David Wilmot

It goes back to the 1840s when a Democratic congressman from Pennsylvania, David Wilmot, proposed a ban on slavery in any state acquired during the Mexican-American War. Known as the “Wilmot Proviso,” it would have prevented slavery’s expansion. The Wilmot Proviso passed the House of Representatives, which at that time included Illinois Congressman Abraham Lincoln, who supported the Proviso (years later Abe would say he voted for it 40 times). The Wilmot Proviso was ultimately rejected in 1847 by the Senate.

Although defeated, the position inspired people all the way to the western edges of Cook County where our local forefathers were just forming the local government and, inspired by the Wilmot Proviso, named our Township in its honor (originally, for a very short time, it was Taylor Township). The recently discovered evidence of a 10-mile house, which would have been used to shelter escaped slaves on the Underground Railroad (west bank of the Des Plaines River, present day Lake/1st Ave.), indicates this area was likely supportive of the popular slogan of the time, “Free soil, free speech, free labor and free men!” This “Free Soil Party” would eventually be instrumental in the founding of the Republican Party, which Lincoln became part of. 

In 1850, our fledgling Proviso Township is said to have had 482 residents (not including Ferdinand Haas, one of the early land holders of Harlem, who had not yet purchased land near the Des Plaines River, or Harlem’s Henry Quick, who had not moved to this area yet either). 

As the landscape began to change in Proviso, the political landscape of America began to change too. Just four years after the Chicago and Galena Railroad established a roundhouse at the Des Plaines and Lake, the new village of Harlem was ready to vote in the presidential election of 1860. Of the 90 ballots cast here in Harlem, every single vote was for Abraham Lincoln.

Jill Wagner