Illinois’ race to statehood: 1813-1818

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

It was less than a decade from the creation of the Illinois Territory in 1809 until Illinois entered the Union as the 21st state. During those years, as we saw last time, the nation would go to war once more against Britain – the War of 1812.

Despite some impressive successes in battle, the U.S. soon found that it had bit off more than it could chew – the British sacked and burned down the nation’s capital in 1814, destroying the original White House. In the Old Northwest, Britain and its Native American allies were able to seize parts of Michigan and Illinois and the entirety of Wisconsin (lands then a part of the Illinois Territory) and maintain control until the war’s end. The British Navy also had the U.S. blockaded, ruining the economy.

With the U.S. facing further humiliation and Britain preoccupied with the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, both sides in the war agreed to cease hostilities. The war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which the U.S. ratified on Feb. 17, 1815. The treaty called for Britain and the U.S. to restore the territory they had seized from each other – effectively the war ended in a stalemate.

In practical terms, however, the War of 1812 left the U.S. poised to expand further into Native American lands of the Old Northwest. The destruction of Tecumseh’s confederacy in 1813 had brought an end to effective Native American resistance to the encroachment of land-hungry U.S. settlers who had been pouring into Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. Although the Treaty of Ghent called for the U.S. to respect the rights and territories of the American Indians, the U.S. never honored that article of the treaty – and Britain, which abandoned its former allies at the negotiating table, did not wish to go to war again to enforce it.

Even with Native American resistance in the Old Northwest effectively neutralized, however, there were still legal and economic obstacles that slowed the settlement of the Illinois Territory. As former Illinois Gov. Edward Dunne explained in his 1933 history of Illinois, “Up to this time (1812) there had been but little immigration unto Illinois. Fear of Indian atrocities was one cause, but the greater and more far-reaching one was the inability of settlers to gain legal title to the land upon which they located.” In the eyes of the law, most of the settlers in Illinois were squatters, since the laws up till then discouraged white incursion in a region that the British king had formerly set aside as an Indian Reserve.

Shadrach Bond, first state governor of Illinois, is shown in this image from Edward Dunne’s 1933 Illinois history, “Illinois — The Heart of the Nation.”

That was soon to change. Dunne wrote, “Shadrach Bond, upon his election as delegate to Congress for Illinois Territory in 1812, exerted himself vigorously in securing a preemption law that would enable a settler to secure a quarter-section of land, and thus attract settlers to the territory.” In 1813 Congress approved Bond’s proposed law, which stipulated that if a settler made improvements to the land he’d secured, then he had the first right to buy that land at government sale.

Due to that law, Illinois soon saw a dramatic influx of settlers. According to Dunne, “The passage of this law, the ending of the war with Great Britain, and the subsequent treaties of peace with the Indians in 1815 under which they conveyed their titles to the United States, opened wide the doors in Illinois for rapid settlement and growth for the first time in its chequered history. From now on the condition of Illinois ceased to be static and became dynamic. Its population in 1810 was 12,282; in 1820 it was 55,162.”

Continuing, Dunne observed, “The dammed-up waters of immigration and civilization had sapped and undermined the walls of war, isolation and law that had surrounded Illinois, and the waves began to overflow the fertile prairies of all the section. Riding on these waves came not only men and women from the Southland, as heretofore, but from all over America and from foreign lands.”

By 1816, editorials were appearing in Daniel Pope Cook’s newspapers, the Kaskaskia Herald and the Western Intelligencer, advocating in favor of Illinois statehood and showing the advantages of self-government that statehood would bring. The chief obstacle to statehood was the Northwest Ordinance’s stipulation that a territory’s population must be at least 60,000 before it could be admitted as a state. Nevertheless, Congress had waived that requirement when it admitted Ohio as a state – and Cook argued that Illinois should be granted the same leniency.

As it happened, the simmering controversy over slavery helped to unite the people of Illinois, both pro- and anti-slavery, in support for statehood. As Dunne explained in his history, support for statehood in Illinois was promoted by the fact that a Congressional bill was already pending for Missouri statehood, and everyone expected Missouri to be a slave state.

