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Daniel Pope Cook (1794 - 1827)

Excerpted from "Growth of Cook County", Vol. I, by Charles B. Johnson, published by the Board of Commissioner of Cook County, Illinois, 1960.

Cook County, Illinois is named after Daniel Pope Cook, one of the earliest, youngest, and most brilliant statesmen in Illinois history.

Son-in-law of Ninian Edwards. Born in Scott County, Ky. Illinois state attorney general, 1819; U.S. Representative from Illinois at-large, 1819-27. Died in Scott County, Ky., October 16, 1827. Cook County, Ill. is named for him. (See also his congressional biography.)

The spectacular achievements accomplished by this young pioneer lawyer, newspaper publisher, territorial auditor and clerk, United States courier, circuit judge, attorney general, United States congressman, and diplomat are worthy of recount here.

Though widely acclaimed in his day for his astute leadership, Cook has been something of a forgotten man in the annals of his state's history, possibly because the overshadowing figure of Abraham Lincoln soon was to appear upon the scene.  It is lamentable, therefore, that there is a scarcity of source materials dealing with Mr. Cook's life.

Daniel Pope Cook was born in Scott county, north central Kentucky, in 1794.  Though he was related to the influential Pope family of Kentucky, young Daniel's parents were too poor to send him to college after he had finished with the grades.  The youngster was ambitious, however, so began studying law while working in the office of a lawyer relative.

From boyhood thru manhood Cook not only was small and frail of stature, but his health was poor most of the time.  Thus beset with continuing ill health, it is a testimonial to his fortitude that he always could muster a winning smile, a cheerful word, and draw from deep wells within him sufficient strength to bring fulfillment to his dreams.  He had but 33 years in which to accomplish his life's work.

Upon reaching 21 years, Daniel set out to seek his fortune further west.  Three hundred miles away lay St. Genevieve, a town on the banks of the Mississippi river in the Missouri territory, just across the river from Kaskaskia, seat of the new Illinois territory.  There, at St. Genevieve, Daniel found work in a store, but quit after a short time and moved across to Kaskaskia, then a western metropolis of some 700 residents.

When he entered Kaskaskia in the Illinois territory in 1815, young Cook is believed to have worked again in a store, but for only a few weeks because the bartering of salt and calico for "Dominecker" chickens, hand-churned butter, and fresh possum pelts did not fit in with his ambitions.  Cook resumed the reading of law, this time under his uncle, Nathaniel Pope, a lawyer, and in the same year began practicing law in the counties surrounding Kaskaskia.


In January of 1816, when but 22 years, Cook was appointed auditor of public accounts for the Illinois territory by the territorial governor, Ninian Edwards, which position he was to hold for some 15 months.  In the meantime, however, the young barrister took additional steps to advance both himself and the welfare of his adopted territory.

In 1816, he and a friend purchased The Illinois Herald, the only newspaper then published in the territory, and renamed it The Western Intelligencer.   Daniel Cook became the paper's editor.

A year later,  at the age of 23, Cook reached the conclusion that he was not rising rapidly enough in the world.  Maybe by going to Washington, D.C., he reasoned, President elect James Monroe or somebody in the capital would appoint him to some important job, such as secretary of the Alabama territory.  Moreover, his lawyer-uncle, Nathaniel Pope, already in Washington as the territory's delegate to the House of Representatives, might be able to lend him assistance.

It was in February of 1817 that young Daniel arrived in Washington.  Failing to obtain a high post, he settled for a lesser governmental job, that of dispatch bearer, but still he felt that even greater success lay just around the corner.  On April 5 he sent back to Kaskaskia his resignation as territorial auditor.

Within weeks Cook, always a dapper dresser and of polished manners, was sent to London with state papers which he delivered to John Quincy Adams, then United States representative to Britain.  These papers asked Adams to return home and become secretary of state in the cabinet of President Monroe.

Together, the outstanding statesman, Adams, and the youthful messenger, Cook, returned on a slow boat to Washington.  During the long trip they became well acquainted, which acquaintanceship eventually had much to do with making Adams president, and had a direct bearing upon the political setback that befell Cook a year before his early death.

The duties of a government messenger, Cook learned, could not always be so romantic and important as his trip abroad.  When his tasks became more menial, young Daniel thought he was in a rut.  He was learning the hard way that important governmental posts were not easy for mere youths to obtain.  His health was not good, and he grew homesick for the sights of familiar faces, including that of Julia Catherine Edwards (daughter of the territorial governor.)   In November of 1817, Cook quit his job and returned home.


