“Illinois: From Territory to State” presented by David W. Scott at the March 16, 2010 meeting of the Sangamon County Historical Society (Maps referred to in his talk appear at the end of this section).

             Last year, 2009, marked the 200th anniversary of the Congressional act that created the Illinois Territory, carved out from what had been the Indiana Territory and before that, the Northwest Territory.  This year, 2010, marks the 192nd anniversary of statehood for Illinois, when on December 3rd, 1818, the Illinois Territory became the21st state in the Union.  This year also marks the 189th anniversary of Sangamon County, formed in 1821 by the new state of Illinois.
            This presentation will follow Illinois’s progress from unexplored wilderness to territory to statehood in 1818.
            The Northwest Territory was created in 1787 when the Continental Congress passed the Northwest Ordinance. Covered under this Ordinance of 1787 was the vast stretch of land north of the Ohio River, west of Pennsylvania, east of the Mississippi River and south of Canada and the Great Lakes. This territory was truly the northwest part of the United State as Spain, then France, controlled the area west of the Mississippi until 1803, when France sold it to the United States.

 Illinois Under Several Governments
            An early key event ultimately leading to statehood for Illinois was France’s ceding its North American claims to Great Britain in the 1763 peace treaty that concluded the French and Indian War.  As a colony of Great Britain, this northwest area remained largely unknown to Europeans and to  the colonists living along the Atlantic seaboard. It was populated mostly by Indian tribes. Otherwise it was sparsely settled and governmentally unorganized.
            Early in the long process leading to Illinois statehood were the inroads made by Virginia into what was coming to be called the Illinois Country. In the colonial period Virginia  claimed vast western tracts north of the Ohio River.  In 1778, the state of Virginia created the county of Illinois. “Wedged between the Ohio and Mississippi, the County of Illinois ran north to some undetermined boundary, a boundary made fuzzy by British and Indian power.” (Davis, page 77). At this time, Virginia Governor Patrick Henry commissioned George Rogers Clark to capture British forts in the northwest. His  success, notably at the forts at Kaskaskia and Vincennes, enabled America to control almost of all the northwest, and it laid the grounds for Great Britain to cede the northwest in the 1783 treaty that secured for America its independence.  Following this treaty, Virginia and other states agreed to relinquish their western land claims and ceded them to the United States government. There was general agreement that this new national territory would not remain in colonial status, but the national government would allow some day the creation of states, equal in all regards to the original thirteen. Under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, Congress enacted a resolution in 1784 that created a process leading to statehood and established the boundaries for eight states north of the Ohio, the  boundaries being in the form of rectangles. If this scheme had been carried out, the land of today’s Illinois would be part of three states.
            The crucial next step towards the creation of states in the northwest was the Land Act of 1785.   As soon as the Indian tribes relinquished their claims to land and were forced westward, territory was to be surveyed into a series of townships to provide for the orderly sale of land and the basis for secure titles to land - all important in encouraging people from the East to want to settle in the northwest. It created the well-known six-miles-by-six-miles township with each township divided into one-mile-by-one-mile sections, or 36 sections per township. These survey townships have tended to shape the boundaries of civic townships, the unit of local government.

 Illinois Boundaries Established
            If George Rogers Clark can be considered a “Founding Father” of Illinois, so can James Monroe, who like Jefferson was a representative to Congress from Virginia and a future president.  As a young man, Monroe traveled in 1786 in the northwest, including northern Illinois, and came to the pessimistic conclusion that economic development would at best be slow. The proposal for eight states was excessive – it might take too long for them to reach the population minimums needed to move along the process toward statehood.  Furthermore, some of the existing states resisted the idea of so many new states and the accompanying loss of influence.  Monroe’s substitute proposal was that at least three, but no more than five states could be created from the northwest with the boundaries of these states being exactly defined.  The two boundary lines created between the three states were 1) straight north to Canada from the point where the Great Miami River flows into the Ohio River (a little west of Cincinnati); and  2) along the Wabash River from the point it flows into the Ohio River to Vincennes, then straight north to Lake Superior. A fourth and a fifth state could be created north of a east-west line drawn at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. See map that shows these boundaries established by the Ordinance. From these boundaries were eventually formed, with final approval of Congress and the President, the Midwest states of Ohio (1803), Indiana (1816), Illinois (1818), Michigan (1837) and Wisconsin (1848).

