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 Here's one explanation as to the name "Little Egypt" in respect to the southern tip of Illinois.  For another explanation click here.

Judge Andrew D. Duff of Egypt

John Y. Simon 

On August 14, 1862, David L. Phillips, U. S. Marshal for the Southern District of Illinois, assaulted the most dangerous element in Egypt. His agents arrested a covey of fiery Democrats including U. S. Representative William Joshua Allen of Marion, former law partner of John A. Logan and his successor in Congress, and Circuit Judge Andrew D. Duff of Benton. Taken to Cairo, the prisoners encountered affidavits attesting their disloyalty. A soldier who signed by mark asserted that Duff, while addressing a meeting near Blairsville in Williamson County, had claimed that the Knights of the Golden Circle, a secret society pledged to support the Confederacy, would soon rise to attack Union supporters.

Duff was born in 1820 in Bond County, Illinois, to parents married in South Carolina. Irregularly educated, he nonetheless taught school, enlisted for the Mexican War, then moved to Franklin County where he began to study law. Elected county judge in 1849, he advanced to circuit judge in 1861, administering the law in the counties of Franklin, Johnson, Saline, and Williamson.

Taken to Washington and imprisoned in the notorious Old Capitol prison, Egyptian extremists plotted revenge. On grounds of ill health, Congressman Allen was allowed to serve his imprisonment in a Washington hotel, the fashionable Kirkwood House. Nonetheless, Josh Allen won reelection to Congress largely on the strength of his martyrdom. A federal judge in later years, Allen preferred to forget about his incarceration.

Duff and others received no such accommodation. Confined in what was called the "hog-pen" with criminals, deserters, and drunks, where prisoners rushed at mealtimes to grab what they could from a common mound, Duff lived on bread alone until allowed to join other more respectable inmates at a mess. Never formally charged, Duff was arbitrarily imprisoned to prevent him from promulgating his political views. After sixty-eight days, Duff and other Illinois inmates were released after the fall elections and upon agreement to sign an oath of allegiance and a promise to refrain from suing the government for redress. During the year after his release from prison, Duff published a pamphlet, Arbitrary Arrests in Illinois, addressed to "the Public of Southern Illinois," concerning his arrest and imprisonment by the "Abolition Despotism." In sixteen pages of minuscule type, Duff denounced the "unprincipled pimps" and "public plunderers" who operated through "hireling lick-spittles."

In summer 1861, Logan’s prudent transformation from southern ally to Unionist launched his ascent to major general, Republican leader, and national idol. Logan’s conversion persuaded many former Democratic allies—but not all. One year later, Marshal Phillips was acutely aware of lingering rebel sympathies in a region he knew intimately. Phillips was an early Republican leader in Union County, Abraham Lincoln’s host when he debated Stephen A. Douglas in 1858 in Jonesboro, and Logan’s sacrificial opponent for a congressional seat. Influenced by testimony from agents sent to infiltrate secret traitorous organizations in southern Illinois, Phillips ordered the arrest and preventive detention of leading intractable opponents of the war, men whose opposition might lead to efforts to aid Confederate forces.

Phillips’s effort to catch sinister traitors had instead netted intemperate blowhards, chief among them Judge Duff, the sole Illinois guest at the Old Capitol to commemorate his incarceration with a pamphlet blast against his captors. Duff insisted that although he had made a public speech at Frankfort, urging "in my humble way, the absolute necessity of organizing and defeating the abolitionists" at the next election, he had never attended secret meetings of the Knights of the Golden Circle. One such charge appeared in the Chicago Tribune, a "vile and traitorous sheet, which, like the ever low, dark and foul sewers leading off from the cesspools of hell, flows forth in perpetual streams of poisonous filth and loathsome slime." Duff condemned all Republicans as abolitionists. Accused of saying that he "did not believe the abolitionists wanted the war to end ... while a dollar could be ground out of the people by taxation, for them to steal or bestow upon the negroes," Duff did not remember so stating, "but as it is my honest opinion, I shall not deny saying it." Duff had spoken intemperately enough in public to alarm authorities although he was apparently guiltless of plotting at secret meetings. Denied an opportunity to refute those charges, Duff was imprisoned.

Republican strategy misfired. Duff and his allies in prison impressed voters more than their public speeches ever could. Democrats capitalized on civil liberties issues provoked by arbitrary arrests to carry the 1862 congressional elections in Illinois.

Duff was reelected in 1867 when the circuit was enlarged to include Gallatin and Hardin counties. Defeated in 1873, he moved to Carbondale, practiced law, and became involved in an embarrassingly premature attempt to establish a law school at the new Southern Illinois Normal University. While serving as judge in Benton, Duff had previously conducted a school of law. Attempting to return to the bench in 1877, he lost to a Republican.

Later in life, Duff abandoned efforts to justify his wartime conduct, now charitably forgotten, and attempted to fumigate the nickname of Egypt with a self-serving legend of its origin as a granary in time of need. In 1858, debating in northern Illinois, Douglas had threatened Lincoln by asserting that he would "trot him down to Egypt" and there challenge him to repeat his antislavery views before a hostile crowd. The audience understood Douglas: overwhelming proslavery sentiment and Democratic unanimity in Egypt had led to the nickname. Duff’s wartime rantings had reinforced that impression. Now an older and mellower Duff hoped to obliterate that image. As Civil War era political passions faded in southern Illinois, Duff’s account acquired more local adherents inspired by regional boosterism. Eventually memories of the opprobrious origins of "Egypt" faded into a nostalgic haze. Duff, who had once contributed enthusiastically to giving Egypt a bad name, later succeeded in refining its popular image.

In 1889, Judge Duff died in Tucson, Arizona. G.D.


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This page last updated Saturday, May 23, 2009 09:11 PM.