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Illinois Senator Fights Copperheads
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This brief pamphlet recounts a scene from the Illinois Senate in which Isaac Funk, “a man who pays over three thousand dollars per annum taxes toward the support of the government,” expressed his outrage to fellow senators and a packed gallery.

[CIVIL WAR]. Pamphlet. Inkstand…Extra. February 1863, Boston, Massachusetts: Wright and Potter, Printers. 4 pp., 5 x 8 in.

Inventory #24473       Price: $375


[Circulate this Document.]


Mr. Speaker,—I can sit in my seat no longer and see such by-play going on. These men are trifling with the best interests of the country. They should have asses’ ears to set off their heads, or they are traitors and secessionists at heart.

I am an old man of sixty-five; I came to Illinois a poor boy; I have made a little something for myself and family. I am willing to pay six thousand,—aye, twelve thousand,—(great cheering, the old gentleman striking the desk with a blow that would knock down a bullock, and causing the ink-stand to fly in the air,)—aye, I am willing to pay my whole fortune, and then give my life, to save my country from these traitors that are seeking to destroy it.

Mr. Speaker, you must please excuse me—I could sit no longer in my seat and calmly listen to these traitors.... My heart, that cries out for the lives of our brave volunteers in the field, that these traitors at home are destroying by the thousands, would not let me.

Traitors should be hung. It would be the salvation of the country to hang them. For that reason I must rejoice at it.

Hell itself could not spew out a more traitorous crew than some of the men that disgrace this Legislature, this State, and this country.

[Correspondent of St. Louis Democrat:]

I never before witnessed so much excitement in an assembly. Mr. Funk spoke with a force of natural eloquence, with a conviction and truthfulness, with a fervor and pathos, which wrought up the galleries, and even members on the floor, to the highest pitch of excitement. His voice was heard in the stores that surrounded the square, and the people cam flocking in from all quarters. In five minutes he had an audience that packed the hall to its utmost capacity. After he had concluded, the Republican members and spectators rushed up and took him by the hand to congratulate him. The Democrats said nothing, but evidently felt the castigation they were receiving most keenly, as might be seem from their blanched cheeks and restless and uneasy glances.

Historical Background

By early 1863, the war was not going well for the Union, and Democrats had made substantial gains in the mid-term elections of late 1862. The Democratic party gained 34 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. In Illinois, Democrats gained nine of the fourteen seats in the U.S. House of Representatives and gained control of both houses of the legislature. Peace Democrats, or “Copperheads” to their opponents, favored a negotiated peace with the South, and many viewed them as traitors.

The new legislature assembled in Springfield on January 5, 1863. As the session drew to a close, on February 13 or 14, Democratic senators introduced resolutions to kill time and forestall an appropriations bill for the support of the state government and of Illinois’ soldiers. Senator Isaac Funk had had enough. He rose to his feet and made this speech.

Republican newspapers in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, New York, and other states reprinted the speech. The firm of Wright and Potter, who printed this publication in Boston, were the Massachusetts state printers and often printed Republican campaign material. The Illinois State Journal observed in March, “No speech delivered by any member of any State Legislature, or even in Congress itself, during the past year, has had so great a run or received so many compliments.”[1] From Washington, D.C., a former Bloomington, Illinois, mayor reported that Funk’s “immortal speech is the subject of comment and rejoicing in all quarters except secesh. The President declared it was a ‘big thing.’” He continued, “Mr Funk, by his boldness and patriotism, has established a national reputation far more enduring and permanent than many who have occupied seats in the Senate of the United States.”[2]

Soldiers, too, read the speech in the field. From outside Vicksburg, Mississippi, came reports that the speech “has been read with delight around a thousand camp fires, whilst cheer after cheer for ‘Old Ike Funk’ has made Heaven’s blue arch ring.” The correspondent continued, “I have heard the soldiers say, that ‘Old Funk and one more like him would protect their homes and their firesides against the combined malignities of all the Copperheads,’ and I remarked — ‘amen.’”[3]

When the legislature reassembled in June 1864, the Illinois Senate refused, on a strict party vote, to take up a bill appropriating $100,000 for the relief of sick and wounded Illinois soldiers. In response, Governor Richard Yates prorogued the legislature and led the state for the next eighteen months without it.

Voters re-elected Funk to the Illinois Senate in 1864 as “The Soldier’s Friend,” but he died a few months later on January 29, 1865. His wife of nearly forty years died four hours later.

Isaac Funk (1797-1865) was born in Kentucky, raised in Ohio, and came to Illinois in 1824. He settled in what became Funk’s Grove in McLean County, fifty miles northeast of Springfield. In 1826, he married Cassandra Sharp, with whom he had nine sons and one daughter. He invested in livestock and took his cattle and hogs to Chicago meatpacking centers. He used the profits to acquire land and owned more than 25,000 acres in McLean County alone by 1861. Voters elected him to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1840 as a Whig, and he served one term. In 1862, Governor Richard Yates appointed Funk to fill the Illinois Senate term of Richard J. Oglesby, who had resigned to lead a regiment in the war. Voters elected him to a second two-year term in 1864. Several of his sons later served in the Illinois legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.

[1] Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield), March 6, 1863, 2:1.

[2] The Daily Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), February 27, 1863, 1:1.

[3] The Daily Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL), April 7, 1863, 3:2.

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