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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




Soon after Iowa became a territory, some of its people began to talk about making it a state.  In November, 1839, Governor Lucas said it would be a good plan for Iowa to think about writing a state constitution for itself.  Before a territory can become a state it must write a constitution and present it to Congress.



The legislature of the Iowa Territory decided to give the voters a chance to say whether they wanted to send men to a convention for the purpose of writing a state constitution.  An election was held in August, 1840.  When the votes were counted it was found that 937 had voted for a convention and 2,903 against it.  The people, therefore, do not seem to have been as eager to have Iowa become a State as was Governor Lucas.

John Chamber, the second governor for Iowa Territory, also said it was very important that a convention should be called to write a constitution.  Another election was therefore held by the legislature in 1842.  At this second election every county that Iowa then had voted against having a convention.  That meant that Iowa must wait longer for its place on the flag.

The voters then did not cast their votes as we now do at an election.  The officers at the voting places made two columns on a sheet of paper.  At the top of one column they wrote "Convention" and at the head of the other they wrote "No Convention."  If the voter said he wanted a convention, his name was written in the first column; if he did not want one, it was written in the second.

Many new people were coming to Iowa every year and the population was growing rapidly.  As the territory grew, statehood became more and more necessary.  Another election was therefore called in 1844.  This time the people voted that a convention should be held and a constitution written.


The convention that was called to write the constitution met at Iowa City on October 7, 1844.  There were 72 men, or delegates, present; they came from twenty-five counties.  The two main political parties at the time were the Democratic and the Whig.  Two thirds of the delegates were Democrats and one third were Whigs.  Most of the men knew very little about making laws or writing a constitution.

A number of famous debates took place at this first convention.  Some of the questions that were discussed were:  "Should their meetings be opened with prayer?"  "Should banks be allowed to organize?"  "What salaries should be paid to state officials?"  and, most important of all, "What should be the boundaries of the new state?"

The convention worked for 26 days.  It wrote a constitution and sent it to Congress in December 1844.  Congress was to decide three things:  first, was Iowa's population large enough for a state; second, were the boundaries fixed by the convention satisfactory; third, was the rest of the constitution in harmony with the national Constitution?


Three different sets of boundaries were suggested for the new state.  The first was proposed by Gov. Lucas and later used by the constitutional convention.  The second was fixed by Congress and was called the "Nicollet Boundary," because it was taken from a map that had been drawn by a Mr. Nicollet.  This second boundary made Iowa much smaller than under the first one.  The third was a compromise between the first and the second and is the one that we now have.  It made Iowa much larger than the second boundary plan but somewhat smaller than she would have been under the first.


Slavery was the big question before Congress when Iowa asked to become a state.  There were then as many free states in the Union as slave states.  That meant that the number of Senators in Congress who favored slavery or represented slave states was as great as the number from free states.  Neither side was willing to let the other get more votes.  The only way whereby the number could be kept even was by admitting a slave state and a free state at the same time.

Florida, a southern territory that wanted slaves, was asking to be admitted as a state.  Since Iowa wanted to be a free state, Congress decided to admit the two at the same time.  It gave to Iowa the Nicollet boundary.


The people of Iowa now had to vote whether they wanted to have a state with the boundaries that Congress had fixed.  They did not like the boundaries proposed and voted against statehood and Iowa had to continue as a territory.

The legislature of the territory asked the people to vote again.  This time they were to say whether they liked the constitution without the Nicollet boundaries.  The majority was against the constitution.  This decision meant that another convention would have to be called and a new constitution written before Iowa could be a state.


The Territorial legislature called another convention.  This time it had thirty-two delegates.  It met at Iowa City in May, 1846.  The new constitution was written in fifteen days.  It was much like the first except that the things which the people did not like in the first constitution were changed.

While the second convention was at work, Congress voted new boundaries for Iowa, the same that we now have.  Another election was held on August 3, 1846, to vote on the new constitution and the new boundaries.  This time the people voted by a small majority to become a state.  There were 9,492 votes for statehood and 9,038 against it.

Congress approved the new Iowa Constitution early in December.  President Polk signed the bill, which made Iowa a state, on December 28, 1846.



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