, Mr. Speaker, it is confidently hoped, that, as this county has been thus formed without a strict observance of the statutory provisions in relation to county divisions; as the required notice was not given; as a majority of the people did not petition; as a majority of the vote polled were against it; as a majority of the people within the bounds of the new county were opposed to it; and a majority of the people in the three mile strip are in favor of being attached to Cass; it is confidently hoped, that, as this county has been palmed on the people of Cass, against their will and to their injury, in disregard of these statutory provisions, that those same provisions will not be attempted to be rigidly enforced against her now, when she is asking the Legislature to rectify the identical wrong done her by not observing them; when she is asking nothing more and nothing less than her first petition. And, Sir, it will (not) be her last petition, for as long as the Representatives of the people assemble within these walls, and her prayers remain unanswered, she will petition. And, Sir, when it shall be her destiny to be borne down by numbers; when she shall be attached to some other and probably larger county in the election of a Representative, as she must be so attached, unless this territory is obtained (for without it she is not entitled to a representative); when she will not have the strength to send one of her own citizens to advocate her rights on this floor and will not have strength enough to cast the balance of power in the county connected with her, she will still petition and trust to some friendly voice being raised in her behalf, and above all, trust to the justice of the Legislature.
Mr. Speaker, the people of this three mile strip are sometimes discouraged in their efforts to be attached to the county of Cass. Disheartened by their repeated failures and overpowered and borne down by superior numbers, it is no matter of surprise that they do not press this claim with the enthusiasm they once manifested. But, let the question once be left to a vote of the people living within the bounds of this disputed territory; let the people of Morgan county, in answer to their petitions, say to them "you have been wronged and injured and you may now determine, by your own suffrage, whether you will remain with Morgan or be attached to Cass," and, Sir, they will be united almost to a man.
Besides every conceivable effort has been made to divide the people of this three mile strip. Some have proposed to compromise and take less than the first petition called for, while others have proposed to take more. Some have proposed to take half of the three mile strip, dividing it east and west; others to take half, dividing it north and south. These propositions have generally come from enemies of the division, yet they have had a tendency to divide its friends.
Like most new counties the people are divided on the subject of county seat - the western part preferring Beardstown, the eastern part Virginia, as the seat of justice. Now, to show the unfair means resorted to, to prevent the majority of people within this territory signing the petition - while the people living in the eastern part, who are favorable to Virginia, have been told that if they were attached to Cass, the county seat question would be left to the vote of the people, and a majority of them would remove it to Beardstown; the people in the western part of the territory, have been falsely assured, that if they were attached to Cass, the question of the county seat would not be left to the vote of the people, but that it would continue at Virginia, by legislative enactment. As a natural consequence the people in the eastern part of the territory, who understood my position, have signed the petitions, while a large majority in the western part, under this misapprehension, have not signed. All I ask is that there be passed tow bills, one authorizing the people of this disputed territory to vote for or against being attached to Cass, the other authorizing the people of the county, including the acquired territory, to locate by vote the seat of justice of the county. this is all I ask.
I must be permitted to give another reason for the smallness of our petition. It was understood that so far as the Morgan delegation was concerned, no division of Morgan county would be allowed, on any petitions - no matter how numerous - but all projects of division, should be referred back to the vote of the people. In other words, that if the majority, or all of the legal voters of Morgan county, petitioned for any division, that division should not take place unless a majority of the votes should be cast for it at the subsequent August election.
Mr. Speaker, I will not conceal the facts from the House that the people of Cass county, have never relied on a majority of Morgan county, giving us this territory. They have always looked, and still continue to look, with greater confidence to the Legislature settling this matter, than they have to a majority of Morgan. That would be the last hope. The county of Cass, containing five hundred voters, having been formed, when only 163 votes were given at the precincts within her bounds for it, the lines she petitions for having been altered, the county formed, by the rejection of poll books; the people in the retained territory petitioning to be set off to Cass, Morgan county, after this division still remaining one of the most populous counties in the state, it seems strange that so completely a one sided proposition should have met with such uncompromising warfare.
