The History of Township Government


Township government, the oldest form of government continuing to function today, began in North America in 1636.  It was started by the early Americans who wanted to escape from the autocratic governments of Europe. Established as a pure democratic process, the people have a direct voice in this grassroots government.  This began at the Annual Town Meetings where people from surrounding areas came together to discuss important issues and establish laws.  Today townships continue to hold Annual Town Meetings on the second Tuesday in April.

In Illinois, township government began in 1849.  This Illinois Constitution of 1848 allowed voters in each county to choose to establish township governments or a county commission form of government, without township units. Today, 85 of 102 counties in Illinois operate under the township form of government.  There are currently 1,432 townships in the state serving more than 8 million people.

Townships are individual geographical areas, separate from cities and counties.  For example, a large city may contain several townships while one township may encompass several small towns.  Township government operates at local levels and is designed to serve the basic needs of the community.  In many rural areas, townships are the only unit of government available to provide social services and road maintenance.


 Township Officials and Their Duties

Township Supervisor:  The supervisor is Chief Executive Officer of the township, chair of the town board of trustees, supervisor of general assistance, and treasurer of all town funds.

Township Trustee:  Each township elects four trustees.  Along with the supervisor, they comprise the town board of trustees.  Each member has one vote.  The board of trustees is considered the legislative branch of township government and is responsible for establishing policies for the township.  However, the board of trustees cannot establish policies for the township assessor or the highway commissioner.

Township Clerk:  The township clerk is clerk of the board of trustees, ex-officio clerk of the road district, the local election authority, and the keeper of all town records except for general assistance case records.  The clerk’s records are the official records of the township.

Highway Commissioner:  Except in those townships with less than four miles of road, the highway commissioner is responsible for maintaining all of the roads and bridges within the road district that are not a part of any federal, state, county, or municipal road system.

Township Assessor:  The township assessor establishes property values on parcels of township property.  However, the assessor does not levy taxes.  Other government units (such as cities, townships, and school districts) levy their taxes against the values determined by the assessor.  The township assessor is required by law to have formal training before taking office.


Prepared by the Township Officials of Illinois