Iowa Article: "Florida, Iowa, and the National 'Balance of Power,' 1845," by Franklin A. Doty

Doty, Franklin A. (1956) "Florida, Iowa, and the National "Balance of Power," 1845," Florida Historical Quarterly: Vol. 35 : No. 1 , Article 6.

Available at: https://stars.library.ucf.edu/fhq/vol35/iss1/6


In a 1956 article for the Florida Historical Quarterly, Franklin A. Doty discussed the joint admission of Florida and Iowa to the United States during the early 1840s. Slavery, and the debates surrounding the 'Balance of Power' necessary to maintain the ability for one human being to own another, stands most pressing reality embodied in Doty's work. The article showcased how in the era between the Missouri Compromise and the American Civil War, slavery dominated conversations in houses of government at the state and local levels. As the tentative balance between free states and those who allowed humans to own other humans grew strained, fierce debate ensued. Doty provided a wealth of specific detail in the debates surrounding statehood in each state on the local and federal levels.


Several other notable inclusions in the article focus on boundaries. Again, the conversation largely relates to the 'balance of power' as it related to slavery, and Doty does a wonderful job of building the positions of individuals to showcase how debate swirled when each side of the issue sought to decrease the boundaries of individual states in order to create the opportunity to eventually upset the balance of power in their position's favor. For Iowans, it may be difficult to imagine even the territorial boundaries of 1845 stretching from the Sioux City area north-by-northeast to St. Paul. Even more taxing for the imagination is a western border of the state 20 miles west of Des Moines or a northern border just above Dubuque. Doty used the words of specific individuals and legislation to bring these boundary debates to life.


Another aside mentioned by Doty focused on harsh racial realities for Iowans to consider. While many Hawkeyes love to champion our role in the eventual emancipation of enslaved people, and might even take pride in the state's role in maintaining the 'balance of power' pre-American Civil War, Doty illuminated debates that swirled about state concerning limitations on suffrage, proposals to ban emigration, and other measures meant to exclude African-Americans from Iowa.


"To FLORIDIANS, the admission of their state to the Union is an event in which interest arises as a matter of course from local and state pride and from general historical awareness of the times and circumstances. To Iowans, the event is of similar interest because of the pairing of the two states in the same act of admission. To the historically minded in general, the occasion provides a convenient focus for reconsidering some of the chief crosscurrents of national politics in the 1840's." (30)


"Textbooks of American history never speak of “The Florida Compromise” in the sense that they do of the Missouri Compromise, yet the two have a comparable significance in the political adjustments of the middle period of national history. The latter had established the valuable device of pairing a Northern with a Southern state as the nation’s area grew. Michigan and Arkansas were thus paired in 1836, and the novelty of the idea had worn off by 1845. Indeed, as will be shown, it was by then a well-nigh unalterable procedure. None of the state admissions of 1836 or 1845, moreover, carried the far reaching policy commitments that accompanied the Missouri Compromise. These factors, together with the swift and unprecedented maneuver of annexing Texas, which greatly outdistanced the Florida-Iowa bill in popular concern, account for the less conspicuous nature of the “Florida Compromise” of 1845." (30)


"The peculiar terms of the Florida cession treaty of 1819, which stated that the inhabitants “shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States, as soon as may be consistent with the principles of the Federal Constitution, and admitted to the enjoyment of all the privileges, rights, and immunities of the citizens of the United States. . . .,” had been responsible for a more or less continuous agitation of the statehood issue. In their earliest petitions for admission to the Union, as well as in their later memorials arising out of congressional inaction, Floridians reminded Congress of this promise and remonstrated against delays. They also used these same terms as the basis of claiming the right to statehood regardless of population size." (31)


"The Iowans of 1845, on the other hand, had known no such continuity as a territory, nor were there any prior commitments regarding statehood for the area other than that of 1820 which specified that it would be free soil. Between 1804 and 1838, the area that would become the twenty-ninth state had been administered under six different jurisdictions: the territories of Indiana, Louisiana, and Missouri, the “Unorganized Territory of the United States,” and the territories of Michigan and of Wisconsin. The territory of Iowa was not formally organized until 1838, the same year in which Florida was already writing a state constitution at St. Joseph." (31)


"It is relevant to point out as well the distinction between the geographic integrity of Florida, delimited naturally by the sea on one side and politically by the established states on the other, and the tremendous stretches of woods, hills, and prairies out of which must one day be carved a state of Iowa. These geographic peculiarities contributed in significant ways - at times critically - to the problem of admission." (31)


