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The 200th anniversary of Illinois becoming a state was Monday.

In recent years it's become fashionable to bash our state. Sometimes, not without good reason.

Yes, several of our governors have had a close relationship with the prison system. And, yes, our politicians did attempt to operate the state for two years without a budget. 

It’s true people are leaving the state in record numbers, but to many of us Illinois is our home. Illinois has a long, rich, interesting history that we don't always appreciate.

The name Illinois is derived from the Native American Illiniwek tribe. Translated into English, Illiniwek means “ordinary speaker.”

When statehood was achieved Dec. 3, 1818, Illinois was the 21st state to join the union. Kaskaskia, which had served as capital of the Illinois Territory, became the first state capital. That lasted about a year when the capital was moved to Vandalia in 1819.

For the record, Kaskaskia’s population hovered around 7,000 at the time. Chicago? Who heard of it? Chicago’s population didn’t reach 4,500 until 1840.

Shadrach Bond, a representative to Congress from the Illinois Territory, was elected the first governor of Illinois. Bond County was later named in his honor.

Over the intervening 200 years, several presidents have called Illinois home — Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Barack Obama. However, Ronald Reagan is the only U.S. president to be born in Illinois, in Tampico.

And, through the years Illinois has produced many other important figures, from politicians like William Jennings Bryan and famous jurists like Harry Blackmun. Major literary figures like Carl Sandburg and Ernest Hemingway were born in Illinois.

The world is a richer place musically because of Illinois — Benny Goodman and Miles Davis were born here. And, how bland would the world have been without two of Illinois’ favorite sons — Walt Disney and Richard Pryor?

The women’s movement got a serious boost from Illinois natives Jane Addams and Betty Friedan.

However, Illinois is more than personalities. The state also has a lot of personality: Illinois was the first state to ratify the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery; the Twinkie was invented in River Forest in1930; Des Plaines is the home of the first McDonald’s restaurant; and historic Route 66 started in in Chicago.

That’s not to say our home state doesn’t have its quirks.

In Mount Pulaski, it’s illegal for boys to throw snowballs at trees. Girls, on the other hand, are free to fire away. And, let no one forget that Collinsville is the “Horseradish Capital of the World.”

The allusion to Collinsville notwithstanding, agriculture does, and always will, play a vital role in Illinois history with farmers here helping to feed the world.

Nearly 75 percent of Illinois land is farmed. Agricultural products add about $19 billion annually to the state’s economy. There are more than 2,600 food-manufacturing companies in Illinois.

Illinois produces more soybeans and pumpkins than any other state; the state is ranked second in corn production.

The State of Illinois has come a long way since it formed the westernmost boundary of the United States. Yes, Illinois currently faces myriad financial and political problems, but at least for a day or two let’s set aside political differences and reflect on where we call home.

We live in a state of great diversity and historical significance.

All of us can put our differences aside long enough to wish Illinois a happy 200th birthday.

-- Lee News Service

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