The fifth man in Illinois history to hold the office of Secretary of State, George Forquer was a man who loved books. His appreciation for them was so strong that he is credited with sharing some of his considerable personal library with lawmakers in the infant days of Illinois statehood.
Born near Brownsville, Pennsylvania, in 1794, Forquer was a half-brother to Thomas Ford, eighth Governor of Illinois and thought by many to be one of the best chief executives in state history. His father, a veteran of the American Revolution, was killed in a coal-mine accident, and his stepfather disappeared, possibly at the hands of Indians or lawbreakers, when George was 9 years old. 1
The family immigrated to Illinois in 1804 and settled in what is now Monroe County, where young George quit school to work as a carpenter to help his needy mother and siblings. He later earned some wealth as a merchant and in land speculation, and is credited with platting and selling the original lots in the town of Waterloo, Illinois. 2
Elected to the Illinois House in the Fourth General Assembly in August 1824, he was appointed Secretary of State only five months later. Serving under Edward Coles, the second Governor of Illinois, he agreed with Coles’ antislavery beliefs. Forquer ran against Joseph Duncan, another future Illinois Governor, for a seat in the U.S. House in 1828, but was defeated and resigned his position as Secretary of State that December 31. He was not out of a job for long, as the legislature elected him Attorney General just 24 days later. 3
His love of books complemented a great ability to speak and write. He suffered from financial distress, but his political prowess was formidable, and he was elected to the Illinois Senate in both 1832 and 1834. He resigned from the General Assembly in 1835 to accept a position as registrar of the land office at Springfield. Forquer built one of the finest homes in the city, across from the present State Capitol, where the Illinois Supreme Court building stands. The structure featured the only lightning rod in the region. 4
That lightning rod became a verbal barb for Abraham Lincoln, whose speech at a rally in an 1836 campaign for the Illinois House was dismissed by Forquer, who said of Lincoln, “the young man must be taken down.” Lincoln responded in kind, with a hint of the burning ambition that defined the life of the “Railsplitter”: 5
“It is for you, not for me, to say whether I am up or down. The gentleman has alluded to my being a young man. I am older in years than I am in the tricks and trades of politicians. I desire to live, and I desire place and distinction as a politician; but I would rather die now, than, like the gentleman, live to see the day that I would have to erect a lightning rod to protect a guilty conscience from an offended God.” 6
Forquer did not live to see the triumphs of the upstart Lincoln, as he died of consumption the following year in Cincinnati. 7
1. Sorenson, “The Illinois State Library 1818-1870,” 34; Howlett 37.
2. Howlett 37.
3. Howlett 38; Moses I-551, 11-1170.
4. Howlett 38-39; Moses I-379, II-1170.