The Indiana General Assembly, A History: Part Six (1929-1941)

The cartoon from an Indiana artist expresses the concerns of many Hoosiers during the Great Depression. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The cartoon from an Indiana artist expresses the concerns of many Hoosiers during the Great Depression. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt (1933-1937). His reforms of the Indiana state government during the Great Depression still influence the state today. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Indiana Governor Paul V. McNutt (1933-1937). His reforms of the Indiana state government during the Great Depression still influence the state today. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Roberta Nicholson was one of Indiana's most influential liberals during the McNutt Era. Her campaigns for women's and civil rights predated a generation. Courtesy of Google Images.

Roberta Nicholson was one of Indiana’s most influential liberals during the McNutt Era. Her campaigns for women’s and civil rights predated a generation. Courtesy of Google Images.

The Dawn of the Great Depression

In the United States, the stock market crash of October 1929 sent the economy into a complete freefall. Lack of capital investment and an effective monetary policy left many Americans struggling with bank runs, bread lines, and crippling unemployment. Indiana, whose last ten years had seen expansive economic growth, also felt the ripple effects of the Great Depression. Specifically, many major cities in the Hoosier state were not immune. In LaPorte, Indiana, unemployment assistance requests also increased, from “$60,000 for the last three months of 1931…,” to “$…112,590 for the first quarter of 1932.”[1] LaPorte County even authorized over $500,000 in bond sales in 1932 to provide relief for the unemployed.[2]

This was a common practice during the early years of the Great Depression; President Herbert Hoover insisted on state and local governments as the remedy for unemployment.[3] Fort Wayne, like LaPorte, also set up a localized system of recovery resources called the Greater Fort Wayne Development Corporation (GFWC).[4] The GFWC acted as a land purchaser and lender of last resort to failing businesses in the city, and along with the Allen County Emergency Unemployment Committee (ACEUC), helped stave off further economic hardships in the region during the depression.[5] Like many states during the early years, Indiana kept its governmental programs local and largely private.

In the years 1929-1932, the Indiana General Assembly did little by way of direct aid to alleviate the crippling unemployment and poverty brought on the Great Depression. However, to say that they did nothing would be misleading. Many reforms of the late 1920s, particularly the beginnings of a state-wide road system and the state Budget Committee, created the governmental infrastructure necessary to both fund and implement large-scale government projects. 1925 saw the state’s largest budget and, by 1929, highway construction amounted to 37 percent of the Indiana state budget. Indiana’s Department of Conservation, formed a generation before, ran seven state parks with massive budgetary requirements by the end of the 1920s. Even though the legislature enacted some reforms, unemployment in the state reached nearly unprecedented levels by 1933. Jobless benefits in October of 1933 comprised 9.2% of the total Indiana population, or 503,076 persons.[6] The state and its legislature had to address some of these destructive forces of the Great Depression. Under the leadership of Governor Paul V. McNutt and the Democratic-led General Assembly, they did just that.

The McNutt Era (1933-1937)

Indiana’s government is generally typified by a weaker executive and a stronger legislative branch. However, two key eras of its history reversed that paradigm. The first was the Civil War under Governor Oliver P. Morton and the second was the governorship of Paul V. McNutt. Known as the “nation’s most powerful Governor,” McNutt oversaw an expansion of state government that Indiana had ever seen, before or since. Democrats had a powerful hold on state government after the Republican scandals of the 1920s, culminating in the 1932 elections. Rarely has a governor been given such an electoral mandate. As historian James H. Madison notes, “Democrats won 91 of 100 seats in the Indiana House of Representatives, 43 of 50 in the Indiana Senate, and all 12 congressional seats.”[7] At the heart of McNutt’s philosophy of government laid a commitment to what historian Dean Kotlowski called “security,” which came in social, political, and especially economic forms.[8] This commitment certainly influenced the actions of McNutt and the Indiana General Assembly. Between 1933 and 1935, the state government passed a whole slew of reforms tailored to face the economic realities of the Great Depression.

