Constitution of the State of Illinois, 1818


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The following excerpt on the constitution is from Illinois in 1818 [click here for more information] by Solon Buck.

It must have been a great event for the quaint old town of Kaskaskia when the constitutional convention assembled on the first Monday in August 1818. Composed of thirty-three members, this body was almost twice as large as the council and house of representatives combined of the last territorial legislature. Doubtless many who were not members of the convention but were interested in the outcome of its deliberations visited Kaskaskia during the session; Bennett's tavern was filled to overflowing.

All the representatives elected to the convention except the four from the near-by counties of Washington and Jackson were present on August 3, the date set by the enabling act for assembling. A temporary organization having been effected, the "representatives from the several counties were then called" and the members present took their seats. Permanent organization followed immediately; Jesse B. Thomas was elected president, William C. Greenup, secretary, and Ezra Owen, sergeant at arms. Judge Thomas was the most prominent man who had been elected to the convention so that his choice as president was a natural one and may have had no political significance. Greenup had held various clerkships in the territorial legislature and in the courts of Randolph county, and in spite of his hostility to the governor had been appointed clerk of the circuit court and reappointed clerk of the county court the preceding January.

The first real work of the convention was necessarily to ascertain officially the result of the census in order that it might know whether or not it was authorized, under the enabling act, to proceed with the framing of a constitution. On the second day, August 4, after the representatives from Jackson and Washington counties had been admitted, Mr. Kane moved the appointment of a committee "to examine the returns made to the secretary's office of this territory .... and make report thereon.

And also, to receive and report such other evidence of the actual population of the territory as to them shall seem proper." Kane himself was made chairman of this committee as he had been also of the credentials committee. On the following day he reported first for the latter committee, a simple matter as there appear to have been no contests over seats, and then presented the census returns by counties as ascertained from the secretary's office. The lists totaled 40,258, an increase of 5,638 over the first reports in Jjine. Besides the 1,281 for Franklin county which had not been reported on before, this increase was divided among the different counties in numbers varying from 16 to 1,847. In Bond, Randolph, Johnson, and Pope the increments were less than a hundred, while in Madison, St. Clair, Gallatin, and Crawford they were above five hundred. These additions were, in general, the results of the supplementary census which appears to have been taken in all but two counties at least. Only four of these additional returns are now available but they throw some light on the character of the census. The Washington county commissioner evidently went into outlying districts where the people had not previously been counted, and even visited and counted those in the western part of Edwards county, who were widely separated from the main settlements near the Wabash. In the returns from Jackson, Gallatin, and Crawford, however, it is clear that it was the newcomers who were being counted, and the fact that very few among the additional names are to be found in the lists of old settlers in the county histories would indicate that many were included who were merely passing through the county. Among the names in the additional census of Gallatin is that of C. Trimmer, who figures as the head of a family of fifty. This entry refers to a party of English emigrants on its way to Birkbeck's colony in Edwards county. The discrepancy for several of the counties between this census and that of the United States in 1820 is of course increased by the supplementary figures.

The convention appears to have raised no question as to the adequacy of the census. At any rate, the "report was read, considered and concurred in." After postponing the consideration of rules until the following day, the convention was ready to decide the all important question of the expediency of advancing to statehood. Mr. Prickett offered a resolution declaring that as "there are upwards of 40,000 inhabitants" in the territory, "it is expedient to form a constitution and state government." A motion by Kane to postpone consideration of the resolution until the following day was voted down; the resolution was then considered and passed. Judging from this prompt action it would seem that the opponents of statehood, if there were any in the convention, must have numbered only a small minority and must have recognized the futility of any opposition. It is doubtful if Kane's motion to postpone consideration of the resolution for a day was due to any desire to check the statehood program. Had he entertained any such designs, he was too shrewd to have missed the opportunity afforded by the character of the census and especially by the inclusion of the estimated population at Prairie du Chien. Had these figures been omitted, as they should have been under the provisions of the enabling act, the totals would have been below the requisite forty thousand. As chairman of the committee on the census, Kane might, had he so desired, have presented a report which at least would have made the convention hesitate.

