Territorial History of Iowa
From: History of Black Hawk County, Iowa
Western Historical Company, Chicago 1878


By act of Congress, approved October 31, 1803, the President of the United States was authorized to take possession of the territory included in the Louisiana purchase, and provide for a temporary government. By another act of the same session, approved March 26, 1804, the newly acquired country was divided, October 1, 1804 into the Territory of Orleans, south of the thirty third parallel of north latitude, and the district of Louisiana, which latter was placed under the authority of the officers of Indiana Territory.

In 1805, the District of Louisiana was organized as a Territory with a government of its own. In 1807, Iowa was included in the Territory of Illinois, and in 1812 in the Territory of Missouri. When Missouri was admitted as a State, March 2, 1821, "Iowa," says Hon. C. C. Nourse, "was left a political orphan," until by act of Congress, approved June 28, 1834, the Black Hawk purchase having been made, all the territory west of the Mississippi and north of the northern boundary of Missouri, was made a part of Michigan Territory. Up to this time there had been no county or other organization in what is now the State of Iowa, although one or two Justices of the Peace had been appointed and a post office was established at Dubuque in 1833. In September, 1834, however, the Territorial Legislature of Michigan created two counties on the west side of the Mississippi River, viz.: Dubuque and Des Moines, separated by a line drawn westward from the foot of Rock Island. These counties were partially organized. John King was appointed Chief Justice of Dubuque County, and Isaac Leffler, of Burlington, of Des Moines County. Two Associate Justices, in each county, were appointed by the Governor.

On the first Monday in October, 1835, Gen. George W. Jones, now a citizen of Dubuque, was elected a Delegate to Congress from this part of Michigan Territory. On the 20th of April, 1836, through the efforts of Gen. Jones, Congress passed a bill creating the Territory of Wisconsin, which went into operation, July 4, 1846, and Iowa was then included in


of which Gen. Henry Dodge was appointed Governor; John S. Horner, Secretary of the Territory; Charles Dunn, Chief Justice; David Irwin and William C. Frazer, Associate Justices.

September 9, 1836, Governor Dodge ordered the census of the new Territory to be taken. This census resulted in showing a population of 10,531 in the counties of Dubuque and Des Moines. Under the apportionment, these two counties were entitled to six members of the Council and thirteen of the House of Representatives. The Governor issued his proclamation for an election to be held on the first Monday of October, 1836, on which day the following members of the First Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin were elected from the two counties in the Black Hawk purchase:

Dubuque County. - Council: John Fally, Thomas McKnight, Thomas McCraney. House: Loring Wheeler, Hardin Nowlan, Peter Hill Engle, Patrick Quigley, Hosea T. Camp.

Des Moines County. - Council: Jeremiah Smith, Jr., Joseph B. Teas, Arthur B. Ingram. House: Isaac Leffler, Thomas Blair, Warren L. Jenkins, John Box, George W. Teas, Eli Reynolds, David R. Chance.

The first Legislature assembled at Belmont, in the present State of Wisconsin, on the 25th day of October, 1836, and was organized by electing Henry T. Baird President of the Council, and Peter Hill Engle, of Dubuque, Speaker of the House. It adjourned December 9, 1836.

The second Legislature assembled at Burlington, November 10, 1837. Adjourned January 20, 1838. The third session was at Burlingtoa; commenced June 1st, and adjourned June 12, 1838.

During the first session of the Wisconsin Territorial Legislature, in 1836, the county of Des Moines was divided into Des Moines, Lee, Van Buren, Henry, Muscatine and Cook (the latter being subsequently changed to Scott) and defined their boundaries. During the second session, out of the territory embraced in Dubuque County, were created the counties of Dubuque. Clayton, Fayette, Delaware, Buchanan, Jackson, Jones, Linn, Clinton and Cedar, and their boundaries defined, but the most of them were not organized until several years afterward, under the authority of the Territorial Legislature of Iowa.