"The limitations in the Florida constitution on emancipation of slaves and on the immigration of free Negroes into the state gave rise to the most controversial part of the congressional debates. In Iowa, on the other hand, while slavery was as inadmissable as emancipation was in Florida, the constitution writers significantly conceded to prejudice regarding Negroes, denying them political rights, and expressing in debate, though not in the final document, their desire to prevent further immigration of free Negroes into Iowa." (32)


"Relations with the Indians in the two territories just prior to admission to the Union present another contrast which in turn played at least a minor role in the movement toward statehood. Iowans were fortunate, in a sense, that their location was athwart one of the main streams of westward migrations, for an established program of Indian treaties and removals had eased the relations between the white and red men. The Black Hawk war in 1832, an ugly interruption of this process, resulted in the opening of a huge and attractive area of additional settlement. The Black Hawk Purchase, extending nearly 200 miles along the west bank of the Mississippi north from the Missouri state boundary and west in depths varying from 40 to 50 miles, provided an area of nearly 6,000,000 acres which in the summer of 1833 was opened to peaceful settlement. This region, together with the “neutral grounds” obtained earlier from the Sioux and the Sac and Fox Indians in what is now extreme north-east Iowa, embraced practically all of the settled portion of Iowa up to 1845." (32)


"The melancholy events in Florida’s Indian relations during the later territorial period are well known. The uncertainty of life, the loss of property, and the decline of trade led to financial insolvency in the territorial government and to the actual suspension of tax payments during part of the Seminole war. The occurrence of the war almost exclusively in East Florida resulted in sectional differences with regard to the advisability of seeking statehood and in ironic references to the “bleeding, suffering” east from western elements in the state." (33)


"The discrepancy between the boundaries described in the first Iowa constitution (1844) and those described in the act of admission of March 3, 1845, made it necessary to amend these boundaries in the following year. During this debate it was revealed that some Iowans would have settled for the 42nd degree of latitude as the northern boundary of the state, while the residents of Dubuque, according to Stephen Douglas’ remarks in Congress, “were not willing to have the boundary come close to them, so that they would be placed on the frontier. They wished either for such an arrangement as should cause Dubuque to be the largest town in a little state, or else to make it the central town of a large state.”" (34)


"In both territories one of the most consistent arguments for moving toward statehood was the desire for more self-government, particularly in the appointment of territorial officials and in readier access to courts of justice." (35)


"Probably the strongest argument in both territories against becoming a state sprang from the fear of increased taxes and the generally greater financial outlay accompanying more complete self-government. These two considerations - self-government versus expense - were indeed the occasion for a running battle of words and figures between the proponents and opponents of statehood." (35)


"A final concern which affected thinking in both territories was the problem of the appropriate timing of the request to Congress for admission, in view of the established tradition of pairing a Northern and a Southern state. This issue was the more worrisome in Florida because of Iowa’s off again-on again behavior, although it was also a problem in Iowa because of the fear, during the years Florida’s petition lay before Congress, that Wisconsin might steal a march on Iowa and come in with Florida, leaving Iowa’s chances for admission in grave doubt." (36)


"The time for decisive action in Florida had come, but instead there seemed to be only division worse confounded. In the 1844 meeting of the legislature, east Florida had at last gotten through both houses a request for a division into two territories, only to have it turned down both in the House and Senate in Washington. The territorial delegate from Florida, David Levy (Yulee), a Democrat who succeeded Downing in the Florida election of 1841 and who was re-elected in 1843, now appeared to take primary responsibility for forwarding Florida’s quest for statehood. In June, 1844, a bill for the admission of Florida, based on the St. Joseph constitution, and providing for eventual division into two states, was prepared in the House Committee on Territories. The new Florida Legislative Council elected in 1844 was controlled by Democrats who were determined to make an all out effort for statehood. It renewed in January, 1845, the appeal for congressional action and urged the delegate “in case Iowa is admitted, or seeks admission to the Union, to use his utmost endeavors to procure the passage of a law admitting Florida also into the Confederacy.” 17 Meanwhile, the Iowa constitutional convention, elected on a strictly Whig versus Democrat basis, and heavily weighted with members of the latter party, convened at Iowa City on October 7, 1844, and finished its task on November 1st. The remarkable similarity in the issues before the Iowa City and the St. Joseph meetings as well as in their treatment, has already been observed. The finished document from Iowa, as in the case of Florida, was rushed to Congress before being submitted to the people for ratification." (40)


