America's oldest form of government marks its 150th anniversary in Illinois this year. Township government was created in Illinois by the Constitution of 1848. Constitutional delegates gave each county the option to choose between the township form of government or a county commission form of government. In 1849, the first townships were formed in Illinois and began operating a year later. Today, 85 of Illinois' 102 counties operate under the township government system and 1,433 townships serve more than 8 million people throughout the state.
The origin of township government in North America dates to the Pilgrims of 1636. Too often we take for granted the democratic freedoms enjoyed here in the United States, but we cannot forget that our forefathers came to the new world in search of political freedom. When they landed on American soil, they created the purest form of democracy known to the United States-the township.
Township government today operates under the same basic principles of democratic rule as it did more than 350 years ago. The first townships established town meetings as the cornerstone of citizen input. Today, township government in Illinois still leans heavily on the annual meeting to give each and every citizen as opportunity to give direct input into the governing process. Townships in Illinois hold their annual meetings on the second Tuesday each April. Illinois township government today continues to provide the same basic services they did 150 years ago. These basic services include:
General Assistance - Townships provide food, shelter and emergency relief to people unable to support themselves or who do not qualify for other forms of assistance.