Illinois History

Pre-Columbian

Cahokia, the urban center of the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, was located near present-day Collinsville, Illinois. That civilization vanished circa 1400–1500 for unknown reasons. The next major power in the region was the Illiniwek Confederation, a political alliance among several tribes. The Illiniwek gave Illinois its name. The Illini suffered in the seventeenth century as Iroquois expansion (caused by European expansion in the eastern United States) forced them to compete with several tribes for land. The Illini were replaced in Illinois by the Potawatomi, Miami, Sauk, and other tribes.


European exploration

French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. As a result of their exploration, Illinois was part of the French empire until 1763, when it passed to the British. The area was ceded to the new United States in 1783 and became part of the Northwest Territory.


The 1800s

The Illinois-Wabash Company was an early claimant to much of Illinois. The Illinois Territory was created on February 3, 1809. Illinois saw the construction of numerous civilian forts during the War of 1812, as well as the short-lived Fort Johnson. In 1818, Illinois became the 21st U.S. state. Early U.S. settlement began in the south part of the state and quickly spread northward, driving out the native residents. In 1832, some Indians returned from Iowa but were driven out in the Black Hawk War, fought by militia.

Illinois is known as the “Land of Lincoln” because it is here that the 16th President spent his formative years. Chicago gained prominence as a lake and canal port after 1848, and as a rail hub soon afterward. By 1857, Chicago was the state’s dominant metropolis. (see History of Chicago).


Mormons at Nauvoo

In 1839, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons or LDS, created a settlement they called Nauvoo. The city, situated on a prominent bend along the Mississippi River, quickly grew to 12,000 inhabitants, and was for a time rivaling for the title of largest city in Illinois. By the early 1840s the LDS church built a large stone temple in Nauvoo, one of the largest buildings in Illinois at the time, which was completed in 1846. In 1844 Smith was assassinated in nearby Carthage, Illinois, even though he was under the protection of Illinois judicial system, with assurances of his safety from then Governor Ford. In 1846 the Mormons under Brigham Young left Illinois for what would become Utah, but what was still then Mexican territory. A small breakaway group remained, but Nauvoo fell largely into abandonment. Nauvoo today has many restored buildings from the 1840s.


The Civil War

During the Civil War, over 250,000 Illinois men served in the Union Army, with the 4th most amount of northern troops with New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio leading. Beginning with President Lincoln’s first call for troops and continuing throughout the war, Illinois mustered 150 infantry regiments (see Illinois in the American Civil War), which were numbered from the 7th IL to the 156th IL. Seventeen cavalry regiments were also mustered, as well as two light artillery regiments.

Throughout the war the Republicans were in control, under the firm leadership of Governor Richard Yates.


Twentieth century

In the 20th century, Illinois emerged as one of the most important states in the Union. Edward F. Dunne was a Chicago Democrat and leader of the progressive movement, who served as governor 1913-1917. He was succeeded by Frank O. Lowden, who led the war effort and was Republican presidential hopeful in 1920.

Democrat Adlai Stevenson served as governor in 1948-52. William G. Stratton led a Republican statehouse in the 1950s. In 1960 Otto Kerner, Jr. led the Democrats back to power. He promoted economic development, education, mental health services, and equal access to jobs and housing. In a federal trial in 1973, Kerner was convicted on 17 counts of bribery while he was governor, plus other charges; he went to prison. Richard B. Ogilvie, a Republican, won in 1968. Bolstered by large Republican majorities in the state house, Ogilvie embarked upon a major modernization of state government. He successfully advocated for a state constitutional convention, increased social spending, and secured Illinois’ first state income tax. The latter was particularly unpopular with the electorate, and the modest Ogilvie lost a close election to the flashy Democrat Dan Walker in 1972. The state constitutional convention of 1970 wrote a new document that was approved by the voters. It modernized government and ended the old system of three-person districts which froze the political system in place.

Walker did not repeal the income tax that Ogilvie had enacted and wedged between machine Democrats and Republicans had little success with the Illinois legislature during his tenure. In 1987 he was convicted of business crimes not related to his governorship. In the 1976 gubernatorial election, Jim Thompson, a Republican prosecutor from Chicago won 65 percent of the vote over Michael Howlett. Thompson was reelected in 1978 with 60 percent of the vote, defeating State Superintendent Michael Bakalis. Thompson was very narrowly reelected in 1982 against former U.S. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, and then won decisively against him in a rematch in 1986. Thompson was succeeded by Republican Jim Edgar who won a close race in 1990 against his Democratic opponent, attorney general Neil Hartigan, and was reelected in 1994 by a wide margin against another Democratic opponent, state comptroller and former state senator Dawn Clark Netsch. In the elections of 1992 and 1994, the Republicans succeeded in capturing both houses of the state legislature and all statewide offices, putting Edgar in a very strong political position. He advocated increases in funding for education along with cuts in government employment, spending and welfare programs. He was succeeded by yet another Republican, George H. Ryan. Ryan worked for extensive repairs of the Illinois Highway System called “Illinois FIRST.” FIRST was an acronym for “Fund for Infrastructure, Roads, Schools, and Transit.” Signed into law in May 1999, the law created a $6.3 billion package for use in school and transportation projects. With various matching funds programs, Illinois FIRST provided $2.2 billion for schools, $4.1 billion for public transportation, another $4.1 billion for roads, and $1.6 billion for other projects.


Twenty-first century

Ryan gained national attention in January 2003 when he commuted the sentences of everyone on or waiting to be sent to death row in Illinois—a total of 167 convicts—due to his belief that the death penalty was incapable of being administered fairly. Ryan’s term was marked by scandals, and as of late 2005 he was himself on trial.

Rod Blagojevich, elected in 2002, was the first Democratic governor in a quarter century. Illinois was trending sharply toward the Democratic party in both national and state elections. After the 2002 elections, Democrats had control of the House, Senate, and all but one statewide office. Blagojevich signed numerous pieces of progressive legislation such as ethics reform, death penalty reform, a state Earned Income Tax Credit, and expansions of health programs like KidCare and FamilyCare. Blagojevich signed a bill in 2005 that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. Other notable actions of his term include a strict new ethics law and a comprehensive death penalty reform bill that was written by Sen. Barack Obama in his capacity as a state senator, and the late-Sen. Paul M. Simon. Despite an annual budget crunch, Blagojevich oversaw an increase in funding for health care every year without raising general sales or income taxes. He feuded with his powerful father-in-law Chicago Alderman Richard Mell. Blagojevich was criticized for using what his opponents call “gimmicks” to balance the state budget. Republicans have also claimed that he simply passed the state’s fiscal problems on to future generations by borrowing to balance budgets. Indeed, the 2005 state budget called for paying the bills by shorting state employees’ pension fund by $1.2 billion, which led to a backlash among educators. He also was criticized for not moving into the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield, instead commuting via plane between his home in Chicago and the state capital, Springfield.

Blagojevich has been criticized for too rapidly expanding the role of state government. In October 2005, the state had $1.4 billion in overdue medical bills, yet in November 2005, Blagojevich created two new government agencies and signed the All Kids health insurance bill, which obligates Illinois to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance to every child in the state.

In December 2008, Blagojevich was arrested on charges of conspiracy and solicitation to commit bribery. The following month, he became the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office.

Illinois, as of the census of 2000, currently has the 5th largest population of the 50 U.S. states. Chicago, in terms of populations, is the third largest city in the country.