CHAPTER 21: SECRETS
The convention question gave rise to two years of the most furious and boisterous excitement and contest that were ever visited on Illinois. Men, women, and children entered the arena of party-warfare and strife, and the families and neighborhood were so divided and furious and bitter against one another, that it seemed a regular civil war might be the result. Many personal combats were indulged in on the question, and the whole country seemed, at times, to be ready and willing to resort to physical force to decide the contest. All the means known to man to convey ideas to one another were resorted to, and practised with energy. The press teemed with publications on the subject. The stump orators were invoked, and the pulpit thundered anathemas against the introduction of slavery. The religious community coupled freedom and christianity together, which was one of the most powerful levers used in the contest. At one meeting of the friends of freedom in St. Clair County, more than thirty preachers of the gospel attended and opposed the introduction of slavery into the State . . . "The question," as it was familiarly called at the time, united the various denominations of religion which had never before acted together . . . It is said Governor Coles expended all of his salary , as governor for four years ($4000) on the canvass and the members of the legislature of 1822, contributed $1000 for the cause. (John Reynolds, My Own Times )
|Immediately after the convention bill had passed the House, the two sides planned strategy and formulated arguments they would use for the next eighteen months. The referendum on calling the convention was scheduled for the first Monday in August of the following year (August 2, 1824). The strategy that both sides adopted, therefore, was for a long campaign. Newspapers had to be secured. Local organizations had to be formed with some sort of statewide liaison. Sources of argument--facts, reasons, citations from various authorities--had to be developed. The best writers had to be found and pressed into service.
For the anti-conventionists the two main writers were Coles, writing under the pseudonym "One of Many," and Birkbeck, writing both in his own name and under the pseudonym "Jonathan Freeman." The major speakers on the anti-conventionist side, as well as the most fervent and persuasive foot soldiers, were the state's preachers--mostly Methodist and Baptist--who used all their moral and religious authority to sway their followers to vote against the convention. The preachers were organized by Rev. John Peck, an influential Baptist minister who rode the preaching circuits around the state, uniting the local anti-conventionist organizations.
Hooper Warren was as always unpredictable, and his personal animosity towards Coles made his allegiance to the anti-conventionist cause a serious question. The night before the adjournment of the legislature a group of anti-conventionists discussed the need for a newspaper that supported their position. Could they trust Warren? Throughout the legislative session the Spectator had been silent on the convention question. On the unseating of Hansen , Warren had said that Coles had probably outbid the conventionists for Hansen's vote. There was no more impropriety in turning Mr. Hansen out of the house to accomplish a particular purpose, Warren had written, than there was, in the first instance, in permitting him to retain his seat for the purpose of accomplishing another. The same principle governed in each case.
But without the Spectator, the anti-conventionists had no newspaper that would regularly publish their views and lend the authority of its editorial voice to their cause. They decided, therefore, to prepare a subscription list on which each would subscribe for a number of copies of the Spectator. Thomas Lippincott was delegated to sound Warren out, and, if Warren professed himself to be sincerely against the convention, he was to be invited to a meeting at Lippincott's house and told of the money that had been pledged to him.
The source of this story is Lippincott himself, who brought it to light in an attempt to prove that Warren had not been bribed to oppose the convention. Warren told him in two separate discussions, Lippincott maintains, of his sincere opposition to the convention, and only then was he invited to Lippincott's house to learn that money had been pledged to support his principled stand.
Yet giving money to Warren looked very much like bribery, and the charge against both Warren and the anti-conventionists rang on throughout the campaign, much to the detriment of their cause. According to Lippincott, the discussions with Warren took place at the end of February. The final meeting, at which Warren was told of the money, was held on Saturday, March 1. The following week, on March 8, 1823, Warren's first anti-convention editorial appeared.
Lippincott says that Coles had not been present at the meetings concerning Warren and that his name was not on the subscribers' list. It is probable, though, that Coles knew what Lippincott was doing and stayed clear of it both to protect his position and because of the bad blood between him and Warren. At any rate, he was busy establishing an anti-conventionist press in the eastern part of the state about a month after Warren had been brought over to the cause.
