On This Day in Purple

August 5, 2020

On this Day in Purple, August 5, 1822, Edward Coles, an influential abolitionist, was elected Governor of Illinois, running on an antislavery platform and bemoaning “the extraordinary malevolence of party spirit.”

Born to a wealthy patrician family in Virginia, Edward Coles (1786-1868) was a lifelong political diplomat and prominent antislavery advocate. His liberal arts education in Enlightenment philosophy at the College of William & Mary fully reoriented his views on slavery. He would go on to serve as President James Madison’s personal secretary, developing close friendships with both his employer and Madison’s collaborator and mentor, Thomas Jefferson. Coles consistently advocated for abolitionism and counselled Jefferson (unsuccessfully) to throw his support behind emancipation. 

 In order to emancipate his own family’s slaves, Coles relocated to the new state of Illinois in 1818, which bestowed greater rights to free blacks than in Virginia. En route to Illinois, Coles formally freed his family’s slaves outside of Pittsburgh, PA, inviting them to accompany him to Illinois if they wished. 

Following a brief term as the state register of lands, Coles announced his campaign as the second governor of Illinois in 1821, running on an antislavery platform freed from the various political factions that had formed. Elected on August 5, 1822, Coles would serve one term as governor, thwarting a forceful attempt at revising the state’s constitution to legalize slavery.

Source Notes

Dan Monroe. “Edward Coles, Patrician Emancipator.” Illinois Periodicals Online at Northern Illinois University. 

B. G. Carveth, “Edward Coles (1786–1868)”. (July 17, 2014). Encyclopedia Virginia.

“Edward Coles to Thomas Jefferson, 31 July 1814,” Founders Online, National Archives.

Image courtesy of the Illinois Secretary of State


In 1986, 34 Democratic and 29 Republican Senators signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, creating a citizenship path for illegal immigrants while making it a Federal crime to employ illegal workers. The House also voted in favor, 238 to 173. The bill was signed into law on November 6, 1986. 


In 1972, 17 Republican Senators joined 35 Democratic Senators to override the Nixon Administration veto of the Clean Water Act, a landmark piece of environmental legislation. The House override vote was 247 to 23, including 96 Republicans and 151 Democrats in the majority.


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