Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System Illinois State Archives


The office of sheriff was first established in the Northwest Territory in 1788, and renewed in the Indiana and Illinois Territories. Sheriffs were appointed for indefinite terms by territorial governors.1 With statehood, the Constitution of 1818 made the sheriff's office elective, with a two year term.2

The sheriff's term has been changed by different state constitutions. At present, sheriffs are elected for four-year terms and may be re-elected.3 From 1827 to the present, sheriffs have been empowered to hire deputies. From 1827 to 1874, they had to file a list of deputies with the circuit clerk.4 From 1874 to the present, copies of deputy sheriffs' oaths have been filed with the county clerk.5

Sheriffs are the peace officers of the county. Since 1819, they have been required to summon a posse comitatus to keep order when necessary; to serve and execute all court orders addressed to them; to suppress breaches of the peace and arrest offenders on view; to serve as an officer of all courts of record in the county, to attend these courts in person or by deputy; and to summon grand juries.6 In 1821, they were required to sell property in execution of court orders for payment of debts; in 1827 they were required to pursue all felons within their jurisdiction, and to summon petit juries.7 In 1951, sheriffs became county supervisors of safety, with the authority to enforce highway laws in unincorporated areas.8 Since 1819, sheriffs have been custodians and wardens of the county jails.9 In 1923, they were required to keep records of all prisoners.10

Sheriffs acted as tax collectors in all counties, from 1819 to 1839, and from 1843 to 1849.11 In 1849, townships began electing their own collectors, however, sheriffs remained the tax collectors in non-township counties until 1971.12

Record Descriptions

1Illinois State Historical Collections, (Springfield, 1925), 17:8.
2Constitution of 1818, Article III, section 11.
3Constitution of 1970, Article VII, section 4.
4Rev. L. 1827, p. 373.
5Rev. Stat. 1874, p. 990; Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 125, para. 9.
6L. 1819, pp. 111, 201.
7L. 1821, p. 37; Rev. L. 1827, pp. 170, 252.
8L. 1951, p. 2126.
9L. 1819, pp. 111, 160.
10L. 1923, p. 423.
11L. 1819, pp. 316-19; L. 1839, p. 7; L. 1843, p. 234.
12P.A. 76-2516, 1971.