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CHAPTER 7 The Constitution of 1870 Progressive Foundation for a Century Agitation for changes in the 1848 constitution resumed as soon as the Civil War ended. The inadequacies and defects of that constitution, which had motivated thelegislatureandvotersofthestatetocallforaconventionin1860,notonlyhad continued but also had become even more serious. The extremely low compensation levels for state officeholders and judges were circumvented by “expense money” for the governor or extra compensation for other officers and judges in payment for trivial services said to have been rendered to the state. Such violationsoftheletteroftheconstitutionweredangerous precedents that raised concerns of moral laxity. The most serious defect was the increasing proliferation of special-interest laws and private bills, culminating in the Twenty-Sixth General Assembly in 1869 enacting seventeen hundred private laws on almost every conceivablesubject ,dwarfing thenumber ofpubliclaws passed in thesamesessions and stimulating suspicions of bribery and corruption.1 Increases in railroad and warehouse rates and corporate combinations in the years of the war and after had precipitated cries for constitutional action, as had movements urging state support for education and other reforms. The restrictions on blacks in the 1848 constitution were glaringly exposed by the military serviceofblacksduring theCivilWar andtheCivilWar amendments to theU.S. Constitution. The war and its aftermath also revealed the sharp differences of 186 Chapter 7 attitudes between the north and south of the state that threatened to split political and civil society and impede public policy making. Renewed Efforts to Revise the 1848 Constitution In November 1866 the Chicago Tribune staked out a position in favor of “A New Constitution.” The paper asserted, “There is an universal demand by the people of all parties in the State of Illinois for a thorough revision and amendment to the Constitution of the State. . . . [T]he inefficiency of our present constitution is generally admitted.” Further, {“?}Every department of the Government, Executive, Legislative, and Judicial ,wassurroundedbyconstitutionalrestrictionswhichutterlyimpairtheir efficiency and destroy their usefulness. The result has been that for fifteen years there has been a persistent effort to evade the Constitution, and this efforthasbeenapproved bythepeoplebecauseofthenecessityofthecase.2 Sixweekslater,onJanuary1,1867,theTribune startedthenewyearwithalong essay pushing for a constitutional convention, concluding, “There is no just or legal objection to having a Constitutional Convention without delay.”3 GovernorRichardOglesbytookthefirststeptowardtheconveningofIllinois’s fourth constitutional convention in his message to the legislature on January 7, 1867. After commending the present constitution as containing “many wise and salutary provisions,” he asserted that “what was then prudent, and suitably adapted to the condition of our people, does not now accord with the requirements of our growth and prosperity.”4 Thegovernoroutlinedseveraldefectsofthe1848constitution,including“the odious discrimination against personal liberty, which ought to be expunged,” a referencetotheprovisionsbarring blacksettlement in Illinois. Heasked that the general assemblycall forareferendumatthe next general election to hold a constitutional convention. The legislature did just that, adopting a joint resolution to put to the voters in November 1868 the question of holding a convention.5 The call for a convention received immediate and strong newspaper support. The public displayed scant interest, however. At the general election on November 3, 1868, the proposition was approved by a majority of only 726 votes. The general assembly in February 1869 enacted legislation calling for the election of The Constitution of 1870 187 eighty-five delegates at the general election later that year, in November 1869, with the convention to meet in Springfield the next month.6 The enabling legislation imposed no condition specifying whether the candidates could run as partisans of a political party. Citizen groups made efforts to avoid partisanship by organizing into a bipartisan “People’s Party.” Former state supreme court judge J. D. Caton and others called for election without partisan considerations. Fiercely partisan newspapers rejected this conciliatory stance, however, and called for the election of men who would write a Republican or Democratic constitution, the latter to include a specific prohibition on blacks’ voting, contrary to the Fifteenth Amendment that the Illinois General Assembly had ratified in March and which was rapidly approaching ratification by the necessary number of states.7 The election of delegates on November 2, 1869, resulted in an almost equal number from nominally Republican and Democratic districts. The forty-four delegateselectedfromRepublicandistricts,however,includedtheentirenonpartisanPeople ’sPartyticketelectedinCookCounty.Thisfifteen-persondelegation held the balance of power and helped create a tone in which few delegates were inclinedtopromotepoliticalsquabbles.Reflectingthesharpdivisionsinthestate following the Civil War and exposing a condition that needed to be recognized by the convention, all except two of the delegates from southern Illinois and the Military Tract in west-central Illinois were Democratic. All but four of the Republican delegates...


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