ILLINOIS. This comparatively young member of the American Union was, nevertheless, partially settled, by civilized adventurers, as early as the year 1673. A party of enterprising Frenchmen from Canada accompanied M. De la Salle in his second exploration of the country, in the above year, when in search of the River Mississippi, and founded the villages of Kaskaskias and Cahokia. These settlements continued to flourish for some years; but the people, by constant intercourse with the surrounding savages, gradually reduced themselves to a semi-barbarous condition, and for a long period their numbers were but little augmented by immigration. By the treaty of peace between the French and English, in 1763, the Illinois country, together with Canada, was ceded by the former to the latter, who took formal possession two years afterwards. It remained in their hands, under several successive military governors, until 1778; in which year a body of Virginia troops, commanded by General Clarke, penetrated the country, and subdued all the fortified places. In the same year, a county called Illinois was organized by the legislature, and placed under the care of a deputy governor. The country had been considered, hitherto, as a part of the territory included in the charter of Virginia; and the claim founded thereon was recognized by the treaty of 1783. Virginia, however, ceded it to the United States, four years afterwards, when it constituted a section of the "North-west Territory," so called. In 1800, it received a separate organization and a territorial government, in conjunction with, and under the name of, Indiana. Another division took place in 1809, when the distinct territories of Indiana and Illinois were formed; both of which were subsequently admitted into the Union, as independent states — the former in 1816, and the latter in 1818. The name of the state is derived from that of its great central river — an aboriginal appellation, signifying the River of Men.
Boundaries and Extent. — The state is bounded north by Wisconsin; east by the southern portion of Lake Michigan, by the State of Indiana, and by the Ohio River, dividing it from Kentucky also on the south; and west by the Mississippi, which separates it from the States of Missouri and Iowa. Its extreme length is some 380 miles, extending from 37° to 42£° north latitude. Its breadth varies from about 145 to 220 miles, being widest in the centre, and narrowest at the northern and southern points. Its utmost reach of longitude is 4 degrees, viz., from 87° to 91°, west from Greenwich. Its area is computed at 55,400 square miles, of which near 50,000 are believed to be well adapted to agricultural purposes.
Government. — The chief magistrate is chosen for four years, by the people, viva voce, and cannot serve two terms in succession. The lieutenant governor (who is, ex officio, president of the Senate) and the senators are also elected quadrennially. The members of the House of Representatives are elected for two years. The popular elections and the legislative sessions are held biennially. The Senate cannot consist of less than one third, nor more than one half, the number composing the other branch. All white males above the age of 21 years, who have resided six months within the state, are qualified voters. Slavery is prohibited by the constitution — to amend which instrument a convention must be called. Elections are decided by a plurality of votes.
Judiciary. — The judicial power is vested in a Supreme Court, composed of three justices, and such other courts as the legislature may create. One session of the Supreme Court is held annually, in each of the three judicial divisions of the state. The state is also divided into nine circuits, each having a resident judge and a state's attorney. Five of these judges constitute a quorum. They are elected by the General Assembly, and hold office during good behavior. The state's attorneys are chosen for two years. Inferior courts are also held by probate judges and justices of the peace. The Supreme Court judges, together with the governor, compose a council of revision, with power to disapprove bills passed by the General Assembly, subject, however, to further legislative action, whereby a rejected bill may, nevertheless, become a law when reenacted by a majority of members elect in both branches.
Education. — The act of admission to the Union provides for a reservation of one thirty-sixth part of all the public lands, for school purposes ; and section numbered 16 has been accordingly designated and set apart, in each township, for the benefit of its inhabitants. A common fund, for the promotion of education generally, was also established by the United States government, through the annual payment to the state of 3 per cent, of the net avails of the public lands within its limits. Of this fund, a sixth part is appropriated to the erection and support of a collegiate institution. Other funds, to a very generous extent, have likewise been provided; from all which sources a large annual income is derived. Yet the subject of common schools has not received that degree of regard and attention which its immeasurable importance demands; although there are, in many towns, primary schools of fair character, and occasionally a seminary of higher grade. Several colleges exist; but they are mostly exclusive or somewhat sectarian in their organization; each of the following denominations having a special institution, viz., Old School Presbyterians, New School Presbyterians, Baptists, and Methodists. One of these, at Alton,-was liberally endowed by Dr. B. Shurtleff, of Boston, Massachusetts, and bears his name. There are a number of respectable academies and literary associations in various parts of the state; and it is to be hoped that measures will be taken to establish the school fund of the state on a basis corresponding to the liberality of Congress, and to the example set by Ohio and other neighboring states.
Finances. — The total amount of the public debt on the 1st of January, 1851, was $16,627,507,91, nearly one half of which grew out of the construction of the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This latter item will be partially if not wholly liquidated by sales of canal lands, and by future receipts for tolls. The state is now able, from its revenues, for the first time in several years, to meet its current expenditures.
