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Illinois Secretary of State History

The history of the Illinois Secretary of State's office begins in 1818, when Illinois entered the United States as the 21st state in the Union. The Secretary of State originated as the keeper of state records, laws, and the Great Seal of Illinois. The Illinois Secretary of State's current responsibility for supervising the state library system grew out of this original record-keeping role. The Secretary of State is still the Keeper of the Great Seal of Illinois. An interesting historical fact about this job duty is that an early Illinois Secretary of State, Sharon Tyndale, actually had the seal modified. The Illinois state seal was originally engraved with the Illinois state motto: "State sovereignty-National Unity." After all of the blood and treasure lost fighting against the doctrine of state's rights in the Civil War, the first half of this motto did not sit well with Secretary of State Tyndale. He had the seal re-engraved, with the word "Sovereignty" written upside-down. This version of the Great Seal is still used today.

As the years went by, more and more duties were assigned to the Secretary of State's office, including taking care of the Illinois State Capitol buildings, running the state library, registering motor vehicles, licensing drivers and some law enforcement duties. Currently, the Secretary of State is divided into 15 different departments:

  • Accounting Revenue
  • Administrative Hearings
  • Business Services
  • Court of Claims
  • Driver Services
  • Illinois State Archives
  • Illinois State Library
  • Inspector General
  • Merit Commission
  • Personnel
  • Physical Services
  • Secretary of State Police
  • Securities
  • Vehicle Services


Of these 15 departments, 3 of them (Personnel, Merit Services and the Inspector General) are internal departments that handle issues relevant to employees of the Secretary of State's Office. Accounting/Revenue handles the money collected by the Illinois Secretary of State's office, making sure all revenue is received, documented and deposited to the correct place. Considering that the Illinois Secretary of State's office is the state's third-largest source of revenue, this is no small task. The Administrative Hearings department conducts hearings for drivers who have had their licenses administratively suspended after being charged with a DUI. They also conduct hearings on the suspensions and revocations of other types of licenses issued by the Secretary of State's office, such as licenses for driving schools or car dealerships. The Department of Business Services helps businesses register or incorporate in Illinois as required, and keeps records of their standing in the state. The Court of Claims deals with workers compensation claims and grants for crime victims.

The department that most Illinois residents interact with the most is the Driver Services department. Each year, this department issues approximately 8.5 million driver's licenses. That's a lot of paperwork to process and unflattering pictures to take! This department also issues ID cards for nondrivers and keeps track of everyone's Illinois driving records. The Illinois State Archives organizes and preserves all official historical records for the state, including documents having to do with Abraham Lincoln and information to help with genealogical research.  The Illinois State Library is the official library for the state government. It also maintains an art collection featuring work by Illinois artists.

The Physical Services Department maintains the facilities of the State Capitol complex in Springfield. They also take care of 3 important Secretary of State buildings in Chicago. The Secretary of State police primarily provide law enforcement duties at the state Capitol building and at other Secretary of State facilities. However, their jurisdiction extends over the whole state and they also enforce traffic and DUI laws when appropriate. Additionally, the Illinois Secretary of State police investigate instances of auto theft and fraud by auto dealers.

The Securities Department regulates the investment industry in Illinois, protecting investors from fraud and malfeasance. Vehicle Services is the other department that the public regularly interacts with. This department issues titles and tags for vehicles registered in the State of Illinois, as well as performing random insurance checks to ensure that drivers are complying with the law and carrying insurance on their vehicles.

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