WILLIAM HINRICHSEN

WILLIAM HINRICHSEN

WILLIAM HINRICHSEN

During William Hinrichsen’s term as Secretary of State (1893-1897), the State Library collection grew rapidly and additional staff was hired. The library mission began its shift from primarily serving the legislature to becoming a resource for the public.

Hinrichsen, the sole Democrat to hold the office of Secretary of State in the last half of the 19th century, was a competent administrator. “Buck,” as he was popularly known, also carved a name for himself in the field of journalism. Hinrichsen was born in the Morgan County town of Franklin on May 27, 1850, and moved to the neighboring village of Alexander at age 3. Hinrichsen’s father, a German immigrant, laid out both towns. After attending the University of Illinois, Hinrichsen returned to Morgan County, where he was elected Justice of the Peace in Alexander at age 24. Shortly thereafter he was appointed Morgan County deputy sheriff in Jacksonville and elected Jacksonville sheriff in 1880, serving one term. 1

In 1882, he purchased an interest in the Jacksonville Weekly Illinois Courier. Four years later, he was part of a group that purchased the Quincy Herald, where he served as editor. In 1888, he became a member of the Democratic State Central Committee, heading its press bureau and editing its newsletter. By the early 1890s, the Democratic Party was enjoying a resurgence in Illinois, in part due to Buck Hinrichsen’s key role. Named clerk of the Illinois House in 1891, he helped broker back-room deals ensuring the election of John M. Palmer to the U.S. Senate by one vote on the 154th ballot. 2

The 1892 elections were good ones for Illinois Democrats, who swept every major state office. Hinrichsen was elected Secretary of State and put his business and journalistic talents to use, implementing major changes in the office. He immediately raised fees for corporate charters, bringing in tens of thousands of dollars in added state revenue. He also kept highly detailed records of his actions, a reflection of his journalistic point of view. However, he clashed with Governor John Altgeld over the chief executive’s pardon of the Haymarket Riot anarchists. With Hinrichsen’s maneuvering, the Illinois Democratic convention in 1895 failed to endorse Altgeld for re-nomination the following year. Altgeld never forgave the Secretary and thereafter worked to damage his career. 3

A fervent supporter of William Jennings Bryan, Hinrichsen was elected to the U.S. House for a single term in 1896 and was active in Democratic politics for the rest of his life. He also remained an influential journalist, editing the Cincinnati Enquirer in 1899 before returning home to Alexander. Hinrichsen also wrote countless articles and political short stories for Chicago newspapers, newspaper syndicates, and national magazines. Known for his sense of humor and kind-hearted nature, Hinrichsen died at his Alexander home on Dec. 18, 1907. 4
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  1. Howlett 93; Letter of Elizabeth Hardy to author.
  2. Howlett 93, 95.
  3. Howlett 93, 95-96.
  4. Howlett 97-98.