James K. Magie – Journalist

James K. Magie was the owner of the Macomb Journal during the Civil War era in Macomb from 1861 to 1865. He accompanied Abraham Lincoln as he traveled around Illinois in the late 1850s debating politics with Stephen Douglas. Magie was with Lincoln in Macomb, when a significant strategy for the debates was settled upon, subsequently paving the way for Lincoln’s future presidency. James was also the father of Elizabeth J. Magie, who later in life created the board game that would become Monopoly.

Magie was born in Madison County, New Jersey, on January 7, 1827, and spent his first 14 years on a farm. Then he left home and learned the printer’s trade in New Jersey’s office of the Newark Daily Advertiser. In 1846 he abandoned the printing office for a season and entered upon the occupation of a school teacher. By age 22 he was working for the Brooklyn Daily Advertiser, where he eventually became the city editor. His first marriage ended with his wife, Abby Smith’s death in 1853, and soon afterward, one of their two children also passed. He married again in 1854 to a Miss Mary Ritchie. Up to this time, his life had been a constant struggle with poverty, sickness, and misfortune. He determined to try his fortune in the Great West, and two years later he and his family moved to Illinois’ Henderson County where James taught school. Not long after he became editor of the Oquawka Plaindealer and then the Canton Transcript, proving himself one of the ablest journalists in the state. In both towns he advocated Lincoln for president.

Magie was the person who convinced Lincoln to get his picture taken in Macomb, as Magie was keen to own an image of Lincoln for himself.  As editor of the Oquawka Plaindealer newspaper Magie was involved in state politics. He became intensely interested in Lincoln and wanted to hear Lincoln speak. In the August 9, 1891 issue of the Chicago Tribune, Magie recalls how he came to be with Lincoln in Macomb:

[Lincoln’s] first joint debate with Mr. Douglas occurred at Ottawa, Aug. 21, 1858.  It was about 150 miles from my home, but my enthusiasm for the man was now at fever heat and I joined the crowd which listened to that first of the great debates between these intellectual giants.  It was held in a convenient grove adjoining the town. There were 20,000 people at that great meeting.  At the close of this first debate I had the good fortune to meet Mr. Lincoln at the house of a citizen, and he took some interest in me when he found that it was my intention to be present at his next appointment on the following Wednesday at Augusta, Hancock County on the occasion of a Congressional convention in my district at which I had been appointed a delegate.  He was not very well acquainted with the railroads of that section and he desired me to map out his route, which I did.  According to appointment I met him and Joseph Medill, the editor of  The Chicago Tribune, at Galesburg the following Tuesday.  Augusta was a village on the line between Galesburg and Quincy. We started for Augusta about 3 p.m. and on the train the question was raised as to the hotel accommodations of the town, and learning from the conductor that they were rather poor we concluded to stop off at Macomb. A new hotel of ample dimensions had been recently completed at this place.

That new hotel was The Randolph House, the finest hotel at that time between Chicago and Quincy. Mr. Magie too, as Mr. Lincoln, decided remain over night in Macomb at the Randolph House.  The next morning [the two] took a walk about town, and upon Magie’s invitation they stepped into [photographer]  T.P. Pierson’s establishment, and the historic Macomb ambrotype was the result.

From the 1896 book The Early Life of Abraham Lincoln:

Mr. Lincoln, upon entering, looked at the camera as though he was unfamiliar with such an instrument, and then remarked: ‘Well, do you want to take a shot at me with that thing?’ He was shown to a glass [mirror], where he was told to ‘fix up,’ but declined, saying it would not be much of a likeness if he fixed up any. The old neighbors and acquaintances of Mr. Lincoln in Illinois, upon seeing this picture, are apt to exclaim: ‘There! that’s the best likeness of Mr. Lincoln that I ever saw!’ The dress he wore in this picture is the same in which he made his famous canvass with Senator Douglas.”

Disposing of his interest in the Plaindealer, he accepted a position to edit a republican paper at Carthage, Hancock county, during the memorable campaign of 1860. During this campaign Mr. Magie gained some notoriety as a very able and eloquent stump speaker. He held several political discussions with some of the most prominent democratic orators of that section of the state, always receiving credit for honesty, fairness, and candor.

Shortly after, in 1861, Magie assumed the editorial charge of the Macomb Journal and moved to Macomb, quickly becoming the newspaper’s sole proprietor. Magie was an outspoken critic of slavery and a supporter of the Union cause, so in the summer of 1862 he was authorized to raise recruits for the 78th Illinois Infantry Regiment, in which he was eminently successful. When those men left for camp, he resigned as the “Journal” editor (but retained ownership) and enlisted as a private. During the war, as the Chicago Tribune  later said, on June 14, 1865, he “rose to the rank of corporal, and from that to Orderly Sergeant,” and “there was not a braver man in the regiment.” Few showed a better record in the army, or were more thought of by his comrades, than Sergeant Magie.

After being mustered out, Mr. Magie returned to Macomb and resumed charge of the Journal. In July, 1865, he was appointed postmaster at Macomb by Andrew Johnson. This was before he “swung around the circle,” but after Johnson “went back” on his party and apostatized, Mr. Magie promptly tendered his resignation.

During that busy summer of 1865, he wrote a 15-chapter personal account called Life in the Army, based partly on his letters, which appeared serially during the summer and fall.

Magie’s account, of the organizing and early drilling of the 78th Regiment, the men leaving by railroad for the war, his own experiences and views as a common soldier, the intense fighting near Nashville in 1864, and some of the individuals he encountered, is very detailed and effective. I am editing part of “Life in the Army” now, for eventual inclusion in a Civil War-focused book about McDonough County.

Unfortunately, Magie never completed “Life in the Army.” In November, 1865, he suddenly sold the “Journal” to B. R. Hampton, and consequently quit writing for the paper. He then secured a clerkship in the Illinois legislature, which lasted for a few years. Of course, that took him away from Macomb for long periods of time, so he also resigned as postmaster.

By that fall of 1865, his wife Mary was pregnant, and she gave birth the following spring to their third child, Elizabeth Magie. “Lizzie,” as they called her,  was talented, ambitious, and outspoken, like her father and went on to develop The Landlord Game, the earliest version of one of the world’s most popular board games; Monopoly.

James Magie subsequently disposed of his interest in the Macomb Journal and in fall of 1866 purchased one half of the Canton Weekly Register, but apparently did not move his family for some time. Lizzie’s journal later indicated that they had moved to Canton by 1869.

Later, in 1874, the Magie family moved to Springfield, where he became an official printer for the state. Disillusioned by some people there, Magie moved to Chicago in the early 1880s and published a critical account, in which he rails against the rising forces of inequality, called Plain Talk about Politics and Politicians of Illinois.