It has occurred to me , he writes to Richard Flower, the father of George Flower, that the friends of freedom would give ample support, and that the good cause would be amply promoted by establishing a printing press on the Eastern side of the State. And I know of no place where it could be established to so much advantage as at Albion. Besides the advantage it has in locality, there are in Albion, and its vicinity, many persons who wield chaste and powerful pens, and who have the means, and I trust, the disposition of patronizing an establishment of the kind. Pardon me for asking it as a favor to me personally, and as a sacrifice to the furtherance of the best and most virtuous of causes, that all personal, sectional, national, county or town feelings, and all other unkind feelings, let them originate from what cause they may, shall be buried, at least while the great question is pending. I will write and ask the same favor of Mr. Birkbeck.
The "unkind feelings" Coles refers to are, of course, the feud between Birkbeck and Flower that caused the split between the English settlements of Albion and Wanborough. But Coles' letter to Birkbeck on the subject of establishing a press was no more persuasive than his letter to Flower. The feud continued and no press was established. Birkbeck was, however, stimulated to write some important articles for the cause, of which more later.
At the same time Coles was busy on another front. On April 22 he wrote to his friend Biddle , I trust the good sense and virtue of the citizens of Illinois will never sanction a measure [the introduction of slavery] so well calculated to disturb the harmony of the Union and so injurious to its own prosperity and happiness, as well as so directly opposite to the progress of those enlightened and liberal principles which do honor to the age. But to ensure this it is necessary that the public mind should be enlightened on the moral and political effects of Slavery. You will confer a particular favor on me and promote the virtuous cause in which I am enlisted, by giving me information, or referring me to the sources from whence I can draw it, calculated to elucidate the general character and effects of Slavery--its moral, political and social effects--facts showing its effects on the price of lands, and general improvement and appearance of a country--of labor both as it respects agriculture and manufactures, etc., etc. The State of Pennsylvania having been long distinguished for its attachment to free principles, there is no doubt but what you can procure in Philadelphia many valuable pamphlets and publications which would throw light on this question.
Biddle wrote back on May 20, sending a pamphlet and promising to get Coles in touch with people in Philadelphia who would help him. On May 26 he wrote again , introducing Mr. Roberts Vaux, a gentleman of education, talents, fortune, leisure, and high standing in the community. He feels sensibly all the embarrassments of your situation; he perceives the deep importance of defeating this first effort to extend to the north-western country the misfortunes of the slave population, and he is disposed to cooperate warmly and zealously with you. I know of no individual more calculated to render you the most efficient service.
And, in another letter to Coles of the same date, Biddle writes: There is one thing I wish to add. The Abolition Society of this city [Philadelphia], has been the subject, whether justly or not I am unable to determine, of much hostility at a distance, and it would be rather injurious than beneficial to have it supposed that the Society was active in the cause which you are supporting. You will therefore understand that neither the Abolition Society nor any other society has the least concern in this matter. The simple fact is that Mr. Vaux, and two or three of his friends, have been so much pleased with your past conduct in relation to Slavery, and have so deep a sense of their duty to resist the extension of that system, that they mean to volunteer in assisting you, without any connections with any set of men, and without any motives which the most honorable might not be proud to avow.
The following day (May 27) Vaux wrote to Coles, sounding the same note of discretion: We have thought that benefit might result from making judicious selections from writers whose purpose is to show the iniquity, and impolicy of slavery--these selections to be printed in the Tract form (at our own expense) and forwarded to Illinois for gratuitous distribution. If this plan should meet thy approbation, I should be glad to receive an early intimation to that effect, but should thy official station, or duties, render it either improper or inconvenient for thee to take an active part in this business, perhaps it will be in thy power to select a few individuals who may be disposed to aid us, and in that event, I shall be obliged by thy introduction of such persons to my correspondence.
Roberts Vaux was born in the same year as Coles (1786) into a leading Philadelphia Quaker family. His father was a merchant, the son of a well-to-do doctor from an ancient French-English family. His mother, Anne Roberts, was a descendent of Hugh Roberts, one of the original settlers who had come to Pennsylvania with William Penn.
Vaux was educated in the best schools and placed in a counting house. But when he was in his mid-twenties his sister died, and under the influence of that tragedy he made a covenant with God to devote the rest of his life to humanitarian ends. On a review of my life now approaching a period of half a century, he wrote a year before his death, I cannot charge myself with having coveted any one's possessions--nor have my own been increased at the cost of others. The spoils of the poor and the gains of oppression have not enriched me. The acquirement of wealth by the means ordinarily adopted to obtain it, my soul loathes. The time and health which Providence has bestowed upon me, have been devoted with sincere intentions of rendering some benefit to my fellow beings; however far I may have fallen short of the fulfillment of a convenant made with my Creator at a moment of deep affliction, thus to employ the residue of my days.
