The Great and Sovereign State of Chicago

June 26, 2012

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On this June 26th in 1925, Chicagoans were talking secession. Maybe it was time the city broke off from the rest of Illinois and formed a new state.

The Illinois Constitution was being violated. Every ten years, following the federal census, the legislative districts were supposed to be redrawn. That hadn’t been done since 1901.

Downstaters controlled the state legislature. Letting Chicago have more seats would take away their power. So the legislature had simply refused to redistrict after the 1910 census. The same thing had happened after the 1920 census.

According to Alderman John Toman, the city deserved five more state senators and 15 more state reps. Now Toman offered a resolution to the city council — that the city’s lawyer should investigate how Chicago might secede from Illinois. The resolution passed unanimously.

Obviously, there were going to be problems. The U.S. Constitution said that no new state could be carved from part of an existing state, unless the existing state approved. Would downstate be willing to let Chicago go, and lose all that tax revenue?

Probably not yet. But perhaps sometime in the future. Besides, there were ways of getting around the Constitution. After all, West Virginia had been torn away from its mother state Virginia during the Civil War.

The proposed State of Chicago would take in all of Cook County. Suburbia was tiny in 1925 — out of 3 million people in the county, about 2.7 million lived within the Chicago city limits. The statehood proponents said they’d consider including DuPage and Lake Counties, too.

Most Chicagoans seemed to like the idea of being a separate state. Along with being freed from the downstate dictators, Chicago would enjoy more clout on the national stage. The new state would rank 11th out of 49 in population. As a sovereign state, Chicago would also be guaranteed two United States Senators.

Even if the plan didn’t become a reality, the threat was worth making. “Chicago is having trouble getting a square deal from the state,” a South Side electrician said. “I believe the only way to get back at them is to rebel. That would give them something to think about.”

Faced with all the legal roadblocks, secession talk eventually died out. During the 1960s, the U.S. Supreme Court’s various “one man, one vote” rulings finally gave the city its fair share of legislature seats.