EARLY IOWA POLITICS
The early Iowa settlers paid little attention
to politics or to political parties. They were too scattered
to meet in large groups or even to meet often in small groups.
Improvement of the home and of the farm was more important to
the pioneer than political parties and political rallies.
FIRST POLITICAL CONVENTION
When Burlington became the capital of the
Territory of Wisconsin, in 1837, many Iowa people became
interested in politics. They knew, however, that it was only
a temporary arrangement and that Burlington would lose this
position as soon as the new capitol at Madison, Wisconsin, was
completed. If Iowa land could be organized as a separate
territory, they thought, then Burlington might become the
capital of that new territory. The first political convention
of Iowa was therefore called to meet at Burlington on November
6, 1837. At this convention a petition was prepared and sent
to Congress in which it was asked that the "Iowa District" of
the Wisconsin Territory be organized into a separate
Congress recognized the petition of the
Burlington Convention and on June 12, 1838, voted to make the
Iowa District a separate territory. This action brought about
the first great interest in political matters. More counties
had to be organized. Districts had to be fixed from which
members could be sent to the legislature. A delegate to
represent the territory in Congress had to be chosen. The
President appointed Robert Lucas of Ohio as governor and
Burlington was chosen as the capital.
LOCAL ISSUES ON FIRST ELECTIONS
Governor Lucas look office in August 1838 and
called an election for September 10. At this first election
party lines were not drawn. All the candidates for Congress
and for the legislature ran on local issues. No nominating
conventions were held. Five candidates presented themselves
for Congress and W. W. Chapman was elected.
Elections to the legislature of the territory
were held annually and at the second one, in 1839, party lines
were drawn but officials were again chosen on local issues. A
pioneer newspaper, The Iowa Patriot, said on June 27,
1839, "We know that the Governor is opposed to carrying
national politics into the legislature, and so are we, and
shall be until this ceases to be a territory. Should
opposition to the Administration develop it will cut off our
supplies from Washington." At the 1839 election the Democrats
secured a majority of the representatives. They were the
ruling party in early Iowa politics nearly all the time until
the Republican party came to the scene and the Democrats
divided over the slavery issue.
PARTY LINES DRAWN
Party lines and organizations became distinct
for the first time in 1840. Feeling against the Democratic
President, Martin Van Buren, reached its height in the
campaign that year. He was blamed for the panic of 1837,
criticized for the spoils system, and accused of doing many
things that Western people did not favor. The criticism
resulted in the development of a strong Whig party, which
reached its strength in Iowa that year. Augustus C. Dodge,
Democratic candidate for delegate to Congress, defeated Alfred
Rich, the Whig candidate by only 615 votes. Fifteen Democrats
and eleven Whigs were elected to the House of Representatives
in the legislature, with six Democrats and seven Whigs to the
Council, or Senate, as it is now called. This was the only
time that the Whigs had a majority in either legislative house
in the Territory of Iowa.
When William H. Harrison, the Whig candidate,
became President he appointed John Chambers of Kentucky to
succeed Robert Lucas as governor of Iowa Territory. The
Democrats complained bitterly of this appointment of a
"foreign ruler" as they called it. Chambers was later
reappointed by President Tyler. He served from May, 1841,
until November, 1845.
STATEHOOD THE ISSUE
The struggle for statehood, between 1840 and
1846, overshadowed national issues. Generally speaking, it
may be said that the Whigs were against statehood while the
Democrats supported the cause. During the years immediately
following Iowa's admission to the Union, a number of political
parties or factions developed in the North.
The year 1854 was a time of political
revolution. It was also the year in which the present
Republican party was born, although that party was not
organized in Iowa until later. The political parties and
factions in this state that year were: two factions of the
Whigs, the "Silver Greys" and the "Seward Whigs"; the regular
Democrats, the "Free Soilers" or "Free Democrats," and the
"Americans" or "Know Nothings."
The last Whig state convention met at Iowa
City on February 22, 1854, and nominated James W. Grimes for
Governor. The "Free Soilers" held a convention at
Crawfordsville on March 28, 1854. They nominated a candidate
for governor but later withdrew and supported Grimes, who was
elected over Curtis Bates, the Democratic candidate.
THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
The first call for the organization of the
Republican party, as such, in Iowa was issued on January 3,
1856. The meeting was called to be held at Iowa City on
February 22. The call appeared in several newspapers. No one
knew who issued it, although Governor Grimes was suspected of
While the Republican party is usually said to
have had its birth elsewhere, there are those who say Iowa
should have the credit. O. A. Garretson, is discussing a mass
convention held at Crawfordsville in February 1854, says:
"Owing to the different organizations represented, and the
divergence of views, the committee deliberated a number of
hours before the members finally agreed and reported the
platform to the convention. Here it was warmly discussed,
amended, re-amended, and adopted. It was well toward morning
when the convention adjourned, and the child thus born was
christened "Republican." I am not unmindful of the fact that
the usual claim is that the Republican party was born at
Ripon, Wisconsin, on March 20, 1854. The convention at
Crawfordsville antedated the Ripon meeting at least one month,
and as the union here perfected was named Republican party,
Crawfordsville is fairly entitled to the distinction of being
the birthplace of this organization.
THE "HONEY WAR"
Boundary lines of farms, counties, and even
states, were, in early days, poorly measured and marked.