Mr. Speaker, I ask my friends from Morgan if this question ought not to be settled, and if Morgan county cannot well afford to settle it, by giving us the territory and then remain one of the first counties in the state, in territory, in population, and consequently in political strength; how will they force this people to stay with them against their will and in spite of their remonstrances? Are not here good grounds for legislative interference? I will not say it is right to set off a portion of the county whenever the people within its bounds petition to be set off in disregard of the remainder of the county; but I do say, when a new county has been formed with limits so contracted as to require the heaviest assessments of taxes to defray the necessary expenses of county government; when the county from which it was detached can well afford to spare the disputed claim and afterwards have the requisite population to entitle her to her four representatives on this floor, not lessening her political power; not disturbing her county seat, in fact, doing no wrong to her, but rendering justice unto Cass county; and when the people in the disputed territory have time and again petitioned to be separated from Morgan county and attached to Cass county; when these facts exist, it is right, it is just, it is righteous, to let them go; and anything short of this is downright injustice to them.
Mr. Speaker, I wish to give a few figures in relation to this question: I wish to show the relative size and population of the two counties. By the State census of 1840, Morgan county contained a population of 15,414; by the Marshals' return it was 19,154. No state census was taken in Cass county and the Marshal's return of its population was 2.968. The population of the three mile strip does not exceed 1500. Deduct this amount from the highest returns of Morgan county and she will be left a population of 17654; add it to Cass and she will have 4,468. But admitting the U.S. Marshals' returns too high, and adopting the medium between the two censuses as correct, Morgan county will still have 16,000 population, entitling her to four representatives on this floor, and Cass county will have 4,468, entitling her to one representative on this floor. So far as population is concerned then, it can be no great hardship for Morgan county to relinquish this claim.
In relation to territory, the case is equally strong. Morgan contains 612 square miles, Cass 288. deduct the three miles from Morgan and she will still contain 532 square miles and Cass 368: Morgan 132 miles more and Cass 32 miles less than the law of 1841, fixing the limits of counties, contemplated.
Mr. Speaker, many gentlemen in this House, when I have given them a history of this territorial question, have told me it was right for this county to have it, but they could not vote for this bill because it was a local measure and the Morgan delegation was opposed to it. As a general principle, Sir, it is doubtless correct that in matters strictly local, the representatives from the counties immediately interested should not be overruled, but his is a question in which Cass county is concerned as well as Morgan. This is no new claim she has hatched up; it is as old as the county itself. It was created with the formation of the county. It was then that the poll books were rejected; it was then that the wrong was done; when she was cut off against the wishes of her people and with less bounds than her petition called for. Has she not always remonstrated against this unequal division? Has she ever changed her position? Has she ever relinquished her original grounds? Is the doctrine to be sent forth from this House that no matter how much wrong may be done; that no matter how great injustice may be done to a new county in its formation by the mother county; the injured party must seek redress from the stronger party inflicting the injury; that there is no remedy known to our laws; that the Legislature itself is powerless and can do nothing without the consent of the delegation from the mother county? Mr. Speaker, it is apparent by observing this rule of such questions as the one now under consideration that they will be settled by one of the parties interested, without reference to their justice or merits; and the sanction of the Legislature obtained by an unfair formality. Why are such questions brought here to be settled if the Legislature is to be trammeled and controlled by the members from a few counties? Why not let them settle them elsewhere and save the time of the Legislature, if its province is only to endorse their acts.
Mr. Speaker, I have encountered more difficulty on this point than any other, both before the committee on counties and in my conversation with members; all admitting the justice of the claim, but many unable to vote for it, because it is local, and the Morgan delegation opposed to it. Adopt this arbitrary principle unrestricted and where will it conduct you? What kind of vassalage will you not establish by it? Under its operation, a large county wishing to get rid of some part of its population could cut them off in a new county, contrary to their petition, lessening their territory, imposing upon them debts and burdens and wrongs insufferable; and yet the Legislature could do nothing with it, unless this large county, or her delegation, would agree to it. This, Sir, is a local question between the counties of Morgan and Cass, on which the small voice of Cass county has as much right to be heard as that of the large county of Morgan, and which, it is the duty of this House to settle according to its merits. The members, the strength, the influence, the power are on the side of Morgan; the right and justice is on the side of Cass.
