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by the British Crown in virtue of Cabot's voyage of 1498, and was, in part, included in the original Virginia grant, it nevertheless was in possession of the French until finally ceded to England at the close of the "French and Indian War," in 1763. French peasants to the number of three thousand had formed village settlements in the southern part of the State, on the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. For fifteen years they maintained a military government, with headquarters at the French village of Kaskaskia. In 1778, during the Revolutionary War, the State of Virginia sent out a little force of men, who made their way through the wilderness, took Kaskaskia, and readily persuaded all the French villagers to swear allegiance to Virginia. That enterprising commonwealth proceeded to organize Illinois as a Virginia county, including under that name the entire country north of the Ohio and east of the Mississippi. Although before a decade had elapsed Virginia and the other individual States had ceded their western territories to the United States, Illinois had already received some impress of Virginian forms of government.
Under the famous "Ordinance of 1787," Congress estab. lished a provisional government for the country north of the Obio, which now took the name of the "Northwestern Territory." This charter did not provide for municipal corporations. It allowed the people a representative assembly, and exacted a very low property qualification from electors. While the Legislature was permitted to make all needful laws, the Governor, himself appointed by Congress, was authorized by the ordinance to appoint all minor officers throughout the territory. This, manifestly, was after the Virginian pattern, and was, in fact, the work of no less a Virginian statesman than Mr. Jefferson. But, while the ordinance made no provision for the immediate exercise of local self-government, it did establish principles which formed a basis for the healthy municipal life of a later period. It or dained free trade in land, and the law of partible inheritance by which all the children of an intestate were equal heirs. Add to these two the provision forever excluding slavery,
and a landed aristocracy becomes impossible-a citizenship of small freeholders is infallibly guaranteed. Among other rights forever confirmed to the people by this enlightened Charter of 1787, we find freedom of opinion and worship, trial by jury, the benefit of the writ of habeas corpus, the judicial methods of the common law, and proportionate repre
One by one Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana were carved from the Northwestern Territory, till, in 1809, Illinois was erected into a territorial government under, its present name. In 1818 it was allowed to form a State constitution, and passed from its political wardship to the status of a self-controlling commonwealth. Meantime, immigration had been almost exclusively directed to the southern part of the State. The early French settlements, and Virginia's temporary connection with them, seem to have been the determining influences in producing a fact which is the key to much of the legislative history of the State, viz., that the southern half of the State was settled earliest, and that these pioneers were from Virginia, Kentucky, and the Carolinas. It was they who formed the Constitution of 1818, and the instrument bears witness to the origin of its authors. It is true that these sturdy frontier-men were not from aristocratie ranks of Southern society. They may be said to represent that revival of democracy and of the old Anglo-Saxon spirit which the second war with England awakened in the lower classes of the South; and their exodus to the free soil of the wilderness may be characterized as a protest against the semi-feudalism that was crushing them in Virginia. Nevertheless, they were Southern men, accustomed to Southern forms of government, and intensely prejudiced against anything that savored of New England.
At the time of its admission to the Union, Illinois was divided into fifteen large counties. The Constitution of 1818, and laws made pursuant to it, placed the entire business management of each county in the hands of a court of three County Commissioners. We have here a reproduction of the Virginia Court, with two important differences, however:
First, these Commissioners were elected by the people of the county; and, second, by a process of differentiation, this Illinois Court had no judical functions, the county judiciary being made a distinct tribunal. The people also chose in every county a sheriff, coroner, clerk, treasurer, surveyor, and recorder. The Commissioners appointed election judges, road supervisors, and overseers of the poor, dividing the county into districts for these purposes. Every election precinct was entitled to two justices of the peace, who were appointed by the Governor of the State. After 1826, however, the people of each precinct were allowed to elect their justices. The Commissioners had a narrow range of discretionary power, but there was no power given to communities to control local affairs, or to enact by-laws in promotion of neighborhood interests.
