Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.
It's been called the Land of Lincoln and the Prairie State. It's home to deep-dish pizza, the Windy City, and the world's first Ferris Wheel. Contrary to popular belief, its capital is not Chicago, but Springfield. The state of Illinois has a deep and complex history. It was admitted into the Union in 1818, but how did it get here? Let's take a look at how America's favorite place for hot dogs covered in toppings came to be.
The first Europeans into what is now Illinois were French fur trappers, who arrived sometime in the early-mid 18th century. It came into British control after the French and Indian War, before becoming an American territory after the colonies rebelled against the British Empire. At the end of the Revolutionary War, the newly developed United States passed the Northwest Ordinance, officially incorporating newly-acquired land. The ordinance also set up the process for admitting that land first as territories, then as states. People started moving into this new area, and in 1809 the government officially created the Illinois Territory. The territory started growing as people realized that there were plenty of good economic opportunities in Illinois. Why? Any major bodies of water around Illinois jump out at you? Between the Great Lakes, the Mississippi River, and the Ohio River a lot of money could flow through Illinois. It would only take a decade until the people of the territory would be ready for statehood.
As the people of Illinois became serious about statehood around 1817, there were a couple of problems. For one, the territory was short of the minimum 60,000 population required for statehood. That was basically overlooked due to the fact that making Illinois its own state would give the people there the ability to govern it themselves, thus taking a burden off of the federal government.
The other problem to be addressed was what the state would actually look like. Should Illinois be accepted into the Union exactly as it was, or should the borders be redrawn? Three of the state's borders were pretty obvious. To the south and east were the already established states of Indiana and Kentucky. The west border of Illinois was easily identifiable as the natural border of the Mississippi River. But what about the northern border? At the time, there were several different ideas about where the top of Illinois should be. As Illinois prepared for statehood, their delegate to Congress Nathaniel Pope claimed that the new state had to have access to the small trading port of Fort Dearborn on Lake Michigan, a site later renamed Chicago. This, he argued, would connect the Midwest to New England and keep the area developing. So, the northern border of Illinois was moved 31 miles north, encompassing Chicago and giving Illinois its current shape.
There was one more issue that needed to be addressed before Illinois could become a state: slavery. This was a big debate in the United States as new states were added to the Union in the early 19th century. As territories became states, both opponents and advocates of slavery pushed to have the new state join their side. In Illinois' case, this wasn't an easy decision. Under the provisions of the Northwest Ordinance, the territory of Illinois wasn't supposed to have slavery, but it actually did. Now that the territory was approaching statehood, those very wealthy slave owners didn't want to lose the free labor from slaves. So, a compromise was struck. Illinois would not allow any new slaves to enter its borders, but current slaves already in Illinois were denied their freedom and kept as slaves. The compromise was enough for the people to agree on the creation of a state constitution, and on December 3, 1818, Illinois entered the Union as the 21st state.
The state of Illinois was first settled by European fur traders back in the early 18th century. It wasn't until after the Revolutionary War and the formal incorporation of this region into the United States through the Northwest Ordinance that the population grew. In 1809, the area officially became the Illinois Territory. It took less than a decade for the people of Illinois to start fighting for statehood, but they had some things to figure out. For one, their population was below the minimum 60,000 required for statehood. That was essentially overlooked. Next, they had to officially decide on their northern border. The territory delegate to Congress, Nathaniel Pope, got the border moved 31 miles further north to incorporate the port city of Fort Dearborn, today Chicago, thus connecting Illinois to the East Coast via the Great Lakes. Finally, they had to decide about slavery. Their eventual compromise was that new slavery would be prohibited, but existing slavery could remain. With that, they wrote out a state constitution and on December 3, 1818, was entered into the Union as America's 21st state. From there, it was nothing but Abraham Lincoln, Chicago Dogs, and Navy piers all the way.
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