Illinois’s history has no shortage of political chicanery. Some of it took the form of complex scandals that spread far and wide. Some of it, on the other hand, was fairly straightforward.
Take the case of the very ambitious, very brazen Adolphus Frederick Hubbard.
Hailing from Shawneetown in Gallatin County, Hubbard served as a delegate to the Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1818, and as a presidential elector for James Madison in 1820.
In 1822 he was elected as Lieutenant Governor, serving under Governor Edward Coles. Coles is an important figure in the state’s history, but for the purposes of this story, the critical fact about him was that he left Illinois for Virginia for several weeks in 1825. This left Hubbard in charge as Acting Governor.
Coles should have known better. Perhaps as he traveled, he had in his mind an 1824 incident that involved Hubbard.
In 1824, former Governor and then U.S. Senator Ninian Edwards resigned his Senate seat. It is the governor’s job to appoint a successor. It happened that Hubbard was in Washington when Edwards decided to resign. Hubbard offered his services as courier, promising to deliver Edwards’s letter to Coles personally.
When Hubbard got back to Illinois to give the letter to Coles, he seriously suggested that Coles appoint him to the Senate seat. His reasoning? He was there, with the letter, and he asked for it. We’re not surprised that a confused Coles told him no. Hubbard was sincerely shocked, and doubling down on the delusion, vowed revenge.
It was with this in mind that Hubbard sat in for Coles. When Coles returned some weeks later, he was greeted with another bit of curious logic from Hubbard. Hubbard argued that, since Coles had left the state, he had forfeited his office. The state constitution, of course, allows for nothing of the sort. Hubbard took his logic to court, where it was also rejected. He struck out again when he appealed to the General Assembly; he found exactly two people to support his claim.
Although he didn’t unseat Coles, Hubbard was never one to waste publicity, something he had garnered for his antics. He figured that he could ride this into office, so he ran for governor in 1826.
This run for governor went about as well for Hubbard as his attempt to oust Coles. He received 580 votes. After this, Hubbard fades from the public eye, dying in relative obscurity in Quincy in 1832.
Hubbard’s story is amusing, but is also a reflection of the rough-and-ready nature of politics in the first decades of Illinois’s statehood. This image of bare-knuckled politics, in one way or another, is still with us.
Moses, John. Illinois: Historical and Statistical. (Chicago: Fergus Printing Co., 1895), 333-336.
“Hubbard, Adolphus F.,” The Political Graveyard, http://politicalgraveyard.com/bio/hubbard.html#330.72.95