“The fear that the Missourians would anticipate the men of Illinois in securing admission of their state into the Union caused prompt action,” Dunne wrote. “The anti-slavery element feared that if Missouri was admitted as a slave-state, that it would be used as a precedent for slavery in Illinois. On the other hand, the pro-slavery element feared the admission of Missouri to statehood before Illinois because, as they believed, it would attract immigration from the South and prevent settlers from coming to Illinois. It developed that both discordant elements, from different motives and activated by different fears, were united in favoring the admission of Illinois to statehood before the pro-slavery crowd in Missouri could secure statehood from Congress.”

Although Illinois would not become a state until 1818, the bill to admit Illinois to the Union was first introduced in Congress on Jan. 23, 1812, by Illinois’ territorial delegate (and former territorial secretary) Nathaniel Pope (1784-1850). According to Dunne, in its original form the bill would have set Illinois’ northern boundary “at a line drawn east and west from a point drawn ten miles north of the most southerly part of Lake Michigan in an attempt to approach compliance with a provision of the Ordinance of 1787.” That would have given Illinois only a very small amount of Lake Michigan shoreline.

Nathaniel Pope, Illinois territorial delegate to Congress who submitted the petition for Illinois statehood in early 1818, is shown in this image from Edward Dunne’s 1933 Illinois history, “Illinois — The Heart of the Nation.”

But while the bill was still in committee, Pope had the proposed northern boundary moved 41 miles north, to the position where it is today. The members of the committee accepted the new proposed boundary because it would make the new state more economically viable and, through the Great Lakes system, would firmly link Illinois to New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana. How very different Illinois history would have been if Chicago had instead developed as the largest and wealthiest city of Wisconsin!

On Jan. 16, 1818, the Illinois Territorial Legislature formally petitioned Congress to become a state, sending the petition by the hand of Delegate Pope. The same month, the Legislature, seeking to emphasize to Congress that Illinois would be a free state, approved a bill that would have reformed labor contracts to eliminate the practice of indentured servitude whereby slavery was able to exist in Illinois despite being illegal. However, Gov. Ninian Edwards (1775-1833), himself a wealthy aristocratic slave-owner, vetoed the bill, claiming it was unconstitutional. It was the only time Edwards ever exercised his veto power as territorial governor.

The issue of slavery would remain at the forefront of Illinois political issues in the early years after statehood, as pro-slavery forces strove to legalize it. In anticipation of Illinois’ admission to the Union, the territory framed a state constitution in August – but it is significant that, whereas the Ohio and Indiana state constitutions explicitly forbade any amendments or the writing of new constitutions that would legalize slavery, Illinois’ first constitution had no such provision, a “loophole” of which pro-slavery leaders soon tried to avail themselves.

After the ratification of the constitution, Illinois held elections to fill the state offices. Maryland-born Shadrach Bond (1773-1830), former territorial delegate to Congress, was elected the first Illinois governor, taking office on Oct. 6, 1818, about two months before Illinois became a state. The march to statehood proceeded apace throughout the remainder of 1818, until at last, on Dec. 3, 1818, President James Monroe signed the bill granting Illinois admission to the Union as the 21st state. The new state’s population was tabulated in an 1818 census at 40,258.

The territorial capital at Kaskaskia on the Mississippi River now became the first state capital, even as it formerly had been the seat of government reaching back to the days of Virginia’s vast Illinois County during the Revolutionary War. Flooding of the Mississippi led to the removal of the state capital to Vandalia in just two years, however.

The Illinois State House at Kaskaskia, where the first state legislature convened in 1818, from an image in Edward Dunne’s 1933 Illinois history, “Illinois — The Heart of the Nation.”

At statehood, Illinois already had 15 counties, but within a year four more counties were added. At that time the yet-future Tazewell County’s lands were included in the oversized Bond and Madison counties which then extended all the way to Illinois’ northern border.

The Illinois General Assembly established Tazewell County a mere nine years after statehood. During those years Illinois experienced a rising tide of immigration – and many of those settlers came up the Illinois River or overland from southern Illinois to Fort Clark (Peoria) and its environs. We’ll look closer at that wave of settlement next time.

