Springfield officially became a city on April 6, 1840.
Springfield already had been incorporated as a town in 1832. As the community grew, however, city officials – including Abraham Lincoln, who became a town board member in 1839 — asked the legislature to authorize Springfield to become a city instead. Among other changes, institution of city government would allow the community to be divided for election purposes into wards, rather than having a town president and four board members elected at large.
Many of the powers outlined in the proposed city charter were remarkably similar to those employed today by city government. The new city council was authorized to build and repair streets, provide water to residents, extinguish fires, regulate merchants, protect public health and “tax, restrain, prohibit and suppress tipling houses, dram shops, gaming houses, bawdy and other disorderly houses,” among other responsibilities. In those days, the city also operated schools and established hospitals.
The legislature approved a city charter for Springfield on Feb. 3, 1840, but only under condition that voters endorse the change. (The term “voters,”, of course, applied only to “free white male inhabitants, citizens of the United States, of the age of twenty-one years, … and who shall have been actual residents of said city for six months preceding said election….”)
That charter election was held on April 6, 1840 (exactly 175 years ago as this entry is written), and the weekly Sangamo Journal announced the results in its April 10 edition. The two-paragraph story ran on page 2, under the headline “City of Springfield.”
At the Election on Monday last, the citizens of Springfield accepted the City Charter by a vote of 226 to 121. Springfield, therefor, is no longer a town. On the same day, the old Board of Trustees were re-elected.
The Election for Mayor and Aldermen will take place on Monday, the 20th instant.
Benjamin S. Clements became the city’s first mayor in that April 20 balloting. Elected aldermen were James R. Gray, Washington Iles, Joseph Klein and William Prentiss.
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