"It will be recalled that the memorial from Florida asking for admission to the Union had lain before Congress since February, 1839, where it had been referred to committees and was subsequently neglected. When at last the Iowa constitution and petition were presented in both Houses in December, 1844, the stage was set for congressional action. As it developed, the Senate took no independent action on the petition of either state, but waited until the joint admission bill had passed the House." (41)


"The action of the Committee on the petitions of the two territories came to the floor of the House on February 10, 1845. Sitting as the Committee of the Whole House on the State of the Union, it heard read a bill “to enable the people of Iowa to form a Constitution and State government” which it then laid aside informally. Whether this was a mere formality in the form of an “enabling act” or whether it was an attempt by the free-soil interests to secure the admission of Iowa singly is not revealed. A short while later in the same sitting, Aaron V. Brown, a Democrat from Tennessee and Chairman of the Committee on Territories, moved to take up a bill to admit Florida and Iowa jointly. The suspicion of obstructionist tactics receives some confirmation in the fact that the vote to take up the bill - 85 to 5 - was less than a quorum. “As it was said to be evident that there was a quorum present, the vote was again taken by the same tellers” with a result of 83 to 32. The more ardent free-soil Whigs could be expected, of course, to become aroused at failure to upset senatorial balance by getting Iowa admitted alone, if that was their objective. Yet in view of the number of years during which Florida’s application had been pending, they could hardly have entertained much hope of avoiding the pairing of the two states. John Quincy Adams called the joining of the two states in one bill “a slave-monger trick.”" (43)


"The debate next moved to the question of the boundaries of Iowa as described in her constitution. This involved two problems, the exact location of the border line with Missouri, and the total size of the state. The House, happily as it turned out, accepted Chairman Brown’s suggestion that the then long-standing controversy over the Iowa-Missouri boundary be omitted from debate, as the contending claims would be properly settled by the United States Supreme Court. The issue was solved sooner than expected, when in the second Iowa constitution of 1846, the ‘‘northern boundary of Missouri” was accepted as the southern boundary of Iowa, instead of the more southerly “Sullivan’s line” claimed in 1844. The second aspect of the Iowa boundary problem was more complex and led directly to the issue of sectional rivalry. Iowans had originally described the state as stretching from the Mississippi to the Missouri, and extending from the Missouri boundary north to a line drawn between the mouth of the Sioux River and the junction of the Blue Earth and St. Peters rivers (now the Minnesota River) and down the latter to the Mississippi. 24 This would have included all of the present state except the north-west corner, and in addition a sizeable portion of what is now southeastern Minnesota." (43-44)


"Duncan of Ohio quickly offered an amendment that would have cut the state approximately in half by making the western boundary, instead of the Missouri River, a line drawn due south from the Blue Earth-St. Peters junction. This line would have run about 20 miles west of the present site of Des Moines. 25 Duncan presented as his ostensible reason the advices furnished by the explorer-surveyor, J. N. Nicolett, in the latter’s survey of the area. 26 Nicollet had recommended the formation of one state bounded on the east by the Mississippi, and extending west only so far as the watershed between the Mississippi and the Missouri, and as far north as the St. Peters. He contemplated another state in the same general latitude, with the Missouri-Platte junction as its center." (44)


"The committee chairman defended the original boundaries as best because they came from the people living in the area, “whose voice should be listened to in the matter.” He added that the original boundaries would make the state about equal to Michigan in size, and somewhat smaller than Missouri or Virginia. Duncan countered that such comparisons were unrealistic, that the boundaries he contended for were the boundaries of nature, and that they actually were “larger, in point of fertility of soil, than any two states in the United States.” 28 Upon resumption of debate the next day, Representative Vinton came directly to the point that in the process of carving out such large states in the west as this proposed Iowa, the area was fatally depriving itself of its due weight in the Senate of the United States. He pointed to the potential population growth in the large western states which would soon exceed many of the seaboard states. If Florida could be divided into two states, he felt that like provision should be made for dividing Iowa." (45)


"Vinton thus revealed, without dissimulation, the real reason for creating a smaller Iowa. He was planning for the future “balance of power” developments within the nation and hoping to make up for past errors in this respect committed through yielding to pride in size and resources, as in the instances of Indiana, Illinois, and Michigan. Duncan’s amendment to lop off the western half of the proposed state carried, 91 to 40. A second amendment by Duncan further reduced the area of the state in the north-east corner." (45-46)


