Avenues of Transformation: Illinois's Path from Territory to State (Paperback)
WINNER, 2023 Illinois State Historical Society Russell P. Strange Book of the Year Award!
A territory split by slavery, a state forged for union
Avenues of Transformation traces the surprising path, marked by shame, ambition, and will that led to Illinois’s admission to the Union in 1818. Historian James A. Edstrom guides the reader through this story by associating each stage of the narrative—the original statehood campaign, the passage of Illinois’s statehood-enabling act by Congress, and Illinois’s first constitutional convention—with the primary leaders in each of those episodes. The lives of these men—Daniel Pope Cook, Nathaniel Pope, and Elias Kent Kane—reflect the momentous tangle of politics, slavery, and geography. This history maps the drive for statehood in the conflict between nation and state, in the perpetuation of slavery, and in the sweep of water and commerce. It underscores the ways in which the Prairie State is uniquely intertwined—economically, socially, and politically—with every region of the Union: North, South, East, and West—and captures the compelling moment when Illinois statehood stood ready to more perfectly unify the nation.
This volume is the first full-length book in over a century to describe and analyze Illinois’s admission to the Union. It marks the first time that a historian has analyzed in detail the roll-call votes of the first state constitutional convention, seated evenly by pro- and antislavery delegates. Edstrom’s wit and prose weave a lively narrative of political ambition and human failure. Patiently crafted, Avenues of Transformation will be the first source for readers to turn to for gaining a better understanding of Illinois statehood.
About the Author
James A. Edstrom is a librarian, researcher, and author whose scholarship on Illinois history has appeared in journals such as Illinois Heritage and Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society. He is a professor of library services and history at William Rainey Harper College.
“James A. Edstrom has written what will be the definitive history of the politics of state making in Illinois. This excellent book reminds us that the Land of Lincoln began as the state of transplanted and local slave owners and land speculators on the make. The story helps us all better understand the social and political forces that surrounded the Missouri crisis and the relentless movement of slavery west, even in the old Northwest.”—Paul Finkelman, author of Supreme Injustice: Slavery in the Nation’s Highest Court and Chancellor of Gratz College
“From cover to cover, this reads as political history at its best. James A. Edstrom unpacks the political landscape of the state, and the nation, and succeeds like no other in recreating the personal and political dimensions of early Illinois. It will be an indispensable study of Illinois’s statehood for years to come.”—M. Scott Heerman, author of The Alchemy of Slavery: Human Bondage and Emancipation in the Illinois Country, 1730–1865
“Edstrom constructs a vivid portrait of Illinois’s entrance into the Union by skillfully interweaving the biographies of Daniel P. Cook, Nathaniel Pope, and Elias Kent Kane, each young, gifted, ambitious, and influential, and each playing a key role in turning Illinois from a territory into a state. Edstrom’s careful scholarship and graceful writing will appeal to scholars and general readers alike.”—Graham A. Peck, author of Making an Antislavery Nation: Lincoln, Douglas, and the Battle over Freedom
“An extraordinary scholarly achievement. The author clearly demonstrates a mastery of primary sources as well as secondary ones. In telling the story of Illinois’s path to statehood, Edstrom thoroughly explores the issues and personalities at play. The focus on his three main figures—Cook, Pope, and Kane—illuminate not only the times in which they lived but provide background on their personal histories, motivations, goals, successes, and failures. The book’s significance for state history cannot be overstated.”—Illinois State Historical Society Awards Selection Committee