Laws of Illinois
Through an award from the Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois (CARLI), the Western Illinois University Libraries and Illinois State Library have digitized many volumes of the Laws of Illinois; some volumes are also available through Google Books and the Hathi Trust Digital Library. In most cases, the text of individual volumes can be searched. Indexes to the Laws of Illinois have been digitized by the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and the Illinois State Library.
While this is not a complete collection, it is hoped that additional volumes will be added to the online collection over time. Any organization or person with volumes of the Laws of Illinois that are not included on this list should contact Linda Zellmer, Government Publications & Data Services Librarian, Western Illinois University.
The links shown in the left sidebar connect to pages containing digitized volumes of the laws that governed Illinois from the time it was part of the original Northwest Territory through 1920. For ease of use, they are divided by territory and decade.
Prior to Statehood
Illinois was part of the Northwest Territory (1788-1800), Indiana Territory (1800-1809), and a separate Illinois territory until it was admitted into the Union in 1818. The laws that were passed when Illinois was part of the Northwest Territory and Indiana Territory continued to apply in Illinois until they were modified or replaced by the Territorial legislature or until a state was admitted into the Union.
Laws of the State of Illinois
Originally, the Illinois General Assembly met every two years, although special sessions were sometimes held. The laws passed during a session were printed within a year of each session. Early volumes of Illinois laws contained public and private laws, as well as the auditors and treasurer’s report for that biennium. Later, especially during and after the Civil War, public and private laws were printed in separate volumes. Private laws are passed for the benefit of private individuals; they deal with private property and relationships. For example, many early private laws were passed to allow wives to inherit the property owned by their deceased husbands (women did not have the right to own property in Illinois until 1861). Public laws deal with the relationship between government and the people, and the state government's structure and operation. Public laws were passed to establish new counties, designate county seats, map the routes of roads, improve river navigation and provide other public services. Public laws affect everyone; private laws affect only one or a few people.
Using The Collection
The web site is divided by time period and resource: Territorial Laws, a page with links related to Illinois Statehood, Illinois Constitutions, and the Laws of the State of Illinois. The Laws section is further divided: a separate page provides links to indexes to the Laws of Illinois, laws divided by decade (more or less), and links to current laws.
To research an issue, start with the indexes. There are three different indexes: an index to the laws of Indiana Territory & state (for information on territorial laws while Illinois was part of Indiana Territory), an index to the laws of the state of Illinois from 1818 to 1868, and an index to all of the laws of Illinois from 1812 to 1968, which was developed by the Illinois Secretary of State. The 1818-1869 index is cumulative, although it is divided into separate sections for General and Private & Special laws. It can be searched to find specific terms, although the search capabilities are not always perfect (for example, hyphenated terms may not be found by a search). Information about places are found in the Private & Special Laws.
The 6-volume Secretary of State's Index is organized by biennial session. Public and private laws for each session are indexed separately. The individual volumes can be reliably searched, which greatly improves access. Once a law of interest is found, note which General Assembly session passed the law, the volume (private or public laws) and page number. Then use the sections which are divided by decade to connect to the appropriate volume for that General Assembly session. A few of the larger volumes of the Laws were divided into sections during the digitization process. Page numbers for those volumes are indicated in each citation.
For additional information or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our contact information is listed on the Get Help tab of the Government, Legal and Spatial Data Services Unit home page.