It may be said that this is a small matter that we are attaching too much importance to it. To some it may appear small; to Morgan county it is comparatively small, but it is of great importance to us. The value of this territory is not the only, perhaps not the most important consideration. There is a question of principle at issue - a question of right at stake. I shall not deny the right of an old county to preserve her existence, or even keep her limits respectable, by forming new counties on her boundaries and outskirts; but I do protest against any county - not for her self-preservation, but for some fancy or whim, or to keep her territory as large as possible - cutting off new counties against the petitions of the people; against the wishes of the people; contrary to the interest of the people; disregarding everything like justice and quality in their formation, and making the burdens necessarily imposed on the new counties, with the difficulties created with them, curses instead of blessings to their citizens.
Mr. Speaker, I will notice some of the arguments of the gentleman from Morgan (Mr. Cloud). He sets out with the declaration, that if any wrong has been done to Cass in the formation of the county, she alone is responsible, as Cass county received the county in its present form, and Morgan county voted against it. The evidence he has brought forward, to sustain this position is the official certificate of the clerk of the county commissioners' court of Morgan county. By this it appears, that in the three precincts in Cass county - Beardstown, Lucas and Virginia - 163 votes were polled for the county and 139 against it, leaving a majority of 24 in favor of the county. but, sir, it is a fact which was ascertained by others at the time, of which I have not personal knowledge, but in the truth of which I place as implicit confidence as if I personally knew it, that a greater number than these 24 voted for the county, who lived out of the limits of Cass county. At the subsequent August election, 496 votes were polled - being 194 more than were given at the election for the division of the county; and more still were given at the election of county seat - or at the July election for representative. The vote of the county was not brought out on any of these elections, because there was a large party opposed to organizing; but the vote was increased at the first election after the legislature at the called session 1837 had declared the county legally established. 302 votes were given on the division of the county, and 496 at the subsequent August election. 113 is the biggest vote for division; and this vote is given as evidence that Cass county accepted the county. She then contained between 500 and 600 voters; and many refused to vote on the question of dividing the county, because it was not the county they petitioned for and they were willing to receive no other; and, also, because they knew Morgan county possessed the power of voting them off; and further, because, whether voted off by Morgan or by Cass, they were opposed to organizing with less territory than their petition called for. In evidence of the fact that a large number of those who did not vote were opposed to the formation of the county I present the certificates of Mr. Savage and Mr. Huffman, the sheriff and probate justice, of Cass, neither of whom voted at that election, and who by accident were in Springfield two days ago. These certificates could be verified by hundreds of Cass county, and I know their contents to be true. I also present the original proceedings of a meeting in Virginia after the county was forced on the people of Cass; by which it appears that this whole precinct refused to organize. These proceedings were published in the newspapers at the time.
Mr. Speaker, the certificate introduced by the gentleman from Morgan (Mr. Cloud) is good evidence in our favor. By that certificate it appears that of the votes received by the officers, five hundred were given for division, and 479 against; thus forming the county of Cass by 21 majority. The same certificate shows the rejection of the Lucas precinct in Cass county which gave 36 votes against, and one vote for the county. If this poll book had been received, instead of the county being formed by 21 majority, it would have been defeated by 14 majority.
The gentleman says the Meredosia poll book was not returned. It was returned by Mr. Henry McKean, Esq., a citizen of Cass county, on the last days after the election that it could be received, for the purpose of defeating the county; but was also rejected with the Lucas returns. The reception of either would have defeated the county. Why the one has been retained and the other not, I cannot tell, but I rejoice that the official returns from Jacksonville show that the rejection of the poll book in Cass county forced the county on the people, when its reception would have defeated it.
