Sunday, November 16, 2014

52 Ancestors #46: Lost an Election to Abraham Lincoln

Ancestor Name: Harry Riggin (1793-1875)

I've written about my four times great grand uncle, Harry Riggin, before. Researching his life helped me break through a long-time brick wall: who was his father.  Today, I'd like to concentrate on one small incident in his life.

Harry Riggin in 1874; image purchased by me from Historic MapWorks. Unfortunately,
this image may not be used by others unless purchased.

In 1838 Harry Riggin lost an election to Abraham Lincoln for a seat in the Illinois General Assembly.  I discovered this fact when I read James T. Hickey's article, Three R's in Lincoln's Education: Rogers, Riggin, and Rankin, which appeared on pages 195-207 of the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Volume 52, Number 1, Lincoln Sesquicentennial (Spring 1959).

"The precinct poll books for the elections in August, 1834, 1836 and 1838, when Lincoln was a candidate for the legislature, give some idea how the family voted. In the election of August, 1834, Lincoln received 174 votes in the precinct. Harry Riggin voted for Lincoln...In the election of August 1, 1836, Lincoln received 150 votes in the precinct. In that year, Harry Riggin did not [vote for Lincoln]. In the August 6, 1838, election, Harry Riggin was also a candidate for the legislature. Strangely enough, he did not vote either for himself or for Lincoln, but cast all his seven votes for other candidates in the legislative contest."

What? Harry Riggin had seven votes? What did that mean?

I started researching the Illinois state constitution to better understand the election process. I learned the first constitution in 1818 was compiled mostly from provisions taken from the constitutions of Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio, and put virtually unlimited power in the hands of the General Assembly. It was not modified until 1848.

So what did the 1818 Illinois constitution say about the election process?


Sec. 1. The legislative authority of this State, shall be vested in a General Assembly which shall consist in a Senate and House of Representatives, both to be elected by the people. 

Sec. 2. The first election for Senators and Representatives, shall commence on the third Thursday of September next, and continue for that and the two succeeding days; and the next election shall be held on the first Monday in August, one thousand eight hundred and twenty; and forever after, elections shall be held once in two years, on the first Monday of August, in each and every county, at such places as may be provided by law.

Article II. Section II. Image of original handwritten Constitution course
of the Illinois Digital Archives

So that explains why the elections referenced in Hickey's article were held in early August. But what about those seven votes?

Sec. 27. In all elections, all white male inhabitants above the age of twenty-one years, having resided in the State for six months next preceding the election, shall enjoy the right of an elector; but no person shall be entitled to vote except in the county or district in which he shall actually reside at the time of the election.

Article II. Section 27. (see above for source information)

I admit I still don't understand the process, but it's clear, Illinois legislative members were not elected by popular vote but rather some sort of an electoral system.

In 1838 when Harry Riggin lost the election to Abraham Lincoln, there were 17 candidates for the Sangamon County seat in the House of Representatives. The top seven were elected. Lincoln received the most votes of any candidate.

This document serves as certification of Lincoln's election in 1838 (see
above for source information)

Harry Riggin was later appointed to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1842 as the representative from Menard County, which was formed from the northwest corner of Sangamon County.

From the 6 May 1842 Sangamo Journal; courtesy of the University of
Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

Harry Riggin was born on 2 September 1793 in Tennessee, likely Sevier County, to James and Mary (Howard) Riggin. His father was a minister with the Methodist church and rode the preaching circuit for many years before settling down to farming to raise money with which to raise his family. Harry and his brother, James, migrated to Illinois in 1818 and together with another brother, John, founded the town of Troy. Harry married Miriam Lee Rogers on 2 March 1820 in Madison County. He left Madison County with his in-laws and settled in Sangamon County, and lived in a town that became known as Athens. This area of Sangamon later became Menard County. Harry Riggin was a prominent citizen of the county and served as its first representative in the Illinois General Assembly. He and his wife had four children. Harry died 23 March 1875 and was buried at Indian Point Cemetery.

Confusion and the Proof Standard
Wordless Wednesday: The Founding of Troy


  1. Schalene, thank you for the wonderful story of your ancestor. I have admired Abraham Lincoln for many years and it is very interesting to read the story of a man who was his contemporary and knew him. As far as the seven votes is concerned.... No wonder they say here in Illinois..."Vote Early and Vote Often" - who knows if the saying came from what you state above or whether it was just from the corruption of Chicago politics...

    1. Too funny! That's what my Grandmother always said as she described walking graveyards and writing down the names of the dead people for the Democratic party in Illinois. Then on election day my Grandfather would pick up drunks and hobos and take them to a polling place. He gave them a slip of paper that listed one of the names my Grandmother collected in the graveyard. Some system!