Eye On Illinois: As governor, Palmer believed in ‘pay as you go’

On Sept. 25, 1900, John Palmer died of a heart attack. He was a Civil War general, a one-term governor, served six years in the U.S. Senate and was the National Democratic Party presidential candidate in 1896. Palmer is an interesting figure for many reasons – including that as the 15th governor (1869-1873) he fit in between the first and second terms of Richard Oglesby, the only Illinois governor to serve non-sequential terms.

Oglesby is compelling on his own. Also a Union general, his second term (1873) didn’t even last a fortnight before he resigned to accept a full term in the U.S. Senate. Voters gave him a third gubernatorial term in 1885. Oglesby was a Republican – a close ally of Abraham Lincoln – and so was Palmer. But Palmer was a Democrat during his Senate term and at times affiliated with various splinter sects. (“I had my own views. I was not a slave of any party.”) During his most serious presidential bid his running mate was Simon Buckner, a former Confederate general; they captured just shy of 1% of the national vote.

Palmer’s memoir, “The Story of an Earnest Life,” which his wife completed after his death, is available free online. (Give yourself some time – it’s 38 chapters and more than 600 pages.) In chapter 21, he recounts his inaugural address, one quote from which is as follows:

“It cannot be too often repeated that the proper policy of states, as well as individuals, is best expressed in the maxim, ‘pay as you go.’ Loans or other methods of anticipating the public revenues are deceptive, and in practice burdensome and oppressive. By this means, the actual expenses of the government are successfully concealed from the people, and their consent obtained to enterprises of such doubtful propriety that they would have been promptly rejected by them, if they had been submitted with a proposition to raise at once by taxation the money needed to insure their success.”

The remainder is a fascinating insight into the levers of state government preceding his tenure as well as his take on the buildup to the convention that birthed the 1870 Illinois Constitution, which lasted a century before the one we still use today. Palmer was governor during the Chicago Fire, so expect to see his name during sesquicentennial coverage in coming weeks.

Made in Illinois: On Tuesday I invited readers to recommend holiday gifts made in Illinois. On Facebook, suggestions tilted heavily toward food and beverages: Garrett’s popcorn. El Miagro tortillas. Vienna Beef. Aurelio’s or Lou Malnati’s pizzas. Beer from HopButcher and Burning Bush.

Share your ideas – food and otherwise. Drop an email and I’ll print suggestions as space allows.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.