Shortly after his return in Kaskaskia, Daniel Cook was back writing in his little newspaper and on November 20, 1817 printed his first editorial on his pet-project--advocating statehood for the Illinois territory. 

Statehood, at that time, was something to which neither the territorial residents nor their political leaders had given serious thought.  The territory was too young, still in the process of organization, and its population too small.  At that time, the neighboring Missouri territory had already taken preliminary steps seeking statehood, but  was torn by dissension over the slavery issue.  At the age of 23, Cook thought it would be fun to beat the Missouri territory into the union and Cook knew that in less than two weeks the territorial legislature was to convene in regular session in Kaskaskia.  Knowing the timing was crucial, Cook followed up in the newspaper's next issue with an urgent appeal for the territorial legislators to move forward in asking Congress to grant Illinois statehood and advocated that Illinois should come into the union as a slave-free state.

When the territorial legislature convened in Kaskaskia on December 2, 1817, Cook was very much on hand not only as a reporter for his own newspaper, but also (thanks to an appointment by Governor Edwards,) as clerk of the house of representatives.   Immediately upon convening, the territorial legislators introduced a resolution memorializing Congress to grant Illinois statehood.  Because much of the wording of the resolution was similar to that in Cook's newspaper articles, it is reasonable to presume that Cook, himself, drafted most of the resolution.  Politics in the territory has not yet crystallized into serious factions and since Governor Edwards favored the resolution the legislators paid little attention to the resolution's anti-slavery provision; however, a short time later this was to become a highly contentious issue.

On December 10, 1817, twenty-two days after young Cook returned to town with his idea for statehood, the legislators unanimously adopted the resolution.   The memorial was handed to Congress on January 16, 1818, by Delegate Nathaniel Pope (Cook's uncle) and shortly thereafter cleared committees.  On April 6, 1818, it was passed by the house and on April 14 by the senate.  President Monroe signed it on April 18, 1818.

On August 18, 1818, the Illinois Constitutional Convention was held in Kaskaskia and adopted a state constitution selecting Kaskaskia as the first state capital.  On October 6, 1818, Shadrach Bond was inaugurated as the first state Governor.  On December 3, 1818, President Monroe signed the act of admission by which Illinois became the 21st state of the union.  Thus Cook's territory won the race for statehood over Missouri by two years, eight months, and seven days.  (Missouri was admitted August 10, 1821.)


During the year of 1818 when the territory was preparing itself for statehood, young Cook kept himself as busy as ever.  Not only did he edit his paper and supervise official government printing in the paper's job shop, but practiced law with such success that early the same year he was appointed judge of the western circuit courts.  Though he was to hold the judgeship only a few months, he quickly won for himself an enviable reputation for his fairness.  Traveling on horseback from one to another of the new counties surrounding Kaskaskia, he held court in private homes or in any other building that could accommodate small gatherings.  One record remains that on May 11, 1818, in Union county,  Judge Cook convened a grand jury in a log cabin, presided as evidence was presented, then had the jury retire to the adjoining woods for its deliberations.  The jurors, composed of backwoods farmers and hunters, sat on the trunk of a fallen tree as they pondered over the evidence and made their findings.

In the elections that fall, with statehood virtually assured, the youthful Judge Cook sought to become the new state's first representative in Congress for the remainder of the term that would follow statehood.  He was defeated by 14 votes, however, by another ambitious young barrister, John McLean of Shawneetown, who was to become his strongest political opponent throughout the rest of his abbreviated life.

In December of 1818, Judge Cook was chosen by the state legislature as the first Attorney General of the new state of Illinois. 

Daniel Cook held this position until the following August of 1819 when he came back to defeat John McLean for congressman by a majority of 633 (the count was 2,192 for Cook to 1559 for McLean.)  Thus Cook, at age 25, became the second congressman to represent the young state of Illinois, and he was re-elected in 1820, 1822, and 1824.   On May 6, 1821, during his second term in Congress, young Cook married Julia Catherine Edwards.  Her father, Ninian Edwards, at that time was United States senator for Illinois, later became Governor.


Cook was a registered Democrat of Randolph county.  By 1826, however, he was running on the Whig ticket.  His successful campaigns against McLean centered largely around the question of slavery.  Though Cook had led the state into the union slave free, there was constant agitation to amend the new state constitution to permit slavery.  John McLean was the leading spokesman for the pro-slavery element.  

