Illinois statehood: free or slave?
Popular belief holds that Illinois always has been a free state. Popular belief is dead wrong.
As Illinois prepared for statehood in 1818, a constitution had to be drafted. The Ordinance of 1787 required the abolition of slavery before statehood, but those who crafted the constitution faced a delicate problem. Slavery was deemed essential to the operation of the salines near Shawneetown, a major source of salt and public revenue. Also, indentured servants were relatively common at that time.
A compromise of some sort was needed. This task fell on the shoulders of Elias Kent Kane, the father of Illinois’s first constitution. A slaveholder himself from Randolph County, Kane understood the economic and political realities of the time would not permit the immediate abolition of slavery. Yet, he knew Congress would never allow Illinois to be admitted as a slave state.