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Illinois Constitutional Convention Records

Identifier: MS-BC319

Scope and Contents

The records of the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention, 1965-1972, consist of 63 cubic feet of minutes, journals, reports, subject files, correspondence, research files, hearing testimony, proposal drafts, memoranda, vouchers, newspaper clippings, expense accounts, roll calls, agendas, press releases, speeches and printed material.  Items date from the 1965 Constitutional Study Commission files until1972, when some documents relating to the 1970 Constitutional Convention were published.  Records contained in this collection are the official records of the constitutional convention and do not include the delegates’ personal files or the papers of individuals associated with the convention.  Personal papers for several of the convention delegates have been received and are filed as personal papers for those individuals.  Plenary sessions of the convention and most committee meetings were recorded.  These audiotapes are available in the audiovisual section of the Library.


  • Created: 1965-1972
  • Other: Date acquired: 00/00/1971

Conditions Governing Access

Open for access.

Biographical or Historical Information

In 1818, thirty-three delegates assembled in Kaskaskia to write a constitution that would enable Illinois Territory to become a state.  Since Illinois had been formed from Northwest Territory land, slavery was prohibited by the 1818 Constitution.  However, many Illinois settlers had come from southern states, so there was an 1822 movement to rewrite the constitution to permit slavery.  After a protracted campaign the voters defeated the call for this convention.  Consequently, the 1818 constitution remained in effect until 1848 when a new constitution was ratified.  After several other attempts to call another convention in the antebellum era, a convention was convened in 1862.  Although this convention addressed itself to constitutional revision, the conduct of state officials in the supplying of Civil War troops became the main topic of discussion, and the job of updating the constitution waited until 1870.Illinois’ 1870 state constitution remained in effect for nearly one hundred years.  Under this complex document, the state judicial system was completely reorganized.  Special provisions dealt with the rapidly growing Cook County, and the constitution granted the legislature the authority over such things as the governor’s salary.  But the1870 Constitution had one big drawback – inflexibility.  In order to alleviate this inflexibility, the constitution frequently had to be amended.  (It was amended in 1878, 1880, 1884, 1886, 1890, 1904, 1908, 1950, 1952, 1954, 1962.)This frequent need for amendment led to the calling of a constitutional convention in 1920.  Two years later, voters defeated the constitution proposed by this convention.  Another attempt at retiring the 1870 constitution was made in 1935, but voters rejected even the calling of a convention to rewrite the constitution.  In 1954, passage of the Gateway Amendment provided the General Assembly with the power to propose three constitutional amendments instead of one each session.  Passage of this amendment allowed for changes in the 1870 constitution without convening a convention.The passage of a new Michigan state constitution in the early 1960s signaled a revitalized interest in revamping state constitutions.  Illinois joined nearly a dozen other states in studying this issue.  The move to call the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention gained momentum when the first Constitution Study Commission was created in 1965.  Following almost two years of study, the commission, chaired by Representative Marjorie Pebworth, recommended that the question of a convention call be put to the voters in the November 1968 election.  The legislature accepted the commission’s recommendation and established a second Constitution Study Commission to continue preparations should voters approve the convention call.  When state voters called for the convention to be convened in December 1969, a third Constitution Study Commission was delegated to provide for convention organization and staffing arrangements.  Their efforts were to facilitate the convention logistics and to allow the delegates to quickly begin constitution rewriting.One hundred and sixteen delegates, two from each of the state senatorial districts, were elected in a special nonpartisan election on November 18, 1969.  The convention officially convened on December 8, 1969.  Officers were chosen: Samuel Witwer, President; John Alexander, Thomas C. Lyons, and Elbert S. Smith, Vice Presidents; and Odas Nicholson, Secretary.Initially, the convention met in the statehouse, but with the meeting of the General Assembly in the spring of 1970, the convention was moved to the newly restored Old State Capitol.  Besides the Old Capitol building, the convention also used other facilities in the Springfield area to house committees.  Nine substantive standing committees had been appointed by the convention.  Each committee was assigned a specific article that they were to revise, retain, or eliminate from the 1870 constitution.  Committee proposals were then submitted to the convention where the whole body deliberated on their inclusion into the constitution.  As part of the proposal writing stage, the committees on the Bill of Rights, the Legislature, the Executive, the Judiciary, Revenue and Finance, Education, Suffrage and Constitutional Amendment, Local Government and General Government held public hearings.  Committee debate and public hearings lasted until April 1970.  From April until August, the convention worked on the final draft of the constitution.On September 3, 1970, the convention officially presented their proposed constitution to the Secretary of State, and the proposed draft was placed on the ballot for voter ratification.  Controversial issues, like the lowering of the voting age to 18, were to be decided by the electorate in separate submission articles that permitted the constitution to be approved or disapproved without the emotionalism attached to specific provisions.  These provisions were to be determined at the polls.  The voting age revision passed and was included in the new constitution, which received the approval of Illinois voters in a special December 15, 1970 election.  The constitution took effect in July 1971.  Other changes in state government occurred as a result of the new constitution.  Under the new constitution, the governor and lieutenant governor would be elected as a team.  It also provided for annual and special sessions of the General Assembly.  Home rule powers were granted to counties and municipalities with more than 25,000 people.  Judicial changes included the elimination of the distinction between circuit judge and associate judge.  Also, the new constitution acknowledged that changing times would probably necessitate its revision in the future, so the document made provisions for the calling of future constitutional conventions and described procedure for amendments.