The question of a separate territorial organization for Iowa, which was then a part of Wisconsin Territory, began to be agitated early in the Autumn of 1837. The wishes of the people found expression in a convention held at Burlington on the 1st of November, which memorialized Congress to organize a Territory west of the Mississippi, and to settle the boundary line between Wisconsin Territory and Missouri. The Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin, then in session at Burlington, joined in the petition. Gen. George W. Jones, of Dubuque, then residing at Sinsinawa Mound, in what is now Wisconsin, was Delegate to Congress from Wisconsin Territory, and labored so earnestly and successfully, that "An act to divide the Territory of Wisconsin, and to establish the Territorial Government of Iowa," was approved June 12, 1838, to take effect and be in force on and after July 3, 1838. The new Territory embraced " all that part of the present Territory of Wisconsin which lies west of the Mississippi River, and west of a line drawn due north from the head water or sources of the Mississippi to the territorial line." The organic act provided for a Governor, whose term of office should be three years, and for a Secretary, Chief Justice, two Associate Justices, and Attorney and Marshal, who should serve four years, to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. The act also provided for the election, by the white male inhabitants, citizens of the United States, over twenty one years of age, of a House of Representatives, consisting of twenty six members, and a Council, to consist of thirteen members. It also appropriated $5,000 for a public library, and $20,000 for the erection of public buildings.

President Van Buren appointed Ex-Governor Robert Lucas, of Ohio, to be the first Governor of the new Territory. William B. Conway, of Pittsburgh, was appointed Secretary of the Territory; Charles Mason, of Burlington, Chief Justice, and Thomas S. Wilson, of Dubuque, and Joseph Williams, of Pennsylvania, Associate Judges of the Supreme and District Courts; Mr. Van Allen, of New York, Attorney; Francis Gehon, of Dubuque, Marshal; Augustus C. Dodge, Register of the Land Office at Burlington, and Thomas McKnight, Receiver of the Land Office at Dubuque. Mr. Van Allen, the District Attorney, died at Rockingham, soon after his appointment, and Col. Charles Weston was appointed to fill his vacancy. Mr. Conway, the Secretary, also died at Burlington, during the second session of the Legislature, and James Clarke, editor of the Gazette, was appointed to succeed him.

Immediately after his arrival, Governor Lucas issued a proclamation for the election of members of the first Territorial Legislature, to be held on the 10th of September, dividing the Territory into election districts for that purpose, and appointing the 12th day of November for meeting of the Legislature to be elected, at Burlington.

The first Territorial Legislature was elected in September and assembled at Burlington on the 12th of November, and consisted of the following members:

Council. - Jesse B. Brown, J. Keith, E. A. M. Swazey, Arthur Ingram, Robert Ralston, George Hepner, Jesse J. Payne, D. B. Hughes, James M Clark, Charles Whittlesey, Jonathan W. Parker, Warner Lewis, Stephen Hempstead.

House. - William Patterson, Hawkins Taylor, Calvin J. Price, James Brierly, James Hall, Gideon S. Bailey, Samuel Parker, James W. Grimes, George Temple, Van B. Delashmutt, Thomas Blair, George H. Beeler 1, William G. Coop, William H. Wallace, Asbury B. Porter, John Frierson, William L. Toole, Levi Thornton, S. C. Hastings, Robert G. Roberts, Laurel Summers, Jabez A. Burchard, Jr. 2, Chauncey Swan, Andrew Bankson, Thomas Cox and Hardin Nowlin.

1) Cyrus S. Jacobus, who wads elected for Des Moines County, was killed in an unfortunate encounter at Burlington before the meeting of the Legislature, and Mr. Beeler was elected to fill the vacancy.

2) Samuel B. Murray was returned as elected from Clinton County, but hips seat wee successful contented by Buchard.

Notwithstanding a large majority of the members of both branches of the Legislature were Democrats, yet Gen. Jesse B. Browne (Whig), of Lee County, was elected President of the Council, and Hon. William H. Wallace (Whig), of Henry County, Speaker 'of the House of Representatives - the former unanimously and the latter with but little opposition. At that time, national politics were little heeded by the people of the new Territory, but in 1840, during the Presidential campaign, party lines were strongly drawn.