This period brought several major reforms, most coming out of what was described as the “bill factory,” a group of unelected advisors (mostly former legislators) that helped craft McNutt’s governmental vision.[9] From this group came many of his reforms, including the repeal of Indiana’s prohibition laws, an income tax reform bill, and a law known as the “Executive Reorganization Act,” which gave the governor control over patronage jobs and streamlined state government offices.[10] The Great Depression also pushed the legislature to create an old-age pension system for citizens of the state, which served as a precursor to the National system known as Social Security. Banking reform also came to the state in 1933, which insured banks would be reopened, failed banks would be liquidated, and all banks be overseen by a new agency, the Department of Financial Institutions.[11] The 1933 session was McNutt’s crowning achievement, and while many other reforms came during the 1935 session, it began to slow down after the Democrats lost their two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate. During the later years of his term, McNutt continued to support the New Deal, ensuring that Indiana would be one of the first states to support Social Security and also secured short-term jobs through state and federal infrastructure projects.[12] Paul McNutt’s time as Governor, alongside the Indiana General Assembly, provided many Hoosiers from relief from the Great Depression while simultaneously changing the structure and purpose of Indiana state government.

Aftermath (1937-1941)

After McNutt’s time as Governor, the state government under Governor M. Clifford Townsend pledged to continue McNutt’s course, although in a more tempered form. However, the midterms of 1938 ensured Republican victories and a scale back of some of McNutt’s reforms. The patronage system developed by McNutt spiraled out of control, and by 1939, Republicans in the Indiana House of Representatives wanted to impeach then-Governor M. Clifford Townsend for executive overreach. While the plan failed, it showed that the era of McNutt and his political control over the state was not always met with support. In 1941, Indiana Governor Henry Schricker fought for the Executive Reorganization Act and its patronage powers and won, stopping a proposed bill that would limit his authority.[13] Schricker’s grace and political acumen left much of McNutt’s governmental legacy intact, with serious reorganization efforts stalled until the 1960s. Overall, the era after the New Deal saw a splintering of support within the Democratic Party and a renewed vigor in the Republicans within the General Assembly, especially after they accepted some of the New Deal’s reforms.

Notable Legislators

  • Roberta Nicholson

Roberta Nicholson was one of the most remarkable persons to have ever served in the Indiana General Assembly, and her impact on the role of women in Indiana government and public life is profound. Born January 17, 1903 in Cincinnati, OH, Nicholson was born into privilege, yet “devoted herself to fighting injustice wherever she perceived it.”[14] Nicholson was a liberal champion and ardent feminist, generations before the movement became more established. She helped found the first birth control clinic in the city of Indianapolis in 1931 and served a director of Marion County League of Women Voters before being elected to the Indiana General Assembly in 1934.[15] As the only woman of the 1935 session, her pet issue was a law that would “abolish civil cases of action for alienation of affections,” which basically would outlaw the suing of an extra-marital partner in the event of a divorce.[16] Her shrewd political management of the bill, particularly with Lieutenant Governor M. Clifford Townsend, ensured its passage into law during the session. After her time in the legislature, she worked to abolish race restrictions on soldier recreational areas in Indianapolis during World War II and served as the head of the Indianapolis branch of Planned Parenthood. Roberta Nicholson was one of Governor Paul McNutt’s ardent supporters and a woman far ahead of her time, both in political and social life of the state.

  • Chester Perkins

As a counterpoint to Nicholson’s liberalism, Chester Perkins openly opposed McNutt’s policies and took drastic steps to make his opposition known. Born January 3, 1881 in Portage Township, Indiana, Perkins lived all over the country in his early years until he settled down in South Bend, Indiana in 1919. He was a proprietor of many businesses, mostly construction, contracting, and also spent time as a realtor. First elected to the Indiana State Senate as a Democrat in 1922, Perkins went on to serve in the General Assembly for ten years.[17] When McNutt and the progressive Democrats were at the height of their power in 1933, Perkins remained a stalwart conservative who stood against all their reforms. He especially disliked the Governor’s new tax plan, and when it passed on February 25, 1933, Perkins resigned. He argued that he could no longer represent his constituents effectively and that McNutt’s governorship and the General Assembly’s actions were unlawful and violated the Indiana Constitution.[18] While McNutt may have enjoyed praise and support for many of his reforms, Perkins’s own dedication to principles stood out among his peers.

[1] George W. Boudreau, “Memory, Identity, and Heritage in the Great Depression The LaPorte, Indiana, Centennial of 1932 as a Case Study,” Indiana Magazine of History 103, no. 2 (June 2007), 156.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Iwan Morgan, “Fort Wayne and the Great Depression: The Early Years, 1929-1933,” Indiana Magazine of History 80, no. 2 (June 1984), 122.

[4] Ibid, 124.

[5] Ibid, 127.

[6] Federal Emergency Relief Administration, Unemployment Relief Census, October 1933 (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1934), 12.

