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Joseph Duncan

Gov. Joseph Duncan

  • December 3, 1834 - December 7, 1838
  • Democrat
  • February 22, 1794
  • January 15, 1844
  • Kentucky
  • Married Elizabeth Caldwell Smith; ten children
  • Representative
  • Army
  • Testimonial Sword from Congress


JOSEPH DUNCAN, Illinois’ sixth governor was born in Paris, Kentucky, on February 22, 1794. He was a self-taught man, who pursued his interest in the classics. Duncan’s military duty consisted of service in the War of 1812 as an ensign and a first lieutenant in the 46th Infantry. He was awarded the testimonial sword by a resolution of Congress for his role in the defense of Fort Stephenson, Ohio. In 1823 he was commissioned a major general of the Illinois militia, and in 1831 he commanded troops as brigadier general during the Black Hawk War. After settling in Kaskaskia, Illinois, Duncan served as Jackson County’s justice of the peace from 1821 to 1823. He entered politics in 1824 as a member of the Illinois State Senate, an office he held for two years. Duncan also was a four-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives, serving from March 4, 1827, until September 21, 1834. He won election as Illinois governor on August 4, 1834 and was sworn into office on December 3, 1834. During his tenure, the Internal Improvement Act was enacted, which certified a statewide public works program; construction began on the Illinois and Michigan Canal; the state capital was to be moved to Springfield; and the authorization for the City of Chicago was sanctioned. Duncan also advocated for a public education system and for the creation of state colleges. Governor Duncan’s term ended on December 7, 1838. After running unsuccessfully for reelection in 1842, he retired from public service. Governor Joseph Duncan died on January 15, 1844, and he is buried at the Diamond Grove Cemetery in Jacksonville, Illinois.


Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1, Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.

Governor Duncan Webpage

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