Historical populations

1800 2,458
1810 12,282
1820 55,211
1830 157,445
1840 476,183
1850 851,470
1860 1,711,951
1870 2,539,891
1880 3,077,871
1890 3,826,352
1900 4,821,550
1910 5,638,591
1920 6,485,280
1930 7,630,654
1940 7,897,241
1950 8,712,176
1960 10,081,158
1970 11,113,976
1980 11,426,518
1990 11,430,602
2000 12,419,293

The history of Illinois may be defined by several broad historical periods, namely, the pre-Columbian period, the Era of European Exploration and Colonization, its development as part of the American frontier, and finally, its growth into one of the most populous and economically powerful states of the United States.

Pre-Columbian Era[]

Cahokia, the urban center of the pre-Columbian Mississippian culture, was located near present-day Collinsville, Illinois. That civilization vanished circa 1400–1500 for unknown reasons. The next major power in the region was the Illiniwek Confederation, a political alliance among several tribes. The Illiniwek gave Illinois its name. The Illini suffered in the 17th century as Iroquois expansion (caused by European expansion in the eastern United States) forced them to compete with several tribes for land. The Illini were replaced in Illinois by the Potawatomi, Miami, Sauk, and other tribes.

European Exploration and Colonization[]

Illinois in 1718, Guillaume de L'Isle map, approximate state area highlighted.

French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. As a result of their exploration, the Illinois Country was part of the French empire until 1763, when it passed to the British. The area was ceded to the new United States in 1783 and became part of the Northwest Territory.

American Territory[]

The Illinois-Wabash Company was an early claimant to much of Illinois. The Illinois Territory was created on February 3, 1809. Illinois saw the construction of numerous civilian forts during the War of 1812, as well as the short-lived Fort Johnson.


On December 3, 1818, Illinois became the 21st U.S. state. Early U.S. settlement began in the south part of the state and quickly spread northward, driving out the native residents. In 1832, some Indians returned from Iowa but were driven out in the Black Hawk War, fought by militia.

Illinois is known as the "Land of Lincoln" because it is here that the 16th President spent his formative years. Chicago gained prominence as a lake and canal port after 1848, and as a rail hub soon afterward. By 1857, Chicago was the state's dominant metropolis. (see History of Chicago).


The state has a varied history in relation to slavery and the treatment of African Americans in general.[1][2] The French had black slaves from 1719 to as late as the 1820s. Slavery was nominally banned by the Northwest Ordnance, but that was not enforced. But when Illinois became a sovereign state in 1818, the Ordnance no longer applied, and there were about 900 slaves there. As the southern part of the state, known as "Egypt", was largely settled by migrants from the South, the section was hostile to free blacks and allowed settlers to bring slaves with them for labor. Proslavery elements tried to call a convention to legalize slavery, but they were blocked by Governor Edward Coles who mobilized anti-slavery forces, warning that rich slave owners would buy up all the good farm lands.[3] A referendum in 1823 showed 60% of the voters opposed slavery, so efforts to make slavery official failed. Nevertheless, some slaves were brought in seasonally or as house servants as late as the 1840s.[4] The Illinois Constitution of 1848 was written with a provision for exclusionary laws to be passed. In 1853, state senator John A. Logan helped pass a law to prohibit all African Americans, including freedmen, from settling in the state. After 1865 Logan reversed positions and became a leading advocate of civil rights for blacks.[5]

Mormons at Nauvoo[]

In 1839, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, also known as Mormons, created a settlement they called Nauvoo. The city, situated on a prominent bend along the Mississippi River, quickly grew to 12,000 inhabitants, and was for a time rivaling for the title of largest city in Illinois. By the early 1840s, the LDS church built a large stone temple in Nauvoo, one of the largest buildings in Illinois at the time, which was completed in 1846. In 1844, the founder of the Latter Day Saint movement Joseph Smith, Jr. was assassinated in nearby Carthage, Illinois, even though he was under the protection of Illinois judicial system, with assurances of his safety from then Governor Ford. In 1846, the Mormons under Brigham Young left Illinois for what would become Utah, but what was still then Mexican territory. A small breakaway group remained, but Nauvoo fell largely into abandonment. Nauvoo today has many restored buildings from the 1840s.[6]

The Civil War[]

