In performing a manual search of naturalization records for Hancock County, Illinois, I discovered a large number of naturalizations that took place on 12 October of 1858. There were a total of twenty-two men who became United States citizens on that date.
Given the location and the population of the county, that seemed like a large number. Knowing that “seeming” doesn’t mean something is true, I did some further looking and looked into the dates of naturalization for individuals between 1858 and 1859 in Hancock County. The naturalizations only took place during March, May, June, and October during those two years and usually on a handful of days during those times. The May and June dates were close to each other. That suggested to me that the naturalizations were not taking place at random times. In this case, my working idea is that naturalizations were taking place during the term of the court. That is something I need to verify, but it would explain the clustering of the dates.
It did not explain the fact that on all the others days on which naturalizations took place in Hancock County, there were between 1 and 10 individuals who took the oath of citizenship. There was only one day that had ten naturalizations–4 October of 1858. The other days all had between 1 and 4 individuals taking citizenship oaths on the same day. The 22 on a day and the 1`0 on a day (both in October of 1858) suggests something else was going on.
And something else was going on: the Lincoln-Douglas debates for the Illinois senate seat. That election was in January of 1859 and, based upon the two year search of Hancock County naturalization records there were no naturalizations in 1858 after those in mid-March of `1858 (the next ones were in March of `1859).
Note: When this discovery was made, the Lincoln-Douglas debates were the furthest from my mind. When I discovered the spike in naturalizations, I guessed that voting was involved. After all, what is one of the basic rights one gets when one becomes a citizen?