Duncan, Joseph (Governor)

Born: 1794-02-22 Paris, Kentucky

Died: 1844-01-15 Jacksonville, Illinois

Joseph Duncan was a War of 1812 veteran, state legislator, U.S. representative, and sixth governor of Illinois. He fought with the Seventeenth United States Infantry during the War of 1812. In 1818, Duncan moved from Kentucky to Illinois and gradually acquired tracts of land throughout the state. In 1824, he was elected as a state senator from Jackson County. Two years later, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives and served until 1834. As a Congressman, Duncan advocated the immediate sale of public land in Illinois and surrounding states and territories, and he argued that the revenue generated from such sales of land should be given to the states for the purpose of internal improvements and education. Duncan had previously supported the policies of President Andrew Jackson, but by the 1834 election, he was more aligned with the Whig Party. Duncan resigned his seat in Congress in 1834 upon his election as governor of Illinois. As governor, he supported the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal, but as a general rule he believed that internal improvements should be left to private initiative. Duncan served as governor until 1838. He ran for governor in 1842, but was defeated by Thomas Ford.

Governors of Illinois: 1818-1918 (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1917), 13; Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors: 1818-1988 (Springfield: Illinois Issues, Sangamon State University and Illinois State Historical Society, 1988), 61-69; Robert M. Sutton, "Duncan, Joseph," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 7:71-73; Julia Duncan Kirby, Biographical Sketch of Joseph Duncan, Fifth Governor of Illinois (Chicago: Fergus, 1888), 18-19; Theodore C. Pease, ed., Illinois Election Returns, 1818-1848, vol. 18 of Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1923), 126, 207. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.