First General Assembly met 200 years ago

Illinois was admitted to the Union in December 1818. After President James Monroe signed the papers, the U.S. flag had its 21st star and the new state faced serious challenges. The State of Illinois, operating under the social customs of the day, did not try at first to exercise governance over the Native Americans who made up most of the people living in the new state. The state’s effective jurisdiction was confined the a few thousand frontier-dwellers, mostly farmers, who were breaking the sod and planting crops on narrow strips of land along the Ohio and Lower Mississippi Rivers. The new state chose one of the towns along the Lower Mississippi, Kaskaskia, to be Illinois’ first capital.

The first General Assembly had the duty of passing a law code for the fledgling state. The state’s entire law code could fit into one small book (today’s “Illinois Compiled Statutes,” by contrast, are printed in ten large-sized volumes of more than 2,000 pages each). The pioneer legislators could not afford to build a capitol building in Kaskaskia, and rented two meeting rooms from the frontier town doctor. The young legislature had a House and a Senate, just as the General Assembly has today.