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CHAPTER 3 Black Codes and Bondage, Settling the North, Legislative Follies The First General Assembly of the State of Illinois met in Kaskaskia on January 4, 1819, one month after admission to statehood. The legislature faced many challenges.Composedofnovicestothelegislativeprocess,ithadtograpplewith issuesofcivilandcriminallaw,inastatethathadnopenitentiaryandfewcounty jails, and revenue and finance, in a state where land ownership was overwhelmingly either in the federal government or nonresident speculators. Treatment of blacks in bondage and, later, of free blacks, created conflict and stirred emotions greatly out of proportion to their small and diminishing proportion of the population. No state north of the Ohio River had so many slaves or came closer to providing constitutional protection for slavery.1 A New Capital on the Frontier In the first months of 1819, the constitutional mandate to establish a new capital was going forward. Senators Thomas and Edwards persuaded their congressional colleagues that a grant of land for a new capital would increase the value of unsurveyed public lands. Just before the close of the session, a bill granting to the state four sections of public land passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Monroe on March 3, 1819.2 Map 4. 1820 Population Distribution Black Codes and Bondage, Settling the North, Legislative Follies 71 In June, four legislators appointed as commissioners rode eighty-two miles northeastfromthecapitalalong theKaskaskiaRiverto a point wherea local settler helped them select a beautiful site on high ground in the virgin forest a few hundred feet west of the river.3 The commissioners acted promptly to establish the capital. A survey platted a spacious town, reserving a large square in the center for public use. After 150 lots were sold at inflated prices to officials and other speculators, a simple two-story frame statehouse was constructed in the spring and early summer of 1820. Forty by thirty feet at the foundation, with a thirty-foot-square house of representatives chamber on the first floor and a smaller senate chamber on the second, it was nondescript among its neighboring frame and wood-planked structures.4 The state moved what there was of its government to Vandalia in the summer of1820,intimefortheSecondGeneralAssemblytoconvenethereinthefall.On December4,1820, thetownwasovercrowdedwith legislators, clerks, other state employees, spectators, lobbyists, and office seekers. The governor and others moved in with relatives or to private homes. Some clerks slept in the statehouse. Governor Bond devoted much of his opening address to the idealistic promise of Vandalia as a place of culture and learning, a modern center of good public buildings, home to college professors teaching in seminaries and institutions of higher learning. Vandalia never attained that promise. Legislatures were unwilling to invest state funds in a temporary capital. The first statehouse was home to the Second and Third General Assemblies. Predictably a fire hazard, it burned down in December1823duetoawaywardstove .Thetownpromptlyconstructedaramshackle two-storybrickstructure—partlyareconstructionofafire-guttedbank—toserve as a new capitol. This building also failed to provide adequate space and became legendary for its sagging floors and bulging and cracking walls. Legislators worked in this structure for twelve years, through six general assemblies .Itwasabandonedin1836—afterwarningsaboutitssafety.Thebuilding wassignificanthistorically,however,havinghousedimportantlegislativesessions and because Stephen Douglas, Abraham Lincoln, Lyman Trumbull, and many other illustrious Illinois officeholders began their political careers there. A new statehouse was constructed in 1836. Vandalia remained the seat of government until 1839.5 72 Chapter 3 New Codes, Old Laws TheFirstGeneralAssemblyadoptedacodeofstatutelaw compiled bysecretary of state Elias Kane, for the most part copied from the statutes of Virginia and Kentucky. The revenue laws placed the burden of raising money for state purposesonnonresidentlandowners ,contrarytotheprovisionsoftheenablingact. County revenue was derived from taxation of residents’ personal property and, at lesser burdens, real estate.6 Criminal codes were constrained by the impossibility of providing for punishment by imprisonment. The state had no penitentiary, and counties were reluctant to undertake the expense of providing jails. Fines were the prescribed remedy in numerous cases. Whipping was prescribed when fines could not be collected and as punishment for more serious offenses. The 1819 code provided for as many as five hundred lashes for some offenses. Punishment of death by hangingwasprescribedforfouroffenses:rape,arson,horsestealing,andmurder.7 Themostcomprehensivesetoflawswasthe1819BlackCode,whichwasmore stringent in regulating the conduct of blacks than the codes in many southern states.TheactofMarch30,1819,“respectingfreeNegroes,Mulattoes,andSlaves,” was largely a re-adoption and codification of civil and criminal codes that previously had been enacted by the territorial legislature. The code was important, however, not only as the first for the state but also as the forerunner of many enactments to follow.8 The...


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