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tered its affairs with great economy, prudence and discretion. He was an honest and conscientious man in all his transactions, and the State was fortunate in securing his services just at the time she did. While strong common sense, vigilance in looking to the public welfare, and conscientious convictions of duty are often more desirable in an executive officer than brilliancy or genius, it was peculiarly so at this juncture in the affairs of the State. In the pecuniary embarrassments of those times the credit of the State had been in a measure restored, and the overwhelming debt properly directed in the course of ultimate extinction during the administration preceding, yet it still required a clear, careful executive brain to bring order. out of chaos, and a steady hand to guide the ship of state into the haven of safety. When Gov. French quitted the helin, in 1852, it was with the proud consciousness that her credit was fully restored, and her indebtedness, which had for many weary years pressed her incubus-like to the earth, would be faithfully and honestly discharged ; that prosperous days had at length dawned for her people; that her unexampled resources were upon the eve of development, and that she would now make giant strides toward wealth, greatness and empire, in all of which his excellency had borne a just and faithful part. He was zealously devoted to the best interests of the State, ever acting for the public good, without regard to personal advantage or aggrandizement. He lived in his exalted station with much frugality. As the first governor under the hard times constitution of 1848, he received simply the salary provided, $1,500, and no more. The legislative art of evading this stringent provision by allowing the executive $4,500 for a gardener, had not as yet been evoked, nor would it, we may safely say, have been sanctioned by an acceptance of such doucieur.
In 1845 a tax of 14 mills on the dollar was authorized, to be exclusively applied in payment of accrued interest upon the public debt. The proceeds of this tax were applied to all the interestbearing debts of the State alike, including the canal bouds, leaving only about half of the tax to be applied to the interest accruing upon the debt proper, and causing a yearly deficit of unpaid interest exceeding $300,000, which was unprovided for. The canal, subject to all its arrearages, under the loan of $1,600,000, had been transferred in trust to the new subscribers. To carry forward the work so well begun of grappling with the monster debt, Gov. French recommended the registration and funding of the debts. The uncertainty, he urged, which hung over the exact amount of our liabilities, had produced a vague and painful apprehension in the public mind that the efforts then making to meet a portion of it were of little avail, to correct which, and elicit its true amount, this course should be adopted. Excluding the canal debt, the residue of all bonds or scrip should be converted into uniforin transferable stock. For the arrears of interest due upon the bonds, a deferred stock of similar character, differing only in that it bore no interest for a number of years, was recommended. The expense of funding, it was thought, would be less than the loss already suffered from counterfeiting the coupons. In accordance with these views the legislature passed two funding acts, one authorizing the funding of the State bonds, and the other funding the State scrip and accrued interest on the debts. The funding of accrued interest met with considerable opposition, on the ground that the effect would be to cause the State to pay compound interest after 1857. But the measures passed, and by 1860 the entire State debt, excluding that of the caval, was nearly refunded in uniform securities, which greatly simplified the debt, and precluded further losses from the free counterfeiting of the bonds, both to the State and holders of the bonds.
The State of Illinois, as a condition to her admission into the Union, like many other States, bad entered into a compact not to impose a tax upon the land sold by government within her limits for five years after sale, which was a serious clog upon her reve. nues. During the period of our financial embarrassment, the legislature earnestly petitioned congress to remove this restric. tion; to these appeals, urged with much force by Senator Breese, that body had finally acceded. And now, by act of February 19, 1847, the legislature provided that all lands hereafter sold by government within this State should be immediately subject to taxation. This measure materially increased the revenue of the State, as after the close of the Mexican war, the distribution by the government of land warrants among the soldiers as bounty, caused a large quantity to be thrown upon the market, and great numbers were located in Illinois. Indeed, so cheap did land warrants become, that they operated greatly to check the sale of State lands, which were held higher; and to avoid sacrifice, the legislature peremptorily suspended from further sale the public property, as provided by act of March 4, 1843, to wind up the internal improvement system.
The legislature, in 1847, in accordance with the recommendation of the governor, authorized the sale of the Northern Cross Railroad, from Springfield to Meredosia, now the T., W. & W. Upon the purchaser was imposed the duty of putting it in good repair, safe for the transportation of persons and property. The road and its equipments sold for $100,000 in State bonds, though it had cost the State not less than $1,000,000. The salt wells and canal lands in the Saline reserve in Gallatin county, granted by the general government to the State, were also authorized to be sold by the governor to pay State indebtedness.