During the Civil War, over 250,000 Illinois men served in the Union Army, coming 4th among the states. Beginning with President Lincoln's first call for troops and continuing throughout the war, Illinois mustered 150 infantry regiments (see Illinois in the American Civil War), which were numbered from the 7th IL to the 156th IL. Seventeen cavalry regiments were also mustered, as well as two light artillery regiments. The most prominent soldier was Ulysses S. Grant of Galena. Throughout the war the Republicans were in control, under the firm leadership of Governor Richard Yates.[7]

20th century[]

In the 20th century, Illinois emerged as one of the most important states in the Union. Edward F. Dunne was a Chicago Democrat and leader of the progressive movement, who served as governor 1913-1917. He was succeeded by Frank O. Lowden, who led the war effort and was Republican presidential hopeful in 1920.

Democrat Adlai Stevenson served as governor in 1948-52. William G. Stratton led a Republican statehouse in the 1950s. In 1960 Otto Kerner, Jr. led the Democrats back to power. He promoted economic development, education, mental health services, and equal access to jobs and housing. In a federal trial in 1973, Kerner was convicted on 17 counts of bribery while he was governor, plus other charges; he went to prison. Richard B. Ogilvie, a Republican, won in 1968. Bolstered by large Republican majorities in the state house, Ogilvie embarked upon a major modernization of state government. He successfully advocated for a state constitutional convention, increased social spending, and secured Illinois' first state income tax. The latter was particularly unpopular with the electorate, and the modest Ogilvie lost a close election to the flashy Democrat Dan Walker in 1972. The state constitutional convention of 1970 wrote a new document that was approved by the voters. It modernized government and ended the old system of three-person districts which froze the political system in place.

Walker did not repeal the income tax that Ogilvie had enacted and wedged between machine Democrats and Republicans had little success with the Illinois legislature during his tenure. In 1987 he was convicted of business crimes not related to his governorship. In the 1976 gubernatorial election, Jim Thompson, a Republican prosecutor from Chicago won 65 percent of the vote over Michael Howlett. Thompson was reelected in 1978 with 60 percent of the vote, defeating State Superintendent Michael Bakalis. Thompson was very narrowly reelected in 1982 against former U.S. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, and then won decisively against him in a rematch in 1986. Thompson was succeeded by Republican Jim Edgar who won a close race in 1990 against his Democratic opponent, attorney general Neil Hartigan, and was reelected in 1994 by a wide margin against another Democratic opponent, state comptroller and former state senator Dawn Clark Netsch. In the elections of 1992 and 1994, the Republicans succeeded in capturing both houses of the state legislature and all statewide offices, putting Edgar in a very strong political position. He advocated increases in funding for education along with cuts in government employment, spending and welfare programs. He was succeeded by yet another Republican, George H. Ryan. Ryan worked for extensive repairs of the Illinois Highway System called "Illinois FIRST." FIRST was an acronym for "Fund for Infrastructure, Roads, Schools, and Transit." Signed into law in May 1999, the law created a $6.3 billion package for use in school and transportation projects. With various matching funds programs, Illinois FIRST provided $2.2 billion for schools, $4.1 billion for public transportation, another $4.1 billion for roads, and $1.6 billion for other projects.

21st century[]

Ryan gained national attention in January 2003 when he commuted the sentences of everyone on or waiting to be sent to death row in Illinois—a total of 167 convicts—due to his belief that the death penalty was incapable of being administered fairly. Ryan's term was marked by scandals, and as of late 2005 he was himself on trial.

Rod Blagojevich, elected in 2002, was the first Democratic governor in a quarter century. Illinois was trending sharply toward the Democratic party in both national and state elections. After the 2002 elections, Democrats had control of the House, Senate, and all but one statewide office. Blagojevich signed numerous pieces of progressive legislation such as ethics reform, death penalty reform, a state Earned Income Tax Credit, and expansions of health programs like KidCare and FamilyCare. Blagojevich signed a bill in 2005 that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in employment, housing, public accommodations, and credit. Other notable actions of his term include a strict new ethics law and a comprehensive death penalty reform bill that was written by Sen. Barack Obama in his capacity as a state senator, and the late-Sen. Paul M. Simon. Despite an annual budget crunch, Blagojevich oversaw an increase in funding for health care every year without raising general sales or income taxes. He feuded with his powerful father-in-law Chicago Alderman Richard Mell. Blagojevich was criticized for using what his opponents call "gimmicks" to balance the state budget. Republicans have also claimed that he simply passed the state's fiscal problems on to future generations by borrowing to balance budgets. Indeed, the 2005 state budget called for paying the bills by shorting state employees' pension fund by $1.2 billion, which led to a backlash among educators. He also was criticized for not moving into the Governor's Mansion in Springfield, instead commuting via plane between his home in Chicago and the state capital, Springfield.

