The State Constitution
Governor Robert Lucas, in his message of November 5, 1839, to the second Territorial Legislature, advised that it might "with propriety proceed to measures preparatory to the formation of a Constitution and State Government." The suggestion had its advocates but was not then acted upon. At a special session of the same body in July, 1840, a bill was passed providing that a poll of the voters be taken at the general election "for the purpose of obtaining the wishes of the people of the Territory of Iowa as to preparatory steps for admission into the union as a state." Those who favored such action were to write on their ballots "convention;" those who opposed it were to write on their ballots "no convention." "The wishes of the people," as expressed in this manner in the election of October 5th, were not uncertain. In all there were 937 votes for a convention and 2,907 votes against a convention. In Jefferson County alone, 47 voters approved a convention, 173 voters opposed a convention, and some 200 voters were indifferent in the matter.
Governor John Chambers, in his first message addressed on December 8, 1841, to the fourth Territorial Legislature, recommended, as of paramount importance, legislation necessary to the ascertainment of the wishes of the people of the territory touching admission into the union of the states. An elaborate enactment followed providing "for the expression of opinion of the people of the Territory of Iowa upon the subject of the formation of a state constitution and government, and to enable them to form a constitution for the State of Iowa." This expression of opinion was taken at the general election in August. A viva voce vote was required. Each qualified elector as he deposited his ballot was asked by judges whether he was in favor of or against a convention. His name was then entered by the clerks in a column headed "convention" or "no convention" to accord with his answer. The result showed "a majority in every county, and a large aggregate majority, against a convention." In Jefferson County there were 260 votes recorded for it, and 542 votes recorded against it. These were cast in the several townships as follows: In Round Prairie, 37 votes for, 17 votes against; in Lockridge, 1 vote for, 12 votes against; in Walnut, 11 votes for, 42 votes against; in Liberty, 34 votes for, 25 votes against; in Fairfield, 131 votes for, 323 votes against; in Penn, 5 votes for, 60 votes against; in Des Moines, 28 votes for, 41 votes against; in Locust Grove, 13 votes for, 15 votes against; and in Blackhawk, 7 votes against. Cedar Township does not appear in the returns. It seems to have been the single precinct in the territory failing to report.
In his third annual message addressed on December 4, 1843, to the sixth Territorial Legislature, Governor Chambers reverted to the desirability of statehood and recommended that provision be made for ascertaining the wishes of the constituents in relation to this important matter. In response a law was enacted submitting the question at the township elections in April. Party lines were drawn with some closeness on the issue. Whigs generally opposed the movement. They feared the taxation to be imposed on account of the new obligations and responsibilities. Their argument was concise and pointed. Iowa's imports exceed the exports. The General Government spends about sixty thousand dollars on the Territorial Government. "He who votes for immediate admission into the Union will virtually vote for Hard Times in Iowa." This cry, previously so effective, now failed of its purpose. As before the vote was viva voce. In all there were cast 6,719 votes for a convention and 3,974 votes cast against a convention. In Jefferson County 566 voters were recorded in favor of a convention and 164 voters were recorded in opposition.
Naturally the Democrats of Jefferson County were elated over their victory. On May 25, at the court house, they held a convention of which Gen. Samuel Whitmore was chairman and Robert Brown secretary. In their exuberance, they
"Resolved, That the brilliant light of the locofoco matches of truth shall at the coming election dissipate forever the few remaining clouds of coon darkness in the democratic County of Jefferson."
This figurative manifesto of faith did not indicate an overconfidence. They wisely placed their trust in an efficient organization. A central committee of vigilance was constituted. It consisted of John A. Pitzer, George Acheson, William McGaw, William Lyons and John W. Culbertson. A local vigilance committee of three or four members was named for each township.
Jefferson County was entitled to five delegates to the convention. The contest apparently was a spirited one. In the general election on August 5th, only four candidates were successful. These were Robert Brown, Hardin Butler, James I. Murray and Samuel Whitmore. All were democrats. A tie vote between two whigs for the fifth place occasioned a vacancy. On August 24th, a special election was held to fill this. The candidates were Sullifand S. Ross, democrat, and John Park, whig. Park was one of the two whigs who, having received an equal number of votes, were for that very reason both defeated. In the second contest, Ross won.