It is characteristic that Vaux should have considered himself fallen short of that convenant made a quarter century earlier, since to have pretended otherwise would have turned self-satisfaction into conceit. Yet Vaux did succeed in devoting his intelligence and energy to an astonishing number of humanitarian causes. He was instrumental in establishing a public school system in Philadelphia and then served as President of its Board of Controllers for thirteen years. At the same time he held various offices in "The Philadelphia Society for alleviating the miseries of public prisons," and served as commissioner superintending the construction of a penitentiary. (In those days penitentiaries were the modern liberal method of rehabilitating criminals.) He was a manager of the Pennsylvania Hospital, vice president of the Pennsylvania Institution for the Instruction of the Blind, an officer in a separate institution for the deaf and dumb, president of the Pennsylvania State Temperance Society, a founder of the Apprentices Library Company and the Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, a founder and vice president of the Philadelphia Athenaeum, a vice president of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and so on and on in nearly as many worthy organizations as a city such as Philadelphia can support. He wrote two biographies, one a Memoir of the Lives of Benjamin Lay and Ralph Sandford, Two of the Earliest Public Advocates for the Emancipation of Enslaved Africans, and the other, the Memoirs of the Life of Anthony Benezet, also an early abolitionist and champion of Indian rights. It is to Vaux's credit that he turned down an appointment by President Andrew Jackson as commissioner to the Indians when he learned that they were to be moved to a new territory by force.
Such was the man to whom Coles turned for help in 1823--one who, along with his other interests, was an active abolitionist and a leader in the Abolition Society. Small wonder that Coles, in his first letter to Vaux, should become effusive in his praise of someone in whom he recognizes attitudes and feelings so much like his own. The benevolent sentiments you express, Coles writes, and the correct views you take of the great question which is now unfortunately agitating this State, and the deep interest you evince for the prosperity and happiness of Illinois, and the preservation of the right and liberty of its inhabitants, do credit alike to the native benevolence of your heart and to those divine and political principles which distinguish the real Christian and Republican, and cannot fail to present a contrast, which, however mortifying it may be to me as an Illinoisan, cannot but be highly gratifying to me as a man, to see one so far removed from the scene, and without any other interest except that which he feels in the general happiness of his species, nobly and generously volunteering his services to assist in promoting the cause of humanity, whilst there are thousands here strenuously advocating the giving a legal sanction to the oppression and abject slavery of their fellow-creatures. Such noble, generous, and fervid benevolence as yours, is highly honorable even in a Friend; and is a new and striking proof of that extended philanthropy, and pure and heaven-born spirit of Brotherly love, by which that denomination of Christians have ever been distinguished, and cannot fail to excite the admiration and even the confidence and attachment of all--especially of those like myself, who daily experience pain and mortification in hearing doctrines advanced which are directly in opposition to the great fundamental truths of our religious and political creeds.
Perhaps Coles' excitement at finding such a supporter was increased by his growing sense of the malignity and viciousness of many of those around him. Increasingly, Coles was to become alienated from Illinois and drawn to Philadelphia, where he was to find his spiritual home. But at this point Philadelphia was a powerful ally, supplying much of the propaganda that was to keep Illinois free.
Both slave and free states naturally took great interest in what was happening in Illinois. Money and support came to both sides from out of state. And both sides were anxious to find evidence that would brand their opponents the tools of out-of-state interests. Coles was therefore extremely cautious in arranging this out-of-state connection. It may be proper, however, he warns Vaux, to remark that distant friends should be cautious in the manner of making their benevolent exertions, as there is danger that designing partisans here may not only paralyze the effort, but turn it against the cause it was intended to promote, by representing it to be the interference of other states for the purpose of influencing the opinion of the people of this. An ingenious pen could dress up this subject in a manner to give it great effect in this country. Would it not, therefore, be best not to state on the face of the publications where they were printed? They could be printed in Philadelphia, and sent with the goods of some merchant of St. Louis at a much less expense than by mail.
What Coles wants from Vaux are not only proper views of the immoral and anti-christian, unjust and anti-republican character of slavery, but also facts showing its impolicy and injurious effects in retarding the settlement and prosperity of the State, by checking emigration to it, and paralyzing the enterprise and activity of its citizens--that it would impede the progress of manufacture, be prejudicial to agriculture, and in one word, to the future prosperity as well as to the immediate interest of the State. The great argument here in favor of the introduction and toleration of Slavery, is that it would have the immediate effect of raising the price of lands, and adding to the population and wealth of the country. We want facts to disprove these assertions and also to show that Slavery would operate to the injury of the poor or laboring classes of society. Strange as it may appear, it is nevertheless true, that there are many persons who are in principle opposed to slavery who will yet vote for making this a slave-holding State, under the belief that by so doing they will be enabled to make an immediate and advantageous sale of their lands, and thus gratify that restless and rambling disposition which is so common with frontier settlers.
