The fertile prairies in Illinois attracted the attention of French fur trader Louis Jolliet and Father Jacques Marquette as they explored the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers in 1673. France claimed this region until 1763 when she surrendered it to Great Britain by the Treaty of Paris. During the American Revolution, George Rogers Clark and his small army scored a bloodless victory when they captured Kaskaskia for the Commonwealth of Virginia, and Illinois became a county of Virginia. This area was ceded to the United States in 1784, and became in turn a part of the Northwest Territory and the Indiana and Illinois Territories, on December 3, 1818, Illinois entered the Union as the twenty-first state.
U.S. 36 touches six counties which were part of the Eighth Judicial Circuit. From 1839 to 1860 Abraham Lincoln followed the court as it moved from county seat to county seat within the circuit thus he came to such cities as Paris, Sullivan, Monticello, Decatur and Springfield for the bi-annual terms.
West of Decatur this highway passes near the Lincoln Trail Homestead State Park on the banks of the Sangamon River. This was the site of the first Lincoln home in Illinois when the family came from Indiana in 1830. The following spring Thomas Lincoln moved to Coles County and Abraham moved on to New Salem, 20 miles northwest of Springfield. U.S. 36 passes through Springfield where Lincoln's home and tomb are state memorials. Springfield is also the site of the Old State Capitol where Lincoln delivered his famous "House Divided" speech.