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Chapter 12

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Ioway to Iowa

Irving Berdine Richman

published by
The State Historical Society of Iowa

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 14
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p223  An Iowa That Might Have Been

 p225  Good! That makes twenty-nine States!

In 1846, on December 28, Iowa put away Territorial things and became a State.159 Iowa the State, however, was less imposing than Iowa the Territory.

When in 1836 Lucius Langworthy beheld his vision and heard proclaimed: 'The Legislature of the State of Iowa', the State that he foresaw was not a State less in area than Minnesota, or than South Dakota, or than North Dakota, but one as great, mayhap, as all Iowaland. Iowaland, it is true, did not vaunt its northern boundary (Canada) as the Aurora Borealis, nor its southern boundary (Missouri) as the Day of Judgment; yet, when in 1842, Wisconsin dared liken itself to 'a young buffalo stretching his muscular form, shaking his head, and bellowing in thunder' at John Bull in Oregon, Iowa thrilled to the tune.

'The people of the West', said the Baltimore American in 1845, 'are accustomed to things on a gigantic scale. Their rivers, forests, prairies, cataracts, and caverns are of the sublime order; their lakes are inland seas; they measure pork by the cord, and mass meetings by the acre. It is quite natural, therefore, that  p226 they should wish every one of their states to be in dimensions an empire. Iowa is a giantess in swaddling clothes; she uses the cradle in which Hercules was rocked'.

Speaking for itself at about this time, Iowa said: 'Should Congress approve our proposed boundaries, we will be unequalled by any state in the Union: on the east the majestic Mississippi; on the north the St. Peter's; on the far west the dark, rapid waters of the Missouri'. Said an Iowa legislator: 'We of the north (Dubuque) would never be satisfied without the St. Peters as our northern boundary, — embracing the magnificent and beautiful country . . . abounding with lakes, rivers, and streams . . . with hydraulic power sufficient to turn all the machinery in the world. . . . So it is, with the south [Burlington]. . . . They also are determined to go to the Missouri, — and to accomplish this, they are perfectly willing to go with us to the St. Peters on the north. This will give us no little diminutive State that we could "put in our breeches pocket," but one of the very largest class. . . . Who can set metes and bounds to the future glory of the young Lion of the west?'160

But in 1845 Iowa's expectations were dealt by Congress a staggering blow. Under advice of the physiographer, Jean Nicollet, the prospective State was to extend north to the St. Peter's River, but on the Missouri  p227 slope it was to be shorn of all lands west of 94 degrees, 32 minutes, and 8 seconds (Greenwich). This, so that room beyond the Mississippi might be left for States (four or five) other than Iowa.

A South Line

It was Iowa's north line that was to be for the State the significant line — the line of fate. But what with regard to its south line? This was 'the old Indian boundary line', that of the United States treaty with the Osage Indians — a line run and marked for the United States in 1816 by John C. Sullivan. Or was Iowa's south line the so‑called 'Brown Line' established in 1837 by the State of Missouri? The Brown Line gave territory to Missouri at the expense of Iowa; and upon this territory Missouri in 1839 sought to lay hand by assuming to levy taxes in such of the Iowa counties as lay south of the Brown Line.161

Iowa's Territorial Governor, Robert Lucas — he of the far-flung Lucas Boundaries — was by temperament one not to brook affront. In December, 1839, after some strong proclamations and the incarceration of a Missouri sheriff, the Iowa militia was mustered against the militia of Missouri and began to march toward Missouri and Dixie. In derision a poet of Missouri sang:

 p228  Three bee-trees stand about the Line

Between our State and Lucas;

Be ready all these trees to fall,

And bring things to a focus.

We'll show old Lucas how to brag,

And seize our precious honey!

He also claims, I understand,

Of us three bits in money.

In 1847 the question of Iowa's south boundary was submitted to the United States Supreme Court, and in 1849 the Court found for Iowa, declaring the existing (or Sullivan) line, the Iowa-Missouri boundary.