The gentleman says that I was in favor of the county; that I attended the election in Morgan, and electioneered for the county. I admit it; but in doing it, I only exercised the right of a private citizen, and could not compromise the rights of the new county. Shall the people, Sir, of Cass county, be punished for my acts? A majority of them did not vote for the county, and shall they deprived of their rights because I did wrong? As personal reference has been made to me, and the people of my county attempted to be prejudiced by my mis-acts, I will of course be allowed the privilege of referring to others in the same way. If my vote for the present county is to be construed into evidence that Cass is not entitled to this three mile strip, may not the past opinions of my friends from Morgan, when favorable to us, be also construed into evidence that Morgan county is not entitled to it? If I have no right to stand here as the humble representative of the county of Cass, and claim this territory as her honest due, because I voted for the county, with her present limits, what right has the gentleman from Morgan county to stand here and oppose giving us this three mile strip when they have recognized the justice of our claim in former years? I voted for the county, Sir, with an assurance on which I placed too much reliance, that if we accepted of the present county there would be no difficulty in obtaining the balance.
Mr. Speaker, here are 163 votes out of 500, all but two concentrated at one point, interested in a local question, working for the county; and the gentleman contending they were a majority fo the county! I was glad to hear the closing remarks of the gentleman from Morgan - that if it was just for these three miles to be attached to Cass, he was willing; if not just, it should not be. I join him there. I have endeavored to show the justice of this claim, and will add that I do not want it - that the people of Cass do not want it - unless it is strictly just.
The junior gentleman from Morgan (Mr. Yates), complains that I have taken advantage of him; that I electioneered with his personal and political friends and got them pledged before he knew this question would be introduced; that both here and at home they have been taken by surprise. If he was in the dark as to the introduction of this measure, I was also; for I often despaired of receiving any petitions, and they were given to the Morgan delegation to examine as soon as received. Besides, I have conversed with the gentleman and his colleagues more frequently on this than any other subject; and have always told them that my actions depended on the petitions. I sometimes thought the petitions would not come, and may so have expressed myself. But, Sir, if they have been taken by surprise here, of which I leave the House to judge, they have not been in Morgan county; for the gentleman himself, and each one of his colleagues, have told you that this was a question before the people at the last August election, and all of them were pledged against any division of Morgan county unless such division was referred back to the people.
The gentleman calls upon the House to reject this bill, because the people of Cass county accepted the county, and because neither a majority of the people of the "three miles", or in Morgan county have petitioned; I admit we have not a majority in Morgan.
I stated it before the committee on counties, and I repeat here, that it is vain to look to Morgan county; that she will vote us down as often as it is referred to her. The wrong was done - and it was fastened on us - and no matter whether it was done by accident, or partiality, or fraud; by Morgan, by the Legislature, or by Cass herself; it is the duty of the sovereign power in the state to redress it. Admitting then that Cass county is by her minority vote responsible for the wrong done the county in its formation, is it possible that she has no recourse? Why is this question now under the consideration of this House, if it has no jurisdiction, or if its action is to be controlled by a single county? Why are the representatives of the people engaged in it, if they have not the power to decide according to its merits.
The gentleman (Mr. Yates) says that at the time Cass county was formed Scott county was also petitioning; that Morgan could not spare all petitioned for, but gave each a part. he is mistaken here. In 1837, when Cass was formed, there was no other proposition, to divide Morgan county. Scott county was petitioned for and formed two years after.
Another argument urged all the gentlemen from Morgan, is, that the people in the territory are divided on the subject of county seat, and if it were located in any other part of Cass county, a bare majority, if any majority at all, would vote to be attached to Cass. That those living in the eastern part of that territory would prefer Jacksonville to Beardstown, and those in the western part Jacksonville to Virginia. But do the gentlemen forget that the seat of justice has already been both at Beardstown and Virginia; and yet at every session of the legislature since the county was formed, a large majority of the people in the "three miles" once approaching unanimity have petitioned to be attached to the county of Cass? The gentlemen are pursuing the same game here that was followed in Morgan, in circulating the petition, "divide and conquer." They endeavor to make the impression on the legislature that unless the county seat is located at certain points the people in that territory will vote to remain with Morgan. It is their will and their interest to be attached to Cass, and when so attached they recognize the right of the people to settle these local concerns. They are able to do so without the inference of the gentlemen, or the people of Morgan county.