[7] James H. Madison, Hoosiers: A New History of Indiana (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), 257.

[8] Dean J. Kotlowski, Paul V. McNutt and the Age of FDR (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2015), 43-44, Ebook.

[9] Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 443.

[10] Ibid, 444.

[11] Ibid, 446.

[12] Madison, Hoosiers, 258-239.

[13] Walsh, Centennial History, 484.

[14] Ibid, 579.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid, 280.

[17] Charles W. Calhoun, Alan F. January, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Rebecca Shepherd, A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, Volume 2: 1901-1984 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980), 331.

[18] Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 579

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The Indiana General Assembly, A History: Part Five (1891-1928)

The 11th Infantry at Fort Harrison, Indianapolis- 1917. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

The 11th Infantry at Fort Harrison, Indianapolis- 1917. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

D.C. Stephenson (Left) used his power as Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan to help elect  an Indiana Government  sympathetic to the Klan's wishes, with Governor Ed Jackson (Right) being the embodiment of that influence. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

D.C. Stephenson (Left) used his power as Grand Dragon of the Indiana Ku Klux Klan to help elect an Indiana Government sympathetic to the Klan’s wishes, with Governor Ed Jackson (Right) being the embodiment of that influence. Courtesy of Indiana Historical Society Digital Collections.

The Progressive Era

The turn of the century saw Indiana growing increasingly more urban, more diverse, and more socially conscious, at least in the ambitions of the Progressives. Progressivism, as a philosophy of governance and life, was dedicated to the use of governmental power to improve the material, political, and economic conditions of the working classes. Indiana, always a more pragmatic state, typified its own version of Progressivism. While some of the more nationally-known progressive ideals like women’s suffrage and the income tax were put on the back burner, the Indiana General Assembly did enact some deeply progressive reforms.[1] In 1899, the legislature passed the Hurty Pure Food and Drug Act (named for Indiana’s Secretary of the State Board of Health Dr. John N. Hurty), which served as a basis for the national Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.[2] One of Indiana’s most Progressive reformers, Albion Fellows Bacon, also championed the need for better housing for the poor.[3] Her efforts led to the passage of Indiana’s first housing law in 1909, which was later expanded in 1913 to include all cities of the state.[4]

Two of the biggest legislative accomplishments during the Progressive Era were the General Primary Act of 1907 and the Statewide Enforcement Law of 1915. These two pieces of legislation secured the direct election of all primary nominees for local, state, and federal elections. It also made sure that party delegates for Presidential elections were chosen through a direct, majority vote. For the first time in Indiana’s history, nominees were chosen directly by the people, rather than through the traditional party process. These reforms, along with the nineteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing women’s suffrage, helped to broaden the enfranchisement of voters throughout the state. While attempts were made to repeal these laws during the 1920s (with a serious repeal of the 1915 law in 1929) the voter reforms endured and the process was largely readopted in subsequent years.[5] In all, the Progressive era came to Indiana through pragmatism and a concerted effort, by both legislators and activists alike, to improve the lives of Hoosiers.[6]

Ralston’s Progressivism and the Indiana Centennial

In 1916, Indiana turned 100 years old, and the legislature prepared for the joyous occasion with resources and celebrations. No one quite embodied the progressive spirit of Indiana during the period like Governor Samuel Ralston, elected 1912. His governorship brought Indiana swiftly into the twentieth century, ushering in a new era of rapid industrialization and urbanization and believed that government’s role was to secure these economic gains through legislation that served the needs of all citizens. One of his greatest achievements was the creation, with the passage of a public utilities bill of the Indiana General Assembly, of a Public Service Commission that would help regulate public utilities throughout the state.[7] However, Ralston’s commitment to the Indiana Centennial remains another key achievement of his time as Governor.

The Indiana General Assembly, after a request from Governor Ralston, passed a bill that appropriated $25,000 to the creation of an Indiana Historical Commission that would oversee the Centennial celebrations.[8] Interested in creating displays and programs that were in keeping with the patriotic fervor of the Governor and the Historical Commission (of which he was President). While the General Assembly agreed to the Commission and its subsequent funds, it was not interested in some of the Governor’s specific initiatives. One of these initiatives was a state highway system, originally introduced in 1913. The “Hughes Bill” called for a statewide system of roadways and taxes that would connect the rural and urban sectors of Indiana. Pressure from rural citizens, who thought it was their responsibility to handle local roads, brought the Hughes bill to defeat, with a vote of 79 to 13. While federal funds insured the creation of some roads in the state, a state highway system would have to wait.[9] Nonetheless, Ralston’s leadership during the centennial era saw both successes and failure, and both were inexorably tied to the interests of the General Assembly.