But even at this time there had been planted in Illinois, and throughout the whole West, a germ capable, under right conditions, of developing a highly organized township system. In dividing and designating the public domain, the Congress of the United States had early adopted the system of survey into bodies six miles square, and had given these divisions the New-England name of townships. For purposes of record and sale, each township was divided into thirty-six sections a mile square, and these were further subdivided. Every man held his land by a deed which reminded him that his freehold was part of a township, and there is much even in a But further than this, the United States had given to the people of every township a mile of land, the proceeds of which should be a permanent township school-fund. To give effect to this liberal provision, the State enacted a law making the township a body corporate and politic for school purposes, and authorizing the inhabitants to elect school officers and maintain free schools. Here, then, was a rudiment of local government. As New-England township life grew up around the church, so western localism finds its nucleus in the school system. What more natural than that the county election district should soon be made to coincide with the school township, with a school-house for the voting
place? or, that justices of the peace, constables, road supervisors, and overseers of the poor, should have their jurisdictious determined by those same township lines?
The admission of Missouri to the Union as a slave State, under the "Compromise Bill" of 1820, seems to have turned the tide of southern migration toward that quarter; while from that time the free State of Illinois began to receive constant and strong accessions from New England and New York. The northern counties particularly were filled with swarms from the eastern hive. There resulted a sectional bitterness and strife in legislative councils, northern ideas gradually becoming dominant. The struggle culminated in the convention which met in 1847 to revise the constitution, and in good measure ceased with the adoption of the revised instrument the following year. This constitution met the question of local government with a compromise. It provided that the Legislature should enact a general law for the political organization of townships, under which any county might act whenever a majority of its voters should so determine. Under the Act accordingly passed by the General Assembly, all the northern counties proceeded promptly to adopt township organization, while the southern counties retained their old county system described above. This was one of those happy, but unusual, compromises whereby both parties gain their principle. It was rendered possible by the distinctly sectional line of demarcation which separated the two elements of population. In Ohio and Indiana the same diverse elements of population had been more thoroughly commingled; and their "compromise system" was the outcome of mutual concession-a hybrid affair, in which township organization was very limited and imperfect.
The form of township government adopted by the Illinois Legislature was a modification of the New England system, changes being made to meet western conditions. It may be regarded as the model system of the Union. One by one the southern counties of the State have become converted to it, until at the present time only about one-fifth of the one hundred and two counties in Illinois cling to the old county
system. Without comment on the minute changes made in the course of thirty years' legislation, we may pass to a view of the local institutions as they are now in operation.
When the people of a county have voted to adopt the township system, the commissioners proceed to divide the county into towns, making them conform with the congressional or school townships, except in special cases. Every town is invested with corporate capacity to be a party in legal suits, to own and control property, and to make contracts. The annual town-meeting of the whole voting population, held on the first Tuesday in April for the election of town officers and the transaction of miscellaneous business, is the central fact in the town government. The following is a summary of what the people may do in town-meeting: They may make any orders concerning the acquisition, use, or sale of town property; direct officers in the exercise of their duties; vote taxes for roads and bridges, and for other lawful purposes; vote to institute or defend suits at law; legislate on the subject of noxious weeds, and offer rewards to encourage the extermination of noxious plants and vermin; regulate the running at large of cattle and other animals; establish pounds, and provide for the impounding and sale of stray and trespassing animals; provide public wells and watering-places; enact by-laws and rules to carry their powers into effect; impose fines and penalties, and apply such fines in any manner conducive to the interests of the
The town officers are a supervisor, who is ex-officio overseer of the poor, a clerk, an assessor, and a collector, all of whom are chosen annually; three commissioners of highways elected for three years, one retiring every year; and two justices of the peace and two constables, who hold office for four years.
On the morning appointed for the town-meeting, the voters assemble, and proceed to choose a moderator, who presides for the day. Balloting for town officers at once begins, the supervisor, collector, and assessor acting as election judges. Every male citizen of the United States who is twenty-one