Illinois Regional Archives Depository (IRAD) System Illinois State Archives
Justice of the Peace
Justices of the peace were judges of local courts with limited jurisdiction. They heard legal actions for small claims, tried persons accused of misdemeanors, and conducted preliminary examinations of prisoners. Appeals from justices of the peace were always allowed. Justices did not keep records of testimony, but they were required to keep dockets, from 1827 to 1962.1
From 1819 to 1827, justices of the peace were appointed by the General Assembly; from 1827 to 1848, two justices were elected from districts established by county commissioners' courts.2 From 1827 to 1845, their terms were four years, and from 1845 to 1848, two years.3
The Constitution of 1848 revived the four-year term.4 After 1851, in township counties, two justices were elected for each township.5 From 1872-1959, additional justices were elected by every township or district with a population over 2,000.6 From 1959 to 1962, county boards were required to set up justice of the peace districts on the basis of one man, one vote.7 The office of justice of the peace was abolished in 1962, effective in 1964.8
Civil jurisdiction of the justice of the peace was limited to cases which involved sums beneath a statutory limit. The upper limit of jurisdiction ranged from a low of $100 in 1819 to a high of $1,000 in 1957.9 Justices held similarly limited criminal jurisdiction, over assault and battery from 1827 to 1872 and from 1895 to 1943; over vagabonds from 1895 to 1955, and over other misdemeanors punishable by fines beneath a statutory limit which ranged from $100 from 1827 to 1872 to $500 from 1955 to 1962.10 Other duties included punishing vice and immorality; overseeing the whipping of Negroes for larceny; fining Sabbath breakers; and fining and deporting free blacks under Illinois' Negro exclusion code.11
2Constitution of 1818, Article IV, section 8; L. 1819, p. 22; Rev. L. 1827, p. 255.
3Rev. L. 1827, p. 255; L. 1845, p. 28.
4Constitution of 1848, Article V, section 27.
5L. 1851, p. 38.
6L. 1871-72, p. 521.
7L. 1959, p. 1981.
8Constitution of 1870, 1962 Amendment, Article VI, Schedule, paragraph 5.
9L. 1957, p. 1546.
10Rev. L. 1827, p. 274; L. 1871-72, p. 521; L. 1895, p. 222; L. 1943, v. 1, p. 844; L. 1895, p. 222; L. 1955, p. 1518; Rev. L. 1827, p. 274; L. 1871-72, p. 521; L. 1955, p. 1518.
11L. 1821, p. 48; Rev. L. 1827, p. 134; Rev. L. 1829, p. 138; L. 1853, p. 57.