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Illinois in the Old Northwest

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

As we saw in this column last time, the vast Illinois Country – encompassing far more than the land of the future state of Illinois – passed from British to American control as a result of Lt. Col. George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign of 1778-1779.

But Clark, as a patriotic citizen of Virginia, didn’t seize the Illinois Country simply to increase the size of the nascent United States of America. As a Virginian, Clark achieved his conquests on behalf of his native state – he had this vast territory organized as “Illinois County,” a part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. Virginia Gov. Patrick Henry – of “Give me liberty or give me death” fame – appointed Col. John Todd as the military commandant and first county administrator, governing from the county seat at Kaskaskia (future first capital of the state of Illinois). As a reward for the help they gave Clark during his campaign, Virginia granted full citizenship to the French Canadiens and Indians of Kaskaskia and Vincennes (in the future state of Indiana).

While Clark’s exploit effectively neutralized the threat of Britain opening a western front against the United States during the Revolutionary War, nevertheless the leaders of the other 12 states – who also harbored hopes and ambitions to expand their states westward – resented Virginia’s land-grab.

So it was that in 1784 Virginia’s leaders were persuaded to cede Illinois County to the government of the U.S., which was then organized and loosely linked under the Articles of Confederation, which was the constitution of the U.S. prior to 1789. Virginia’s Illinois County thus ceased to exist after a mere six years. Not only Virginia but every state gave up their expansionist dreams and agreed to allow the Congress of the confederated states to determine what was to be done with the newly acquired lands between the Appalachians and the Mississippi River.

Congress made that determination for the area north of the Ohio River on July 13, 1787, when the Congress of the U.S. Confederation passed the Northwest Ordinance, erecting the Northwest Territory, a vast area encompassing the future states of Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and part of Minnesota. The Northwest Ordinance – the one lasting achievement of the Confederation Congress – set up a process to enable parts of the Northwest Territory to be formed into smaller territories that could then later become new states of the union. The new territory’s first governor, appointed in 1788, was Arthur St. Clair (1737-1818), who had served as President of the Confederation Congress when the Northwest Ordinance was passed.

Arthur St. Clair was President of the Confederation Congress of the United States and was appointed first governor of the Northwest Territory, which encompassed the lands that became the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

The Northwest Territory was made up of land that the British king had set aside as the Indian Reserve – a region for Native Americans forbidden to American colonists of European descent. Despite the king’s proclamation, however, settlement in the Indian Reserve still went on. When the United States secured their independence in 1783, Britain ceded all of that territory west to the Mississippi to the new nation, and the movement of land-hungry settlers soon increased, inexorably dispossessing the native peoples.

Nevertheless, Britain continued to maintain forts in the Northwest Territory. With British help the Indians of the Ohio and Illinois countries valiantly resisted American control of the Northwest Territory during a 10-year conflict known as the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795). In 1785, a group of nine tribes and tribal confederations in the Northwest Territory – including tribes from Illinois – banded together for mutual defense, forming the Western Confederacy. The confederacy included warriors from the Huron, Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Miami, Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, Cherokee, the Council of Three Fires (Ojibway, Ottawa, and Pottawatomi), and the Wabash Confederacy (whose members included the Piankeshaw). The Western Confederacy’s objective was to maintain the Ohio River as the boundary between themselves and American settlers.

Little Turtle, a chief of the Miami, was one of the main leaders of the Western Confederacy during the Northwest Indian War (1785-1795).

Most of the fighting in this war took place within the future state of Ohio, but the prospects for further European-American settlement in the Illinois Country depended on the war’s outcome. The most memorable event during this conflict was the Battle of the Wabash on Nov. 4, 1791 – more usually known as St. Clair’s Defeat or the Battle of a Thousand Slain. Historian Landon Jones has dubbed this battle “the most decisive defeat in the history of the American military.”