World War I

            World War I, known in its time as the “Great War,” ravaged Europe for three years before the United States joined the conflict in 1917. While many soldiers served honorably during the war, the General Assembly’s actions towards German-Americans on the home front presented deep challenges to the Hoosier State. At the time, the Indiana population had nearly 500,000 immigrants from Europe, with a significant number from Germany and Austria. Once the war broke out, a form of “superpatriotism” took hold on the country and Indiana, one that began to see German-Americans as an antagonistic force (even though German-Americans had become a well-respected sector of the state and the city of Indianapolis). This nativism and jingoism saw its way into the public school system, where new laws, passed in 1919 by the General Assembly, ended the decades-long German language classes in Indianapolis Public Schools.[10] Indiana’s treatment of German-Americans during World War I presented a clear contradiction to the Progressive era’s humanitarian goals.    

The General Assembly and the Klan

            During the 1920s, the Indiana state government came under control by one of the most discriminatory and oppressive regimes in American history: the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan, by 1925, had control over not only the majority of the General Assembly but also had the blessing of Governor Ed Jackson. Their objectives not only pushed for discrimination against African-Americans, but they also had a strong antagonism towards Catholics and immigrants. This “second wave” of the Klan (the first wave appeared during the tumultuous years after the Civil War) had nearly 300,000 members, and its explicit purpose was to use governmental influence to push forward its discriminatory agenda.[11] The man behind the Klan’s control of Indiana state government was David Curtis (D.C.) Stephenson. Stephenson, who became the head (“Grand Dragon”) of the Indiana chapter in 1923, used his power and influence to both break off from the Klan’s national leadership (and its leader, Walter Bossert) in 1924 and to elect a state government sympathetic to the Klan’s agenda. His victories led Stephenson to being referred to as “the law in Indiana.”[12]

When Governor Ed Jackson and the “Klan Assembly” came into power in 1925, it had specific legislative goals that represented both the Stephenson-led and Bossert-led factions of the Klan. Their educational agenda, focused on the dismantlement of religious freedom in parochial schools and textbook requirements in all schools, was a strategic move to disrupt the lives of Catholics in Indiana.[13] Known as the Murden Bill, these educational requirements did pass the Indiana House, but would die in the Indiana Senate. The Senate never came completely under the Klan like the House did, which led to the death of many pieces of Anti-Catholic and Anti-African-American legislation involving schools, highways, and places of public accommodation.[14] After each successive legislative failure, the Klan began to lose its grip on Indiana government. Later that year, Stephenson was convicted of the rape and murder of Indianapolis woman Madge Oberholtzer and sentenced to life in prison. When Governor Ed Jackson refused to pardon Stephenson, the former Grand Dragon turned in evidence against Jackson, noting his collusion with Klan in state government. Jackson was charged with crimes of bribery and underwent trial while he was still in office. While acquitted in 1928, Jackson left office in disgrace and never sought another public position.[15] The Ku Klux Klan, for a brief moment, had a severely tight grip on Indiana government, to the detriment of all citizens of the state. While this political storm consumed Indiana during the 1920s, the next decade would bring an equally traumatic economic storm that would test Indiana government in a way unseen since the Civil War.

Notable Legislators

  • Booth Tarkington

Booth Tarkington, one of Indiana’s most successful and critically-acclaimed novelists, found inspiration for his writing from his time as a member of the Indiana General Assembly. Born July 29, 1869 in Indianapolis, Tarkington came from a wealthy family and was educated at the prestigious Exeter Academy in New Hampshire. He also graduated from Purdue and Cambridge University, in 1891 and 1893, respectively. He served as a State Representative during the 1903 session, and he came into the session “to help some blind constituents who did not want to go to the poorhouse.”[16] Tarkington introduced a bill that would have given blind citizens training in broom making, and while it passed in the legislature, it was vetoed by Governor Winfield T. Durbin.[17] His experiences in the House, particularly his support of a controversial bill for Sunday baseball, inspired his novel In the Arena, published in 1905. Tarkington’s two nephews, John Jameson and Donald Butler, assisted their uncle in the General Assembly and inspired the characters for his successful Penrod trilogy of novels.[18] Tarkington’s time in the General Assembly served as a backdrop for many of his novels, and along with his contemporary James Whitcomb Riley, ushered in the “Indiana Renaissance” of literature in the early twentieth century.

