Vital Signs

The Illinois Negro Code

Most people believe the history of race relations in the United States is neatly divided by geography.  Those states north of the Mason-Dixon Line were paragons of equality and liberty, where race was not an issue and diversity flourished in all its glory.  In the benighted states to their south, however, the entire social structure was based on slavery and racist oppression.  Consequently, the War Between the States was fought purely over the issue of slavery, and, as is usual in trial by combat, the arms of the virtuous side were strengthened by the Hand of the Almighty, which led to their victory over those rebellious slaveholding cretins.  For some unknown reason, the books written by court historians do not start with the words “once upon a time.”

In reality, things were much different, as the history of Illinois demonstrates.

Article VIII, Section 12, of the first Illinois state constitution (1818) states that “every person in the state has a right to justice, and to a remedy to wrongs committed against his person, property, or reputation.”  However, limits were soon placed on this enumerated right.  In fact, Article V of this same constitution prohibited “negroes, mulattoes, and Indians” from serving in the state militia.  This meant that these people were not allowed to keep or bear arms.  In “An Act Concerning Practice,” which...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here