Illinois History and Symbols

Illinois will be celebrating 200 years of statehood in 2018. It became the 21st state admitted to the Union in December, 1818. It’s first two capitals were Kaskaskia and Vandalia. Illinois’ flag, officially adopted in 1915, features the Seal of Illinois with a bald eagle atop a rock with the dates 1818, the year of statehood, and 1868, the year the Seal was chosen. There is also a shield with 13 stars and 13 stripes symbolizing the thirteen original colonies that became the United States.
The state motto “State Sovereignty—National Union” appears on the red banner. The word sovereignty appears upside down because Illinois was against state sovereignty as one of the states that fought victoriously in the Civil War with the North. The territory of Illinois wanted to make sure that it benefitted from the access of the Chicago River for transport of goods from the East via the waters of the Great Lakes. This would guarantee commercial success and prosperity for its citizens because ships could reach Chicago with goods and travel from Chicago via Illinois’ rivers down the Mississippi all the way to Louisiana. To ensure that access, they extended the border north. There was another reason to extend the border north and that was to make sure that Illinois commerce remained tied to the north. Furthering that important commercial relationship was the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825.
Illinois also anticipated a growing tension between the North and the South over the institution of slavery well before the southern states seceded from the Union. Illinois wanted to make sure that it was on the side of the North. Illinois and Chicago contributed many troops to the war effort as well as supplies, food and clothing.

Bernard C. Turner


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