WINNER, 2023 Illinois State Historical Society Russell P. Strange Book of the Year Award!
A territory split by slavery, a state forged for union
Avenues of Transformation traces the surprising path, marked by shame, ambition, and will that led to Illinois’s admission to the Union in 1818. Historian James A. Edstrom guides the reader through this story by associating each stage of the narrative—the original statehood campaign, the passage of Illinois’s statehood-enabling act by Congress, and Illinois’s first constitutional convention—with the primary leaders in each of those episodes. The lives of these men—Daniel Pope Cook, Nathaniel Pope, and Elias Kent Kane—reflect the momentous tangle of politics, slavery, and geography. This history maps the drive for statehood in the conflict between nation and state, in the perpetuation of slavery, and in the sweep of water and commerce. It underscores the ways in which the Prairie State is uniquely intertwined—economically, socially, and politically—with every region of the Union: North, South, East, and West—and captures the compelling moment when Illinois statehood stood ready to more perfectly unify the nation.
This volume is the first full-length book in over a century to describe and analyze Illinois’s admission to the Union. It marks the first time that a historian has analyzed in detail the roll-call votes of the first state constitutional convention, seated evenly by pro- and antislavery delegates. Edstrom’s wit and prose weave a lively narrative of political ambition and human failure. Patiently crafted, Avenues of Transformation will be the first source for readers to turn to for gaining a better understanding of Illinois statehood.