It is contended that a majority of the voters in the "three miles" have not petitioned. This was not disputed before the committee on counties; but the gentleman near me (Mr. Epler), admitted that there was a majority, and now says that he supposed so, from reading over the names, but on a more minute examination is satisfied that a majority have not petitioned. This objection might apply if the bill proposed to set off this territory absolutely. If only purposes to leave it to the vote of the people in its bounds to determine; and if the gentlemen are sincere in their statements, that he voters in the "three miles" are opposed to going to Cass, why object to this bill? Why object to referring it to their suffrages? Why the appeals not to cut Morgan county to pieces? Pass this bill - refer the matter to the people - and if they are opposed to it, they will vote against - and thus settle this vexed question forever.
The gentleman (Mr. Yates) says we gave not notice of an intention to petition, and in this respect disregarded the statute. But, Sir, why was this same provision of the statute disregarded when the county was formed? No notice was then given; a majority did not petition; the petition was changed; a majority voted against the county; the county was still formed by rejecting a poll book within its bounds in disregard of the will of the majority; and now can that gentleman stand in his place and object to this bill because we have not observed these laws? Why were they not observed when the Legislature passed the law forming the county? If they were not compulsory then, why should they be made so now?
But, Sir, they have had notice. Their complaint of being harassed with petitions is evidence of notice. Their pledges against any division of Morgan county without referring back to the people, is evidence of notice. they have had other notice, and one that will last. At the first session of the Legislature after the county was formed, the people of Cass county and the "three miles" in strict conformity with the requirements of the statute, petitioned for their original bounds. They were in earnest them. They were in earnest even in the formal language with which such questions close - "and as in duty bound they will every pray." etc. They are in earnest now; and if they want any further notice, let me tell the gentlemen that if this territory is not given to Cass now, not only at the next session of the legislature, but at every subsequent session, until it is given, or until the right of petition is spurned from these halls, they will petition, and call upon the Representatives of the people to redress their grievances.
The gentleman, (Mr. Yates), complains that this bill is in violation of the law of ‘41 for the protection of the old counties. One clause of this law provides that no old county should be reduced to less than 400 square miles, and no new county thereafter to be formed should contain less than 400 square miles. The bill pending will still leave Morgan county 532 square miles and Cass 368 square miles. The other clause provides, that in dividing counties, no boundary line shall be established nearer than ten miles from the seat of justice of the old county. This bill encroaches about a half mile on this clause. Cass is about nine miles wide, excepting in the meanderings of the Sangamon and Illinois rivers, making the distance from our present county line to Jacksonville three miles more than the whole width of Cass county. Has this legislature no right to alter a county line conflicting with that law, because another legislature passed it? Does the gentleman mean to avow the monstrous doctrine that a subsequent legislature has no right to repeal a simple law of a proceeding legislature, or even, alter or modify it? Let him look to the proceedings of Saturday, when this House, by an overwhelming majority, passed the bill repealing the charter of the Bank of Illinois.
the gentleman charges that, in the account I gave, I disparaged and shamefully abused the county; that if I will not stand up and defend that fine county, he will. I have no fears that the people of Cass will believe that I abused her. I have sustained her interests here with all the zeal and energy that I could command; and I am always prepared to defend her to the utmost of my power. By why this high compliment to Cass county? Does not the gentleman know that it is incorrect? I appeal to his candor, if he ever traveled in that county; I appeal especially to the gentleman near me, (Mr. Epler), who is well acquainted with it if my account is exaggerated. I placed the unproductive land at one-third. It was a small estimate. Where the land is good, it is equal to any in the state; and where it is populated her people are unsurpassed by the constituents of any member on this floor. But if we deduct the inundated lands, the sand ridges, sloughs, bluffs and frog ponds from her nominal surface, it will not leave one-half of the land good. If Cass county is so fine a county, containing less than 3,000 inhabitants, what kind of a county is Morgan, containing 19,000 inhabitants? What kind of equality is this?
