IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
HOW IOWA BECAME A TERRITORY
For a number of years after the purchase of Louisiana in 1803 there were very few white men in the land we now call Iowa. Since there were so few white people really living in this country, the United States government did not pay much attention to it. At first all the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase was called the District of Louisiana. It was to be governed by the Territory of Indiana.
Most of the people who lived west of the Mississippi River lived south of what is now Iowa. They did not want to belong to the Territory of Indiana. You see, most of them wanted to won slaves to help them raise cotton, sugar, and tobacco. But the laws of Indiana did not permit slavery. To satisfy these people, the United States in 1805 created the Territory of Louisiana, including all of the Louisiana Purchase north of the 33d parallel of latitude. This gave people the right to take slaves into this western territory.
In 1812, Congress admitted the State of Louisiana into the Union. This included the southern part of the Louisiana Purchase. The northern part, which had been called the Territory of Louisiana, now became the Territory of Missouri. Soon Missouri, too, wanted to be admitted as a state. After a great deal of discussion, chiefly as to whether slavery should be permitted, Missouri was admitted to the Union in 1821.
All of the country north of the northern boundary of Missouri was left without any government at all. It was a political orphan and had no one to take care of it. The men at Washington did not think that settlers would cross the Mississippi. Indeed, the territory did not at this time have even a name. But some white settlers did cross the river, and after the Black Hawk War was over, many came over to the western side of the Mississippi River.
At Dubuque there were soon a number of miners, and there were some farmers and traders, too. But still there was no real government - no governor, no sheriff, no police, no judges, no legislature to make laws, no roads.
At first the settlers did not mind this lack of government. Each man worked the mine or farm he had chosen. He could not buy it, for the land still belonged to the Indians, but he could live on his claim and he expected to have the first chance to buy it when it was for sale.
But soon a terrible crime occurred at Dubuque. A miner was killed, and the murderer said that no one could punish him because there was no government and no law against murder. The other settlers decided to make a law of their own, so they held a trial and put to death the man who had committed the murder.
Then the officers at Washington decided that this new land needed some laws. Congress put all this western country north of Missouri under the government of Michigan Territory, which was organized in June, 1834. The land across the Mississippi River which the Indians had sold was called the Black Hawk Purchase. It was divided into two counties, the northern, called Dubuque County, and the southern, Demoine County. The governor of Michigan Territory appointed a chief justice and sheriff in each county so there would be some one to punish persons who committed crimes.
To help keep order along the frontier, the United States government also sent three companies of dragoons. They built a fort on the Mississippi River just above the mouth of the Des Moines River. They called this Fort Des Moines, but it was not the place we know by that name to-day. In the spring of 1835 these dragoons, you remember, made a long journey on horseback, going north into what is now Minnesota. It was Albert M. Lea, one of the officers of the dragoons, who applied the name Iowa District to the country he had seen.
By this time Michigan wanted to be admitted as a state. So all the country west of Lake Michigan, including Iowa, Minnesota, and even North and South Dakota, was made a separate territory and named Wisconsin. This was in April, 1836. The new governor of Wisconsin Territory was Henry Dodge. One of the first things he did was to order a census or count of all the white people in the territory. They found that there were 10,531 white people in Dubuque and Demoine Counties.
The first territorial legislature met at Belmont in what is now Wisconsin. Eighteen of the members came from west of the Mississippi River and nineteen from the part of the territory east of the Mississippi. This legislature soon organized some new counties in the territory west of the river. It also selected a capital for the new territory. After much discussion Madison was chosen, but while the capital was being built the legislature decided to meet at Burlington. So the first capital in Iowa was at Burlington, but Iowa was then part of Wisconsin Territory. In November, 1837, the legislature of Wisconsin Territory met at Burlington. This was the first legislative body to meet within the present boundaries of Iowa. A wooden building had been erected for the meetings of the legislature, but it burned and the sessions were held in the Methodist church, called Old Zion.
Not very much was done at this session. Every one knew that the territory west of the Mississippi River was to be separated from Wisconsin. Already a petition for a separate territory had been sent to Congress. Some of the senators and representatives in Congress did not want to form another territory. Men like John C. Calhoun of South Carolina objected, because he knew that nay territory organized north of Missouri could not come into the Union with slavery. He and his friends did not want any more free states. You know that each state always has two senators and at least one representative, and Calhoun was sure that the senators and representatives from a free state would vote against slavery.
But there were other men in Congress who did not agree with Calhoun. They thought that the pioneers west of the Mississippi River had a right to a government of their own. The new territory was to include all the land west of the Mississippi River and north of Missouri, as far as the Rocky Mountains and the northern boundary of the United States.
They they had to give this new territory a name. Some wanted to call it Washington. Others thought Jefferson would be a good name. Finally they decided to use the name of Albert M. Lea had given the country. They called the new territory Iowa.
On the twelfth day of June, 1838, President Martin Van Buren signed the bill which created the Territory of Iowa. It went into effect on the fourth of July. The President also appointed a governor and secretary for the new territory and three justices of the territorial supreme court. The people were to elect the legislature.
The new governor was Robert Lucas, who had been governor of Ohio. Governor Lucas was a man much like Andrew Jackson in appearance - tall and slender, with a sharp nows, thin lips, heavy eyebrows over deep-set eyes, and heavy gray hair combed back from a high forehead. He quarrelled with Secretary Conway and with the members of the legislature. But Governor Lucas was honest and intended to act for the benefit of the people.
The governor decided to make Burlington the capital of the new territory until the legislature selected another location for it. The first election was held on September 10, 1838. W. W. Chapman was chosen delegate to Congress. You know, each territory has a delegate who may speak for his territory but may not vote. The people also elected thirty-nine members of the Iowa territorial legislature.
There were many questions for the new legislature to decide. One of them was the location of the capital. Every town in Iowa wanted it. To settle the claims, the legislature decided to start a new city in Johnson County to be called Iowa City. The cornerstone of the new capitol building was laid on July 4, 1840. But it took a long time to build the stone capitol. In 1841 a man named Walter Butler built a frame building and here the legislature met in Iowa City for the first time in the fall of 1841. It was not until 1842 that the stone capitol could be used.
Robert Lucas served as governor of Iowa Territory from 1838 to 1841. John Chambers was governor from 1841 to 1845, and James Clarke from 1845 to 1846, when Iowa became a state. How Iowa became a state is another story.
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