Blagojevich has been criticized for too rapidly expanding the role of state government. In October 2005, the state had $1.4 billion in overdue medical bills, yet in November 2005, Blagojevich created two new government agencies and signed the All Kids health insurance bill, which obligates Illinois to provide affordable, comprehensive health insurance to every child in the state.

In December 2008, Blagojevich was arrested on charges of conspiracy and solicitation to commit bribery. The following month, he became the first Illinois governor to be impeached and removed from office.

Illinois, as of the census of 2000, currently has the 5th largest population of the 50 U.S. states. Chicago, in terms of populations, is the third largest city in the country.[8]


With the state budget deficit projected to hit $15 billion in 2011, and debt spiraling out of control, the Democrats who control the Legislature in early 2011 raised the personal income tax from 3% to 5%, and the corporation profits tax 4.8% to 7%. Governor Pat Quinn projects the new taxes will generate $6.8 billion a year, enough to balance the annual budget and begin reducing the state's backlog of about $8.5 billion in unpaid bills.[9]

Famous people[]

Most pre 1940 names have been selected from the WPA Guide[10] This is a list of people from Illinois; people are not included if they left the state before beginning a career.

Before 1940[]

  • Jane Addams, social work
  • George Ade, author
  • Dankmar Adler, architect
  • Mortimer J. Adler, education, philosophy
  • Nelson Algren, author
  • John Peter Altgeld, politics, Dem
  • Philip D. Armour, business
  • Louis Armstrong, music
  • Edward Beecher, religion
  • Lydia Moss Bradley, philanthropy
  • Daniel H. Burnham, architect
  • Joseph Gurney Cannon, politics, GOP
  • Anton Cermak, politics, Dem
  • John Coughlin, politics, Dem
  • Clarence Darrow, law
  • John Dewey, philosophy
  • Stephen A. Douglas, politics, Dem
  • Finley Peter Dunne, author
  • Ninian Edwards, politics
  • James T. Farrell, author
  • Theodore Dreiser, author
  • Eugene Field, author
  • Marshall Field I, business
  • Marshall Field III, business
  • Thomas Ford, politics, Dem
  • John T. Frederick, literature
  • Lyman J. Gage, business
  • Ulysses S. Grant, military
  • Red Grange, sports
  • Frank W. Gunsaulus, education
  • William Rainey Harper, education
  • Carter Harrison, Sr., politics, Dem
  • Carter Harrison, Jr., politics, Dem
  • George Peter Alexander Healy, artist
  • Ben Hecht, author
  • William Holabird, architect
  • Raymond Hood, architect
  • Henry Horner, politics, Dem
  • Robert Maynard Hutchins, education
  • Robert Ingersoll, religion
  • Samuel Insull, business
  • William Le Baron Jenney, architect
  • Leslie Keeley, medicine
  • Florence Kelley, social work
  • John Kinzie, settler
  • Frank Knox, newspapers
  • Christian C. Kohlsaat, judge
  • H. H. Kohlsaat, editor and publisher of the Chicago Times Herald[11]
  • René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, explorer
  • Victor F. Lawson, newspapers
  • Abraham Lincoln, politics, Whig, GOP
  • Mary Todd Lincoln, Lincoln's wife
  • Robert Todd Lincoln, Lincoln's son
  • Vachel Lindsay, author
  • John A. Logan, politics, Dem, GOP
  • Frank O. Lowden, politics, GOP
  • Cyrus Hall McCormick, business
  • Robert R. McCormick, newspapers
  • James Robert Mann, politics, GOP
  • Edgar Lee Masters, author
  • Joseph Medill, newspapers
  • Charles E. Merriam, education
  • Harriet Monroe, poet
  • Dwight L. Moody, religion

