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History

Township government, established in Providence, Rhode Island in 1636, is the oldest existing unit of government continuing to serve on the North American continent.  Township government was in existence for 140 years prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  The wording of the Declaration of Independence reflects the fact that 38 of its 56 signers had experienced the benefits of township government.

The Declaration’s statement that “government should derive its just powers from the consent of the governed” is demonstrated at the Annual Town Meeting held on the second Tuesday of each April.  The Annual Town Meeting is still an important function of our nation’s 17,000 townships after more than 360 years.

Township government began in Illinois in 1849.  The Illinois constitution of 1848 allowed voters in each county the opportunity to adopt township government.  Today, 85 of the 102 counties in Illinois operate under the township form of government.  There are currently 1,433 townships in the state serving more than 8 million people.

Illinois townships are required by law to perform three functions: general assistance, property assessment, and road and bridge maintenance.

Many townships provide a variety of services beyond the three mandated functions, including senior citizen, disabled citizen, youth, relief, health, emergency, cemeteries, and environmental services.  Truly, Illinois’ townships serve from the cradle to the grave.