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The area's first non-native settlers were mostly from the six New England states. The early nineteenth century saw a wave of westward movement from New England, due largely to completion of the Erie Canal and the end of the Black Hawk War.
In recent years, average temperatures in the county seat of Dixon have ranged from a low of 10 °F (-12 °C) in January to a high of 82 °F (28 °C) in July, although a record low of -27 °F (-33 °C) was recorded in January 1999 and a record high of 110 °F (43 °C) was recorded in July 1936. Average monthly precipitation ranges from 1.43 inches (36 mm) in February to 4.88 inches (124 mm) in June.
As of the 2010 United States Census, there were 36,031 people, 13,758 households, and 9,064 families residing in the county. The population density was 49.7 inhabitants per square mile (19.2/km2). There were 15,049 housing units at an average density of 20.8 per square mile (8.0/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 90.9% white, 4.8% black or African American, 0.7% Asian, 0.2% American Indian, 1.9% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origin made up 5.0% of the population. In terms of ancestry, 38.0% were German, 18.8% were Irish, 8.4% were English, and 8.2% were American.
Of the 13,758 households, 30.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 51.2% were married couples living together, 10.0% had a female householder with no husband present, 34.1% were non-families, and 28.8% of all households were made up of individuals. The average household size was 2.41 and the average family size was 2.94. The median age was 42.0 years.
The median income for a household in the county was $48,502 and the median income for a family was $60,759. Males had a median income of $42,114 versus $30,920 for females. The per capita income for the county was $24,440. About 7.6% of families and 9.6% of the population were below the poverty line, including 11.8% of those under age 18 and 6.5% of those age 65 or over.
Since the election of 1860 the Republican party candidate for president has won Lee County, Illinois with only one exception, that being in 1912 when Theodore Roosevelt won the county while running as a member of the Progressive Party, unofficially known as the "Bull Moose" party.