Abraham Lincoln in Illinois
A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives

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February 13, 1837

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One of the most divisive issues for Lincoln during his state legislative career was the creation of new Illinois counties.

When Illinois entered the union in 1818, a majority of its population lived in the southern portion of the state. Illinois had fifteen counties, three of which, Madison, Bond and Crawford, stretched from almost as far south as St. Louis, Missouri north to the Wisconsin line. As Illinois' population increased, larger counties were divided into smaller counties, making it easier for settlers to get to a county seat of government. However, creating new counties out of existing ones could be controversial. Generally persons living close to an existing county seat opposed dividing a county, while those living furthest from a county seat supported creating a new county.

During the tenth session of the General Assembly, the legislature received petitions signed by Sangamon County residents both favoring and opposing the county's division. Lincoln called for the creation of a committee to review the petitions and became chairman when it was created. The committee also reviewed similar petitions relative to the division of nearby Montgomery and Shelby Counties.

Lincoln sought the creation of the committee in order to keep control over the issue. The committee's report, written by Lincoln, advocated that Sangamon County not be divided, due to the number of citizens who opposed it. The committee also opposed dividing Montgomery and Shelby Counties.

By 1839 the pressure to divide Sangamon County was too great and so under legislation largely written by Lincoln, Sangamon County was divided into four counties, now known as Sangamon, Logan, Menard and Christian.

The legislature created fifteen new counties in 1839, the most in one year in Illinois history. Only fifteen new counties have been created since. Today, Illinois has 102 counties, the last being Ford County, created in 1859.

Points to Consider

Why would it be controversial to create new counties out of existing ones? Why was dividing Sangamon County a difficult issue for Lincoln?

Why did the counties need to be smaller?

What are the major issues in your county today?

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