The North Line — Wet

As originally prescribed by Congress, Iowa's boundaries left a wet line (the St. Peter's River) on the north. As prescribed in 1846 by Stephen A. Douglas, chairman of the Committee on Territories, the boundaries, as of Iowa to‑day, provided a wet line on the west (the Missouri River), but left on the north a dry line.162 This north dry line, imperialistically considered, was it not, perhaps, Iowa's undoing? By it the Commonwealth lost. It lost area, and great water power, and one of the two great routes to the Western Sea. But was the loss nominal or was it real? As to area, Iowa remained ample and compact. As to water power, that was being fast superseded by steam power;  p229 and as to river, it was being supplanted by rail. But area, steam power, the railroad, have they restored to Iowa what Iowa lost by losing contact with St. Paul and the Falls of St. Anthony?

A Commonwealth may be said to lose in two ways: by failing of material things; by failing of things cultural. In a material way, Iowa, by failing of jurisdiction to the St. Peter's River (that is, to St. Paul) lost, say in 1849, what would have accrued to it from the St. Paul volume of business for that year, a volume of $131,000; and a half decade later (say 1854), what would have accrued to it from the St. Paul volume of business for the year, a volume of $5,799,500. Or taking a still later date (1878) Iowa, by failure of contact with the north, lost what would have accrued to it from the volume of St. Paul business for that year, a volume of $31,939,500 or, with manufactures added, $38,090,400.

But business recks not of jurisdictions. How then be at all certain that Iowa by failing of jurisdiction to the St. Peter's lost in a material way anything that otherwise it might have had?

A Corridor State

An Iowa with a north line at St. Paul, as proposed by Congress in 1845, would have been virtually a steamboat alley — a Mississippi River corridor subtended  p230 between St. Paul and Keokuk and fed by these points and points intervening. St. Paul was the dominant point and a Commonwealth failing of it must in a material way stand to lose. Business returns would in all likelihood be the same, but not the distribution. That is to say, an Iowa failing of St. Paul, could not count upon these returns — not the bulk of them.

What, however, regarding returns in a cultural way?

Not before 1851 did St. Paul see a theatrical performance; whereas in 1839 Dubuque had had an eleven day run of Othello and of Richard III. St. Paul and Minneapolis beheld a noteworthy advance in the arts in the eighteen eighties and nineties: choral societies, orchestras, concerts, opera houses, Apollo clubs, societies of fine art and of arts and crafts, and picture collections. Was the influence of this felt in Iowa? Would it have been felt more had St. Paul been on the borders of Iowa or within its jurisdiction? Does Iowa feel this influence to‑day? At least one section of Iowa — the Scandinavian section — feels it.

'Very few people here', writes an observer from Scandinavian Iowa in 1928, 'have any cultural or business relations with Chicago. There are, of course, the mail order houses, and there is live stock, and there is produce, some of which goes to New York. But as to travel, it is natural for people hereabouts to go  p231 north rather than south or east, as the Scandinavian settlements and institutions are better established in that direction. "The Twin Cities", say our people, "are the place to go — there are good bargains and many relatives".'

The Author's Notes:

159 United States Statutes at Large, Vol. IX, p117.

[decorative delimiter]

160 From a speech by David S. Wilson of Dubuque on May 31, 1845, on a proposal to submit the Constitution of 1844. — Shambaugh's Fragments of the Debates of the Iowa Constitutional Conventions of 1844 and 1846, p297.

[decorative delimiter]

161 Eriksson's The Boundaries of Iowa in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XXV, p163.

[decorative delimiter]

162 Eriksson's The Boundaries of Iowa with citation to Convention debates and debates in Congress for the years 1844, 1845 in The Iowa Journal of History and Politics, Vol. XXV, pp207 et seq.; Folwell's A History of Minnesota, Vol. I, Appendix 12.

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Page updated: 1 Feb 11