County Seat Controversy
The county seat question, in its time, was all absorbing, and we shall therefore devote a chapter to the subject, which may be of interest to old settlers. The agitation began at the formation of the county, when there were about 400 voters in the county, and, at the first election, the vote was a close one between the rival towns. The strife continued, with more or less bitterness, as well be seen in the County Court proceedings, until the Bath people succeeded in getting the following act passed, in January, 1843:|
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the people of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly, That on the second Monday in February, A. D. 1843, there shall be an election held at Havana. James Walker's, Lynchburg and Bath, in the county of Mason, and the judges and clerks of the different election precincts in said county are hereby authorized to open poll-books and receive votes at said places for the towns of Havana and Bath, in said county, as candidates for the seat of justice for said county.
SEC. 2. The election provided for in the foregoing section shall not be held unless the proprietors or friends of said town of Bath shall execute and deliver to the Clerk of the County Commissioners' Court of said county a good and sufficient bond for a block of lots on which to erect the public buildings in said town, and said proprietors shall also on or before the first day of February, A. D. 1843, made, execute and deliver to said clerk their promissory note with good and sufficient security to be approved by said clerk, and said note shall be drawn in substance as follows: "$1,000. Six months after date, we, or either of us, jointly and severally, promise to pay George T. Virgin, John R. Chaney and Amos Smith, or their order, County Commissioners of the county of Mason, or their successors in office, for the use of the county of Mason, the sum of one thousand dollars, for value received, dated Mason County, Illinois, February the first, A. D. 1843:" and, if the town of Bath shall receive the greatest number of votes for county seat, the Clerk shall deliver to the County Commissioners said note and bond; which note and bond may be sued and collected the same as other notes and bonds, and a certificate from the Clerk of the County Commissioners' Court of said county certifying that the aforesaid note and bond have been filed in his office, with good and sufficient security, approved by him, shall be deemed sufficient evidence to authorize the judges and clerks of election to open poll-books at the several places in said county for holding the election as aforesaid.
SEC. 3. If the clerks and judges shall refuse to open a column and receive votes for the town of Bath, after a certificate duly certified agreeable to the provisions of the second section of this act shall be deposited with them, the poll-book of said precinct shall be rejected.
SEC. 4. No person shall vote at the special election provided for by this act. Except such persons were residents and legal voters of said county of Mason on the first day of January, 1843, and shall continue to reside in said county up to the time of said election.
SEC. 5. The returns of said election shall be made to the Clerk of the County Commissioners' Court, as provided for by law in relation to other elections, and said poll-books shall be opened and compared by said clerk and two justices of the peace of said county, and two abstracts shall be made out and certified and subscribed by them, and one shall be filed by said clerk in his office and the other transmitted to the Secretary of State.
SEC. 6. In case the friends of either of said town shall be dissatisfied with the abstracts made out by the clerk and justices as aforesaid, and shall wish to purge the poll-books by proving off illegal votes, William H. Nelms and Benjamin H. Gatton shall be considered as representing the interests of the town of Bath, and N. J. Rockwell and H. L. Ross as representing the interest of the town of Havana, and either of said parties may give notice to the other in writing, at any time within ten days after said election, which notice shall specify the time that said contest shall take place, not to exceed twenty days from the time of said election; and in the event of a contest as aforesaid, John Camp, Probate Justice of the Peace, Ira Patterson and Pollard Simmons, Justices of the Peace in and for said county of Mason, are hereby authorized and required to meet at the town of Matanzas at the time specified in the aforesaid notice, and proceed to hear and determine, from the testimony adduced before them, which of said towns has received the greatest number of votes for county seat. Said justices are hereby authorized to issue subpoenas, swear witnesses and compel their attendance, and, if either party shall be dissatisfied with the decision of said justices, they shall be allowed an appeal to the Circuit Court of said county.
SEC. 7. If either of said justices shall refuse or neglect to attend at the time and place of trial, the vacancy may be filled by the other justices.
SEC. 8. If the town of Bath shall receive a majority of the legal votes polled at said election, it shall be the duty of all officers required by law to reside at the county seat to remove their offices, together with the books, papers and records appertaining to the same, to the town of Bath, between the 20th day of June and the 4th day of July next.
SEC. 9. If the county seat shall be removed from Havana to Bath, the County Commissioners shall return the vote and bonds given by the proprietors of Havana to said proprietors, and the same shall be null and void.
SEC. 10. The Clerk of the County Commissioners' Court of said county of Mason shall give notice of the time and place of holding the election provided for by this act as in case of other elections.
SEC. 11. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.
Approved January 14th, 1843.
At the election held under the provisions of this act, the county seat was located at Bath, by a majority so decided as to obviate any further proceedings, and in due time the records were removed, as the law required, to the town of Bath, and there they remained until in the spring of 1851, eight years. The people of Bath, with commendable enterprise and energy, went to work at once and erected a substantial brick Court House. In a few years the question was again agitated, and at every session of the Legislature, after the year 1846, petitions and remonstrances, signed by men, women and children, went up for and against removal, and at each session the leading men of Havana spent the winter in the lobbies at Springfield laboring to get the question again submitted to the people.
