Why Is Our Township Named Proviso? Hint: It Has To Do With Slavery

Saturday, April 6, 2019 || By Curiosities of Forest Park/Forest Park Review || @maywoodnews

Featured image: David Wilmot, the man who would eventually help give Proviso Township its name. | Scanned by Bob Burkhardt – Carl Schurz, Life of Henry Clay, Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1899, Vol. 2, facing p. 286

The story of the name’s origin goes back to the 1840’s 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. 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 our local township government.  

The township was briefly named Taylor Township, after President Zachary Taylor, a Whig, and backer of the Wilmont Proviso. When President Taylor became ill and died while in office, Taylor Township quickly changed its name to Proviso Township.

The 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 Maywood at 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” was created and would eventually be instrumental in the founding of the Republican Party.

In 1850, our fledgling Proviso Township is said to have had 482 residents.   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 (present day Forest Park) was ready to vote in the presidential election of 1860. Of the 90 ballots cast in Harlem, every single vote was for Abraham Lincoln.

Contact: thevillagefreepress@gmail.com | Facebook: @maywoodnews

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