The gentleman complains that this bill is unjust to the Morgan delegation. I protest that I have no such design. They came here pledged to oppose this territorial question. I can testify that ably and industriously they have redeemed their pledges. I have known them long, and would be the last man to do anything to wound their feelings. the people of Morgan county cannot complain. The passage of this bill is no reproach on her representatives, but is the result of a conviction on the part of the Legislature, that Cass county is entitled to the "three miles."
There was a remark made by the gentleman, (Mr. Cloud), which I deeply regret. It was an appeal to party. He says that this measure was fully investigated two years ago by a democratic legislature - when Morgan and Cass were represented by whigs, and no party reasons could exist for favoring either, and that legislature decided against us.
he then enquires if this democratic legislature will carry this measure over the head of the democratic delegation from Morgan, when their predecessors had refused to pass the same, when Morgan was represented by Whigs? This, sir, is no party measure, and if it were, it is known to all, that so far as party is concerned, I am powerless here. If that appeal is to be successful, I must submit; and the interests, the rights of my county made subservient to party ends. But can this course possibly be right? How can the opposite appeals of my political friends and opponents be correct? The democratic portion of the Morgan delegation call upon their personal and political friends to stand by them and defeat it. My democratic friends say that if it is carried over their heads it will injure them and use up the democratic party in Morgan; and my whig friend with equal zeal, with as warm appeals to party, declares that it is unjust to him, and if carried over his head will use up the whig party in Morgan. Here are opposites - here are contradictions - here is a cross firing that no cause can stand.
If these appeals are to be successful in rallying both parties against the measure, where am I to look for help? If whig and democrat are rallied on the side of Morgan, because the Morgan delegation is composed of whit and democrat, where are my constituents to look for help? To whom shall Cass go for relief.
Sir, I have no such appeals to make; I have no personal appeals to make, I have no party appeals, but I have a higher, a stronger appeal to make. It is to the justice of the cause, I appeal to the justice and wisdom of this House in the name of the whole people of Cass county. I rely more upon that appeal than upon any other that has been or can be made.
I return my hearty thanks to the house, for its patience and attention, and will cheerfully abide its decision, knowing that it will be in accordance with its views of rights and justice.
The legislature adjourned in less than a month after Mr. Pratt had delivered his speech upon his bill, and in that limited time he was unable to overcome the opposition of the Morgan county influence against it.
In his description of Cass county, Mr. Pratt refers to "the waste and untillable lands" in the interior of the county. This class of lands had been denominated "The Barrens;" by the Kentucky settlers called "The Barns". It is a matter of small wonder that the early settlers held this erroneous opinion regarding this class of land. It was uneven in surface, covered with brush and worthless black-jacks; the soil was very thin in appearance and of light yellow color. When Jesse Crews settled in Cass county in 1843, he could drive his two horse wagon over the barrens in T. 18, R. 9, and the bushes and saplings would bend under his wagon; thirty years later these saplings would furnish four fence rails to the cut. As late as 1867, Charles C. Robinson helped the writer break up a strip of ground in the "barrens" in Sec. 28, T. 18, R. 9, and forcibly expressed his contempt for the quality of its soil. About ten years afterward Mr. Robinson leased a farm in Sec. 20, in the same township, now owned by Joseph Turner. After he had cultivated it for several years he said he could make as much money farming that land, as he could make out of a good prairie farm. A successful farmer, now living in Cass county, who owned a quarter section of black prairie ground and an equal amount of "Barren" land testifies that for an extended term of years he made quite as much on the "barren" quarter as upon the prairie quarter. He found he could raise better oats and better wheat on the barren tract; it was better for grass and fruit and fully as good for corn, if but two crops were raised in succession. Much of the old time prejudice in favor of "black" land still exists - it will end in the years to come.
