A Look Back at Illinois Inaugural Addresses

Illinois governors have included heroes, crooks, bureaucrats, intellectuals and types in between. Chicago Public Library has many governors' messages and inaugural addresses, allowing you to read how the governors perceived Illinois’ challenges in their own words. Often the speeches provide an unexpected look into history.

The early governors, such as Thomas Carlin in 1840, were preoccupied with the promise and financial peril offered by “internal improvements” such as railroads and canals. Later governors had more varied concerns.

  • Although John Palmer spent most of his 1869 inaugural address discussing the challenges of regulating railroad and banking companies, he also noted:

    “The Normal University [Bloomington] and the Industrial University [Champaign Urbana] deserve encouragement and support…. they belong to a class of institutions not new, yet still experimental.”

  • Joseph Fifer, inaugurated in 1889 during a time of labor troubles, mentions that:

    the “General Assembly… passed a law forbidding in strong terms and under heavy penalties, the arming and parading of companies of private detectives….”

  • Edward Dunne in 1911 called for a shorter ballot:

    "It has become so cumbersome, and so heavily loaded with names of candidates, particularly in large cities, that even the most enlightened citizen is incapable of exercising an intelligent selection in the choice of some candidates."

  • In 1949, Adlai E. Stevenson stated that, in addition to other issues:

    “The flat constitutional command of legislative reapportionment every ten years has not been complied with since 1901. Realistically I apprehend that it is not going to be complied with as long as reapportionment would give control of both houses of the General Assembly to Cook County…”

  • Rod Blagojevich, federal prisoner #40892-424, in 2003 decried:

    “a system of corruption that has become too commonplace, too accepted and too entrenched.”

  • Richard Ogilvie’s 1969 address brings back the turbulent 1960s:

    “The black man, the youth, the philosopher are demanding change, and they confront our conscience the way slavery, the sweatshops and other hypocrisy of earlier times stirred Americans.”

Many of these governor’s messages are in the Reports Made to the ... General Assembly of the State of Illinois or the Illinois Governor's Messages. The Government Documents Department has additional uncataloged inaugural addresses. For more information on the governors look at the list Biographies of the Illinois Governors.