Pioneers often measured land by having someone "step it off."
Who cared just where the line between lands was? The land
was cheap and there was plenty of it.
THE SULLIVAN SURVEY
The beginning of the trouble over the Missouri
boundary dates back to 1816. In that year the United States
Government hired a Mr. J. C. Sullivan to survey and mark the
boundaries of the Osage Indian lands. Mr. Sullivan marked his
line with mounds of earth and blazed trees. Both kinds of
marks were soon gone.
When Missouri became a state in 1820, its
northern boundary was described as "The Northern Boundary of
the Indian lands" or, as it became known, "The Sullivan Line."
Later, in 1837, when the markings had disappeared and no one
knew where the line was, the Missouri legislature ordered the
boundary resurveyed. A surveyor named Brown was hired to do
THE BROWN SURVEY
Mr. Brown found that the Missouri constitution
said the northern boundary was the parallel of latitude which
passed through the "rapids of the River Des Moines." He
therefore, when he began his survey, looked for these rapids.
Indians, French traders, and early travelers had for many
years spoken of the rapids in the Mississippi that were just
above the mouth of the Des Moines River, as the "Des Moines
River Rapids" and it was to those that Mr. Sullivan referred
in his survey. Surveyor Brown, however, did not know of the
rapids in the Mississippi and began looking for some in the
Des Moines River. Near the present site of Keosaqua he found,
in the Des Moines River, a riffle which he supposed were the
rapids mentioned by Sullivan. He then ran his line straight
west from there.
The new Brown line was about thirteen miles
north of the Sullivan line and added to Missouri some 2,600
square miles of land which, up to that time had been claimed
by the Territory of Iowa. In 1838 the Missouri legislature
declared the Brown line to be the northern boundary of their
state and ordered officers of northern Missouri to collect
taxes, maintain peace, and perform other official duties in
the strip of land between Brown and Sullivan lines.
Most of the disputed strip of land contained
timer in which bees were plentiful. Since honey was used by
pioneers in place of sugar, honey trees, that is trees in
which bees store honey, were highly prized. A man from
Missouri came into the disputed land, chopped down three bee
trees, and fled back to Missouri with the honey. When Iowa
settlers, who claimed the land belonged to Iowa, found out
about the three bee trees, they became furious and demanded
that something be done. That is how the boundary quarrel came
to be called "The Honey War."
SHERIFF ARRESTS SHERIFF
The dispute over the boundary became a serious
matter for the local officers of both the state of Missouri
and of the Territory of Iowa. If the disputed land belonged
to Missouri then it was the duty of the officers to collect
taxes from the people. But, if it did not belong to Missouri,
then the people would not want to pay taxes to that state and
it became the duty of the Iowa officers to support them. In
October 1839, Uriah S. Gregory, Sheriff of Clark County,
Missouri, tried to collect taxes north of the Sullivan line.
The settlers refused to pay. In November of that year he
again tried to collect the taxes. This time the sheriff of
Van Buren County, Iowa Territory, by order of Governor Lucas,
opposed the Missouri sheriff and finally arrested him.
TROOPS ORDERED OUT
A special session of the Clark County Court
was called on November 23. Orders were issued to General
Willock and General Allen to muster the Missouri militia.
They soon had together over two thousand men and General
Allen took more than one thousand of them to Waterloo,
News of Missouri's action was taken to Robert
Lucas, Iowa's new governor. Lucas had gone through a similar
dispute when he was governor of Ohio. Furthermore, he was a
soldier and a man of quick action who was not easily bluffed.
On December 6, therefore, he issued orders to the commanders
of the Iowa militia to muster their men. Although it was in
the dead of winter, twelve hundred men promptly answered the
call and companies were organized in every county of southeast
This was the first time that Iowa's militia
had ever been called together and it was a queer-looking army.
Each man had to furnish his own uniform and gun. There were
no two men dressed or armed alike. They carried whatever they
owned, rifles, muskets, shotguns, pistols, and even
pitchforks. In one county the commander was given six wagons
in which to take supplies. He says that he loaded five of
them with whisky, "to keep up the spirits of the men."
Major General Browne took about five hundred
of the Iowa militia to Farmington, Iowa, just north of
Waterloo, Missouri. The two armies were only a few miles
apart and were watching each other, eager for the fight.
Fortunately, there were wise men at the head of each army.
They saw that nothing could be gained by fighting and
bloodshed. General Browne sent a peace commission to the
Missourians and these men found upon their arrival, that
General Allen had already sent some men to the Iowa
legislature, which was meeting an "Old Zion" Church at
Burlington, with suggestions for a friendly settlement. So
both armies were sent home.
SUPREME COURT DECIDES
The boundary dispute remained unsettled for a
number of years. Both Iowa and Missouri finally agreed to let
the United Stares Supreme Court decide it. In 1849 that
tribunal held that the "Sullivan Line" should be the boundary
and so the disputed territory remained a part of Iowa, much to
the satisfaction of the settlers. It is said that one good
woman hoped that her land would not be put into Missouri
because she had been told, she said, that the climate of that
state was too poor for good crops.
After the question was settled, surveyors were
ordered to mark the line again. Iron posts were put up
between the states, at intervals, for over two hundred miles.
The Supreme Court approved the work in 1851. Since then,
Iowa has never had a serious dispute with a neighbor