© 2024 WVIK
Listen at 90.3 FM and 98.3 FM in the Quad Cities, 95.9 FM in Dubuque, or on the WVIK app!
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

The Northern Boundary

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Except for a change of heart back in 1818, Illinois might well have become a Confederate State in the Civil War. At least that is the argument used by Judge Nathaniel Pope, Congressman from Illinois, when he tried to grab some territory away from Wisconsin.

In the Ordinance of 1787 by which Congress had provided for dividing the Old Northwest Territory into states, the northern boundary of the section that would become Illinois was to be a line from the southern tip of Lake Michigan due west to the mouth of the Rock River where it enters the Mississippi. Because the Ordinance further specified that the decision should forever remain unalterable, the first Illinois Legislature adopted this northern boundary line in January of 1818.

Wait a minute, argued Judge Pope. Illinois is going to be a key state, the Gateway to the West. The state's two great rivers, the Ohio and the Mississippi, both head south to New Orleans. If there ever should be a sectional conflict, Illinois would side with her commercial ties. Pope argued that Congress could make Illinois a northern state simply by moving the state line sixty miles or so north, making room on Lake Michigan for a great port city with ties to the East. Illinois will go where the money is, he said.

By April of 1818, both Congress and the Illinois Legislature had agreed, and the boundary line was moved up into Wisconsin Territory. Wisconsin sued to get its property back for several decades, but gave up, I think, when they realized how lucky they were to let Illinois have Chicago.

Just think. If Illinois had obeyed the Ordinance of 1787, both Rock Island and Moline would have been split in half lengthwise, right down Ninth Avenue in Rock Island, and I'd be doing these lines today from beautiful pine-forested Wisconsin.

That old boundary line also cuts Augustana College in half, between where we Northern humanists teach, and the administrative offices in the deep south. There would be some advantages. It would give the Faculty Senate something more meaningful to do than decide the date of spring break.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by the Scott County Regional Authority, with additional funding from the Illinois Arts Council and Augustana College, Rock Island.

Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.