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Inter-State Publishing Company
Chicago, Illinois, 1881

Page 505


Though not a resident of Sangamon county until called to fill the gubernatorial chair, January, 1857, he then made choice of it as his future home, and here in the beautiful cemetery near Springfield, where lie other men of National fame, his body lies buried, while his spirit rests in a fairer world.

William H. Bissell was born in Hartwick, Otsego county, New York, April 25, 1811. He was self-educated, attending school in the summer and teaching in the winter. Upon reaching manhood, he studied medicine, and graduated in 1834, at a medical college in Philadelphia. Subsequently he removed to Jefferson county, in this State, in 1838, but was prostrated shortly after his arrival, which used up what scanty means he had, and so far discouraged him that he was on the point of enlisting in the United States army, but was unable, on account of debility, to pass examination. Crossing over from Jefferson Barracks to Monroe county, he secured a school, which he soon, however, relinquished, and commenced with success the practice of his profession, at Waterloo. In 1840, he was brought out by the Democratic party, and after an active canvass, elected a representative in the legislature, redeeming Monroe county from the control of the Whigs. He at once acquired a reputation in the legislature as a ready and vigorous debater, and upon returning home he was persuaded by his friends to study the profession of the law. Upon being admitted to the bar, he formed a partnership with General Shields, and removed to Belleville. In 1844, he was elected State's Attorney for that circuit, and at once distinguished himself as an eloquent, successful and honorable prosecutor. In 1846, upon the breaking out of the Mexican War, he enlisted as a volunteer and was elected Captain of one of the St. Clair county companies, and was subsequently chosen Colonel of the Second Illinois regiment without opposition. His services in that war, and especially in the hard fought battle of Buena Vista, are well known to every reader of American history. In 1848, he was elected a Representative in Congress of the Eighth District, without opposition; was re-elected in 1852. During the winter of 1851, he was taken sick with partial paralysis which continued to afflict him till the day of his death. he was so much indisposed in the summer of 1854, when the Kansas-Nebraska bill was under discussion in Congress, that he was not able to take his seat; but he was opposed to that measure, and declared that if his vote would defeat it, he would insist on being carried to the House that he might cast it. In 1856, without any solicitation on his part, he was unanimously nominated by the Republican convention for Governor of the State, and elected over his Democratic competitor, William A. Richardson. To the duties of this office he was devoting his undivided attention at the time of his death.

Governor Bissell was twice married; first, in 1839, to a daughter of John James, of Monroe County. Two daughters were the issue of this union. He was married the second time to Elizabeth Kane, a daughter of Elisha Kent Kane, of Kaskaskia, a former United States Senator.

The life of William H. Bissell was brilliant, honorable, and full of service. In every position in which he was placed, he not only ably and nobly sustained himself, but reflected luster upon his adopted State. As a professional man, as a soldier, as a legislator, as an executive officer, he was faithful, capable, honest and chivalrous. He was a politician, but despised demagogism. He was a statesman of enlarged views, and vigor of mind which comprehended and was able to apply the true principles of government. the distressing disease which made him a cripple during the last ten years of his life, was the only preventative to the attainment of still higher honors. But for that he would in all probability have received the Republican nomination for the Presidency in 1856. He was a man of great elocutionary powers, and there was a vein of scathing and burning satire which occasionally run through his speeches. he was brave to a fault. As already intimated, in the battle of Buena Vista he won imperishable honors. In this battle Jeff Davis commanded a regiment of Mississippi troops. After the war, Davis, in the United States Senate, made a speech in which he attempted to claim for his regiment the glory which truly belonged to the Illinois troops, and especially to Bissell's regiment. Bissell, being a member of the House of Representatives, called the attention of that body to Davis' speech, and administered to him a withering rebuke, and charged him with deliberate slander. Davis then sent him a challenge, which he promptly accepted, and having the choice of weapons and the distance, selected muskets loaded with buckshot, at a distance of twenty paces. the friends of both parties interfered, and the matter was amicably settled.

William H. Bissell died in Springfield, March 18, 1860, and was buried in Hutchinson's Cemetery. Subsequently his body was removed and interred in Oak Ridge Cemetery, and a beautiful monument erected over the grave, which attracts the attention of every visitor.

1881 INDEX

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