The 2 mill tax provided by the new constitution to be annually distributed in payment of the principal of the public debt, other than the canal, and which, in 1849, amounted to $165,788 11, was found to work badly and unprofitably to the best interests of the State. The legislature passed a resolution submitting to a vote of the people an amendment to the constitution, to accord to that body the discretion of using the fund arising from this tax in the purchase of State bonds, in open market, at their current rates, at any time, instead of keeping the fund idle in the treasury until the 1st of January in each year, then to be apportioned and credited pro rata at a par valuation on the bonds presented, no matter at what discount they might be rated in market. In this there would undoubtedly have been a saving to the State, by her agents going upon the market and buying in her own paper at a discount, the same as any individual might operate; but the people, who felt it to be more honorable that the State should pay the full amount, refused to sanction this scheme or to entrust the general assembly in meddling with this sacred fund, and the amendment failed for want of that majority of votes which the constitution required to secure its adoption. The ques' tion, though urged again upon the people by the governor, was never again presented for their action, one reason being that the time required to again bring it to a vote would essentially lessen its importance, as the bonds were rapidly approximating a par valuation in market. Such were some of the efforts made during Gov. French's administration to gain the mastery of the monster public debt.
In 1850, for the first time since 1839, the accruing State revenue, exclusive of specific appropriations, was sufficient to meet the current demands upon the treasury. Prior to this it had been the practice to issue a surplus of auditor's warrants to meet deficien. cies. Of course when the treasury was not in a condition to redeem these warrants, they depreciated, resulting in great losses both to the holders and the State by their lessened value, and the prolonged time of their redemption. But these embarrassments and sacrifices were now happily overcome. The aggregate taxable property of the State at this time was over $100,000,000, the annual constitutional 2 will tax yielded a revenue, after allowing a proper margin for defaults and casual losses, of about $190,000, and the population was 851,470 souls.
Township Organization.-In 1849, in accordance with the permission of the new constitution, and in obedience to the demand of the people from the northern part of the State, who bad observed its practical working in the eastern States, the first township organization act was passed by the legislature. But the law, in attempting to put it into practical operation, disclosed radical defects. It was revised and amended at the session of 1851, substantially as it has existed up to the present revision of 1871. The adoption of the township organization system marks an era in the management of fiscal affairs in many of the counties of this State.
The system of township government had its origin in New Eng. land. But the root of this form of local government may be traced to the districting of England into tithings by King Alfred, in the 9th century, to curb the wide-spread local disorders which disturbed his realm.* Upon this ancient idea of tithing districts, the Puritaus grafted their greatly improved township system. The county system originated in this country with Virginia, and was also derived from England. The tobacco planters of the Old Dominion, owning their laborers more completely than did the barons of England their vassals, lived isolated and independent on their large landed estates in imitation of the aristocracy of the mother country. They also modeled their county and munici. pal institutions with certain modifications suitable to the condi. tion of the new country after the same prototype; whence las spread the county system into all the southern and many of the northern States. All of the north west territory, now constituting five States, after the conquest of Clark, was by Virginia, in 1778, formed into a county under her jurisdiction, called Illinois. The
“See further Blackstone's Commentaries, B 1. p. 114-116.
county feature was afterwards retained in all the States carved out of the northwestern territory. The county business in Illinois was transacted by 3 commissioners, in the respective counties, who constituted a county court, which, besides the manage. ment of county affairs, had usually other jurisdiction conferred upon it, such as that of a justice of the peace and probate business. By the constitution of 1848, owing to the influence of easteru or New England settlers in the northern portion of the State, township organization was authorized, leaving it optional for any county to adopt or not the law to be enacted. Our township systein, however, is not closely modeled after that of the New Eng. land States. There, a representative is sent directly from each town to the lower branch of the legislature. In New York, owing to her large extent of territory, this was found to be impracticable, and a county assembly, denominated a board of supervisors, composed of a member from each town, was there established. This modified system we have copied, almost exactly, in Illinois.
