Township Government History in the United States

Township government was established in Providence, Rhode Island in 1636 and is the oldest existing unit of government continuing to serve in North America. Township government was in existence for 140 years prior to the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The wording of the Declaration of Independence directly reflects the fact that 38 of its 56 signers had experienced the benefits of township government. The Illinois Constitution of 1848 gave voters in each county the opportunity to adopt township governance. By 1850, the first township governments began operation, including Plainfield Township. Today, 85 of the 102 Illinois counties operate under the township form of government and the 1,428 townships serve more than 8 million citizens.

Dillon’s Rule and Township Government

Judge John F. Dillon was serving on the Iowa Supreme Court in 1868. That year, he wrote an opinion expressing a concept that was to be upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court and that would influence the constitution of every state in the union. That concept generally states that local government is a creation of the state and as such it has only those powers explicitly granted to it by the state. In plain language, it means, that if there is no statute permitting a township or road district (or official) to perform a function or service, the government or official may not carry out that function regardless of how much it’s needed or wanted. If the statutes are silent (do not mention) regarding a particular power or function, it does not exist. If the power doesn’t exist, the    government (or official) may not perform the service.

When Illinois drafted and ratified its third constitution in 1870, it incorporated Dillon’s concepts. The current version was adopted at a special election on December 15, 1970 and is known as the “1970 Convention”.

Article VII of the State Constitution defines local government with Townships specifically in Section 5.


    The General Assembly shall provide by law for the formation of townships in any county when approved by county-wide referendum.

To see a full list of Township corporate powers, see

Functions of Illinois Townships

By law (60 ILCS 1/ Township Code), Illinois townships are charged with many basic functions. Some of these include; general assistance for the indigent; the assessment of real property for the basis of local taxation; senior citizen service; maintenance of all roads and bridges outside federal, state, and other local jurisdictions.

For a complete list of Plainfield Township Services view our services menu on this website.

To see the complete (60 ILCS 1/) Township Code click here

Minutes for a Plainfield Township meeting in 1850. Motion to fund fencing at the Township Cemetery for $50.00.