Note written by


63.00 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention called to write a new constitution for Illinois to replace the1870 Illinois constitution.  Nine committees studied issues and organization of state government to update the previous constitution.  The Constitution Study Commission formed in 1965 to study the need for a constitutional convention is also included in this material.  Samuel Witwer was elected president of the convention.  The new constitution was adopted in convention September 3, 1970 and ratified by the voters on December 15, 1970.Official records of the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention.  Included are transcripts, minutes and journals of plenary sessions.  Nine substantive committees that studied assigned issues and three procedural committees’ files are included.  Research files document such issues as home rule, lowering the voting age to 18, environmental concerns, state aid to non-public schools, tax reform, and minority rights.  Records of the convention were published in Record of Proceedings, Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention (State of Illinois, 1972).

Arrangement Note

This collection has been arranged into seven series.  These series include the Constitutional Study Commission; Proceedings; Substantive Standing Committees; Procedural Standing Committees; Proposals; Convention Operation and Section 13 Committee and the Office of the President Files.Series I:  The Constitution Study Commission, 1965-1969 Records (Boxes 1-2) consists of five files:  minutes, reports, subject files, commission members’ correspondence and the committee on site and facilities.  This commission was responsible for determining the need for a constitutional convention.  The committee on site and facilities, chaired by Robert G. Day, did the preliminary planning for the Springfield convention in 1969.Series II:  The Proceedings, 1969-1970 (Boxes 2-16) consists of the official records of convention proceedings.  These items include verbatim transcripts, journals and the original minutes from which the journals were compiled.  Each is filed chronologically.  There are also compilations of the transcript index from 1972.  Twenty-three rolls of microfilm of verbatim transcripts are available in the microfilm section of the Library.  The debate transcripts were published in volumes two through five of the Records of Proceedings, Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention (State of Illinois, 1972).  The Journal of the convention constitutes a record of convention activity from December 8, 1969 to September 3, 1970.  Recorded in the Journal are delegates’ attendance records, roll call votes, motions, amendments, proposals, rules, resolutions and addresses to the convention.  The Journal, in addition to having been issued daily during the convention, is published in its entirety in volume one of the Proceedings.Series III:  The Substantive Standing Committees Records, January-August 1970 (Boxes 16-36) contains nine files, one for each committee:  Bill of Rights, Education, Executive, General Government, Judiciary, Legislative, Local Government, Revenue and Finance and Suffrage and Constitutional Amendment.  Each committee studied assigned issues and made recommendations for them.  They heard testimony, consulted experts and through member and citizen proposals, proposed changes, revisions and additions to the 1870 constitution.  After the committee proposals had been presented to the whole convention, debate transpired on the final wording and content of the constitutional provisions.  Committees kept similar kinds of records.  Besides meeting minutes and statements from hearing testimony, most committee files contain vouchers for travel and expenses, research files and published materials relating to issues considered by the committees.Series III:  The Substantive Standing Committees Records, January-August 1970-cont.Issues considered by the substantive committees included abortion, environmental concerns, the right to privacy, state aid to non-public schools, state aid to higher education, commitment to handicapped citizens, minority rights, home rule, state elections (including long vs. short ballot), tax reform and the lowering of the voting age to eighteen.  