On October 7th, the convention met in the capitol at Iowa City and organized. On November 1st, having formulated a constitution in twenty-six days, it adjourned. The boundaries adopted for the state were, on the south the State of Missouri, on the west the Missouri River, on the north a line from the mouth of the Sioux River to the mouth of the Watonwan River and the St. Peter's River, and on the east the Mississippi River. Congress in the act of admission altered the boundaries so that they were, on the north a parallel of latitude passing through the mouth of the Blue Earth River, and on the west a meridian line 17 degrees and 30 minutes west of the meridian of Washington City. The parallel passes through the city of Mankato, Minnesota. The meridian runs just west of Kossuth County on the north and just west of Ringgold County on the south. This difference in boundaries offered a vulnerable point of attack which was quickly recognized by the opponents of statehood. The discussion which at once arose created sufficient dissatisfaction to cause the rejection of the constitution by a majority of 996 votes when submitted in April, 1845, to the electors for their approval.
The defeat of the constitution was received by its supporters with incredulous surprise. They declared it the result of general and wilful misrepresentation. It was inexplicable otherwise. In May the seventh Territorial Legislature assembled. This body against the advice of Governor Chambers proposed to resubmit the constitution to the people at the general election in August for another decision. A bill providing for this was prepared, passed, vetoed, and then passed by both houses with requisite majorities to make it law over the Governor's veto.
On May 24th, "Democracy met at the courthouse in Fairfield." Sullifand S. Ross acted as chairman and William Bonnifield as secretary. A committee of which Samuel Shuffleton and George Acheson were members, selected to voice the deliberate judgment of the gathering, formally declared "that the constitution as it came from the hands of the convention breathes the will of the democracy" and pledged it their united support. The county confirmed this declaration at the polls by casting 542 votes for the constitution and 490 votes against it. In the territory at large, however, there was a majority of 421 votes against its adoption.
The eighth Territorial Legislature assembled in December. Governor James Clarke, who had but lately succeeded Governor Chambers, did not urge in his message any particular course of conduct in reference to the organization of a state. A public demand for such organization, however, still persisted and was insistent. Provision was made for the selection of thirty-two delegates at the township elections in April, who were directed to meet at Iowa City on the first Monday of May, 1846, "and proceed to form a constitution and state government for the future State of Iowa."
On February 21, 1846, a democratic mass meeting was held in Fairfield. Sullifand S. Ross presided. William Bonnifield served as secretary. The call was issued, it was stated, "for the purpose of comparing views in regard to the approaching convention to draft a constitution for the future State of Iowa." A committee of nine was named to prepare resolutions. Its members were Gen. V. P. Van Antwerp, its leading spirit, and Col. Samuel Shuffleton, both of Fairfield Township; Gen. Samuel Whitmore of Locust Grove Township; C. F. Alden of Liberty Township, J. I. Murray of Penn Township, John J. Smith of Des Moines Township, J. A. Galliher of Cedar Township, J. R. Reagor of Lockridge Township, and A. M. Connable of Blackhawk Township. The report of the committee, undoubtedly Van Antwerp's production, was of great length. The notable character of the last resolution is sufficient warrant and justification for its preservation in its entirety.
"Resolved, that the following provisions (in substance) ought, in the opinion of this meeting, to be adopted as part of the constitution of the State of Iowa, by the convention which will assemble at Iowa City on the first Monday of May next, towit:
1. No religious test to be required as a qualification for holding office, or for any other purpose, under any pretense whatever.
2. The right of suffrage to be made as broad and comprehensive as it is in any of the states that now compose the Union (except that negroes shall never vote) and to embrace persons not yet citizens of the United States, but who have declared their intention to become such, have resided in the state for a year thereafter, and possess the other qualifications required of citizens.
3. All elections to be by ballot, except those by the Legislature; the latter to be viva voce, and the vote of each member to be entered upon the record.