Vaux answered on July 24 , promising three pamphlets to be immediately printed and sent on St. Louis. Aware of the unpopularity of Philadelphia, he writes, and especially of Quaker sentiments on this particular topic, with all those who attempt to justify slavery, it was originally determined to avoid giving any complexion whatever to these publications which might induce the belief that they proceeded from this State, or that individuals of the Society of Friends had any agency in the preparation of them.
The "Philadelphia connection" apparently operated smoothly throughout the campaign, nor was there any indication that the opposition smelled a rat. Since catching Coles red-handed in a conspiracy with the Quakers would have been a marvelous coup for the conventionists, there is little doubt from their silence that Coles and Vaux were successful in keeping their secret for the duration of the campaign.
Surely you recollect of boxes of pamphlets, or tracts being sent to different parts of the State during the contest? John Peck crows to Hooper Warren over thirty years later. These documents were ably written and proved effective missiles in the war. You may recollect there was no small curiosity, about where they came from and who paid the publisher? --Our opponents were put to their wits end to find out the secret. For a long time it was confined to the breast of an individual in this State [presumably Coles] and two or three benevolent gentlemen who supervised the printing and sent off the packages. You know now the fountain from whence issued these little rills.
The information that Vaux sent was not only distributed in pamphlet form but found its way into the state's newspapers, thus reaching the eyes of nearly every voter in the state. All Coles had to do was order the pamphlets; within five or six weeks they arrived at the prearranged place, printed anonymously in the requisite number of copies.
The pamphlet you forwarded me by mail , Coles writes Vaux on December 11, 1823, along with your last letter, I received safe; but have been so busy as not yet to have had time to read it. Two thousand of each kind, will, I presume, be enough, and as many as I shall be able conveniently to distribute. There will be for the next six months, so few persons visiting this place [Vandalia], that I shall be compelled to rely chiefly on the mails, as the means of distributing pamphlets, or other information to the public. If possible, I intend to have all the pamphlets published in one or more of our weekly newspapers.
By January 21, 1824, Coles writes Vaux that he has received word from a D.B. Smith, notifying me that he had forwarded to the care of I.I. Smith and Co. of St. Louis certain pamphlets; previous to which, however, I had been informed by one of that company that he had expected them and had requested him to notify me, as soon as they should be received, and to forward them to me to this place [Vandalia] by the first safe opportunity.
The network that Coles relied on to distribute the pamphlets throughout the state consisted of various anti-conventionist societies that had been organized, along with their conventionist counterparts, in nearly every county of the state. Within days of the adjournment of the legislature, the anti-conventionists had organized a dinner in Coles' honor (followed the very next day by a conventionist dinner). As soon as I arrived in [Edwardsville], Coles writes his niece Mary, I was waited on by a deputation on behalf of the citizens of this town and county, and invited to partake of a public dinner in token of their respect for my character and approbation of my conduct. Upon a very short notice between 40 and 50 attended and partook of a dinner, at which there prevailed an unusual degree of harmony and good feeling--and this was the more gratifying as there were persons of the party as well oppsed as in favor of calling a convention, who had been induced from the personal respect for me to attend. A few days later, on Coles' return from St. Louis, the experience was repeated in Belleville. But here, as at Edwardsville, he writes, the convention party immediately got up an opposition dinner.
The round of dinners, speeches, and resolutions, played out in dreary meeting halls throughout the state, was the backbone of this, as of any political movement. It is always a source of amazement that so few dedicated individuals devoted to such wearying activity can wield such significant political power. But this is a truth redemonstrated in every political campaign. The local county societies provided a forum for the discussion of tactics, a distribution center for arguments and information, a quick means of identifying friends and enemies, a rallying point when spirits flagged. Most voters, of course, belonged to neither anti- nor pro-conventionist societies; their lives wound on untouched by the controversy surrounding them. Yet in the end they, too, were swayed by activities of which they knew little, and long hours of bleary-eyed planning paid off in one rapid moment of decision at the polls.