Although Mr. Pratt failed in his effort to recover the three mile strip of land, he was not discouraged. He used his influence among the people to enlarge our territory. He became a candidate for re-election to the lower house, which election took place on the 5th day of August, 1844. The democrats re-nominated Joshua P. Crow, a popular and prominent man who owned the farm in Sec. 5, T. 17, R. 10, two miles west of Virginia, so well known in later years as the William Campbell farm. Of the 740 votes cast at that election Mr. Pratt received a majority of 72 votes as follows: Beardstown, 161, Virginia 175, Monroe 27 and Richmond 43. The 334 votes for Mr. Crow were divided thus: Richmond 68, Monroe 10, Virginia 81 and Beardstown 175. Both candidates resided in Virginia precinct in which Mr. Pratt's majority was 94, or more than 2 to 1. While in his old home, Monroe, he received nearly three-fourths of the votes cast.
On the 2d day of December, 1844, Mr. Pratt took his seat in the lower house as the member from Cass. the Morgan county delegation consisted of John Henry, senator, and Francis Arenz, Samuel S. Matthews, Isaac D. Rawlings and Richard Yates, members of the House of Representatives; Newton Cloud was clerk of the House. The proposition to extend the limits of Cass county was again brought to the attention of the law makers of the state: Mr. Pratt with his persistent ability, aided by his former experience and more general acquaintance with the public men of his day; with right and justice upon his side was successful in obtaining the passage of his bill on the 26th day of February 1845, which submitted the question of adding the three mile strip to Cass county to a vote of the residents upon the territory in question, which election was held on the first Monday in may, 1845, and resulted in favor of the proposition by a large majority; 246 voting for annexation to Cass county, and 78 voting against it.
It has been impossible to ascertain, with any certainty, how Mr. Pratt employed his leisure time from 1842 to 1847. He was in ill health, much of the time, and not able to lead an active life. He served the people as postmaster; he assisted Governor Ford in his troubles with the Mormon people; he took an active part in all public affairs and was held in high esteem by all who knew him. During these years he resided with his family in the house, purchased for his wife, by her father, John Savage, on lots 94 and 95, on the east side of the old square, now owned by John Wilkes. In this house his three younger children were born.
In the summer of 1847, he became a candidate for the office of county clerk; his opponent was Charles B. Epler, of Princeton, who was a democrat, and a young man of ability. Such was the prestige of Mr. Pratt that at the election held on August 2nd, 1847, he carried every precinct in the county receiving six hundred and twenty votes out of ten hundred and seventeen cast at the polls. While making his preparations to remove his family to Beardstown, the seat of justice of the county, he became worse, took to his bed and expired on the 7th day of October, 1847, aged 40 years, 10 months and 4 days, leaving his faithful wife and four children, the eldest ten years of age and the youngest but two. It must have been a sad sight to witness the death of this useful citizen, so early in life, leaving his family of helpless little ones, to grow up without a father's help and protection. The family was made welcome at the home of the good father of the young widow, who erected a dwelling for her and his grandchildren, very near his own homestead where they grew up to manhood and womanhood. His two sons, inheriting the public spirit of their father enlisted in the army of 1861-65, and became brave and faithful soldiers and are now honored citizens of this community.
Thomas G. Pratt, the eldest child, was born in Beardstown, September 6, 1837.
Ellen Pratt was born in Virginia, Ill., July 14, 1845.
Mary E. Pratt was born in Virginia, Ill., December 25, 1842.
Henry C. Pratt was born in Virginia, Ill., June 18, 1845. (Note the birth dates are given as they appear in the book, however one or more of them must be a mistake).
Ellen Pratt was married to Francis M. Treadway who was a soldier in the Civil war, and who died at his residence in Virginia, Ill., in the year 1893, where his widow now resides.
Mary E. married Jacob Yaple Jr., she removed to Maryville, Missouri, many years ago.
Emily (Savage) Pratt died on the 7th day of December, 1873, at the home of her son, Henry C. Pratt. She and her husband were buried on the Savage farm; afterwards their remains were removed to the Monroe burial ground, located on the farm of Henry C. Pratt.
In personal appearance Mr. Pratt was six feet in height, weight 170 pounds, with light hair and eyes; his manner quiet and dignified.
The name of John Wilkes Pratt should ever be held in grateful remembrance for his distinguished services rendered the public in the early history of Cass county.