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Territory of Wisconsin


Territory of Wisconsin

Territory of Wisconsin
Organized incorporated territory of the United States



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

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]

Secretaries of Wisconsin Territory


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.[6]

Attorneys General of Wisconsin Territory

Congressional Delegates

See also Wisconsin Territory's at-large congressional district

See also



  • Wisconsin State Historical Society, Turning Points, Wisconsin Territory
  • John S. Horner Biography
  • The Rump Council
  • An Act establishing the Territorial Government of Wisconsin
  • Toledo War information regarding Upper Peninsula of Michigan

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

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