IOWA HISTORY PROJECT
STORIES OF IOWA
FOR BOYS AND GIRLS
HOW IOWA BECAME A STATE
You remember that iowa was made a territory in 1838. The President of the United States appointed the governor, the secretary, and the three judges of the supreme court. The people elected the members of the legislature. This form of government had one great advantage. The United States paid all the expenses, such as the salary of the officers, and the people did not have to pay taxes for this purpose.
As more people came into Iowa, however, men began to think that they should have a state government. Then they could elect all their officers. In 1840 there were about 42,000 white people in Iowa. At that time only the men over twenty-one years of age voted. At an election in 1840, to decide whether Iowa should become a state, 937 men voted for it, but 2,907 voted against it.
Again, in 1842, the people were asked to vote on the question of becoming a state. By this time there were about 82,500 people in Iowa. This was almost twice as many as there were two years before. But again they voted not to become a state.
When 1844 came, however, more voters thought it was time for Iowa to be made a state. But a state has to have a constitution, telling what boundaries it has, what officers it is to have, and how it is to make laws. Seventy-two men were chosen to draw up a constitution for Iowa. In October, 1844, they met at Iowa City in one of the rooms of the new capitol building - now called the Old Stone Capitol. We call such a meeting a convention.
After much discussion, the convention finally decided on a constitution and boundaries. The east, south, and west boundaries were much like those of Iowa to-day. On the north, however, the members of the convention decided to ask for a boundary running northeast from the mouth of the Big Sioux River to the mouth of the Watonwan River in what is now Minnesota, and then down the St. Peter's River to the Mississippi River. These are usually called the Lucas boundaries.
Augustus Ceasar Dodge presented this constitution to Congress. Mr. Dodge was the territorial delegate, representing Iowa in Congress. Some of the Southern members of Congress did not want Iowa to become a state. They thought that Iowa senators and representatives might vote against slavery. To satisfy the Southern Congressmen, a bill was introduced to admit Florida as a slave state and Iowa as a free state.
Congress finally decided that Iowa might be admitted as a state, but only if the boundaries were changed. These new boundaries were usually called the Nicollet boundaries, after a famous surveyor. According to the boundaries fixed by Congress, Iowa was to extend from the Mississippi River on the east to a line drawn north and south along the meridian of seventeen degrees and thirty minutes longitude west from Washington, D. C. It was to be bounded on the south by Missouri and on the north by a line about forty-five miles north of the present boundary. If you look up these boundaries on a map you will see that Iowa would have been much narrower than it is to-day.
The people of Iowa did not like the new boundaries. They voted on the constitution twice, but would not accept it. Then on May 4, 1846, another convention met at Iowa City. This convention debated a long time about what they should put in the constitution.
When they had drawn up a constitution, it was sent to Washington. Congress changed the boundaries to those Iowa now has. The people of Iowa accepted the constitution with the new boundaries and began their state government. On December 28, 1846, President James K. Polk signed the bill which admitted Iowa as the twenty-ninth state in the Union.
The first election was held on August 20, 1846. Ansel Briggs was elected the first governor of the state. He was inaugurated on November 30, 1846. His salary was a thousand dollars a year. At this election two men were elected as representatives in Congress at Washington.
In those days the legislature elected the senators. But when the Iowa legislature tried to elect two senators, it could not agree. As a result it was not until 1848 that Augustus Caesar Dodge and George W. Jones were chosen as the two Iowa senators.
At the time Iowa became a state there were about one hundred thousand people living here. Most of the people lived along the eastern edge of the state. There was not much money in Iowa in those days. Indeed, it is said that there was only $183,426 in gold and silver coins and bank notes in Iowa. This meant that if all the money had been divided equally, each person would have had about a dollar and eighty cents.
Just before Iowa was admitted as a state, the Mexican War began. The Iowa settlers were busy building houses, schoolhouses, churches, and courthouses; breaking prairie; and starting their farms. But many of the men offered to go to the war and about 344 men served in Mexico. If you look over the map of Iowa, you will see how interested the people were in the war. Mills and Guthrie Counties were named for two Iowans killed in the war. Cerro Gordo, Buena Vista, and Palo Alto were names of battles.
A number of other counties, such as Butler, Taylor, Hardin, and Ringgold, were named for heroes of the war. Taylor County, of course, was for Zachary Taylor, who had been an army officer along the Mississippi River and was later President. Two other counties, both named for men in the Mexican War, cannot now be found on the map. They were Yell and Risley Counties, later joined to form Webster County.
As the people moved farther away from the Mississippi River, some of them began to talk of changing the capital. They said Iowa City was too near the eastern boundary. The very first general assembly of the state appointed three men to select a new capital.
These men chose a place on the prairie in Jasper County. Here they laid out a town which they called Monroe City, which was to be the capital of Iowa. They even sold lots to people who wanted to live there. but the second general assembly decided that Monroe City would not make a good capital, so the plan was given up for a while.
In January, 1855, a law was passed to move the capital to Des Moines. Before this had gone into effect, however, a third convention met in the stone capitol building at Iowa City to make a new constitution. It met in January, 1857. The constitution of 1857 which this convention drafted is still in use.
This constitution declared that the capital of Iowa was to be located at Des Moines, but Iowa City was to have the State University. It also permitted banks, which the old constitution had forbidden. The new constitution was adopted by a vote of the people in the summer of 1857.
So it happened that late in the fall of 1857, if you had been on the road between Iowa City and Des Moines, you might have seen ten yoke of oxen drawing a sled. On the sled was the huge safe of the state treasurer of Iowa. Unfortunately for the state it was not full of money, but the oxen nevertheless found it a heavy load. The chairs, tables, and desks of the state officers were also moved to Des Moines. All this moving had to be done with teams and wagons or sleighs, because there was no railroad farther west than Iowa City.
At Des Moines there were only a few houses east of the Des Moines River where the first capitol was built in 1858. This was of brick. Around it was swamp and hazel brush. In 1884 the new capitol, which you can now see at Des Moines, took the place of the old brick capitol. It cost nearly three million dollars - a great deal more money than there was in all Iowa in 1846.
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