Iowa Territorial Governer Robert Lucas and the 26-star US flag (1837-1845).
The moment Iowa became a U.S. Territory in 1838, many Hawkeyes, including the new Territorial Governor Robert Lucas (1838-1841), wanted to do everything in their power to press onward and upward toward U.S. statehood. Yet, despite the efforts of many, an equal number of Iowa citizens were not anxious to place their new-found freedoms at risk by quickly aligning with the same governmental tax system they desired to be freed from when they moved westward.
So, over a period of eight years (1838-1846), the people of Iowa went back and forth on the issue of statehood. In 1840, for example, there were 43,112 citizens in Iowa, excluding people of color. At that time, only white men over twenty-one years of age could vote, and in the election of 1840, the question of statehood was put on the ballot. 937 men voted for it – 2,907 voted against it. Again, in 1842, the people were asked to vote on the question of becoming a state, but again, the vote was ‘nay.’
By 1843, there was a strong upswing of those wanting to pursue statehood. On April 5th, the people of Iowa finally voted, by a majority of 2,400, to form a State Constitution, which was one of the primary steps the U.S. Senate required in order to proceed. In that written constitution, proposed boundaries must be spelled out, the election process of officers must be decided, and how the state will make laws must be addressed as well.
A constitutional convention was planned for October 1843, with the delegates being chosen in August. In October, seventy-two men met in Iowa City at the new statehouse – we now call Old Capitol. The goal of the convention was to have a written constitution in place to present to the Territorial Legislature when it met in December. While most of the details came together quickly, one sticking point surrounded the state’s proposed boundaries.
The group unanimously agreed on the eastern, southern, and western boundaries, adhering to those borders we are familiar with today. But on the north, the members of the convention decided to ask for a line 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. At the time, this plan was called the Lucas boundaries, because former Governor Lucas, as a prominent member of the convention, suggested this idea.
As far as governmental process goes, here’s part of the “official” declaration of the convention, which simply was patterned after the territorial regulations used at the time…
This country (Iowa) was erected into a territorial government by an act of Congress, of June, 1838, to take effect on the 4th of July following. The legislative power is vested in the Governor and a Legislative Assembly, which meets annually on the 1st Monday of December, at Iowa City, the seat of government; and it consists of 13 members of the Council, elected for two years, and a House of Representatives consisting of 26 members, elected annually. Pay of the members, $3 a day, and $3 for every 20 miles’ travel.
Finally, there was one other major sticking point that the convention needed to address. In order to apply for statehood, the U.S. Senate would require an accurate population count. The 1840 census suggested that 42,000 people lived throughout the territory, but with so many new people heading west, with many settling here, no one truly knew what the population was. So, when the Legislature assembled in Iowa City in December 1843, they not only saw the convention’s proposed constitution, but they were also asked to approve a territorial census, to be conducted as part of the application process.
Historian J.A. Swisher, writing in The Palimpsest (1944), reports on what happened next…
So, as you can see, with a census planned for spring 1844, things were moving forward with the application process for statehood.
On January 23, 1844, Governor Chambers signed all the paperwork, sending it off to Washington D.C. for President John Tyler’s signature, which he approved on February 12th.
With the application papers submitted to Washington and a Senate hearing scheduled, now it was time to focus on the coming territorial census. As we mentioned earlier, it was generally believed that Iowa had an adequate amount of people living in the Territory to validate statehood. The 1840 census showed 42,000 citizens and by 1844, that number had, more than likely, doubled, with hundreds more coming in on a monthly basis. But to make things legal and proper, the Territorial Legislature, meeting in Iowa City, had mandated a territorial census to be completed in each county by the second Monday in June. Which now brings us to:
Allow me to tell you what you see here. This is a rare stamp-less postal cover/letter dated June 13, 1844. It’s written by John H. Lines, the Clerk of the Lee County Board of Commissioners, and addressed to The Secretary of Iowa Territory, who was Samuel J. Burr. Below is the content of Lines’ official letter:
As we mentioned earlier, the 1844 census, approved by the Territorial Legislature, had certain date parameters: each county was to have completed their census by May 1, with the results being certified by the county clerk “on or before the second Monday in June” (June 10). Since Lines’ letter to Territorial Secretary Samuel J. Burr is dated June 13, this must be Lines’ “official” letter, reporting Lee County’s census numbers to the Territorial Office in Iowa City.