In Cook and McLean's campaigns, these young and able orators often engaged in public debates on the slavery subject.  Theirs was a prelude to the great Lincoln-Douglas debates that were to follow in 1858.  In an analogy one could say that it was Cook, then a Democrat, who brought Illinois into the union a slave-free state and kept it that way, and that it was Lincoln, the Republican, who later went ahead to free the nation.  The work of each man complemented that of the other.

Even though Cook's rise to power was aided at the outset by his uncle, Nathaniel Pope, and by his prospective father-in-law, Ninian Edwards, his noteworthy accomplishments were largely of his own making.  He stood on his own abilities, and in the light of history, rose above most other Illinois figures of his generation.


While in Congress, Cook worked prodigiously for the welfare of his young state.  For one thing, he recognized the need of a canal that would connect the Great Lakes, at Chicago, with the navigable waters of the Illinois river, even as Joliet had envisioned a century and a half earlier.  Such a waterway, he reasoned, not only would assist in the development of northern Illinois, but would benefit the entire middle-west and the nation.

When Cook first sought federal aid for the project, Congress was luke-warm and offered only token help, and even at home Cook found some opposition.  In fact, one state senator from southern Illinois argued before the state legislature that the canal should not be constructed because it would be an inlet for hordes of blue-bellied Yankees.  In the end, however, Cook scored a victory that, judged even by Twentieth century standards of federal aids, was tremendous.

On March 2, 1827, with Daniel Cook on his way out as a "lame duck" member, Congress granted Illinois 285,629 acres of land in alternate sections, checker-board style, along the ten-mile wide route of the proposed Illinois-Michigan canal.  Proceeds from the sale of this land eventually were to cover the major costs of the completed waterway.  It is significant to note that at the time of the grant which was to mean so much to the eventual welfare of Chicago and Cook County, Congressman Cook was Chairman of the ways and means committee of the House of Representatives.  His holding of this powerful position indicates the esteem in which he was held in Washington.

In the fall of 1826, Daniel Cook was defeated for re-election to Congress in part due to his personal friendship with John Quincy Adams, the able Secretary of State who had helped draft the Monroe doctrine.  It was early in 1825, following the previous fall's elections, that Adams, Henry Clay, William Crawford, and Andrew Jackson (Presidential aspirants) found themselves deadlocked, no one having a majority of the electoral votes.  Under the rules of government, this threw the matter into the House of Representatives for a decision.  There Adams won the support of the Clay and Crawford factions, and, with the help of Cook, Adams was chosen over Jackson by a single vote.

Jackson's followers in Illinois, who were many, cried that Cook had betrayed his trust.  The strength of this opposition at home undoubtedly was underestimated by Cook, for in the elections of 1826, being in ill health and not having the formidable McLean to run against, he campaigned little.  The result, surprising to both sides, was that his opponent, Joseph Duncan of Jackson county (a comparative unknown) won by 641 votes. 

Though stung by his surprise defeat, Cook sought to make his closing months as a "lame duck" congressman outstanding.  In this he again was successful, but as chairman of the ways and means committee, he put in long hours of work that further undermined his now rapidly-failing health.  When the legislative session came to an end that spring of 1827, Cook accepted a government diplomatic mission to Cuba.  He expressed hope that the Caribbean climate would restore his health, but this failed to be done.  In June of 1827 he returned to his home which then was Edwardsville, north of Kaskaskia.  That fall he expressed a desire to visit once again his birth place in Scott county, Kentucky, and it was there that he died on October 16, 1827 and was buried.  Daniel P. Cook  was 33 years old.

Following the death of her illustrious young husband, Julia Catherine Cook moved with their only child, John (born June 12, 1825), to Belleville, Illinois, where she died three years later.  The son was to become in time and in turn, Mayor of Springfield in 1855, a brigadier general in the Civil War (here fighting in behalf of his father's anti-slavery principles) and Sangamon county's representative in the Illinois General Assembly.  John Cook died in 1910 at his home near Ransom, Michigan.

There is no record that Daniel Pope Cook ever had the pleasure of visiting the site of the great county that was to be named after him when Cook County was created by an act of the Illinois legislature on January 15, 1831, less than four years following his death.


Copyright 1999-2007 Secretary to the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Cook County, Illinois.
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