Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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March 7, 1850

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Fifty-five individuals, including Lincoln, signed a petition addressed to Governor Augustus C. French to appoint Springfield resident William B. Fondey as a notary public, a person legally empowered to witness and certify the validity of documents. At the time, only the governor could appoint a person as a notary public. Today, the Secretary of State appoints notaries public and they are regulated by the Secretary's Index Department. There are more than 183,000 notaries in Illinois today.

Governor Augustus C. French, a Democrat, was the state's first two-term governor. Under the original state constitution, which went into effect in 1818, governors could only serve one consecutive term. In 1848, the state adopted a new constitution that kept the one-term limit. However, because the new constitution moved the gubernatorial election from non-presidential election years to presidential election years, French was allowed to run for reelection in 1848 after having been elected the first time two years earlier. In all, he served one two-year term as governor and one four-year term as governor, for a total of six years. It would not be until the 1870 state constitution that governors were allowed to serve more than one consecutive term.

Although Lincoln was a leader of the Whig Party, during the last half of the 1840s the party was in disarray in Illinois. French easily defeated his Whig opponent in 1846 when that opponent did not bother to campaign. Lincoln that year was elected as the state's lone Whig congressman. In 1848, French basically ran unopposed and received more than eighty-six percent of the vote. As governor, French continued the frugal fiscal policies of his predecessor, Thomas Ford, helping to further pay down the state debt from the failed internal improvements plan.

Fondey was a Springfield resident and local merchant. He received his commission as a notary on March 25, 1850.

Points to Consider

What are some reasons that a notary's signature and stamp are still required on a document today?

Why did Governor French serve more than one term?

How long may an Illinois governor serve today? What are some arguments for and against limiting the number of any government official's terms?

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