 The Northwest Ordinance
            The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which replaced the resolution passed in 1784, included Monroe’s boundaries.
            The Ordinance created a system of law and order that would provide for orderly westward expansion. Congress wanted people to move into the territory to generate revenue from the sale of land. Soldiers from the Revolutionary War were still owed payment for  their service.  Revolutionary War officers had a significant role in developing plans for the orderly migration of people into the territory.
            It was generally agreed that peace and stability in the territory depended on the ability of Congress to make whites as well as Indians living there respect the supreme authority of the national government. Anglo-American frontiersmen were viewed as crude, unruly and ignorant. The Ordinance was, thus, an effort by Congress to use its power to insure that the territories would become states only when their laws and institutions clearly reflected the values and structure of civilized society as existing in the states along the Atlantic seaboard.
            The Ordinance created a centralized government for the territory made up of a strong governor, a secretary, and three judges, all appointed by and responsible to the national government. The Governor and judges served as a legislature; they were to make the laws, drawing on existing ones from the original thirteen states as well as on the provisions of the Ordinance. The Governor was to create counties and appoint their officials “for the preservation of the peace and good order”. The first governor was Arthur St. Clair; the first county he created in the Illinois Country he named after himself. See 1790 county map.
            The next step to statehood occurred when a territory had 5,000 free white male inhabitants at least 21 years of age. Then a territorial legislature was to be formed. The legislature could make laws, establish counties and appoint a person to represent it in Congress who could debate, but not vote. Still the Governor remained dominant.
            Once a territory had reached a population of 60,000 free inhabitants, it would be eligible for statehood,  “on an equal footing with the original states in all respects whatever”. But it must have formed a constitution and government that “shall be Republican” (that is, be a representative democracy).
            The Ordinance included the right to be compensated for property or for services of an individual, taken for public use and the right to make private contracts with which the government may not interfere. The guaranteeing of such rights was considered crucial for the Ordinance to achieve its social purpose of encouraging the migration into the territory of solid and entrepreneurial citizens who would buy land, develop farms, establish churches, schools and local governments, and participate in the growing system of national and international commerce.
            Addressed for the first time in a major national document was slavery. It was outlawed. The Ordinance stated that “there shall be neither Slavery nor involuntary Servitude in the territory, otherwise than in the punishment of a crime, whereof the Party shall have been duly convicted.”

 Divisions Within the Northwest Territory
            The first division of the Northwest Territory was associated with statehood for Ohio and is shown in Maps 8 and 9. In deciding finally to create Ohio’s northern border along the east-west line crossing the tip of Lake Michigan, Congress was moving in the direction of the five-state option. At the same time, Congress created the Indiana Territory, which consisted of the rest of the Northwest Territory.  Vincennes became the capital. It did not take long for further division to take place with the creation in 1805  of the Michigan Territory, which was taken from the Indiana Territory. See map 10. Indiana’s size was further reduced—to about its current size—with the creation of the Illinois Territory in 1809, which included what became Wisconsin as shown in Map 11.  The Illinois Territory was created when Indiana was in the second stage on the road to statehood—that is, it had an elected legislature with a representative in Congress. Illinois interests—that is, those west of the Wabash River seeking separation from Indiana—made a deal with the representative, Jesse Thomas, who got Congress to carve out from the Indiana Territory, the Illinois Territory. Kaskaskia was made the capital. The laws adopted  for the Illinois Territory were drawn mostly from laws in the southern states, notably Kentucky.
            The Governor during the entire period of territorial status for Illinois was Ninian Edwards. Like most residents of Illinois in the early decades of Illinois history, he was of southern origin. Most immigrants had come from Kentucky and Virginia and had settled in the southern third of Illinois. Thus, there was considerable sympathy for slavery among many of the early Illinois settlers.

