Image of Bissell, William H.

Bissell, William H.

b. April 25, 1811, in Hartwick, New York; d. March 18, 1860, in Springfield, Illinois. Bissell received a medical degree in 1834. He practiced medicine for three years, and then moved to Illinois where he taught school. In 1844, he was admitted to the bar in Illinois. In 1840, he was elected as a Democrat to the state legislature for one term where he met Abraham Lincoln. After serving in the legislature, he practiced law in Belleville until the outbreak of the Mexican War. During the war, he was elected colonel of the Second Regiment of Illinois Volunteers. His regiment helped hold back the Mexican Army during the Battle of Buena Vista. In 1848, he was elected as a Democrat to the United States House of Representatives for three terms. While he was there, Jefferson Davis challenged Bissell to a duel, which he accepted. President Zachary Taylor intervened and Davis withdrew his challenge. This incident made Bissell very popular in Illinois, and six years later he was elected as the first Republican governor in Illinois. Lincoln was a strategist in Bissell's campaign because he felt that the Republicans would have a better chance of getting elected if their candidate were a former Democrat. Bissell's election gave Lincoln a home state power base for the 1860 presidential election. Bissell died while in office.
Governors of Illinois: 1818-1918 (Springfield: Illinois Centennial Commission, 1917), 23; Robert P. Howard, Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors, 1818-1988 (Springfield: Illinois Issues, Sangamon State University and Illinois State Historical Society, 1988), 109-15. Illustration courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library, Springfield, IL.