James Rose served as Secretary of State longer than anyone in Illinois history, holding the office from his inauguration in 1897 until his death in 1912. He became one of the most popular Illinois political figures of his era. Under his lengthy administration, the State Library continued its transformation to a center for Illinois librarianship and information exchange.
Rose was born Oct. 13, 1850, in the southern Illinois town of Golconda. Despite modest beginnings, Rose pursued an education, culminating with one term at the present-day Illinois State University in Normal. At age 17, he was back home in Pope County, teaching in a country school. Four years later, he was appointed principal of the Golconda grade schools. He then was elected to two terms as Pope County school superintendent before twice winning election as state’s attorney. In 1889, Governor Joseph Fifer appointed Rose a trustee of the Pontiac reformatory. The following year, Fifer appointed him one of the commissioners of the Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Chester. In 1896, Rose was elected Secretary of State. 1
An efficient administrator who was known for his approachable nature, Rose’s tenure as Secretary was marked by significant changes. In 1899, the General Assembly directed the Secretary to publish the first Blue Book, a directory of Illinois government. Rose embraced this responsibility, and by 1903 expanded the Blue Book to include a detailed section on state history. 2
During Rose’s third term in 1907, Illinois adopted its first motor vehicle licensing program, and his office was directed to administer the program. His next Biennial Report revealed that this raised some $39,884.22 in license revenue. Rather than license plates, automobile owners displayed two-inch metal tags, with stamped numbers. Display plates were then made by local blacksmiths. Full license plates were first issued by the state of Illinois in 1911, and by 1912 the Secretary was reaping $462,371 in license fees and $831,417 in corporation fees. 3
Rose served under the administrations of Governors John Tanner, Richard Yates, Jr., and Charles Deneen, and was nominated for a fifth term in 1912 by a landslide vote. However, Rose fell suddenly ill with a stomach hemorrhage late in the evening of May 28, 1912, and died the following day. 4
- Moses II-1015, Howlett 99.
- Howlett 99, 101.
- Howlett 102-103.