  • William Vaughn Moody, author
  • George Mundelein, cardinal
  • William Butler Ogden, business
  • Richard James Oglesby, politics, GOP
  • John M. Palmer, politics, GOP, Dem
  • Potter Palmer, business
  • Bertha Palmer, society
  • Francis W. Parker, education
  • John Mason Peck, author
  • Jean Baptiste Point du Sable, settler
  • George M. Pullman, business
  • Henry T. Rainey, politics, Dem
  • John W. Root, architect
  • Julius Rosenwald, business
  • E. W. Scripps, newspapers
  • Richard Warren Sears, business
  • Albion W. Small, sociology
  • Joseph Smith, religion
  • John Spalding , religion
  • Amos Alonzo Stagg, sports
  • Ellen Gates Starr, social work
  • Bernard James Sheil, religion
  • Melville E. Stone, newspapers
  • Adlai Stevenson, politics; Vice President, Dem
  • Gustavus F. Swift, business
  • Graham Taylor , social work
  • Theodore Thomas, conductor
  • Lyman Trumbull, politics, Dem, GOP, Dem
  • Jonathan Baldwin Turner, education
  • A. Montgomery Ward, business
  • John Wentworth, politics, Dem, GOP
  • Frances E Willard, social activist, head of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union
  • Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
  • Richard Yates, politics, GOP
  • Charles Yerkes, business


  • Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Olympic Gold Medalist
  • John Bardeen (1908–1991) winner of two Nobel prizes in physics
  • Joseph Bernardin (1928–1996), cardinal
  • Richard J. Daley (1902–1976), Chicago mayor; Dem
  • Richard M. Daley (born 1942), Chicago mayor, son of Richard J.; Dem
  • Everett Dirksen, politics, GOP
  • Enrico Fermi, nuclear physics
  • Vince Vaughn, actor
  • Andrew Greeley (born 1928), author; religion; sociology
  • George Halas, (1895–1983) sports
  • Robert H. Michel, (b. 1923), politics, GOP
  • Ronald Reagan (1911–2004), 40th President of the United States, GOP
  • Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, architect
  • William Shockley, 1910–1989, physicist invented transistor
  • Adlai Stevenson II (1908–1965), politician, Dem
  • Barack Obama (born 1961), politician, Dem, 44th President of the United States

See also[]

  • History of the Midwestern United States
  • List of historical sites related to the Illinois labor movement


  1. ^ Harris N. Dwight, The History of Negro Servitude in Illinois, and the Slavery Agitation in that State, 1719-1864 (1906) online edition
  2. ^ Stephen Middleton, The Black Laws in the Old Northwest: A Documentary History (1993) pp 269-342 for primary sources
  3. ^ David Ress, Governor Edward Coles and the Vote to Forbid Slavery in Illinois, 1823–1824 (2006)
  4. ^ Paul Finkelman, Slavery and the founders: race and liberty in the age of Jefferson (2001) pp 78-80
  5. ^ James Pickett Jones, Black Jack: John A. Logan and Southern Illinois in the Civil War Era 1967 ISBN 0-8093-2002-9.
  6. ^ Robert Bruce Flanders, Nauvoo Kingdom on the Mississippi (1965)
  7. ^ Arthur Charles Cole, The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870 (1919)
  8. ^ Largest cities in the U.S.
  9. ^ "Ill. Gov. Quinn signs major tax increase into law," Associated Press January 13, 2011
  10. ^ Works Progress Administration. Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide (1939). ISBN 0-394-72195-0. One of the most famous surveys — covers every town and city and much more.
  11. ^ Chicago Times-Herald Race of 1895

Secondary sources[]