As the Northwest Indian War continued, in the fall of 1791 Northwest Territorial Gov. St. Clair mustered a force of 2,000 poorly-trained men for a planned attack on Kekionga, capital of the Miami tribe, located near modern Fort Wayne, Ind., but by the start of November desertion and supply problems had shrunk St. Clair’s forces to about 1,120. On Nov. 3, St. Clair’s army encamped near modern Fort Recovery, Ohio, and the headwaters of the Wabash River. Meanwhile the Western Confederacy’s chiefs – Little Turtle (Mihšihkinaahkwa) of the Miami, Blue Jacket (Weyapiersenwah) of the Shawnee, and Buckongahelas of the Lenape – gathered a force of 1,000 Indians, and on Nov. 4 they led a surprise pre-dawn attack on St. Clair’s camp, inducing a panic in the U.S. Army’s troops that quickly turned into a total rout. When the battle was over, a thousand of St. Clair’s men were dead and only 24 of the survivors were uninjured, while the Western Confederacy lost only 50 warriors – the greatest victory Native Americans would ever achieve against the U.S.

Following this setback, the U.S. mustered a new, well-trained army, and the tide of war turned in the U.S.’s favor. The Western Confederacy was decisively defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794 – and Britain declined to help Blue Jacket’s fleeing warriors. The following year, the native tribes of the Northwest Territory signed the Treaty of Greenville, recognizing U.S. control of the Northwest Territory and giving the U.S. most of Ohio and a part of the Illinois Country (including important sections of land at the future sites of Chicago and Peoria and the confluence of the Illinois and Mississippi rivers). The same year, Britain signed the Jay Treaty, agreeing to give up their forts in the Northwest Territory.

With the end of the Northwest Indian War, the Ohio Country was rapidly flooded with new American settlers, and the way was prepared for inevitable expansion into Native American lands in the future states of Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin. As Ohio’s population soared, the Northwest Territory was divided: on July 4, 1800, only five years after the war’s end, the Indiana Territory was formed, encompassing territory that included the future states of Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, part of Minnesota, and half of Michigan. The first territorial governor was future War of 1812 hero and U.S. President William Henry Harrison, who negotiated numerous treaties with the Indians while he was governor. The remainder of the old Northwest Territory, encompassing a part of Michigan, would continue to be known as “the Northwest Territory” for only three more years – in 1803, the state of Ohio was admitted to the Union, and the rest of the Northwest Territory was reassigned to the Indiana Territory.

As a part of the Indiana Territory, Illinois was included in three counties – Knox County (made up of Indiana and eastern Illinois), Randolph County (southern Illinois), and St. Clair County (the remainder of Illinois as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota). The Illinois Country was then peopled mainly by Native Americans and relatively small groups of French settlers, but territorial leaders and land speculators were laying the groundwork for further westward expansion. In the period from 1773 to 1819, a series of land purchases and treaties were made with the Illini, Piankeshaws, Kaskaskias, and Kickapoos that extinguished Native American title to most of the lands of future state of Illinois, opening the land to further European-American settlement. The future Tazewell County was included in the lands ceded to the U.S. by an Aug. 13, 1803 treaty with the Kaskaskias and a July 30, 1819 treaty with the Kickapoos (in the year after Illinois became a state).

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The Illinois Country under the British

By Jared Olar
Library assistant

Previously in this column, we reviewed the period from the early 1600s to 1763, when the Illinois Country was a part of France’s colonial empire in North America. However, with the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, Britain acquired about half of France’s territories on the North American mainland, while France’s vast territory of Louisiana was given to Spain.

At that time France handed over all of its forts and outposts in Illinois to British control. There then ensued a brief period of 15 years when the Illinois Country was governed as a part of the British province of Quebec.

During the period of French rule, the Illinois County at first had been administered by a series of five military commandants stationed at Fort St. Louis du Roche (Starved Rock) who answered to the Governor General of New France in Canada. In 1718, the French king transferred the Illinois Country to Louisiana, and Illinois was then renamed Upper Louisiana. From that time until the end of French control, the territory was administered by a series of 10 military commandants stationed at Fort de Chartres on the Mississippi, located near Prairie du Rocher in Randolph County (in the general area of the French colonial villages of Cahokia and Kaskaskia). The commandant at Fort de Chartres reported to the French governor in New Orleans. Following Britain’s victory in the French and Indian War, Fort de Chartres was handed over to the British.