The key man in the state-wide network of anti-conventionist societies was John Mason Peck, a Baptist minister and amateur historian of some reknown. In order to maintain his position as missionary and Bible agent, Peck kept his organizing activity secret--so secret that years later only a few people knew of his role.
Soon as the news of the passage of the Convention resolution reached St. Clair county , Peck writes, an individual well known to the writer [actually, Peck himself] promptly visited a number of gentlemen in the county known to be opposed to slavery; a preliminary meeting was called, the outlines of a plan of operations was proposed, and a committee was appointed to draft a constitution, and call a general meeting. A much larger meeting was held in Belleville, March 22, 1823, a constitution adopted, and the "St. Clair Society for the prevention of slavery in the State of Illinois" was duly organized, and the managers instructed to prepare and publish an address to the people . . .
In the address, he goes on, a call was made on the opponents of the introduction of Slavery in Illinois to form similar societies in other counties. In less than six months, fourteen societies had been organized in as many counties, and a train of measures adopted, that produced effect in every county and precinct through the inhabited portion of the State. Belleville was the seat of operations. Dr. Charles Woodworth . . . was the medium of correspondence. Each society had its confidential correspondents in each precinct, and every succeeding month, accurate knowledge was obtained at the office in Belleville of the state and progress of the question. An all-pervading influence was felt in every settlement. The individual heretofore alluded to [meaning Peck himself] had occasion to travel into nearly every county in the State during the pendency of the question. And without being known as a partisan, he could easily find out who could be depended upon for correspondents. And it is a singular fact that not an instance ever came to the knowledge of the committee, of any one betraying his trust. Another principle was sacredly regarded by the managers; to use no unfair means, and to avoid all exaggeration and all misrepresentations. Fiat Justitia ruat Caelum [Let justice be done though the heavens may fall] was their practical motto. The Anti-Convention party had the whole State under their control, and the question virtually decided, before their opponents got up a public organization at Vandalia.
Whether the question was virtually decided or not is arguable, but it seems certain that the network of societies, founded, it will be remembered, on the secret organization of ministers that James Lemen had been developing for nearly forty years, gave the anti-conventionists an enormous organizational advantage. As we shall see, the conventionists stumbled all over themselves, the statement of one meeting contradicting the statement of another, in such a way that it was easy to see that they were lying about their true aims, and that the anti-conventionists were telling the truth about what their opponents were intending. It was not until December 1823, at a public auction of federal lands at Vandalia, that the network of conventionist county societies was formally organized, and even after that date the discipline of the conventionists in developing and sticking to a line of argument did not nearly match that of their opponents.
One additional secret arrangement was made in those early months of the convention compaign. In March 1823, Coles complained to his niece Mary, I am now in great difficulty in finding a suitable person for the office of Secretary of State--Mr. Lockwood having just been appointed Receiver of Public monies in the Land Office at [Edwardsville], which is an office more agreeable and convenient for him to hold than that of Secretary. Sometime between March and May, Coles hit upon an interesting idea: to make the office of secretary of state a lure to attract a new editor for the Intelligencer, which Coles planned to buy with his own money from the present owners, Robert Blackwell and Colonel Berry.
The writer was in Edwardsville , John Peck says of himself in May 1823, and had stopped for a short time at the house of Mr. Hopkins, intending to reach home the same night. He received a private note from Governor Coles, requesting him to call at his room at the house of James Mason, on special and private business, without fail. On arriving at Mr. Mason's, the Governor urged the writer to tarry, as he had important business on hand, and desired to consult the writer alone. It was the appointment of Secretary of State. He must be sufficiently learned in the law, to discharge the duties of the office with ability. He must be an anti-convention man in position and principle; and as a matter then strictly confidential, he must be able on a certain contingency to conduct the editorial department of a newspaper. --Governor C. then made known to the writer the project of purchasing, through a friendly agency, an interest in the Intelligencer at Vandalia, a paper that by an outrage on the part of the majority of the legislature, had been made the leading organ of the convention party.
Reflecting on the subject in all its bearings, Peck goes on, the writer saw in the Governor's plan a bold and successful stroke. Whatever might have been the encouragement, when the Edwardsville Spectator was our single battery, to capture and turn the Intelligencer against the enemy, would ensure his defeat. David Blackwell, Esq., of Belleville, was the only man in the State that would answer all the purposes, within our knowledge, and we suggested him. The Governor sprang to his feet, and exclaimed, "He is the very man; why did I not think of him." Next morning the writer was on his way soon as day-light appeared, and after obtaining a late breakfast at a certain log cabin at Rock Spring, was closeted in the office of David Blackwell, Esq., in Belleville, on a secret mission of state concern.
