43. Third Illinois Constitution (1870)

Background: Between 1848 and 1870, a span of only 22 years, the state and nation changed rapidly. The 1848 State Constitution was not equipped for the unforeseen changes in transportation, immigration, population growth, and industrialization. In 1860, only 12 years after the 1848 Illinois Constitution, voters approved holding a constitutional convention. The convention convened during the early part of the Civil War. However, the convention became highly partisan and voters rejected the constitution created by the delegates. Six years later, voters approved another call for a constitutional convention. Delegates were chosen in November 1869 and the convention began meeting in December. The convention was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, although Cook County elected a bipartisan delegation that campaigned as the "People's Party." That delegation held the balance of power at the convention.

The Document: Delegates drafted a document that was much longer than the previous two state constitutions and only the preamble and signature page of the document are shown here. The 1870 Illinois Constitution included more detail concerning public education, transportation, revenue and the regulation of businesses and corporations, especially railroads. It affirmed the property tax as the chief form of revenue for the state. The document increased the authority of the governor and curbed the power of the legislature. It also addressed problems with the state's court system. In its most unique feature, the 1870 Constitution created a system of electing members to the Illinois House, known as cumulative voting. Each legislative district elected three members and voters had three votes to cast for the office. They could cast all three votes for one candidate, cast one and a half votes for two candidates or one vote for all three candidates. The goal of the system was to allow a political party to elect at least one representative in a district where they were a hopeless minority, by allowing that party's partisans to cast three votes for one candidate. The final draft of the Constitution gave full voting rights to African-American males but attempts to give women the right to vote failed. Along with the constitution, delegates sent voters eight propositions to be added to the document. On July 2, 1870 voters approved the new Constitution and all eight propositions attached with it.

Note: The 1870 Illinois Constitution was in effect until it was replaced by the fourth state Constitution in 1970. The 1870 Illinois Constitution is available at the Illinois State Archives as part of Secretary of State Record Series 103.015, "Third Constitution of Illinois."