What makes our letter even more interesting is that it looks as if there must have been something not quite right with Lines’ report. Notice below, on the back side of the letter, we find this description… Lee County Census – Corrected Certificates.
Another indication of the ‘back and forth’ nature of our letter is the postage cost notations written on the top right of the letter by the postmasters of Ft. Madison and Iowa City. The going postage rate for a letter in 1844 was based on mileage, with a 12.5 cent rate being charged for a letter traveling 80-150 miles. Since it’s 85 miles from Ft. Madison to Iowa City, and with the Iowa City August 30 postmark (below), it’s obvious Lines’ letter went to Iowa City (12.5 cents) in June, and then back to Ft. Madison (another 12.5 cents) in August, with a total postage cost of 25 cents. Whew!
Well, let’s go back to J.A. Swisher’s account about the 1844 census…
Interestingly enough, the entire 1844 census – which resulted in a population count of 82,254 – was, pretty much, for naught… because…
In March of 1844, Augustus Caesar Dodge, Iowa’s territorial delegate to the House of Representatives, presented the proposed Iowa constitution to the 28th U.S. Congress. That’s when the push back began to occur.
First of all, many of the members of Congress representing the South did not want Iowa to become a state. They knew if that happened, the new Iowa senators and representatives would vote against slavery, making it, as it was called at the time, a Free State. To appease the Southern Congressmen, a bill was introduced stating if Iowa was admitted to the Union, then Florida, a Slave State, must be admitted as well.
Next, some members of Congress didn’t like the boundary lines proposed by former Governor Lucas, announcing that Iowa could only be admitted if some of the lines were drastically changed. At the center of this controversy was the 1839 Line War (Honey War) that put Iowa and Missouri officials at odds with each other. Governor Lucas, an abolitionist, was one of the key players in this battle over boundaries, and once again, much of the battle was motivated by Iowa’s Free State policies vs. Missouri’s Slave State prejudices. Click here to read more about the 1839 Line (Honey) War with Missouri.
When it was all said and done, the U.S. Congress decided that they would approve Iowa statehood only if Iowans would ratify an agreement that redrew the lines on the north, south and west. According to these 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 (see map above). It was to be bounded on the south by Missouri (i.e. this exact line was still in question because of the 1839 Honey War and would not be decided until 1848 by the Supreme Court), and on the north by a line about forty-five miles north of the present boundary (in today’s southern Minnesota).
A majority of the good people of Iowa hated these proposed boundaries, yet there were some heavy-handed politicians at the time who wanted statehood at all costs. Historian Benjamin F. Gue tells us this interesting aspect of the story…
At this juncture, Enoch W. Eastman, Theodore S. Parvin and Frederick D. Mills, all young men and Democrats, realizing the irreparable mistake this dismemberment of Iowa would be, organized an opposition to the acceptance of the Constitution with the proposed boundary and at once took the field to work for its rejection. They enlisted the cooperation of two more influential Democrats, Shepherd Leffler and James W. Woods and made a thorough canvas of the Territory, holding public meetings in which they eloquently set forth the fatal mistake it would be to accept the proposed dismemberment of the fair proportions of Iowa. The contest was fierce and bitter but patriotism and good judgment prevailed.
The Constitution was rejected by a majority of 996, thus securing the preservation of Iowa, embracing the entire western slope to the Missouri River. It was a critical period in Iowa history, and the people of the State will never cease to honor the three young men who, by their courage and wisdom, preserved for all time its symmetrical proportions.
After voting on the revised constitution and rejecting it, Iowa remained a U.S. territory until 1846, when finally, these serious boundary issues were better resolved to the agreement of all parties. Read more about 1846 Statehood here…
Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.