Townships are often compared by writers to petty republics, possessing unlimited sovereignty in matters of local concern; and boards of supervisors are popularly supposed to be vested with certain limited legislative powers. But neither is the case. Both the county and township boards are mere fiscal agents. They hold the purse strings of the counties; they may contract, incur debts or create liabilities-very great powers, it is true—but they cannot prescribe or vary the duties, nor control in any manner the county or township officers authorized by law. While the county court, consisting of three members, is a smaller, and, therefore, as a rule, more manageable or controllable body by outside influences, there is little doubt that a board of supervisors is not only directly more expensive, but also that a thousand and one petty claims of every conceivable character, having often no foundation in law or justice, are constantly presented, and, being loosely investigated and tacitly allowed, aggregate no insignificant sum. A board of supervisors also acts or is controlled more by partisan feelings. There ought to be uniformity throughout the State in the management of county affairs. No little confusion seems to pervade the laws at the present time relating to our two classes of counties.
Homestead Exemption.-The general assembly, at its session of 1851, first passed the act to exempt homesteads from sale on executions. This subject had been brought before the legislature repeatedly by Gov. French in his messages. The principle of this beneficent law was not a new or untried one. Its practical effects upon the social relations of communities had been fully and successfully tested in different States. The claims of society in maintaining the integrity of the family relation, which is the foundation of all society, it was argued, were superior to those of the individual; that some men, then as now, were to be found mean enough to specially evade honest debts, did not argue that such a law, in the interests of a higher duty from man to man, would not subserve, as a rule, a beneficent purpose, by shielding the widow and orphans, the aged and decrepid, from the cruel demands of the Shylocks of the world. Prior to this, the exemption of certain articles of personal property, which had been the law for a number
of years, had not proven inimical to the true interests of the cred. itor. For the $60 worth of property exempted, suited to the debt. or's condition or occupation in life, he might select a yoke of oxen for the cultivation of land, but no land was by the law allowed him from which to raise something wherewith to support his family or discharge his debt.
The provisions of the law (which was in force up to July 1st, 1872,) are too well known to recapitulate here. It exempted from levy or forced sale, under any process or order of court, the lot of ground and the building thereon occupied as a residence and owned by the debtor, being a householder, and having a family, to the value of $1,000. The law of 1872 raises this to $1,500. The benefit of the act was extended to the widow and family, some or one of them continuing to occupy the homestead until the youngest child should become of age, or until the death of the widow.
The Bloody Island Dike-A Speck of War.-Owing to the formation of sand-bars in the Mississippi river opposite the lower part of St. Louis, which it was apprehended would divert the channel of the river to its left bank, and greatly injure, if not destroy, the harbor of that city, the municipal authorities thereof, to prevent that threatened calamity, passed an ordinance, February, 1848, making appropriations to construct a dike or dam across the eastern channel of the river, from the foot of Bloody Island to the Illinois shore, to force the main current of the water over to the St. Louis side. This effort, made at a great expense to the treas. ury of that city, was met with determined opposition in Illinois, as defiant to the sovereignty of this State and an infringement upon the rights of our citizens. It was urged that the work would change the channel in the upper Mississippi; that the effect would be to inundate the American Bottom; that the river would cut around the dike, drive the full force of its current towards Cahokia creek, and destroy Illinoistown; and that the ferry would be changed up the river to the island, to get to which the company would charge enormous tolls over the dike.
The work was commenced by St. Louis within the rightful jurisdiction of this State, without permission from our legislsture or notice to the governor, but solely with the consent and approbation of the proprietors of the island, and the main shore opposite. Come years prior, it seems, congress had made appropriations at different times for the improvement of St. Louis harbor, part of which had been expended in the removal of a sand-bar at the south end of the harbor. These appropriations, together with the consent of the owners of the ground where the dike was to be built, St. Louis claimed as a sufficient license for her invasion of the sov. ereignty of Illinois with this work. The rising cities of Alton and Quincy, watchful of their rights and jealous of their big commercial neighbor, through their municipal boards passed resolutions expressive of their apprehensions that these improvements would be attended with danger to the navigation of the great commercial highway of the west, and prove detrimental to their interests. The executive of the State was called upon to inquire into the matter, and to take such steps as would protect the sovereignty of this State and the rights of its citizens. A large number of letters