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The twice-admitted State

Iowa State Flag

It was part of the territory claimed for France by LaSalle in 1682,1 traded back to Spain by the Treaty of Fontainebleau in 1762,2 ceded back to France by the Treaty of San Ildefonso in 18003 and sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, a deal ratified by the Senate in 1803.4

It is Iowa, the Hawkeye State,5 roughly 56,271 square miles of land bordered by Missouri to the south, Illinois and Wisconsin to the east, Minnesota to the north and South Dakota and Nebraska to the west. And the only state The Legal Genealogist knows of that had to be admitted to the Union twice without ever having seceded.

American government of the land that eventually became Iowa technically began with the creation of two districts, Orleans and Louisiana, out of the Louisiana Purchase lands,6 followed by the creation of the Louisiana Territory.7 In 1812, Louisiana was admitted as a state, and the territory north of the new state became the Missouri Territory.8

In 1820, Congress passed the statute known as the Missouri Compromise, by which Missouri was to be admitted as a slave state and Maine as a free state, and the remaining territory north of Missouri — including the land that became Iowa — was to be free territory.9

When Missouri was admitted in 1821, that northern territory was left unorganized,10 a situation that persisted until 1834, when what became Iowa was attahced to the Michigan Territory.11 It was transferred to the Wisconsin Territory in 1836 in anticipation of Michigan’s admission as a state,12 and finally the Iowa Territory was created in 1838.13

The movement to statehood began almost immediately but ran into snags from the beginning. In 1840, the territory held an election to determine whether to call a constitutional convention — and the people voted it down. In 1842, another vote was held on a constitutional convention — and it was voted down again. It wasn’t until 1844 that a constitutional convention was called, and a proposed Constitution of Iowa, 1844 was sent to the voters. Twice. And voted down. Twice.14

The issue for the 1844 Constitution was the boundaries of the proposed state, in particular the northern boundary. And that dispute led to Iowa being admitted as a state twice.

The original proposal for Iowa’s northern boundary would have included part of what is today Minnesota, but when Congress authorized Iowa’s admission as a state in 1845, it changed the northern boundary to reduce the size of the state.15 Iowans never agreed to the boundaries Congress set16 and so despite the law Iowa was not admitted at that time.

In 1846, it tried again to gain admission. It had another Constitutional Convention, and finally ratified the Constitution of 1846 including today’s boundaries17 on 3 August 1846 by a margin of only 456 votes.18 Congress agreed, and President Polk signed the bill. This time there were no snags, and Iowa was admitted as the 29th state on 28 December 1846.19

The 1846 Constitution contained a Bill of Rights,20 including a ban on slavery and involuntary servitude.21 The vote was limited to white males over the age of 21.22 The Legislature consisted of a Senate and House of Representatives, with Senators chosen for four years and Representatives for two.23 Judges were to be elected by the Legislature.24 All white men between the ages of 18 and 45 were to serve in the militia.25 and the Constitution expressly forbade creation of any bank that would issue paper that would circulate as money.26

That 1846 Constitution lasted for only 11 years. Iowa had yet another constitutional convention, producing its third proposed, and second ratified, Constitution of 1857.27

Among the changes from 1846 to 1857 were:

     • the creation of the position of Lieutenant Governor28

     • requiring two-thirds of the entire membership of the Legislature to vote to override a Governor’s veto,29 rather than the two-thirds of those present and voting provided by the 1846 Constitution, and

     • the direct election of judges by the people.30

Most significantly, the 1857 Constitution required a vote of the people in 1870 and every 10th year thereafter on the question “Shall there be a Convention to revise the Constitution and amend the same?”31 A popular referendum on extending the vote to black males failed at the polls in 1857.32

The 1857 Constitution has been amended many times, but remains in effect today as the Constitution of the State of Iowa. The last vote on the Constitutional Convention question was in 2010; the question was defeated, 67.2% to 37.8%.33

For further research, see the terrific resources on the debates over and history of Iowa’s Constitutions at the State Library of Iowa website.


Territorial image courtesy of user Fay2, Wikimedia Commons

  1. Wikipedia (, “LaSalle Expeditions,” rev. 14 Apr 2012.
  2. Louisiana as a Spanish Colony,” Louisiana: European Explorations and the Louisiana Purchase, Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  3. Preliminary and Secret Treaty between the French Republic and His Catholic Majesty the King of Spain, Concerning the Aggrandizement of His Royal Highness the Infant Duke of Parma in Italy and the Retrocession of Louisiana,” Treaty of San Ildefonso : October 1, 1800; html version, Yale Law School, Avalon Project ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  4. See Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, vol. 1 (Washington, D.C. : Duff Green, 1828), 450 ; digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  5. “State Symbols,” Travel Iowa ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  6. An Act erecting Louisiana into two territories, and providing for the temporary government thereof,” 2 Stat. 283 (1804); digital images, “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875,” Library of Congress, American Memory ( : accessed 25 Jun 2012).
  7. An Act further providing for the government of the district of Louisiana,” 2 Stat. 331 (1805).
  8. An act providing for the government of the territory of Missouri,” 2 Stat. 743 (1812).
  9. An Act to authorize the people of the Missouri territory to form a constitution and state government, and for the admission of such state into the Union on an equal footing with the original states, and to prohibit slavery in certain territories,” 3 Stat. 545 (1820).
  10. Wikipedia (, “Missouri Territory,” rev. 4 Jun 2012.
  11. An Act to attach the territory of the United States west of the Mississippi River, and north of the state of Missouri, to the territory of Michigan,” 4 Stat. 701 (1834).
  12. An Act establishing the Territorial Government of Wisconsin,” 5 Stat. 10 (1836).
  13. An Act to divide the Territory of Wisconsin and to establish the Territorial Government of Iowa,” 5 Stat. 235 (1838).
  14. Benjamin Franklin Shambaugh, The Constitution of the State of Iowa and Amendments from 1857 to 1922 with Historical Introduction and Index (Iowa City : State Historical Society of Iowa, 1922), 13-14; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  15. An Act for the admission of the States of Iowa and Florida into the Union,” 5 Stat. 742 (1845).
  16. See Steven C. Cross, “The Drafting of Iowa’s Constitution,” Iowa Official Register, html version, Iowa Publications Online ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  17. Constitution of the State of Iowa, Adopted in Convention, May 18, 1846 (Iowa City : Abraham Palmer, printer, 1846); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  18. Shambaugh, The Constitution of the State of Iowa…, 14.
  19. See “An act for the Admission of the State of Iowa into the Union,” 9 Stat. 117 (1846).
  20. Article 2, Constitution of … 1846.
  21. Ibid., § 23.
  22. Ibid., Article 3, § 1.
  23. Ibid., Article 4, Legislative Department.
  24. Ibid., Article 6.
  25. Ibid., Article 7, § 1.
  26. Ibid., Article 9, § 1.
  27. See Constitution of the State of Iowa, Adopted in Convention, at Iowa City, March 5th, A.D. 1857 (Muscatine, Iowa : p.p., 1857); digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
  28. Ibid., Article IV, § 3.
  29. Ibid., Article IV, § 16.
  30. Ibid., Article V, §§ 3, 5, 11.
  31. Ibid., Article X, § 3.
  32. Cross, “The Drafting of Iowa’s Constitution,” Iowa Official Register.
  33. Iowa Constitutional Convention Question, Measure 2 (2010), Ballotpedia ( : accessed 18 Jul 2012).
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