  • Adams, Jane. The Transformation of Rural Life: Southern Illinois, 1890-1990 (1994)
  • Angle, Paul M. Here I Have Lived: A History of Lincoln's Springfield, 1821-1865 (1935)
  • Baringer, William E. and Romaine Proctor. Lincoln's Vandalia, a Pioneer Portrait (1949)
  • Barnard, Harry. "Eagle Forgotten": The Life of John Peter Altgeld (1938)
  • Beveridge, Albert J. Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858 (1928)
  • Biles, Roger. Illinois: A History Of The Land And Its People (2005)
  • Buck, Solon J. Illinois in 1818 (1917): online
  • The Centennial History of Illinois a famous series by leading scholars; the copyright has expired and the books are in the public domain
    • vol. 1. The Illinois Country 1673-1818 by Clarence Walworth Alvord. (1920) online edition
    • vol. 2. The Frontier State, 1818-1848 by Theodore Calvin Pease. (1919) online edition
    • vol. 3. The Era of the Civil War 1848-1870 by Arthur Charles Cole (1919)
    • vol. 4. The Industrial State 1870-1893 by Ernest Ludlow Bogart & Charles Manfred Thompson, (1920) online edition
    • vol. 5. The Modern Commonwealth, 1893-1918 by Ernest Ludlow Bogart and John Mabry Mathews (1920) online edition
  • Carr, Kay J. Belleville, Ottawa, and Galesburg: Community and Democracy on the Illinois Frontier (1996)
  • Chapman, Margaret L. et al. Mitsubishi Motors in Illinois: Global Strategies, Local Impacts (1995)
  • Davis, James E. Frontier Illinois (1998).
  • Elazar, Daniel J. Cities of the Prairie Revisited (1986)
  • Garland, John H. The North American Midwest: A Regional Geography (1955)
  • Gjerde, Jon. The Minds of the West: Ethnocultural Evolution in the Rural Middle West, 1830-1917 (1997)
  • Gove, Samuel K. and James D. Nowlan. Illinois Politics & Government: The Expanding Metropolitan Frontier (1996)
  • Hallwas, John E. ed., Illinois Literature: The Nineteenth Century (1986)
  • Hartley, Robert E. Big Jim Thompson of Illinois (1979), governor 1980s
  • Hartley, Robert E. Paul Powell of Illinois: A Lifelong Democrat (1999)
  • Hicken, Victor. Illinois in the Civil War (1966).
  • Hoffmann, John. A Guide to the History of Illinois. (1991)
  • Howard, Robert P. Illinois: A History of the Prairie State (1972).
  • Howard, Robert P. Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors 1818-1988 (1988)
  • Hutchinson, William. Lowden of Illinois the Life of Frank O. Lowden 2 vol (1957) governor in 1917-21
  • Jensen, Richard. Illinois: A History (2001). interpretive history using model of traditional-modern-postmodern
  • Keiser, John H. Building for the Centuries: Illinois 1865-1898 (1977)
  • Kenney, David The Political Passage: The Career of Stratton of Illinois (1990). Governor in 1950s.
  • Kinsley, Philip. The Chicago Tribune: Its First Hundred Years (1943)
  • Kleppner, Paul. Political Atlas of Illinois (1988) maps for 1980s.
  • Leonard, Gerald. The Invention of Party Politics: Federalism, Popular Sovereignty, and Constitutional Development in Jacksonian Illinois (2002)
  • Littlewood, Thomas B. Horner of Illinois (1969), governor 1933-40
  • Martin, John Bartlow. Adlai Stevenson of Illinois (1977). Governor 1948-52.
  • Meyer, Douglas K. Making the Heartland Quilt: A Geographical History of Settlement and Migration in Early-Nineteenth-Century Illinois (2000)
  • Miller, Kristie. Ruth Hanna Mccormick: A Life in Politics, 1880-1944 (1992)
  • Morgan, M.J. Land of Big Rivers: French and Indian Illinois, 1699-1778 (Southern Illinois University Press; 2010) 288 pages; Examines the environmental history and settlement of the river plain along the Mississippi.
  • Morton, Richard Allen. Justice and Humanity: Edward F. Dunne, Illinois Progressive (1997) governor 1913-17.
  • Nardulli, Peter, ed.Diversity, Conflict, and State Politics: Regionalism in Illinois (1989)
  • Peirce, Neal, and John Keefe. The Great Lakes States of America: People, Politics, and Power in the Five Great Lakes States (1990)
  • Plummer, Mark A. Lincoln's Rail Splitter: Governor Richard J. Oglesby (2001) governor 1865-69, 1885–89
  • Riddle, Donald W. Lincoln Runs for Congress (1948)
  • Scott, David W., “The Transformation of Higher Education in the 1960s: Master Plans, Community Colleges, and Emerging Universities,” Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, 101 (Summer 2008), 177–92.
  • WPA. Illinois: A Descriptive and Historical Guide (1939)

Primary documents[]

  • Johnson, Walter. Governor of Illinois 1949-1953 (Papers of Adlai E. Stevenson, Volume 3) (1973), primary documents.
  • Peck, J. M. A Gazetteer of Illinois (1837), a primary source online
  • Quaife, Milo Milton ed. Growing Up with Southern Illinois, 1820 to 1861: From the Memoirs of Daniel Harmon Brush (1944)
  • Sutton, Robert P. ed. The Prairie State: A Documentary History of Illinois (1977).

External links[]

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