Because of the emotionalism with which some issues were discussed, the convention decided to present these provisions to the voters under separate submission.  This allowed voters who objected to one particular issue to still approve the constitution and register their discord.  Separate submission permitted the constitution to be viewed as a whole and not as advocating any specific social position.Series IV:  The Procedural Standing Committees Records (Boxes 36-41) did not deal with the substance of the new constitution, but rather dealt with the mechanics of constitution writing and selling.  Three committees are grouped in this series: Public Information Committee, Rules Committee and Style, Drafting and Submission Committee.  The Public Information Committee coordinated educational materials for teachers, prepared news releases and responded to requests for information from the public and was instrumental in preparing a documentary film about the convention entitled “Con-Con: A Dialogue”.  The Rules Committee was responsible for the rules by which the convention operated.  The Style, Drafting and Submission Committee were responsible for putting member and committee proposals into final form for consideration by the convention.Series V:  The Proposals, 1969-1970 (Boxes 41-50) consists of six files: roll calls to journals, roster of proposals, resolutions, committee proposals, amendments pertaining to committee proposals, and member proposals.  Convention delegates filed five hundred and eighty-two member proposals.  These proposals were assigned to one of the substantive committees.  Debates over member proposals as well as those generated within the committees, resulted in a total of thirty-one committee reports.  The original proposals are published as volumes six and seven of the published Proceedings.  Series VI:  The Convention Operations and Section 13 Committee Records (Boxes 50-58) consists of six files:  subject file, delegate disclosure forms, personnel, news clippings, Section 13 Committee and publications.  These files deal with the daily operation and business of the convention.  The alphabetically arranged subject file contains research materials gathered to assist convention members and staff with their work.  Section 13 of the Constitutional Convention Enabling Act required that the Convention publish and distribute copies of the proposed new constitution to the public.  In order to accomplish this task, the Section 13 Committee was established after the convention submitted its proposed draft.  Correspondence, minutes and price information concerning distribution of the new constitution make up the bulk of the Section 13 file.  The publication file contains published material urging ratification of the new constitution.  Materials from organizations such as the League of Women Voters explain the new constitution.  Items from other states recount the frustrations, failures and successes of similar constitutional revision attempts in other states.Series VII:  The Office of the President Records (Boxes 59-63) consists of three files: subject file, delegates’ file and state government file.  These are records from Witwer’s office as convention president.  The subject file includes speeches, committee schedules, and assignments, invitations and miscellaneous correspondence regarding former Secretary of Health John Gardner, publications and weekly summaries.  The delegates’ file consists of letters and papers by and about various convention members.  The State government file contains letters to and from various state officials.

Accruals and Additions

1975, 1987

Separated Materials

One movie film, 23 rolls of microfilm, 12 campaign buttons, 735 audiotape cassettes, and 117 reel-to-reel tapes were transferred out of the collection.
Archon Finding Aid Title
Merleen Dibert and Cheryl Schnirring
Description rules
Other Unmapped
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the Manuscript Collection Repository

112 North Sixth Street
Springfield IL 62701 US
(217) 558-8923