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Note: The weekly Illinois Bicentennial series is sponsored by the Illinois Associated Press Media Editors and Illinois Press Association. More than 20 newspapers are creating stories about the state’s history, places and key moments in advance of the Bicentennial on Dec. 3, 2018. Stories published up to this date can be found at

The Gettysburg Address. Hull House. the nation’s first African-American president — and first lady. All of these are due to Illinois’ bumper crop of political figures and politicians, who represent a diverse range of viewpoints and contributions throughout history.

Here, in alphabetical order, are some of the leaders who came from our state:

Jane Addams

A social worker and a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, Addams was the first American woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. She ran Hull House, a settlement house for poor immigrants in Chicago, and co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union. She died in 1935 in Chicago

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Clinton’s 2016 Democratic nomination for president culminated a lifetime of public service, including terms as U.S. Secretary of State, Senator and First Lady. Raised in Park Ridge, she moved to Arkansas in 1975 and married Bill Clinton, who became the 42nd President. Her first run for president was in 2008 when she lost the nomination to fellow Illinoisan Barack Obama

Richard J. Daley

Born into a working-class Irish family in Chicago’s Bridgeport neighborhood, Daley worked in the Union Stockyards to pay for law school. He was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives then became Chicago’s 38th Mayor with a 21-year tenure that ended with his death in 1976. Daley delivered key Democratic votes from Cook County in the 1960 presidential election of John F. Kennedy. He received national attention and criticism for authorizing the use of police force during the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. His son, Richard M. Daley, followed him as Mayor from 1989 to 2011

Everett Dirksen

A native of Pekin, Dirksen helped steer the U.S. through the turbulent 1960s. As U.S. Senate minority leader, the Republican held a crucial role in passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Civil Rights Act of 1968. A World War I Army veteran, he was one of the Senate’s strongest supporters of the U.S. role in Vietnam. He died while in office in 1969 and is buried in Pekin

Stephen A. Douglas

A rising figure in Illinois’ early years, Douglas served in the Illinois House and as Illinois Secretary of State and Illinois Supreme Court associate justice, all by age 27. A few years later, he was elected to the U.S. House then the Senate. The sparring partner of Abraham Lincoln during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858, Douglas was nicknamed “the little giant” for his diminutive stature and political forcefulness.  He died of typhoid fever at age 48 in 1861 and is buried on Chicago’s South Side

Betty Ford

Born Elizabeth Ann Bloomer in 1918 in Chicago, she moved with her family to Michigan before traveling at 18 to study dance in Vermont and New York. She married Gerald Ford, who rose from the U.S. House to become the 38th President. Five years after leaving the White House, she founded the Betty Ford Center after recovering from alcohol and painkiller addiction. She died in 2011 at age 93

Ulysses S. Grant

Born in Ohio, Grant served in the Mexican-American War and moved at age 38 with his wife to Galena to join the family leather goods business. The Civil War began a year later and Grant led a regiment south. Eventually promoted to commanding general and reporting directly to President Abraham Lincoln, he helped lead the Union Army to victory. As the 18th President from 1869 to 1877, he oversaw Reconstruction. He died in 1885 and is with his wife Julia, buried in Grant’s Tomb in New York

Jesse Jackson

Jackson lived under Jim Crow laws during his youth in South Carolina, but later participated in the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery marches for civil rights and worked for the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which led Jackson to Chicago to establish an office of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He attended the Chicago Theological Seminary and was ordained. Jackson was at the Memphis, Tenn., hotel when King was assassinated and became one of the most influential civil rights leaders in the nation. Jackson ran for the Democratic nomination for president in 1984 and 1988 

Ethel Kennedy

A human rights activist, widow of late U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy and mother of 11, she was born Ethel Skakel in Chicago and later moved to Connecticut. She married Kennedy in 1950 and founded the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights after his assassination in 1968

Abraham Lincoln

A lawyer and member of the Illinois House and U.S. House, Lincoln became the 16th — and first Republican President, serving from 1861 until his assassination in 1865. Lincoln is credited with preserving the Union through the Civil War. His Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 declared that all slaves within the Confederate states “are, and henceforward shall be free.” He is buried in Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield

Barack and Michelle Obama

Barack Obama, born in Hawaii, came to Chicago to work as a community organizer after graduating from Columbia University in New York City. He taught at the University of Chicago Law School before being elected to the Illinois Senate and U.S. Senate. In 2008, he became the 44th President. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009. Michelle Obama was born in Chicago, attended Princeton (N.J.) University and Harvard Law School and returned to Chicago to work at the law firm Sidley and Austin

Ronald Reagan

A former actor and California governor who became the 40th President, Reagan was born in Tampico and graduated from Eureka College. The two-term president was dubbed “the great communicator” and was credited with cutting taxes and hastening the end of the Cold War. He died in 2004 after battling Alzheimer’s disease

Paul Simon

The Oregon native moved to Illinois and became the nation’s youngest editor and publisher at 20.  He began his political career in the Illinois House. A Democrat, he was lieutenant governor under Republican Gov. Richard Ogilvie.  He was elected to the U.S. House, then the Senate, where he served for 12 years until 1997. Simon ran for president in 1988. Simon lived in Makanda and founded the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University before his death in 2003

Adlai Stevenson II

Born into a family of prominent Illinois politicians, Stevenson was raised in Bloomington, where his family ran The Daily Pantagraph, and spent his adult life on a farm along the Des Plaines River near Libertyville. His grandfather, Adlai Stevenson I, was vice president under Grover Cleveland. His father, Lewis Stevenson, was Illinois Secretary of State, and his son, Adlai Stevenson III, was a U.S. Senator from Illinois from 1970 to 1981. Adlai II was Illinois Governor from 1949 to 1953 and was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for president in 1952 and 1956. He was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations during the Cuban missile crisis. He died in 1965 in London and is buried in Bloomington. 


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