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Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp




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.


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 territory.

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.


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 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.


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 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 doing so.

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.


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 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 work.


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."  


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.


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, Missouri.

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 Iowa.

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.


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


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