4. No bank or other institution ever to be created by the Legislature with the power of issuing its own notes, or the notes of any other bank, public institution, or private individuals, and a further prohibition against the issuing, by any individual or individuals, of all bills, checks, promissory notes, or other paper, to circulate as money.
5. Monopolies, being contrary to the genius of a free government, and dangerous to the rights of the people, never to be allowed. A total prohibition, therefore to be made against passage by the Legislature of any special act of incorporation for any purpose whatever; but that body be left to enact general laws under which associations for literary, religious, and other purposes may be formed and regulated, every member of such association to be held individually liable for all claims against the body of which he is a member.
6. The election of every officer (including judges of the Supreme and Circuit Courts) that can be conveniently chosen by the people, to be given to them.
7. The credit of the state never to be loaned to any man, or set of men, for any purpose whatsoever; and the provisions against the creating of a state debt, enacted by the convention which assembled at Iowa city in October, 1844, to be substantially adopted.
8. The Legislature not to assemble oftener than once in two years, unless called together in recess by proclamation of the Governor; and that never to be done for light and trivial causes, but only in case of pressing emergency.
9. The per diem compensation of members of the Legislature not to exceed three dollars per day for the first sixty days from the commencement of the session. If they continue in session longer than that, they shall receive no compensation for it.
10. No imprisonment for debt to be allowed.
11. No lottery to be authorized, and the sale of lottery tickets in Iowa to be prohibited.
12. No divorce to be granted by the Legislature.
13. No law passed by the Legislature to embrace more than one subject, and that to be distinctly stated in the title.
14. The duration of all offices not fixed by the Constitution never to exceed four years.
15. The session of neither house of the Legislature to be held with closed doors, except in time of war.
16. The most liberal provisions to be made for the cause of education, and especially for the increase and encouragement of common schools.
17. Every person to be disqualified from holding office in Iowa who shall have been convicted of having given or offered a bribe to secure his election or appointment.
18. All civil officers to be required to reside within the state, and all district or county officers, with their offices, at such place therein as may be required by law.
19. The extension of our territory to the Missouri river as the western boundary of the state to be adhered to, and made a sine qua non to our admission into the Union.
20. And lastly, provision shall be expressly made that, as a true basis of representation, a new census of the people shall be taken prior to the first election under a state government; and, further, that the constitution, after having been submitted to Congress, if altered by that body, either in regard to the boundaries of the state or any other essential particular, shall not go into effect unless first ratified by the vote of a majority of the qualified electors of the territory, at an election to be subsequently held.
It was decided to pass upon the several sections separately. Charles Negus moved to amend the fourth section by adding thereto the words "unless a bill to charter a bank shall first have been passed by the votes of two-thirds of the members of the Legislature, and afterwards submitted to the people for their confirmation or rejection." The motion brought on a sharp debate. The amendment was supported by Negus and George Acheson, and opposed by Van Antwerp, Shuffleton, William H. Lyons and W. E. Groff. It obtained but three votes. The whole resolution was finally adopted, as offered, with but three dissenting votes.
A report of the meeting and its resolutions were published in the democratic papers of the territory. This publicity directed attention to what would be or might be specific features of the Constitution and called them up for open and general discussion.
Jefferson County was entitled to two delegates to the constitutional convention. Van Antwerp desired to be one of these, but met with disappointment. The democrats nominated as their candidates Col. W. G. Coop and Sullifand S. Ross. The whigs nominated as their candidates John Park and Thomas O. Wamsley. That there was no lack of interest and activity is shown by the attendance at the polls. Coop received 403 votes; Ross, 360 votes; Park, 318 votes; and Wamsley, 307 votes. The democratic nominees, Coop and Ross, were chosen.
The second constitutional convention met on May 4th at the capitol at Iowa City. While Van Antwerp was not a delegate, he attended as a third member and was active in presenting and pressing his views. It completed its work within fifteen days. The whigs vigorously insisted it had formulated a party instrument. The electors passed their judgment upon it at the August election. In all there were 9,492 votes in favor of its adoption, and 9,036 votes in favor of its rejection. A majority of 456 votes was the narrow margin upon which the first constitution of the state was established.
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