Joseph Duncan (politician)

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Joseph Duncan
Governor Joseph Duncan.jpg
6th Governor of Illinois
In office
December 3, 1834 – December 7, 1838
Preceded by William Lee D. Ewing
Succeeded by Thomas Carlin
Personal details
Born (1794-02-22)February 22, 1794
Paris, Kentucky
Died January 15, 1844(1844-01-15) (aged 49)
Jacksonville, Illinois
Political party Democratic, Whig
Profession Politician

Joseph Duncan (February 22, 1794 – January 15, 1844) was an Illinois politician. He served as the sixth Governor of Illinois from 1834 to 1838, the only Whig to ever govern the state. Before becoming governor he served four terms in the United States House of Representatives as a Democrat.


Duncan was born in Paris, Kentucky. He served in the War of 1812 and the Black Hawk War as a soldier. He moved to Illinois before 1820, settling in Brownsville in Jackson County and later moving to Jacksonville. Before becoming governor, he had a notable political career. He served a term in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1825 to 1829. He was elected to represent Illinois's At-large congressional district in Congress in 1826, defeating long-term Congressman Daniel Pope Cook. Jacksonian Democrats were ascendant in Illinois politics, and Cook had fallen out of favor with them when he voted against Andrew Jackson in the contingent election of 1825. Duncan successfully ran as a Jacksonian, winning 6,322 votes to Cook's 5,619. [1] He was re-elected twice to the at-large district and in 1832 won a fourth term representing the newly created 3rd district.

Duncan first went to Congress as a Jacksonian, but his relationship with President Jackson's party worsened during his career in Congress, and by 1834 he voted more often with the opposition Whigs. His final break with the Democrats occurred in June, 1834, when he voted to recharter the Bank of the United States. [2] Duncan was elected as governor that year without campaigning or even visiting Illinois.[3]

Governor Duncan requested the legislature create a state Internal Improvements Act, which paved the way for numerous roads, state highways, bridges and canals across the state. He later changed his mind, deciding the costs would be too high, but the legislature ignored this plea. The improvements were made, often by building roads between small towns that had little need of such monumental structures, and it forced the state into near-perpetual bankruptcy that guided economic decisions for generations. The debt from the Internal Improvements Act would not be fully paid off until 1882, costing the state more in interest than in the dollar amounts to actually build the so-called improvements throughout the state.

It was also during Duncan's tenure that the state capital was removed from Vandalia, Fayette County, Illinois, to the current location, Springfield, Sangamon County, Illinois. This was controversially done in large part by the successful leadership skills of Springfield's representatives, one of whom was Abraham Lincoln, who was accused of a type of bullying called Logrolling.

Duncan died in Jacksonville. Interment is at Diamond Grove Cemetery there.


  1. ^ Elizabeth Duncan Putnam (1921), The Life and Services of Joseph Putnam, Illinois State Historical Society, 121-3. Google Books, [1]
  2. ^ Putnam , 145-146.
  3. ^ Putnam, 144.

External links[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Daniel P. Cook
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's at-large congressional district

March 4, 1827 – March 3, 1833
Succeeded by
District elections
Preceded by
District created
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Illinois's 3rd congressional district

March 4, 1833 – September 21, 1834
Succeeded by
William L. May
Political offices
Preceded by
William Lee D. Ewing
Governor of Illinois
Succeeded by
Thomas Carlin