"The Committee of the Whole House then rose, and in regular session the House approved the new smaller boundaries for Iowa, and formally rejected the proviso for establishing a second state in Florida by a vote of 123 to 77. An analysis of this roll call vote reaffirms the deepening patterns of sectional solidarity. Only six Southerners - three from Virginia and three from Maryland - crossed over, as it were, to join an almost solid Northern vote for striking out the proviso. In each state two of the three “apostates” were Whigs. Only three Northern representatives - all Democrats - voted to sustain the proviso - two from Indiana (who thus voted against their colleague’s amendment) and Representative Orlando B. Ficklin of Illinois. There was probably no other moment in the Florida-Iowa debate which more clearly shows how secondary were the local and personal aspirations of the individuals in the territories to the great ebb and flow of national politics. The bitter convention battles in Iowa and Florida faded before the realities underlying a congressional decision in 1845, where two hours of debate and a handful of votes could decide the fate of tens of thousands of “territorials.”" (51)


"The Senate received the bill on February 14, where, as in the House a dispute arose over committee reference, with the Judiciary Committee finally receiving jurisdiction." (52)


"The debate in the Senate differed from that in the House in that Iowa at no time received more than a passing reference, and in that it was more intense, personal, and disputatious. It ranged farther afield from the immediate issue and revealed more abundantly the determined attitudes and fixed positions as well as the theoretical and practical considerations in the minds of the participants."


"Senator George Evans, a Whig from Maine who had been in the House from 1829 to 1841 and then went to the Senate, opened the discussion by presenting a grievance of his constituents. Provisions in Southern state constitutions similar to those in the Florida constitution prohibiting the immigration of free Negroes and subjecting them to arrest had actually resulted in mutinies and desertions of colored seamen aboard coast-wise trading vessels destined for Southern ports, and had thus seriously disturbed commerce. 42 Notwithstanding this interference with enterprise, Senator Robert J. Walker of Mississippi, a Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee, defended these provisions on the basis of the police power of the states to “exclude every description of persons whose presence endangered their safety,” of whom “none were more dangerous than the colored seamen, who might have come from St. Domingo, ready for any sort of crime.” He cited the Ohio statute which required free colored persons to give bond and security for good behavior, and argued that “if it was competent for a state to restrict them at all, it might exclude them entirely.”" (53)


"After a brief scattered debate on some peripheral issues, the vote on Evans’ amendment to require a change in Florida’s constitution was defeated, 35 to 12. The bill was then reported back to the Senate, where it was promptly passed by a vote of 36 to 9. 53 The two roll calls were almost identical. Of the nine opposing the final bill, all but two were from New England, the others being from New Jersey and Michigan. The twelve votes in favor of requiring the constitutional changes were made up of the above nine, the other two senators from Michigan and New Jersey, and Senator White of Indiana." (57)


"President Tyler signed the bill on March 3, 1845, and as soon as official word could be communicated to Florida, machinery for the election of state officials and for the members of Congress was put into action." (58)


"Strangely enough, Iowa had a somewhat tortuous path to follow yet before her admission was completed. It will be recalled that the constitution had not been submitted to the people of the territory before it was sent to Congress. It will be recalled also that the House drastically changed the boundaries and reduced the size of the state. In a letter to the people of Iowa, Augustus Dodge urged their approval of the reduced area, for, having witnessed the entire House debate, and knowing how the free-soil interests, somewhat taken aback at the annexation of Texas, had urged the creation of several, albeit smaller Northern states, he assured his constituents that “we will not be able hereafter under any circumstances, to obtain one square mile more for our new State” than what was then offered. 54 Due in part to the short time which the Iowans had to consider the alterations (election day had been set for the first Monday in April) and to the general feeling that approval of their constitution meant also the approval of the curtailed borders, the voters rejected their constitution, 6,023 to 7,019. 55 It remained for Iowa to call another constitutional convention in 1846, to propose another set of boundaries, to fight for them through several alterations proposed in Congress, to have them accepted at last by Congress, and finally to ratify her constitution in August, 1846. Then, after arranging for state elections, Iowa was formally proclaimed to be the twenty-ninth state on December 28, 1846." (58-59)


"One hundred and eleven years have now elapsed since Congress first agreed to the joint admission of Florida and Iowa to the Union. Once drawn in battle array against each other in the civil strife foreshadowed by the debates on their admission, and again joined in common national destiny, these are now proud and prosperous commonwealths - the stubborn fruit of a common gestation - rich in human and material resources and planning ever greater glories." (59)



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