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First Constitution
The first constitution, written in 1818, was the result of the 1817
convention at Kaskaskia. Illinois delegates have convened three
times to rewrite newer versions, lllinoisans are now under the
jurisdiction of the constitution written in 1970.

The Illinois Constitution

Jay Kersh
Brookwood Junior High School, Glenwood

During the summer of 1818, the first Illinois Constitution was written at a constitutional convention. Thirty-three delegates met in Kaskaskia at the convention to negotiate and draft the constitution. During the convention, many issues were discussed. The constitution was completed late in August 1818 in anticipation of Illinois' admission to the Union shortly thereafter.

Illinois' first constitution was democratic in that the legislative branch of government was the most powerful. Also no property qualifications for voting were required, and most officials were popularly elected. The legislative branch was divided into the House of Representatives and the Senate. Slavery was one of the most contentious issues of the time. A compromise was eventually reached: slavery was prohibited except in the salt mines, where it was allowed to continue until 1825. A later attempt to amend the constitution to allow slavery failed.

Illinois' constitutions have changed in many ways since the first in 1818. Interesting facts are that the constitutional convention of 1818 met for twenty-one days and produced the shortest constitution Illinois has had.

The 1818 constitution provided the fundamental basis of Illinois government for a thirty-year period until the second constitution was accepted in 1848. The time after 1818 was an era of growth in population, among other things; hence, a new constitution was necessary.

The first constitution was modeled after that of the federal government and the state constitutions of Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana. In all, Illinois has had four constitutions. After the first adopted for statehood, new constitutions were adopted in 1848,1870, and 1970. According to historians Frank Kopecky and Mary S. Harris, changes have been necessary to make adjustments to the state's change from a frontier state to an agricultural and railroad center and finally to a manufacturing and urban center. [From Alden Carter, Illinois; John H. Keiser, Illinois Vignettes; Frank Kopecky and Mary S. Harris, Understanding the Illinois Constitution; Paul Powell, Constitution of the State of Illinois and United States; Robert M. Sutton, The Heartland.]

ILLINOIS HISTORY / DECEMBER 1993 19


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