5. Illinois Constitution (1818)

Background: On April 18, 1818, President James Monroe signed legislation known as the Enabling Act, which laid out the requirements for Illinois to become a state. One of those requirements stated that Illinois had to pass a state Constitution. Following elections in July, 33 delegates met in the territorial capital of Kaskaskia on Monday, August 3, 1818, to begin drafting a state Constitution. Judge Jesse Thomas, who was to become one of Illinois' first two United States Senators, served as president of the convention. However, the acknowledged leader of the convention was 24-year-old Elias Kent Kane, a New York born attorney who had graduated from Yale. Kane became Illinois' first Secretary of State and then a United States Senator from Illinois. Delegates approved the new Constitution on August 26, 1818.

The Document: The 1818 State Constitution consists of eight articles and was modeled after the state constitutions of New York, Kentucky and Ohio. It was considered very liberal at the time, allowing all white males who had lived in the state for six months the right to vote with no property restrictions and no requirement that they be U. S. citizens. It also severely limited the powers of the governor and set aside land in every township for schools. The Constitution was not submitted to the voters but became operative when Congress approved statehood. In Congress, 34 members of the House voted against admitting Illinois to the Union because they believed the Constitution did not go far enough to prohibit slavery. Nevertheless, both the House and the Senate approved statehood for Illinois and President James Monroe signed the legislation on December 3, 1818.

Note: The 1818 Illinois Constitution is one of four state Constitutions Illinois has had. The constitution is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Secretary of State Record Series 103.012, "First Constitution of Illinois."