Surface, Soil, &c. — There are no lofty mountains in this state, although at its northern and southern extremes the land is considerably elevated, and occasionally broken. In general, the surface is level, or slightly undulating, about two thirds of the whole consisting of immense prairies, clothed luxuriantly with grass, herbage, delicious strawberries, and other wild berries, and resplendent with myriads of indigenous flowers, flourishing in all the beauty of " nature unadorned." No impenetrable forests encumber these vast tracts, although isolated patches of woodland, some of them covering many acres, are frequently found in their midst. In some quarters of the state, timber is sufficiently abundant; in others, there is a deficiency. The most common descriptions are the oak, hickory, maple, elm, ash, locust, beech, poplar, sycamore, and various other woods. The soil is almost invariably fertile, often of the finest and richest quality, to a great depth. The products of the earth are of corresponding value and amount. Every variety of grain, and of edible vegetables, together with hemp, flax, cotton, and tobacco, are cultivated with extraordinary success. All the fruits common to the temperate latitudes are produced in abundance: grapes, especially, natives of the soil, are remarkably plentiful in most parts of the state, and of fine quality, capable of yielding excellent wines. The fecundity of the land, and the generous returns with which it rewards even the moderate labors of the husbandman, may be inferred from the fact that in almost all parts of the state an average crop, per acre, can be obtained, of fifty bushels of Indian corn — one of its important staples; and instances are frequent where the product reaches 75 to 100 bushels.
Rivers. — Illinois is provided most bountifully by nature with admirable facilities for communication by water, not only within, but far beyond, its own borders, by means of its numerous inland streams, tending in every direction towards, and connecting with, the great western rivers, and by its immediate contact, on the north-east, with Lake Michigan. The whole of its western boundary is washed by the mighty Mississippi, and the noble Ohio flows along a portion of its eastern frontier. The Illinois traverses a large part of the state from north-east to south-west, and its tributaries course through most of the central counties. Some of these branches are of great extent. Among the other important rivers are Rock,. Kaskaskia, Wabash, &c.
Internal Improvements. — The canal for uniting the navigable waters of the Illinois with those of Lake Michigan, at Chicago, is one of the greatest enterprises of the kind in the Western States. Its computed extent is 106 miles, and its cost upwards of $8,000,000. When fully completed, the waters of the Gulfs of St. Lawrence and of Mexico may be said to meet each other, through a long chain of inland channels. Under the system of internal improvement adopted by the state, in 1837, a number of extensive and important railroads were projected, the work on most of which has been commenced, and some few are in travelling order.
Minerals. — At the north-west angle of the state lie immense beds of lead ore, of which great quantities are annually smelted and sent to market. Copper and iron are also found in abundance in many parts of the state; and in the southern quarter, there are several sections of the public lands which are reported to be rich in silver ore, and in consequence are withheld from sale. Lime, salt, and coal are among the most plentiful of the mineral productions. Limestone ledges of great extent exist for many miles along the banks of the Mississippi, often rising abruptly and perpendicularly, in huge bluffs, to a height of 300 feet. In the south arid east parts of the state, there are numerous saline springs, so strongly impregnated as to render profitable the manufacture of salt on an extensive scale in their vicinity. The elevated and broken regions towards the north, particularly in the neighborhood of Rock River, contain exhaustless veins of bituminous coal; and the bluffs and ravines on the river banks, in Madison and St. Clair counties, at the south-west quarter of the state, are pregnant with treasures of this valuable mineral.
Manufactures. — Hydraulic power to a considerable extent is attainable at various points of the state, some of which is already advantageously improved for manufacturing purposes. The contemplated improvements of the Wabash and other rivers — some of which are already in progress — will furnish additional water privileges of great value. Steam mills, for sawing lumber, manufacturing flour, &c., as well as mills wrought by animal and water power, are common throughout the state. There are also numerous smelting houses, iron furnaces, tanneries, potteries, distilleries, &c., together with a few cotton, woollen, and flax factories; and almost every article of domestic use is or may be fabricated within the state. Among the few commodities principally manufactured for export are whiskey and castor oil: some 40,000 to 50,000 gallons of the latter are annually expressed from the palma christi, or castor bean, at a single establishment in Edwardsville.
Indians. — Few or none of the descendants of the tribes formerly occupying this region now linger within or around it, their titles having been extinguished, from time to time, by various treaties with the United States government. The white inhabitants were somewhat annoyed by hostile Indians during the war of 1812; but after its close, the country was exempt from molestation until 1832, when a band of sanguinary savages, led on by the notorious chief Black Hawk, committed many bloody atrocities, and created much distress and alarm, at the northern part of the state. They were at length entirely quelled, and finally removed to the country west of the Mississippi.
Population. — During the thirty years prior to 1840, the population of Illinois increased from 12,282 to 476,183, of whom 3600 were persons of color. In 1850, the population was 851,470, of whom 5366 were persons of color.
Climate. — In general, the climate of Illinois, in its influence upon health, does not differ materially from that of the other states, lying within the same parallels, east of the Alleghany ridge. It furthermore enjoys the advantage of exemption from annoying easterly winds, although the prairie breezes are often severely cold. The temperature, ordinarily, is much like that of Ohio and Michigan during the respective seasons. The length of the winter is usually somewhat less than three months. Snow seldom falls to & great depth, or continues upon the earth many days in succession; and the ground is commonly free from frost throughout half the winter. The early spring months are rainy and unpleasant; but they are soon succeeded by a milder season, a warm and cheering summer, with an invigorating atmosphere ; and, finally, "the year is crowned" by a delightful autumn of some months' duration, rarely disturbed by a cloudy day or a stormy hour.
Religion.— The most numerous sect are the Methodists, including their different varieties. Then follow the Baptists and Presbyterians, with their several ramifications. The Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Dunkards have each from eight to twelve congregations; and there are small societies of Roman Catholics, Quakers, and Mormons. The proportion of professors of religion has been estimated at about one tenth of the whole population.