Chicago, Wisconsin

by Terry Hogan

"Chicago, Wisconsin"- it has a nice ring. It might have been "Wisconsin’s Windy City". Well, in fact, it is more than "might have been". It "should have been". We have to credit or blame, as you feel appropriate, Nathaniel Pope for Chicago being part of Illinois. It was supposed to be part of what was to become Wisconsin. But not unlike the removing of a county seat from one small town to another, Chicago and its valuable waterfront on Lake Michigan, was relocated by an act of the legislature.

For those "down-staters" who would welcome Chicago’s attempt for statehood, the sad story goes something like this. Nathaniel Pope was a delegate to the US Congress and was a former secretary of the Illinois Territory. He was part of a five-man committee to look into the merits of Illinois statehood. Further, the committee was to propose legislation. The committee concluded in 1818 that Illinois should be allowed statehood once it reached a population of 40,000. Congress agreed and a census was called for.

Perhaps setting the stage for some of the future citizens of the Windy City, Illinois became aware that it wasn’t likely to achieve a 40,000 population count by the deadline. So, it extended the deadline from June 1 to December 1, and began a creative counting process. People who happened to be passing through the state were counted. Sometimes more than once. Residents, being in favor of statehood, often failed to mention that they had already been counted and were added to the tally again. Small, remote locations that weren’t actually counted, grew in population as estimates were expanded and added to the tally. The census takers even threw in some of the communities to the far north that a reasonable person might correctly conclude were beyond the anticipated state line.

With some extra effort at counting, the final Illinois census county became a whopping 40,258, squeaking by the minimum standard of 40,000. It was something like, "being counted earlier, and often" but it worked. It’s a good thing we didn’t have CNN in 1818 or there surely would have been a forced recount.

Not content with fudging the population count to get statehood, Nathaniel Pope led the effort to expand the borders of Illinois to the north. At first, the effort was somewhat modest, and followed the successful effort of Indiana. Indiana gained statehood in 1816. Indiana decided to pay little or no attention to the Northwest Ordinance which included a provision that the northern border run east from Lake Michigan’s southern tip. Indiana wanted access to Lake Michigan, and legislation moved the border of Indiana 10 miles north, thereby giving Indiana about 45 miles of precious Lake Michigan shoreline.

With this modest appropriation of lake front property into Indiana as a model, Nathaniel Pope expanded upon the effort on his own initiative (without Illinois territorial legislature authorization). Pope became a one-man effort to lobby Congress to move the Illinois border north. He wanted Chicago in Illinois. He also wanted Lake Michigan access.

He initially lobbied to have the same northern border as Indiana- a gain of about 10 miles north. But as statehood for Illinois approached, his desires and efforts swelled. He began to lobby Congress to set the Illinois border at 42 degrees, 30 minutes north latitude. For the geographic challenged, like me, this amounted to a land grab of 41 miles north of the original stipulated border, not 10 miles, as achieved by Indiana. He argued that by providing this additional lake frontage to Illinois, it would tie it closer to the rest of the nation, by providing a water shipping route, thereby establishing economic ties to Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York.

Congress agreed, and Illinois, for better or worse, got Chicago. Beyond Chicago, Illinois also got Galena, site of important lead deposits, and home to Grant. Illinois also got some good dairy land, and the Rock River. Overall, Illinois became about 8,000 square miles larger than it should have. Perhaps more importantly, it gained over 60 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. Illinois became 1/7th larger than it would have otherwise been. This parcel of land that was tacked on to northern Illinois was about the size of Massachusetts. Not a bad legacy, I suppose, for one man.

President Monroe signed the enabling legislation for Illinois on April 18, 1818.

Some have suggested that the incorporation of the additional land had profound influences that went beyond the economic value of Chicago and the lakefront property. It has been written that this northern land was settled primarily by folks from New England, New York and European immigrants, who functioned to balance the influence of southerners who occupied most of down-state Illinois. Like most broad generalizations, one can find many frailties in the notion. Galesburg, Wataga, Bishop Hill, and many other communities were not predominately settled by southerners, unless, perhaps you include folks from southern Sweden in that category. Although southern Illinois had a great deal of sympathy for the South’s position in the Civil War, I believe claims that only this tacked on land provided a northern balance, does a disservice to much of Illinois. One needs to only look at the number of volunteers from central Illinois that went to war to preserve the Union.

Growing up in Galesburg, I have heard over the years suggestions that down-state Illinois wasn’t all that enamored with having Chicago as part of the state. This feeling particularly flared up many years ago when Chicago wanted to ship its garbage by rail to southern Illinois and dump it into strip mines. I think it was a perceptual issue. Looked pretty good from Chicago. From downstate, I think most folks felt it was an ill wind that came from the Windy City.

I also believe it was the folks from downstate Illinois who first came upon the astronomical concept of a "black hole". I, as a child, clearly remember adults describing how tax money went into Chicago and nothing ever returned. Such were the early roots of the black hole theory that gravity was so strong that all mass (wealth) was sucked into that hole and no amount of light shown into that hole ever returned an image to explain where it went or what good it did.

But the garbage stayed north and Chicago has stayed part of Illinois, despite early efforts by Wisconsin to get the border moved back to something more like what was called for in the Northwest Ordinance.

If you don’t like Chicago being part of Illinois, blame Pope, Nathaniel Pope, that is.