Vandalia Whig and Illinois Intelligencer: An Early Illinois Newspaper

The first newspaper in Illinois, the Illinois Herald, was founded as a weekly publication in 1814 based in Kaskaskia. It soon became the Western Intelligencer and carried the title Intelligencer in one form or another for the rest of its existence. The town of Kaskaskia was the Illinois Territory’s capital until 1818 when it became the state capital after Illinois gained statehood. The Intelligencer was created by abolitionist politicians Daniel Pope Cook and Elijah C. Berry. While they were in charge, the paper shared their anti-slavery politics. The boundary between journalism and politics in the 19th century was porous. Multiple editors and publishers for the Intelligencer held elected offices during the Intelligencer’s time in print. William H. Brown notes in his 1857 biography of Cook, “With the printing of the Laws and Journals of the Territorial Legislatures, and blanks for public offices, at prices which would now astonish a practical printer it is certain that the business was lucrative”. As both the early state’s primary newspaper and the official printer of state documents, the Intelligencer wielded strong political clout. 

“Kaskaskia.”. 1852-53. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed January 12, 2021.)

As the Illinois state population grew, new settlements expanded outward from the original Mississippi river population centers like Kaskaskia, and their political power ebbed away. Vandalia was chosen as a centrally located replacement state capital. Like many frontier newspapers, the Intelligencer tied itself closely to the local seat of power. The Illinois Intelligencer moved to Vandalia in 1820, a year after the state capital moved to the new town. The move presaged leadership changes at the Intelligencer. The new editors pushed the Intelligencer in a new partisan direction towards Jacksonian politics. They also shifted from the abolitionism of the previous owners towards the Democratic-Republican view of accommodating slavery. These editorial changes angered subscribers who had supported the Intelligencer’s original anti-slavery stance from the Daniel Pope Cook era and caused a large drop in subscriptions. 

Beginning in the early 1820s and continuing into the mid-1830s, the number of partisan newspapers expanded rapidly. As competition with new rival newspapers increased, the Intelligencers profits decreased. In 1832 the declining Intelligencer was merged with another struggling newspaper called the Vandalia Whig. Together they formed a new paper: the Vandalia Whig and Intelligencer. Articles from this period tended to focus on national and state issues. Examples include: “Congress. Debate on the Tariff” discussing the possible imposition of an import tariff, and “Cholera in Hartford” which covered an outbreak of the deadly bacterial illness in the Connecticut state capital. The first page of every edition was typically devoted to acts of Congress or legislative procedures. The merger was unsuccessful in saving the Vandalia Whig and Intelligencer. The Intelligencers editorial and geographical changes reveal the rapid and volatile political shifts taking place in Illinois during the first half of the 19th century. The exact date of the papers’ closing is uncertain. No issues survive beyond 1834, and the paper is believed to have become defunct well before the state capitol moved to its current location in Springfield in 1839.  

-By Connor Monson

The Vandalia Whig and Intelligencer was digitized with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities, as part of the National Digital Newspaper Program.

Beck, Lewis Caleb, 1798-1853. Plan of Vandalia, the capital of the state of Illinois. 1823. Retrieved from the Digital Public Library of America, (Accessed February 19, 2021.)
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