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INSIDE THE STEPHENSON HOUSE - May 29, 2003

Hi Henry the Stephenson House mouse is back again. "My" house is buzzing with activity again and I bet you don't realize how much is going on. I do for sure! Why? Because I see all the different men coming and going in their trucks and coming into "my" house with all their tools. I see all this from a place where I can hide and watch as they work. But, every time I settle down in what I think is a safe spot, someone appears near me to measure for a pipe, mark a place for a drain or a shut off valve or run a wire for a motion detector. I just have to move on to another spot! This all says that the security system is being installed and plumbing is about to be a reality. Progress is at work and Henry is busy staying out of the way.

Well, now it's time to go back to the story of Col. Ben's days as delegate to Congress. There are just a couple bills left that I want to tell you about. One is the bill Col. Ben introduced that resulted in the regulation and definition of the duties of judges in the Illinois Territory. This new bill provided for a circuit court system that required the judges to hold court twice a year in each of the counties. The legislature of the Illinois Territory was authorized to determine the time and place of the court. This was really important for the settlers. Previously the court met only in Kaskaskia and it was extremely expensive and difficult for many folks in the territory to reach the courts. The three judges in Kaskaskia were not pleased with the new bill, however, because it required them to travel, and they felt they were not paid enough to travel.

The original court system for the Illinois Territory had been put into effect by the Federal government. When the new bill Col. Ben introduced was passed, Congress included a clause that said the new court system created in the bill would remain in force until the next session of the territory legislature. After that, the territorial legislature had full power to organize the courts as they pleased. This looks to Henry like a big step toward independence for the Illinois Territory. Another bill that Col. Ben sponsored was an act to establish a land district in Illinois Territory, north of the district of Kaskaskia. This bill was passed April 29, 1816.

Henry here would like to remind you about Col. Ben's letter in June, 1816, to the citizens of the Illinois Territory, explaining what he had accomplished in Washington. He felt the people deserved an explanation of his activities in Congress. Col. Ben wrote a rather humble, informative letter that has told us about Col. Ben's successes as a delegate to Congress. He told the citizens about the bills Ol' Henry has been telling you about.

Col. Ben said he felt he could do more in Congress in the future. He spoke of how he was now familiar with the proceedings in Congress and of his large circle of friends and acquaintances in Washington who, with their cooperation, helped him succeed in getting bills enacted. Col. Ben called it a "melancholy truth" that a delegate of a territory could not be very successful in getting bills passed without friends and acquaintances. Remember, a delegate of any territory did not have a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives; therefore, a delegate needed cooperative friends for their votes.

So, although Col. Ben said he could do much more if he returned to Congress because he had made his place in Washington with friends and acquaintances, he would not return. Instead, he decided to resign, apparently to rise to a new political job.

Ol' Henry wants you all to slow down and give some thought to what politics were about in 1816. The Illinois historian Moses was quoted in 1914 as having said that the position of delegate to Congress in 1814-1816 was not highly desirable. Moses said it was desirable only as a stepping stone to something higher.

Even a mouse can pretty well figure out that Col. Ben had a plan when he went to Washington and that it was a successful plan. The men of the Illinois Territory knew the land was being surveyed and would soon be for sale. This would require another Land Grant Office to handle the number of sales. Col. Ben, who was obviously a well known and respected figure in Congress, was ready to make a change in his life.

The letter Col. Ben wrote to the Illinois Territory citizens was dated June 19, 1816, and was his final act in his Congressional career. He was not returning to Congress even though he knew he could exert more influence than during his first two terms. When he wrote his June letter, he had already been appointed as Receiver of Public Money at the Edwardsville Land Office. And, on May 11, 1816, Josiah Meigs, Commissioner of the General Land Offices had confirmed Benjamin Stephenson as Receiver of Public Money at the newly created Edwardsville Land Office.

It was Col. Ben, the delegate, who worked for the welfare of the Illinois Territory, and who introduced the bill for the new Land Office. The Land Office was very important to the growth of Edwardsville and also brought many men of importance to town. Just to give you guys an idea how important the Receiver of Public Money was: Henry has heard that the Governor's salary was $1000 a year and the Land Grant Receiver of Public Money received around $3000 a year, depending on the revenue from the sale of land.

Col. Ben's plan was successful. His efforts in Congress had helped solve many problems of the Illinois Territory. His skills in working with people had not gone unnoticed. President Madison appointed him as Register of Public Money at the Edwardsville Land Grant Office. The appointment allowed him to return to his family in Kaskaskia and move to Edwardsville which was to become a center of political activity in Illinois. Col. Ben was on the horizon of an active political career in which he continued as a true public servant.

Various letters between the U.S. Treasury office and Col. Ben reflect that his salary was hard-earned. However, his wife and growing children were with him in what were to be the final years of his life. And, Col. Ben and Lucy built what certainly was their dream home in Edwardsville.

I heard Mary say that tickets for "A Taste of Downtown Edwardsville" are available from Board Members and at the main office of The Bank of Edwardsville. Watch for an ad in the Intelligencer for details. Henry does know that you will need your ticket in advance. Hope to see you there!

See ya' later,

Henry


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