Fort de Chartres in Randolph County was the seat of French rule in the Illinois Country until the end of the French and Indian War in 1763. Most of the fort later fell into ruin, but the powder magazine survived, the oldest remaining European structure in Illinois. The fort was reconstructed in the 1920s and 1930s.

British rule brought major changes to the Illinois Country. To begin with, the British king George III issued a royal proclamation on Oct. 7, 1763, that forbade any colonial settlement to territory west of the Appalachian Mountains. The territory from the Appalachians to the Mississippi was erected as the Indian Reserve, and European settlers already living in the Indian Reserve were required to obtain special licenses if they wished to remain there. In addition, grants of land west of the Appalachians that previously were given to English colonists as rewards for their service in the French and Indian War were invalidated, causing the first of several grievances that led to the revolt of the 13 colonies in 1775-76.

Britain began its occupation of the Illinois Country in 1764, taking possession of Fort de Chartres on Oct. 10, 1765, and renaming it Fort Cavendish. The Catholic French settlers were ordered to leave the area, now a part of the Indian Reserve. However, most of the Catholic French settlers in Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Prairie du Rocher – unwilling to buy licenses for permission to remain in Illinois, and probably preferring Catholic Spanish rule to being under a regime that discriminated against Catholics – elected to cross the Mississippi and found new settlements such as St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve in the Spanish territory of Louisiana. The British subsequently rescinded the expulsion order, offering the French colonists the same rights they had under French rule, but most remained in their new homes west of the Mississippi.

British rule over the Illinois Country during these years was informal and disorganized. The territory was administered as a part of the British province of Quebec in Canada, but there was little in the way of formal governmental structure, apart from a common law Court of Justice set up in Sept. 1768. The British king approved the Quebec Act of 1774 which would have formally set up a government in the Illinois Country, but the act was never implemented prior to the Revolutionary War. Around that time, flooding of the Mississippi River in 1772 convinced the British to abandon Fort de Chartres and build a new outpost at Kaskaskia, called Fort Gage. (Most of Fort de Chartres subsequently fell into ruin, but the gunpowder magazine survived – the oldest remaining European structure in Illinois. Fort de Chartres was reconstructed as a historical site in the 1920s and 1930s.)

While the erecting of the Indian Reserve signaled that the British Crown wished to be fair to the native nations of North America, a few months before that several tribes in the Great Lakes area, the Ohio Country, and the Illinois Country used the hiatus of effective European control west of the Appalachians that ensued in the immediate aftermath of the French and Indian War as an opportunity to attempt to expel all of the European interlopers.

Thus, in May 1763 a conflict began usually known as Pontiac’s War, called after an Ottawa chief named Pontiac (Obwandiyag) who, along with Seneca leader Guyasuta, was one of the prominent Native American chiefs in this war, which was provoked by the racist contempt that Gen. Jeffrey Amherst, British commander-in-chief in North America, and his soldiers and many English colonists had for the Indians. The American Indians seized eight British forts in present day Michigan, New York, Ohio, and Indiana, and Pontiac, with the aid of warriors of the Pottawatomi, Ojibway, and Huron, besieged Fort Detroit in Michigan. The British soon got the upper hand and the Native American forces dispersed, with most hostilities ending in 1764. By this time, the European disease smallpox was decimating the native peoples of eastern North America.

In 1764 the British had not yet taken possession of the Illinois Country, where the anti-British Shawnee chief Charlot Kaské wielded great influence and sought to enlist the aid of French colonists in further war. The British made diplomatic overtures to Chief Pontiac, however, who went to New York and signed a treaty of cessation of hostilities in 1766. Kaské, meanwhile, though unable to wage a war, nevertheless refused to submit to the British, and instead moved west across the Mississippi with his people and his French compatriots.

Pontiac himself settled with his people in the Illinois Country, where, as we noted previously, he was killed by a Peoria chief in Cahokia on April 20, 1769.

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