The alternative procedure of providing for a second convention to frame the constitution does not appear to have been considered at all, for immediately after the adoption of the "expediency" resolution, provision was made for "a committee of fifteen, one from each county .... to frame and report to this convention a constitution for the people of the territory of Illinois." The chairman of this committee was Leonard White of Gallatin but, according to all the evidence, the directing spirit was Elias Kent Kane. The report of the committee, however, certainly did not represent the latter's wishes in all particulars. The committee took a week in which to prepare its draft of the constitution; the convention in the interval considered and adopted an elaborate body of rules of procedure, provided for the printing of the journal and the draft, and contracted for stationary. On the sixth Mr. Card offered a resolution for a committee "to draft an ordinance to establish the bounds of the state of Illinois and for other purposes;" and Mr. Hubbard offered another for a committee "to draft an ordinance acknowledging and ratifying the donations made by an act of congress passed in April, 1818." On motion of Mr. Kane consideration of both of these resolutions was postponed until the following day when the first was dropped and for the second was substituted, again on motion of Mr. Kane, another resolution directing the committee of fifteen "to consider the expediency of accepting or rejecting the propositions made to this convention by the congress of the United States, and if in their opinion it shall be expedient to accept the same, it shall be their further duty to draft an ordinance irrevocable, complying with the conditions annexed to the acceptance of such propositions in the act for the admission of this territory in the union, and report thereon."

...On the eleventh Mr. Bankson announced the death that morning of his colleague, John K. Mangham of Washington. The members of the convention agreed to wear crape on the left arm for thirty days in testimony of their respect for Mr. Mangham' s memory, and a committee was appointed to make arrangements for the funeral. This took place late in the afternoon "attended by the members of the Convention and the citizens of the place generally." Two days later a committee was appointed to inquire into the expediency of ordering an election to fill the vacancy but the committee reported "that an election could not be effected in time to answer the purpose of giving the said county their full representation in this convention before the same will have risen." This report was concurred in by the convention and no election was held.

The draft of the constitution was finally reported by the committee of fifteen on Wednesday the twelfth. It consisted of a preamble and eight articles, the greater part of which had been copied from the constitutions of neighboring states. Periods of time, ages, and amounts of salary were left blank to be filled in by the convention. Accompanying the draft was an ordinance accepting. the federal donations and agreeing to comply with the requisite conditions; this was adopted by the convention without change. The day after the introduction of the draft of the constitution the convention took it up for consideration, section by section, and made various changes. This "first reading" took two and a half days and at its conclusion a committee of five was appointed, none of whom had served on the committee of fifteen, to suggest additional articles or sections which it might consider necessary to complete the draft of the constitution. The work of this committee was primarily to prepare a schedule for putting the new government into operation and that same day presented its first report on the temporary apportionment of senators and representatives.

On Monday the seventeenth, the second reading of the constitution was begun and the first five articles were considered. Tuesday morning the apportionment proposed by the committee of five was read the second and third times, amended, and adopted, after which the second reading of the constitution was continued and completed. A schedule of sixteen sections was then reported by the committee, read the first time, and considered section by section. The committee also presented at this time a "separate report relative to a permanent seat of government." The morning of the nineteenth was taken up with various reconsiderations, and in the afternoon the convention began the third reading of the draft "as amended and engrossed." Some time was spent the next morning considering resolutions relative to the location of the capital, after which the third reading of the constitution was continued and completed. Various additional sections proposed from the floor were then considered. On August 21 a "committee of enrolments" was appointed, consisting of Kane, Stephenson, and Cullom, the schedule received its second and third readings, and various resolutions relating to qualifications for voting at the first election and to the location of the seat of government were considered. "A committee of revision" consisting of Lemen, Omelveny, and Kane was appointed the next day, Saturday, the twenty-second, "to examine the draft of the constitution as amended and passed, and make report to this convention on next Monday morning." This committee "corrected sundry inaccuracies" and recommended the expunging of one entire section. Its report, presented by Kane, was concurred in by the convention, but even after that several changes were made in different sections by reconsideration. A resolution relative to the seat of government was adopted on the twenty-fourth, and finally on Wednesday, the twenty-sixth, the constitution was signed and the convention adjourned.



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