At the election in September, 1838, for members of the Legislature, a Congressional Delegate was also elected. There were four candidates, viz.: William W. Chapman and David Rohrer, of Des Moines County; B. F. Wallace, of Henry County, and P. H. Engle, of Dubuque County. Chapman was elected, receiving a majority of thirty six over Engle.

The first session of the Iowa Territorial Legislature was a stormy and exciting one. By the organic law, the Governor was clothed with almost unlimited veto power. Governor Lucas seemed disposed to make free use of it, and the independent Hawkeyes could not quietly submit to arbitrary and absolute rule, and the result was an unpleasant controversy between the Executive and Legislative departments. Congress, however, by act approved March 3, 1839, amended the organic law by restricting the veto power of the Governor to the two thirds rule, and took from him the power to appoint Sheriffs and Magistrates. Among the first important matters demanding attention was the location of the seat of government and provision for the erection of public buildings, for which Congress had appropriated $20,000. Governor Lucas, in his message, had recommended the appointment of Commissioners, with a view to making a central location. The extent of the future State of Iowa was not known or thought of Only on a strip of land fifty miles wide, bordering on the Mississippi River, was the Indian title extinguished, and a central location meant some central point in the Black Hawk Purchase. The friends of a central location supported the Governor's suggestion. The southern members were divided between Burlington and Mount Pleasant, but finally united on the latter as the proper location for the seat of government. The central and southern parties were very nearly equal, and, in consequence, much excitement prevailed. The central party at last triumphed, and on the 21st day of January, 1839, an act was passed, appointing Chauncey Swan, of Dubuque County; John Ronalds, of Louisa County, and Robert Ralston, of Des Moines County, Commissioners, to select a site for a permanent seat of Government within the limits of Johnson County.

Johnson County had been created by act of the Territorial Legislature of Wisconsin, approved December 21, 1837, and organized by act passed at the special session at Burlington in June, 1838, the organization to date from July 4th, following. Napoleon, on the Iowa River, a few miles below the future Iowa City, was designated as the county seat, temporarily.

Then there existed good reason for locating the capital in the county. The Territory of Iowa was bounded on the north by the British Possessions; east, by the Mississippi River to its source; thence by a line drawn due north to the northern boundary of the United States; south, by the State of Missouri, and west, by the Missouri and White Earth Rivers. But this immense territory was in undisputed possession of the Indians, except a strip on the Mississippi, known as the Black Hawk Purchase. Johnson County was, from north to south, in the geographical center of this purchase, and as near the east and west geograpbical center of the future State of Iowa as could then be made, as the boundary line between the lands of the United States and the Indians, established by the treaty of October 21, 1837, was immediately west of the county limits.

The Commissioners, after selecting the site, were directed to lay out 640 acres into a town, to be called Iowa City, and to proceed to sell lots and erect public buildings thereon, Congress having granted a section of land to be selected by the Territory for this purpose. The Commissioners met at Napoleon, Johnson County, May 1, 1839, selected for a site Section 10, in Township 79 North of Range 6 West of the Fifth Principal Meridian, and immediately surveyed it and laid off the town. The first sale of lots took place August 16, 1839. The site selected for the public buildings was a little west of the geographical center of the section, where a square of ten acres on the elevated grounds overlooking the river was reserved for the purpose. The capitol is located in the center of this square. The second Territorial Legislature, which assembled in November, 1839, passed an act requiring the Commissioners to adopt such plan for the building that the aggregate cost when complete should not exceed $51,000, and if they had already adopted a plan involving a greater expenditure they were directed to abandon it. Plans for the building were designed and drawn by Mr. John F. Hague, of Springfield, Ill., and on the 4th day of July. 1840, the corner stone of the edifice was laid with appropriate ceremonies. Samuel C. Trowbridge was Marshal of the day, and Gov. Lucas delivered the address on that occasion.

When the Legislature assembled at Burlington in special session, July 13, 1840, Gov. Lucas announced that on the 4th of that month he had visited Iowa City, and found the basement of the capitol nearly completed. A bill authorizing a loan of $20,000 for the building was passed, January 15, 1841, the unfold lots of Iowa City being the security offered, but only $5,500 was obtained under the act.

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