Mr. Blackwell had not voted for Governor Coles, Peck says, had no personal acquaintance with him, and never dreamed of an office from that quarter. Of course, he had to be informed confidentially of the Newspaper project. --Like other lawyers in that moneyless era, he was in straightened circumstances, and the Secretaryship was a real God-send to supply the wants of a young family. The question being settled on his part, it devolved on the writer to communicate with the Governor, who had promised to issue the commission the moment he had the report of our mission . . . For many months, the project was known to only three persons, of which the writer was one. It was not for nearly twelve months that it was consummated . . . It was the first of May , the announcement was made by handbill, while delegates from the Convention party were assembled at the seat of government, to adopt vigorous measures to carry out the election. A bomb-shell falling from the sky and exploding in a camp, where no enemy was thought to be near, could not have produced greater consternation! Turning the guns of that battery into the thickest of their ranks was fatal to the party.
Coles' involvement in the purchase of the Intelligencer remained a secret until Peck revealed it over thirty years later.
Thus within three months of the adjournment of the legislature Hooper Warren was secretly bribed to ensure his loyalty to the anti-conventionist side; a secret connection was established with Philadelphia Quakers to import abolitionist propaganda into the state; a clandestine network of correspondents, organized by a minister posing as a neutral missionary and Bible agent, was made ready to report faithfully on every community; and a high state office, that of secretary of state, was offered to induce a small-town lawyer to pose as Coles' front man in the eventual takeover of the state's most influential newspaper.
Of all of these secret maneuvers only one--the bribing of Hooper Warren--came to light during the campaign, and as expected it was hammered at heavily by the conventionists. But some of the other secrets would have been even more damaging had they been discovered. Certainly Coles had good reason to be jittery about the issue of help from out of state. Had his enemies found out where the pamphlets were coming from, his Philadelphia friends would have done him more harm than good. But perhaps even more damaging would have been public knowledge that Coles was behind David Blackwell's takeover of the Intelligencer. There was, of course, the matter of using a state office to pay off a front man. But there was also a question about the propriety of Coles, as governor, controlling secretly the newspaper used by the legislature as its official printer. Surely the legislature had a right to know who its official printer was!
These secret maneuvers raise questions of wisdom and propriety that are probably answered by the event. Coles took grave risks that in the end helped keep Illinois free. Each of the instruments fashioned in secret became vital in the struggle that followed. Whether the anti-conventionists would have won without them is something that of course we cannot know. But given control of two newspapers, a steady source of propaganda, and a sensitive network for the gathering and distribution of arguments and information, the anti-conventionists were in a position to turn their natural advantages into strengths that the opposition could not overcome.
But to say that the result was worth the risks does not explain fully why the risks paid off. The factor that made the risks acceptable was the dedication and discipline of the anti-slavery men. The reason that conventionists never knew where the pamphlets flooding the state were coming from was that Coles took the operation on himself, trusting only a few people inside the state to help him. The reason that no one knew who was backing David Blackwell in his takeover of the Intelligencer, or who was filling his newspaper each week with notices and articles, was that only three men were in on that secret--Coles, who single-handedly supplied all of the money and all of the copy; Peck, the go-between; and Blackwell, whose living depended on continued secrecy. The reason that no one discovered Peck's role was that all of the correspondents he chose were so single-mindedly devoted to the cause that thirty years later Peck's secret was still safe. And behind that secret was the secret compact between James Lemen and Jefferson that had sent Lemen to Illinois.
Had Coles tried to raise money to buy the Intelligencer from other sources, had he shifted the burden of distributing Vaux's pamphlets onto other shoulders, or had Peck's correspondents been less devoted, the secrets might have leaked out. It was the quality of the men which safeguarded the secrets, and the quality of the men was derived from the justice of the cause. There was no one on the other side who matched the intelligence and devotion of Coles and Peck and Lemen's network of ministers. The secrets were safe because they were locked in the hearts of a few men who could be trusted absolutely to keep them.
In short, the superiority of the anti-conventionists was a moral superiority, translated into superior dedication to their cause. As we well know, the moral dimension of any struggle is not always decisive, but it is always significant. The ability of a cause to command the devotion of energetic idealists is almost as important as its ability to align itself with the interests of the majority. The anti-slavery struggle in Illinois had the ability to command the devotion of the idealists. Now it was up to them to convince the majority that it was in its interest to keep Illinois free.