Carrollton Patriot Newspaper

03 Oct 1912
And He was Once a Carrollton Boy
A man who developed into manhood in the pioneer village of Carrollton – our own Carrollton – some 80 years ago, and who has been dead half a century, is the hero of the book that has quite recently come from the press. This book was written in New York, published in Boston, and it records the historic achievements of its hero on the Pacific Coast. Furthermore, it is not the only volume that has been written about him. These statements should give some idea of the dimensions of the man, but not an adequate idea.
The title of the book is "The Contest for California in 1861: How Colonel E. D. Baker Saved the Pacific States to the Union".
In the Capital Building at Washington is a marble statue inscribed "Baker". A professor from one of the leading universities paused before that statue one day and inquired, "Who was Baker? What did he do to get in here?” That incident prompted the author Elijah R. Kennedy, to write the book.
As the title indicates the book is devoted to the later part of Colonel Baker’s life, the years that were spent in and for California and Oregon. Of his early life only such glimpses are given as will indicated the poverty, which would not hold him down, his insatiate thirst for knowledge, his dashing bravery and the beginnings of that eloquence which made him famous.
But the author should not have skipped entirely the years that Baker spent in Carrollton, where he studied law, where he married, where he joined the Christian Church, in which he exercised his oratorical power by exhortation. Only once is the fact of him residing in Carrollton mentioned, and that was incidentally. Young Baker enlisted as a Private soldier in the Black Hawk War in the spring of 1832, and of his return from the campaign against the Indians the author copies this incident from Wallace's biography of Baker:
"When his regiment was mustered out of service, near Dixon, on the upper waters of the Mississippi, instead of returning home overland, with his Comrades in Arms, he procured a canoe from some friendly Indians, and accompanied by a single companion, boldly descended the Father of Waters a distance of about 300 miles, to a convenient point in Calhoun County, where he landed his frail bark and then proceeded on foot to his home in Carrollton."
Baker had been admitted to the bar here in Carrollton in 1830, at the age of 19 years. The author says he was married April 27, 1931 when only 20 years of age to Mary Ann Lee, "an accomplished and well to do widow of Springfield, with whom he lived in the happiest relations until his tragic death." The date is probably correct, but Mrs. Lee belonged in Carrollton. She was the widow of Samuel Lee, Jr., the first Recorder and Clerk of the Circuit and County Courts of Greene County. Just before his death in 1829, Lee had built a brick house at the northwest corner of the square. So, when young Baker married the widow he also acquired a home, which was probably the first he had really had. The Lee house still stands on the public square, and is the West part of the Hodges Office Building.
Baker moved to Springfield in 1835, and there began his political career. He became the close friend of Abraham Lincoln, and the author tells this story of attachment between the two: Baker was addressing a hostile audience in a hall, located immediately under Lincoln’s office. He said something that offended his hearers and they were about to mob him, when suddenly the long legs of Lincoln dangle through a trap door in the ceiling, and he dropped to the platform. Picking up the stone water pitcher, he declared he would break it over the head of the first man to touch Baker. The mob subsided.
Baker generally carried things with a dash. He had lived in Springfield when he was elected to the legislature. In 1844 both he and Lincoln were candidates for the Congressional nomination, and Baker won.
He was elected and became the only Whig in Congress from Illinois. He resigned his seat to go to the Mexican War. Unwilling on his return to again be the rival of Lincoln, he moved to Galena in 1848, announced as an Independent Whig candidate for Congress, in a district that was strongly Democratic, and after a residence of only three weeks, was elected by a thousand majority.
It was the same was on the Pacific Coast he finally reached the goal of his ambition - a seat in the United States Senate. He had not succeeded politically in California, and in February 1860, he accepted the invitation of Oregon Republicans to settle in that new state and become leader of the party. Only a few months later he was elected U. S. Senator.
Several chapters of the book are devoted to showing how California and Oregon, remote from other northern states and swayed by southern influence, almost swing into line with the Confederacy; and how it was very largely Baker's eloquence that turned the tide. Numerous quotations are given from some of his famous speeches - speeches that stood out preeminent in a period when oratory was at flood tide. Of one of his speeches George d. prentice declared it the most eloquent delivered by an American since Patrick Henry’s “Give my liberty of give me death".
When Colonel Baker led his regiment to the front in the Civil War, he depressed the belief that he would die leading his mean in battle. He said the troops were green and it would be necessary for the officers to expose themselves. Many have believed that he exposed himself recklessly at Bell’s Bluff, but the author of this book gives evidence in detail to show that it was the fault of another. Of his tragic death John Hay wrote: "Edward Dickinson Baker was promoted by one grand brevet of the God of Battles, above the acclaim of the field, above the applause of the world, to the heaven of the Martyr and the Hero."

("The Contest for California I 1861" published by Haughton Mifflin Co., Boston price $2.25 net)

Transcribed 07 Nov 2002 by Carol S. VanValkenburgh

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