Arkansas Territory

The act of 1812, changing the District of Louisiana to Missouri Territory, provided for a Territorial legislature consisting of nine members, and empowered the governor to lay off that part where the Indian title had been extinguished into thirteen counties. The county of New Madrid, as then formed, extended into the Arkansas territorial limits, "down to the Mississippi to a point directly east of the mouth of Little Red River; thence to the mouth of Red River; thence up the Red River to the Osage purchase," etc. In other words it did not embrace the whole of what is now Arkansas.

December 13, 1813, the County of Arkansas, Missouri Territory, was formed, and the county seat was fixed at Arkansas Post.1

Besides Arkansas County, Lawrence County was formed January 15, 1815, and Clark, Hempstead and Pulaski Counties, December 15, 1818.

Missouri neglected it seems to provide a judicial district for her five southern or Arkansas counties. Therefore Congress, in 1814, authorized the President to appoint an additional judge for Missouri Territory, "who should hold office four years and reside in or near the village of Arkansas," - across the river from Arkansas Post.

March 2, 1819, Congress created the Territory of Arkansas out of the Missouri Territory. It was only a territory of the second class, and the machinery of government consisted of the governor and three judges, who constituted the executive, judicial and legislative departments, their official acts requiring the consent of Congress. President Monroe appointed James Miller, governor; Robert Crittenden, secretary; Charles Jouett, Andrew Scott and Robert P. Letcher, judges of the superior court. The act designated Arkansas Post as the temporary seat of government. In the absence of the Governor, Robert Crittenden, "acting governor," convened the first session of the provisional government on August 3, 1819. The act continued the new territory under the laws of Missouri Territory. The five counties designated above as formed prior to the division of Arkansas, had been represented in the Missouri Territorial legislature. Elijah Kelly, of Clark County, was a representative, and he rode on horseback from his home to St. Louis. The session was probably not a week in length, and the pay and mileage little or nothing.

This first Territorial legislature appointed a treasurer and auditor, provided a tax for general purposes, and divided the five counties into two judicial circuits: First, Arkansas and Lawrence Counties ; Second, Pulaski, Clark and Hempstead Counties.

April 21, 1820, Congress passed an act perfecting the Territorial organization, and applying the same provisions to Arkansas that were contained in the act creating Missouri into a Territory of the first class.

The first legislative body elected in Arkansas convened at Arkansas Post, February 7 to 24, 1820. In the council were: President, Edward McDonald; secretary, Richard Searcy; members, Arkansas County, Sylvanus Phillips; Clark County, Jacob Barkman; Hempstead County, David Clark; Lawrence County, Edward McDonald; Pulaski County, John McElmurry. In the house of representatives: Speaker, Joseph Hardin (William Stephenson was first elected, served one day and resigned, on account of indisposition); J. Chamberlain, clerk; members, Arkansas County, W. B. R. Horner, W. O. Allen; Clark, Thomas Fish; Hempstead, J. English, W. Stevenson; Lawrence, Joseph Hardin, Joab Hardin; Pulaski, Radford Ellis, T. H. Tindall. This body later adjourned to meet October following, continuing in session until the 25th.

At this adjourned session the question of the removal of the Territorial seat of government from Arkansas Post to "the Little Rock," came up on a memorial signed by Amos Wheeler and others. "The Little Rock" was in contradistinction to "the Rocks," as were known the beautiful bluffs, over 200 feet high, a little above and across the river from "the Little Rock." In 1820 Gov. Miller visited the Little Rock - Petit Rocher - with a view to selecting a new seat of government. The point designated was the northeast corner of the Quapaw west line and Arkansas River. Immediately upon the formation of the Territory, prominent parties began to look out for a more central location for a capital higher up the river, and it was soon a general understanding that the seat of government and the county seat of Pulaski County, the then adjoining county above Arkansas County on the river, would be located at the same place. A syndicate was formed and Little Rock Bluff was pushed for this double honor. The government had not yet opened the land to public entry, as the title of the Quapaws had just been extinguished. These parties resorted to the expedient of locating upon the land "New Madrid floats," or claims, under the act of February 17, 1815, which authorized any one whose land had been "materially injured" by the earthquake of 1811 to locate the like quantity of land on any of the public lands open for sale. Several hundred acres were entered under these claims as the future town site. The county seat of Pulaski County was, contrary to the expectation of the Little Rock syndicate, located at Cadron, near the mouth of Cadron Creek, where it enters the Arkansas River.

On the 18th day of October, 1820, the Territorial seat of government was removed from the Post of Arkansas to the Little Rock, the act to take effect June 1, 1821. The next Territorial legislature convened in Little Rock, October 1 to 24, 1821. The council consisted of Sam C. Roane, president, and Richard Searcy, secretary. In the house William Trimble was speaker, and A. H. Sevier, clerk.

The third legislature met October 6 to 31, 1823. Sam C. Roane was president of the council, and Thomas W. Newton, secretary; while T. Farrelly was speaker, and D. E. McKinney, clerk of the house.

The fourth legislature was held October 3 to November 3, 1825. Of the council, the president was Jacob Barkman; secretary, Thomas W. Newton. Of the house, Robert Bean was speaker; David Barber, clerk.

The fifth Territorial legislature was held October 1 to 31, 1827, and a special session held October 6 to October 28, 1828; E. T. Clark served as president of the council, and John Clark, secretary; J. Wilson was speaker of the house, and Daniel Ringo, clerk.

In the sixth legislature, Charles Caldwell was president of the council, and John Caldwell, secretary; John Wilson was speaker of the house, and Daniel Ringo, clerk.

The seventh legislature held October 3 to November 7, 1831, had Charles Caldwell as president of the council, and Absalom Fowler, secretary; William Trimble was speaker of the house, and G. W. Ferebee, secretary.

