Wisconsin Territory

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Territory of Wisconsin
Organized incorporated territory of the United States



Location of Wisconsin Territory
Map of the Wisconsin Territory, 1836–1848
Capital Madison (1838–1848)

Burlington, Iowa (1837)
Belmont (July–October 1836)

Government Organized incorporated territory
 -  1836–1841 Henry Dodge
 -  1841–1844 James Duane Doty
 -  1844–1845 Nathaniel P. Tallmadge
 -  1845–1848 Henry Dodge
 -  1848 John Catlin (acting)
Legislature Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Wisconsin
 -  Organic Act effective July 3 1836
 -  Iowa Territory split off July 4, 1838
 -  Statehood of Wisconsin May 29, 1848

The Territory of Wisconsin was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 3, 1836, until May 29, 1848, when an eastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Wisconsin. Belmont was initially chosen as the capital of the territory, but this was changed in October 1836 to the capital of Madison.[1]

Territorial area[edit]

The area that would later be part of the second—and by far the longest lasting—incarnation of the Wisconsin Territory was originally part of the Northwest Territory. It was later included with the Indiana Territory when this was formed in 1800. In 1809, it became part of the Illinois Territory; then, when Illinois was about to become a state in 1818, this area was joined to the Michigan Territory. Then, the Wisconsin Territory was split off from Michigan Territory in 1836 as the state of Michigan prepared for statehood.

However, the original Wisconsin Territory, as established by statute on April 20, 1836,[2] did not just include land from the original Northwest Territory. By the Act of April 20, 1836, 4 Stat. at Large 10, ...this part of the territory ceded by France, where Fort Snelling is, together with so much of the territory of the United States east of the Mississippi, was brought under a Territorial Government under the name of the Territory of Wisconsin. By the eighteenth section of this incorporation act, it was enacted: "That the inhabitants of this Territory shall be entitled to and enjoy all and singular the rights, privileges, and advantages, granted and secured to the people of the Territory of the United States northwest of the river Ohio, by the articles of compact contained in the ordinance for the government of said Territory, passed on the 13th day of July, 1787, and shall be subject to all the restrictions and prohibitions in said articles of compact imposed upon the people of the said Territory."' In 1833, Congress had annexed huge tracts of land west of the Mississippi to the then Michigan Territory. When the Wisconsin Territory was split off from the Michigan Territory, it inherited this western land. Thus, the 1836 Wisconsin Territory included all of the present-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, and that part of the Dakotas that lay east of the Missouri River. The portion of the Territory east of the Mississippi River had originally been part of the Northwest Territory, which had itself been included in the cession by Britain in the 1783. Most of the remaining land of the original Wisconsin Territory was originally part of the Louisiana Purchase, though a small fraction was part of a parcel ceded by Great Britain in 1818. This land west of the Mississippi had been split off from the Missouri Territory in 1821 and attached to the Michigan Territory in 1834. In 1838, the Iowa Territory was formed, reducing the Wisconsin Territory to the boundaries for the next ten years; upon granting statehood to Wisconsin, its boundaries were once again reduced, to their present location.


There are irregularities in the historical timeline at the outset of the Territory. After Congress refused Michigan's petition for statehood, despite meeting the requirements specified in the Northwest Ordinance, the people of Michigan authorized its constitution in October 1835 and began self-governance at that time. Yet, Michigan did not enter the Union until January 26, 1837, and Congress did not organize the Wisconsin Territory separately from Michigan until July 3, 1836.

Hoping to provide for some continuity in governance during that interim, acting Governor of the Michigan Territory, Stevens T. Mason, issued a proclamation on August 25, 1835, that called for the election of a western legislative council (the seventh Michigan Territorial Council), which became known as the Rump Council. This council was to meet in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on January 1, 1836. However, because of the controversy between Michigan and Ohio over the Toledo Strip, known as the Toledo War, President Jackson removed Mason from office on August 15, 1835, and replaced him with John S. Horner. Horner issued his own proclamation on November 9, 1835, calling for the council to meet on December 1, 1835 — giving delegates less than a month to learn of the change and travel to the meeting. This caused considerable annoyance among the delegates, who ignored it. Even Horner himself neglected to attend. The Council convened on January 1 as previously scheduled, but Horner, while reportedly intending to attend, was delayed by illness and in the Governor's absence the council could do little more than perform some administrative and ceremonial duties. For its concession to the Toledo Strip, Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula.[3]

President Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge Governor and Horner Secretary. The first legislative assembly of the new territory was convened by Governor Dodge at Belmont, in the present Lafayette County, on October 25, 1836.[4] In 1837, Burlington, Iowa, became the second territorial capital of the Wisconsin Territory. The next year, the Iowa Territory was created and the capital was moved to Madison.[5]

Wisconsin Territory after Wisconsin became a state[edit]

When Wisconsin became a state on May 29, 1848, no provision was made for the section of land between the St. Croix River and the Mississippi River which had previously been organized as part of Wisconsin Territory. Additionally when Iowa became a state on December 28, 1846, no provision was made for official organization of the remainder of what had been Iowa Territory.[6] In the congress of 1846-47, when Wisconsin was being organized as a state, the Wisconsin territorial delegate to congress Morgan L. Martin pushed through a bill to organize a territory of Minnesota which would encompass this land. While the bill passed in the house, it did not pass the senate. In the following session a bill by Stephen A. Douglas was introduced in the senate but also did not pass. In the summer of 1848, residents in the area organized themselves and called a series of meetings. As these meetings commenced, the most recent territorial delegate to congress John H. Tweedy officially tendered his resignation, thus vacating the seat. Secretary of State John Catlin went to Stillwater, Minnesota, and in the capacity of acting governor of the territory issued writs for a special election to fill the seat, which was won by Henry H. Sibley on October 30.[7][8]

When Sibley went to Washington to take his seat in congress, he was not immediately recognized. Only after a long political battle was he allowed to take his seat on January 15, 1849. For a period of time, there were simultaneously representatives in congress from both the State of Wisconsin and the Territory of Wisconsin, an unprecedented situation. Sibley made it his first order of business to push through the statute necessary to establish the Territory of Minnesota, which occurred on March 3, 1849.[9][10]

Secretaries of Wisconsin Territory[edit]


The Legislative Assembly of the Wisconsin Territory consisted of a Council (equivalent to a senate) and Representatives. The first session of the First Legislative Assembly convened at Belmont, Iowa County (now in Lafayette County), on October 25, and adjourned December 9, 1836. The Council at that time had 14 seats, and was presided over by Henry Baird of Brown County. There were 26 Representatives; the Speaker of the House was Peter H. Engle of Dubuque County ("Dubuque County" at this time embraced all of the territory west of the Mississippi River and north of the latitude of the south end of Rock Island).

The last session of the Assembly was the Second Session of the Fifth Legislative Assembly, which convened February 7, and adjourned March 13, 1848. The President of the 13-member Council was Horatio N. Wells of Milwaukee, and the Speaker of the 26-member House of Representatives was Timothy Burns of Iowa County.[11]

Attorneys General of Wisconsin Territory[edit]

Congressional Delegates[edit]

See also Wisconsin Territory's at-large congressional district

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Wisconsin (territory)
  2. ^ State of Wisconsin (1921). Wisconsin statutes. Democrat Printing Co. p. 2701. Retrieved 19 April 2011. 
  3. ^ The Rump Council, Wisconsin Historical Society
  4. ^ History of Wisconsin – Chapter 2 – Wisconsin as a Territory
  5. ^ History of Iowa Territory
  6. ^ "Chapter 2 — Founding Documents". 2013 - 2014 Minnesota Legislative Manual (Blue Book) (PDF). Saint Paul, MN: Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. 2013. p. 50. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  7. ^ Shortridge, Wilson P. (August 1919). "Henry Hastings Sibley and the Minnesota Frontier". Minnesota History Bulletin 3 (3): 115–125. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  8. ^ The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin url=http://www.archive.org/details/historyracinean00cogoog. Chicago: Western Historical Company. 1879. pp. 55–56. 
  9. ^ Sibley, Henry H. (1880). Reminiscences of the Early Days of Minnesota. Retrieved August 18, 2014. 
  10. ^ Williams, John Fletcher (1894). "Henry Hastings Sibley: A Memoir". Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society (Minnesota Historical Society) 6: 257–310. Retrieved August 19, 2014. 
  11. ^ Heg, J. E., ed. The Blue Book of the State of Wisconsin 1882 Madison, 1882; pp. 161, 174


Coordinates: 44°N 90°W / 44°N 90°W / 44; -90