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 Iowa History

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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





In a territory the management of local affairs is largely in the hands of the national Government.  The people of a territory do not have so much to say about their own affairs as do the people of a state.  The President, for instance, appoints the governor of a territory, whereas the people elect him in a state.  This is one reason why many people prefer to live in a state.  Another reason is that states have representatives who can vote in the United States Congress while territories do not have a vote there.

The advantage of the territorial government, on the other hand, is that the cost of running it is paid by our national government.  In states the people must tax themselves to pay for their government.  People in a new section of the country, because they were poor, often preferred territory to state.


When the United States bought Louisiana from France it became necessary for her to provide a government for the new territory.  To do so, the new region was first divided into two parts.  The southern part was called the Territory of Orleans; the northern part, the District of Louisiana.  Since very few people lived in the northern division, it was attached to the Territory of Indiana for its government.

A serious difficulty soon arose.  The southern parr of the District of Louisiana was far south of Iowa and the people who lived there wanted to own slaves.  But the laws of the Territory of Indiana did not permit slavery.  Congress then made into a new territory all of the land of the Louisiana Purchase that was north of the present southern boundary of the state of Arkansas.  The new territory was first called the Territory of Louisiana, but when the present State of Louisiana was admitted to the Union, in 1812, the name of the territory to the north was changed to Missouri.


In 1820, the present State of Missouri was carved out of the Territory of Missouri.  When that was done Congress seems to have forgotten about that part of the Missouri Territory which was not included in the new state.  It did not provide any kind of government for it.  Perhaps that was because very few people lived there.  Iowa land was then considered a good place for the Indians.

The people who lived on Iowa land soon found that they needed a government.  A murder took place at Dubuque.  One miner shot another miner; the murderer said he could not be punished because there was no government and no law.  The settlers said something must be done; so they decided to hold court and try the murderer.  A jury was chosen and it sat on a log to hear the case.  The murderer had someone to act for him as attorney.  The jury said that the man was guilty of murder and should be hanged in one month.

The miner took his case to the courts of Illinois, to the governor of Missouri, and to the national Government at Washington.  They said they could do nothing, and he was hanged.


Congress now saw that something must be done to provide a government for this territory.  In 1834 all of the old Territory of Missouri that was north of the State of Missouri was made a part of the Territory of Michigan.  But Michigan, too, wanted to become a state.  So some provision again had to be made for Iowa land.

In 1836, Iowa became a part of the Territory of Wisconsin.  Henry Dodge was governor of the territory.  He ordered that a census be taken.  It was found that there were 10,531 white people then living in what is now Iowa.

The first legislature for the Territory of Wisconsin met in 1836, at Belmont, the site of which is now a farm in Wisconsin.  Eighteen men came from west and nineteen from east of the Mississippi.  The second legislature for the territory met in 1837 at Flint Hills, now Burlington.  This was the first legislature to meet within the present State of Iowa.


In 1838, Wisconsin Territory was divided.  The portion that was west of the Mississippi was organized as a separate territory and was called Iowa.  It included what is now Iowa and most of Minnesota and the Dakotas.  Another census was taken in 1838.  Iowa then had 22,860 people.  The population had doubled in two years.

President Van Buren appointed a governor, a secretary, and three justices of the territorial supreme court.  The people were to elect a legislature.  The Iowa Territory could now send a delegate to Congress.  The delegate was allowed to speak but not to vote.  Congress gave the new territory $20,000, a section of land for public buildings, and $5,000 for a library.

Robert Lucas of Ohio was the first man, having twice been governor of Ohio.  Mr. Lucas was born in Virginia; he was fifty-seven years old when he came to govern Iowa.  He played an important part in our early history.

The first legislature for the Territory of Iowa met at Burlington, in Zion Church.  It was made up of two houses, the Council, now called the Senate, and the House.  There were 13 members of the Council and 26 of the House.  Many important laws were passed by this first legislature, but the members are said to have been extravagant.  They appropriated more money than Congress had allowed them.  One member said:  "Uncle Sam is a cow, and we will milk her freely."  Governor Lucas, who had been a legislator in Ohio for many years, wanted the legislature to be careful about spending.  He made many wise recommendations but they were not followed.


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