In the eighth legislature, October 7 to November 16, 1833, John Williamson was president of the council and William F. Yeomans, secretary; John Wilson was speaker of the house, and James B. Keatts, clerk.

The ninth legislature met October 5 to November 16, 1835. The president of the senate was Charles Caldwell; secretary, S. T. Sanders. John Wilson was speaker of the house and L. B. Tully, clerk.

This was the last of the Territorial assemblies. James Miller was succeeded as governor by George Izard, March 4, 1825, and Izard by John Pope, March 9, 1829. William Fulton followed Pope March 9, 1835, and held the office until Arkansas became a State.

Robert Crittenden was secretary of State (nearly all of Miller's term "acting governor"), appointed March 3, 1819, and was succeeded in office by William Fulton, April 8, 1829; Fulton was succeeded by Lewis Randolph, February 23, 1835.

 George W. Scott was appointed Territorial auditor August 5, 1819, and was succeeded by Richard C. Byrd, November 20, 1829; Byrd was followed by Emzy Wilson, November 5, 1831; and the latter by William Pelham, November 12, 1833, his successor being Elias N. Conway, July 25, 1835. James Scull, appointed treasurer August 5, 1819, was succeeded by S. M. Rutherford, November 12, 1833, who continued in office until the State was formed.

The counties in 1825 had been increased in number to thirteen: Arkansas, Clark, Conway, Chicot, Crawford, Crittenden, Lawrence, Miller, Hempstead, Independence, Pulaski, Izard and Phillips. The territory was divided into four judicial circuits, of which William Trimble, Benjamin Johnson, Thomas P. Eskridge and James Woodson Bates were, in the order named, the judges. The delegates in Congress from Arkansas Territory were James W. Bates, 1820-23; Henry W. Conway, 1823-29; Ambrose H. Sevier, 1829-36.

The Territorial legislature, in common with all other legislatures of that day, passed some laws which would have been much better not passed, and others that remained a dead letter on the books. Among other good laws which were never enforced was one against duelling. In 1825 Whigs and Democrats allowed party feelings to run high, and some bloody duels grew out of the heat of campaigns.

Robert Crittenden and Henry W. Conway fought a duel October 29, 1827. At the first fire Conway fell mortally wounded and died a fortnight thereafter.

December 4, 1837, John Wilson, who, it will be noticed, figured prominently in the preceding record of the Territorial assemblies, was expelled from the house of representatives, of which body he was speaker, for killing J. J. Anthony.

A constitutional convention, for the purpose of arranging for the Territory to become a State in the Union, was held in Little Rock, in January, 1836. Its duty was to prepare a suitable constitution and submit it to Congress, and, if unobjectionable, to have an act passed creating the State of Arkansas. John Wilson was president, and Charles P. Bertrand, secretary, of the convention. Thirty-five counties were represented by fifty-two members.

June 15, 1836, Arkansas was made a State, and the preamble of the act recites that there was a population of 47,700.

The first State legislature met September 12 to November 8, 1836, later adjourning to November 6, 1837, and continued in session until March 5, 1838. The president of the senate was Sam C. Roane; secretary, A. J. Greer; the speaker of the house was John Wilson (he was expelled and Grandison D. Royston elected) ; clerk, S. H. Hempstead.

The second constitutional convention, held January 4 to January 23, 1864, had as president, John McCoy, and secretary, R. J. T. White. This convention was called by virtue of President Lincoln's proclamation. The polls had been opened chiefly at the Federal military posts, and the majority of delegates were really refugees from many of the counties they represented. It simply was an informal meeting of the Union men in response to the President's wish, and they mostly made their own credentials. The Federal army occupied the Arkansas River and points north, while the south portion of the State was held by the Confederates. It is said the convention on important legal questions was largely influenced by Hon. T. D. W. Yonly, of Pulaski County. The convention practically re-enacted the constitution of 1836, abolished slavery, already a fact, and created the separate office of lieutenant-governor, instead of the former ex-officio president of the senate. The machinery of State government was thus once more in operation. The convention wisely did its work and adjourned.

The next constitutional convention was held January 7 to February 18, 1868. Thomas M. Bowen was president, and John G. Price, secretary. The war was over and the Confederates had returned and were disposed to favor the constitution which they found the Unionists had adopted in their absence, and was then in full force in the State. Isaac Murphy (Federal) had been elected governor under the constitution of 1864, and all the State offices were under control of the Unionists. His term as governor would expire in July, 1868.

This convention made sweeping changes in the fundamental laws. The most prominent were the disfranchisement of a large majority of the white voters of the State, enfranchising the blacks, and providing for a complex and plastic system of registration. This movement, and its severe character throughout, were a part of the reconstruction measures emanating from Congress. Arkansas was under military rule and the constitution of 1864, and this condition of affairs, had been accepted by the returned conquered Confederates. But the Unionists, who had fled to the Federal military posts for protection, were generally eager to visit their vanquished enemies with the severest penalties of the law. A large part of the intelligence and tax payers of the State were indiscriminately excluded from the polls, and new voters and new men came to the front, with grievances to be avenged and ambitions to be gratified. The unusual experiment of the reversal of the civic conditions of the ex-slaves with their former masters was boldly undertaken. Impetuous men now prevailed in the name of patriotism, the natural reflex swing of the pendulum - the anti-climax was this convention of reconstruction to the convention of secession of 1861. The connection between these two conventions - 1861-1868 - is so blended that the convention of '61 is omitted in its chronological order, that the two may be set properly side by side.

Footnotes:

 

  1. During the latter part of the eighteenth century, something of the same municipal division was made, and called "Arkansas Parish," the name being derived from an old Indian town called Arkansea.

 

 


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