Illinois Constitution of 1818

New Constitution
Illinois became a state in April 1818. Article IV of the new Constitution described the judicial system. A Supreme Court of four judges was established, and 3 of the 4 Supreme Court judges constituted a quorum. The 1st Supreme Court judges were to ride circuit until their term expired in 1824 and, with the exception of these first judges, all judicial tenure was based on good behavior. The court had appellate jurisdiction except in cases of revenue, mandamus, habeas corpus and impeachment. The judges of the Supreme Court were appointed by the General Assembly and a judge could be removed by a two-thirds vote of the General Assembly. A circuit court judge had original jurisdiction in his respective circuit over all civil matters and in chancery where the debt or demand was more than $20, and all cases of treason, other felonies and misdemeanors. The legislature appointed new judges with no fixed term and they also had the power to remove any judges from the bench.

Supreme Court
In 1824, the General Assembly appointed the new Supreme Court judges. 5 Circuit Courts were created and 5 judges were appointed to hold court in the circuits. However, in 1827 they were legislated out of existence and the 4 Supreme Court judges were again required to hold Circuit Court in 4 circuits. In 1829, a 5th circuit was created north of the Illinois River and a Circuit Court judge was appointed by the General Assembly to hold court in that circuit. In 1835, the General Assembly appointed Circuit Court judges for all 5 circuits and the Supreme Court was again freed from circuit responsibility. Also a 6th circuit and judgeship was established.

First Settlers
It was in 1835, that the first white settlers moved into what was to become Lake County; the Daniel Wright family. It had only been in August of 1829 that the United States Government had negotiated a treaty with the Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi Tribes and acquired the title to these lands. The treaty stipulated the Indians could remain in the area until the mid-1830's, although accounts seem to indicate that they left somewhat earlier.

Circuit Court
By 1838, there were 9 Circuit Courts and 9 Circuit Court judges in Illinois. This system continued until the judiciary of the state was, again, reorganized in 1841. At that time, all circuits and Circuit judges were, once more, legislated out of existence. Five new Supreme Court judges were appointed to supplement the existing 4 judges. This enlarged Supreme Court was reassigned to Circuit Court duties and this system remained unchanged until 1848 when the second Illinois Constitution was adopted.

Justices of the Peace Courts
Justices of the Peace Courts were established on a county basis by the General Assembly in 1819 and were reorganized in 1827. They had jurisdiction in their counties over all civil suits for debt and demand not in excess of $100, and forcible entry and detainer cases. In criminal cases, their primary jurisdiction was over all assaults, battery, affrays, and over larceny committed by Negroes (slave or free). At this time, the northeast corner of Illinois was in Peoria County. One of the earliest Justices of the Peace, 1827, was Billy Caldwell, or Sauganash, a Potawatomi Chief with an Irish father. In general, local relations between the Indians and white settlers were peaceful.

Importance of This Constitution
The Constitution of 1818 gave the General Assembly power to create courts of inferior jurisdiction known as Circuit Courts. The presence of these courts were totally dependent upon the legislature and were legislated into and out of existence 3 times in 20 years. Since the General Assembly had the power to appoint and remove all judges, including Supreme Court judges, an established judicial system was unable to take root in Illinois. This judicial inadequacy was a major cause for the drafting of the 1848 Constitution.