Recalling pleasant things and taking the time to dwell on them.
1846 – Iowa Elects A State Governor.
You see, in 1845, the U.S. Senate and President James Polk had already signed off on Iowa Statehood – including Florida in the deal – but the proposal was narrowly voted down by Iowans on April 7, 1845 because the legislators in Washington D.C. insisted on adding in a silly map (see above) that we Hawkeyes simply refused to accept! You can read more here.
But now, it’s one year later – the map issues have been resolved – and on election day – Monday, April 6, 1846, Iowa voters approved thirty-two delegates to go to Iowa City with the instructions to write up a revised version of the State Constitution – one with an improved map option. The whole process was to be done quickly – beginning on May 4th – because no one wanted to miss this opportunity to seal the deal for Statehood with the U.S. Senate before those shifty politicians in D.C. changed their minds!
When those thirty-two delegates met in Iowa City in early May, this Iowa Territorial Convention quickly approved a revised State Constitution on May 18, 1846. The people of Iowa voted in favor of it on August 3, 1846, and the Territorial Governor James Clarke signed it on September 9, 1846. Read more here.
So, it was full speed ahead, Iowa! Statehood is on it’s sweet way – now, it was time to elect our very first State Governor!
In 1846, just as it is today, there was a growing political tension throughout the Territory of Iowa. Iowa’s population stood at 96,088, and was heavily concentrated in the eastern third of the state, and as you can see from the maps above, there were three centers of power – Dubuque to the north, Bloomington, Davenport & Iowa City in the central, and Burlington, Keokuk & Mt. Pleasant to the south. So, when it came to finding the right candidate for governor, the Whig Party nominated Thomas McKnight (top right) – a well-known businessman/politician from Dubuque, while the Democrats nominated Ansel Briggs (middle right) – a relatively-unknown stagecoach driver from Jackson County, while former Territorial Governor Robert Lucas (lower right) from Burlington entered the race, as well, as a third party candidate.
Unlike the long political campaigns of today, the amount of time between the party nominations in mid-to-late September 1846, and the actual election – October 26, 1846 – was very short. But, while the campaign season was limited, that doesn’t mean that it was not intense. Let me give you some examples from The Burlington Hawk-Eye – which was a Whig-supporting newspaper…
Which brings us, now, to our rare postal cover & letter…
So, less than one month after Lowe’s letter – the votes across Iowa were cast. The general election was held on October 26, 1846, and just as Lowe predicted, it was a razor-close finish. As a matter of fact, The Burlington Hawk-Eye – as you can see below – was unable to call the race for quite some time!
Yup, it wasn’t until December 3, 1846 – Inauguration Day, when the Iowa Legislature – meeting in Iowa City – announced the final results – which The Burlington Hawkeye reluctantly published in their December 10th edition…
Much to the surprise – and disappointment – of the Whigs – Ansel Briggs won the election in a very close race – 7,626 for Briggs, 7,379 for McKnight – a narrow margin of 247 votes! Apparently, Robert Lucas’ attempt as a third option for voters faltered before election day, since, in the public records, there is no mention of him receiving any votes.
As you can see from the voting results (above), McKnight did end up winning the large counties of Henry, Des Moines, Louisa, Muscatine, and Scott. But interestingly, the Whig candidate barely won his own county of Dubuque (2 votes!), and like Lowe predicted – Lee County played heavy in the final decision – going big for Briggs – 1040 to 767!
Interestingly, when Ansel Briggs agreed to put his name in the running for governor, he seemed to believe that he’d likely lose and go back to fulfilling his stagecoach contracts from his home in Andrew, in Jackson County. Instead, Briggs – age 40 – who had been a member of the Territorial House of Representatives for four years and Jackson County sheriff for two years, became the first Governor of the new State of Iowa. Congrats – Governor Briggs – you did it!
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.