10. Petition for Black Male Suffrage (1822-1823)
Background: Although technically not legal, slavery existed in Illinois at least until the 1840s. Life in Illinois for free Blacks in the years immediately after statehood also proved difficult. Along with having to live and survive in a wilderness area like their white counterparts, free Blacks faced legalized discrimination, including laws barring them from voting and from seeking justice in the courts.
The Document: Despite the discrimination they faced, a small number of free Blacks settled in Illinois. In 1822, a number of free Blacks petitioned the all-white General Assembly for the right to vote. The petitioners note the various forms of discrimination free Blacks faced as a community but declared "here we are, and here we intend to remain." The petitioners limit their focus to suffrage, writing "We disclaim any pretensions of equality with whites, but in political justice." The petitioners make several different appeals in the petition, including a religious appeal that states "It is true we are black, and it is true you are white. We have not made ourselves, but have been put into existence by the Supreme Ruler of the universe, like all of the other colors which comprise the human family." The General Assembly did not act on this petition.
Note: African-American men did not receive the right to vote in Illinois until 1870, almost half a century after this petition was submitted. African-American women did not receive full suffrage until all women received the right to vote with the passage of the 19th amendment to the U.S Constitution in 1920. This petition is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of General Assembly Record Series 600.001, "Bills, Resolutions and Related General Assembly Records."