 Illinois Boundaries Expand Northward
            It did not take long for Congress to respond to demands from Illinois that its residents elect their own representative, and in 1812 it allowed second stage status. By 1817 interest was growing to achieve statehood, and this cause was ably carried forward by Illinois’ representative in Congress, Nathanial Pope, another of Illinois’s “Founding Fathers”. The case for statehood was that it would attract settlers, foster economic development, and raise land prices. It would also strengthen representative democracy by ending the strong control held by the territorial governor over the legislative body under provisions of the Northwest Ordinance.  But certain problems clouded the statehood question stemming from other  provisions of the  Ordinance, notably a population considerably lower than the 60,000 minimum, ambiguities associated with the prohibition of slavery, and the northern boundary. As indicated, according to the Ordinance, a fourth and a fifth state could be created north of a east-west line drawn at the southern tip of Lake Michigan. This line was followed in creating the Michigan Territory as shown in Map 10. However, Congress waived that provision in authorizing statehood for Indiana.  It set the boundary 10 miles farther north, giving Indiana 45 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Initially Pope got Congress to give Illinois 10 additional miles northward, but he finally got Congress to move the boundary 41 miles north of the tip of Lake Michigan as shown in Map 12.
            The core of Pope’s interest in the 41 miles was his desire, and that of others, for Illinois to control the route of a proposed canal connecting Lake Michigan and the Illinois River, thus linking the two great North American waterway systems, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River. At one point, only seven miles separates the Des Plaines River—which with the Kankakee River forms the Illinois River, which flows into the Mississippi—and the swampy origins of the south branch of the Chicago River, which flowed into Lake Michigan. Thus, an Illinois without the 41 miles of shoreline would have had as its northernmost cities, Rock Island and Joliet. The transportation, commercial and industrial center that many saw as likely to develop on the southwestern shores of Lake Michigan would be not be Illinois. That is, Chicago would be in Wisconsin.
            The expanded boundaries would move Illinois away from its predominantly southern orientation that existed at the time of statehood. An Illinois with Great Lakes ports would provide an alternative to the existing commercial orientation to the Mississippi River and New Orleans. At least partly by intention and  certainly by results, the expanded boundaries would increase the number of immigrants coming to Illinois from the northeast, thus insuring that Illinois in the long run would be a free state.  Pope argued that with both a southern and northern orientation, Illinois as a state would help diffuse tendencies toward disunion.
            The proposed Constitution put forward to Congress by the Illinois Constitutional Convention did allow the continuation of some slavery, notably allowing the entry into the state of slaves to work the salt mine at Shawneetown.  Still, slavery was limited enough not to cause a majority of members of Congress to oppose granting statehood to Illinois. Also Congress was willing to waive the 60,000 population requirement and Illinois came into the Union claiming 40,000, but actually having fewer than that. Congress approved the statehood bill and with  President Monroe’s signature on December 3, 1818, Illinois became a state.
            With the new state constitution came a reversal of the roles of the governor and the legislature, making the General Assembly dominant and the governor weak:  he had no veto.  For example, the creation of counties was now firmly in the hands of the legislature.  The 1818 map shows the counties at the time Illinois became a state. Shortly after statehood, the General Assembly formed Sangamon County in 1821; the map of that year shows that it originally covered a substantial portion of the central part of the state. The 1839 map shows the final boundaries of Sangamon County following several reductions in its territory by the legislature.  According to the 1818 Constitution, representation in the General Assembly was based on the counties. Each had one senator and the more populous counties had more than one representative.  The Constitution provided for the voters in the counties to choose the sheriff, the coroner and the three-member county commission.
            In summary, with statehood the Northwest Ordinance was no longer in effect. The newly created state of Illinois would now determine the offices and roles of the general government and of its counties.

 For Further Reading
Biles, Roger, Illinois:  A History of the Land and Its People, DeKalb, Northern Illinois University Press, 2005.
Davis, James E., Frontier Illinois, Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1998.
Howard, Robert P, Illinois: A History of the Prairie State, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1972.
Onuf, Peter S., Statehood and Union: A History of the Northwest Ordinance,  Bloomington and Indianapolis, Indiana University Press, 1987.
Taylor, Robert  M. Jr., editor, The Northwest Ordinance 1787: A Bicentennial Handbook, Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Society, 1987.