8. First Black Law (1819)

Background: Although they were not slave states, most Northern states before the Civil War passed legislation known as Black Laws, which severely restricted the rights of African-Americans. Perhaps no state had stricter or more discriminatory Black Laws than Illinois. Within three months of achieving statehood, the Illinois Legislature passed its first Black Law. Through the years it would revisit the issue and in 1853 passed the most restrictive Black Law in the nation. Most of the state's Black Laws were repealed in 1865 as the Civil War was coming to a close.

The Document: This legislation is titled "An Act Respecting Negroes, Mulattoes, Servants and Slaves." It was passed during the second session of the First General Assembly and signed into law by Governor Shadrach Bond. The legislation prohibits free African-Americans from settling in Illinois without producing a certificate of freedom and requires them to register with the county clerk of the county in which they planned to reside. Persons who hired free African-Americans who could not produce a certificate could be fined a $1.50 a day. The legislation allowed for the whipping of "lazy, disorderly or misbehaving" servants and demonstrates that slavery existed in Illinois by including harsh restrictions on slaves as well as servants. The bill also made it a crime for any person to bring slaves into the state for the purpose of freeing them.

Note: Illinois' second governor, Edward Coles, was a plantation owner from Virginia but was also a staunch opponent of slavery. He freed his slaves upon arriving in Illinois and was later prosecuted under this legislation. This public act is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Secretary of State Record Series 103.030, "Enrolled Acts of the General Assembly."