On the part of Bath the contest was resisted, mainly by J. M. Ruggles, assisted at one session by G. H. Campbell, and successfully resisted at every session until in 1851, when, by the help of outside parties, the Legislature was induced to submit the question again to a vote of the people, under the provisions of the following act:
SECTION 1. Be it enacted by the people of the State of Illinois, represented in the General Assembly, That an election shall be held in the county of Mason, on the second Monday of March, A. D. 1851, at the usual places of holding elections in said county, for the removal of the seat of justice of said count; at which election the clerks thereof shall open two columns, one for Havana, and one against removal, and shall take and record the vote of each qualified voter for one of the aforesaid places, or against the removal of the seat of justice of said county, as said voter shall direct.
SEC. 2. The same rules shall be observed in conducting said election, and in making returns thereof, and in counting said votes, and in all other things, as shall be required by law in elections for Senators and Representatives of the General Assembly of this State. The Clerk of the County Court shall, immediately on receipt of the election returns, in the presence of two Justices of the Peace, open the election returns, compare them, and certify the same to the County Court, and the place having a majority of the legal votes of the county shall be and remain the seat of justice of said county.
SEC. 3. No point shall be voted for unless its proprietors, or some of them, shall, at least ten days previous to said election, execute a bond, with good and sufficient security, to the Judges of the County Court of Mason County, for the payment of the sum of $1,000, payable to said County Judges, or their successors in office, for the use of the county, to be applied to the erection of public buildings-one-half of said sum of money to be paid when the public buildings are commenced, and the other half when said buildings are completed: Provided, however, that said bond or bonds shall be void and of no effect as to the proprietors of all places except that where the county seat shall be located by a majority of the votes polled.
SEC. 4. Should it be found that a majority of the voters of said county of Mason, voting at such election, have voted for the removal of the county seat as aforesaid, it shall be the duty of the County Court of said county, as soon as practicable after such election, to cause all the public offices of said county (required to be kept at the county seat) to be removed to the county seat located under-this act; and it shall be the further duty of the County Court, after such relocation of the county seat, to convey to Kean Mahony and Benjamin H. Gatton the block of lots donated by the original proprietors of the town of Bath, under an act of the General Assembly of the State of Illinois, entitled "An act to locate the county seat of Mason County," approved January 14, 1843, together with all and singular the tenements and appurtenances thereon and thereto belonging, unto them, the said Kean Mahony and Benjamin H. Gatton, their heirs and assigns forever, in trust for the benefit of the original proprietors of the said town of Bath, under such declaration of trust as may be equitably and justly declared by the said County Court, according to the respective interests of said original proprietors of the town of Bath; and it shall be the further duty of the County Court of Mason County, in the event of such relocation of the county seat thereof, to make such remuneration to the original proprietors of the town of Bath, for moneys expended in erecting the Court House in said town, as they may deem advisable, and as shall be proven according to law.
SEC. 5. This act to be in force from and after its passage.
Approved, February 8, 1851.
In the spring of 1850, when the county seat question was running high, John Pemberton was attending court, as one of the associates, in Bath, and, whilst there, some rowdy boys took out his buggy and anointed it all over, cushions and all, with an unsavory lot of human excrement. This dirty deed produced considerable excitement, and was denounced by all decent people in town; still, Pemberton was greatly alarmed, fearing that he might be doped with the same horrible stuff, and he had no rest of body or mind until he was safely out of town. This vile act of the dirty boys rankled in the nostrils of the upper-enders, and they took up the martyr, Jack Pemberton, and made him their representative in the Legislature that year, where he avenged himself upon the Bathites by getting in his vote for the bill to remove the county seat, showing how precarious is the public life of a man who may be elevated so high out of a circumstance so low!
After the passage of the act above recited, the friends of Bath, knowing that the heavy increase of population in the Havana interest greatly endangered their cause, resorted to a piece of strategy to defeat Havana, but were unsuccessful. They bought eighty acres of land of Dr. Mastic, in Section 10, in Kilbourne Township, laid it off into town lots, called it Cuba, and went for it as the most central and best place for the county seat, intending to make Cuba swallow up Havana, Matanzas and Bath, and become the seat of government of Mason County.
A campaign was opened, meetings were held at Matanzas and other places, in which eloquent speeches were made for and against Havana. Smith Turner trotted out old Demosthenes, Cicero, Galileo, and several other of his ancient friends, to help him in the fight against Havana. Powell, of Havana, pitched into old Galileo, and gave him an unmerciful trouncing, just because he was brought into the meeting as a friend to help Turner. One speaker said: "Rather than have the county seat at Havana, he would vote it into the middle of Bull's Eye Prairie, where the waters of Noah's flood had not yet subsided, and where the frogs and tadpoles were the only inhabitants!" A Havana German orator said in reply that he was perfectly willing the people of Bath should "go out and live mit the toads and the tadpoles in Bull Eye, for such neighbors vere good enough for them!"
The day of election came, and Havana gave the final blow that knocked Bath out of time and Cuba out of Existence. The people of Bath gave up all hopes of again becoming the county seat, and turned their attention to other enterprises, although some of them suffered largely in their fortunes, by the result. The vote stood: For removal, 894 votes: against removal. 479 votes.