  • Herbert P. Kenney, Sr.

Representative Herbert P. Kenney, Sr. was one of the many legislators who expressed their opposition, often with more than his voice, to the Ku Klux Klan’s control of Indiana state government during the 1920s. Born April 5, 1883 in Lake County, Indiana, Kenney was a graduate of the Jefferson School of Law in Louisville, Kentucky and admitted to the bar in 1913. Alongside his law practice, he also had a successful career as a dairy farmer. Kenney, a Democrat, was first elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1923, and was reelected in 1925 and 1931.[19] Kenney’s shining moment in the Indiana General Assembly came in 1925, during the infamous “Klan Session” of the legislature. He opposed the Murden Bill, which required that religious and parochial schools use the same textbooks as public schools (which had been grossly edited to the Klan’s approval). The legislators who supported the measure and the Klan tried to strong-arm him into the supporting the measure, he displayed a pistol on his belt. They never tried to intimidate him again.[20] Kenney was one of the strongest objectors to the Klan’s abuse of power, and he used his wits, and his weapon, to defend the Indiana Constitution.

[1] James H. Madison, The Indiana Way: A State History (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1986), 222.

[2] Madison, The Indiana Way, 222-223.

[3] For more on Albion Fellows Bacon and her impact on the Progressive Era on Indiana, see Robert G. Barrows, Albion Fellows Bacon: Indiana’s Municipal Housekeeper (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000).

[4] Madison, The Indiana Way, 222-223.

[5] Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 360-363. For more on the movement to allow direct voting of primary nominees, see Ray Boomhower, “To Secure Honest Elections’: Jacob Piatt Dunn, Jr., and the Reform of  Indiana’s Ballot,” Indiana Magazine of History 90, no. 4 (December 1994): 311-345, accessed February 20, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27791778.

[6] The Progressive Era was not without its controversies. Eugenics, the supposed method of population and pregnancy control, became very influential to the Indiana General Assembly. They passed many pieces of legislation that curtailed the reproductive rights of many Indiana citizens, which led to state-sanctioned sterilizations. The state removed many of these pieces of legislation under the leadership of Governor Otis Bowen in the 1970s. For more on this subject, see Alexandria Minna Stern, “We Cannot Make a Silk Purse Out of a Sow’s Ear’: Eugenics in the Hoosier Heartland,” Indiana Magazine of History 103, no. 1 (March 2007): 3-38, accessed April 15, 2015, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/12254.

[7] Suellen M. Hoy, Samuel M. Ralston: Progressive Governor, 1913-1917 (Ph.D. Dissertation, Department of History, Indiana University, 1975), 60-78.

[8] Suellen M. Hoy, “Samuel M. Ralston and Indiana’s Centennial Celebration,” Indiana Magazine of History 71, no. 3 (September 1975): 248, accessed March 13, 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27790044.

[9] Ibid, 260-266. Another key victory during the Ralston era was the creation of the state park system, particularly the crown jewel of the era, Turkey Run. For more on this see Ibid, 253-259.

[10] Paul J. Ramsey, “The War against German-American Culture: The Removal of German-Language Instruction from the Indianapolis Schools, 1917–1919,” Indiana Magazine of History 98, no. 4 (December 2002): 286-303, accessed April 8, 2015, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/11950.

[11] Ron F. Smith, “The Klan’s Retribution Against an Indiana Editor: A Reconsideration,” Indiana Magazine of History 106, no. 4 (December 2010), 381, accessed April 15, 2015, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/12574.

[12] M. William Lutholtz, Grand Dragon: D.C. Stephenson and the Ku Klux Klan in Indiana (West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 1991), 114. This particular phrase is almost apocryphal at this point; while Stephenson may have never said it in exactly these words, it was referenced in the Indianapolis News in 1925. See ibid, 332n1.

[13] Ibid, 153-154.

[14] Walsh, Centennial History, 319-324.

[15] Madison, The Indiana Way, 294.

[16] Charles W. Calhoun, Alan F. January, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Rebecca Shepherd, A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, Volume 2: 1901-1984 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980), 96.

[17] Walsh, Centennial History, 409.

[18] Walsh, Centennial History, 410.

[19] Charles W. Calhoun  et. al., A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, 96.

[20] Walsh, Centennial History, 317-319, 322.

The Indiana General Assembly, a History: Part Four (1866-1890)

Eugene V. Debs, ca. 1890s. His frustrating, short-lived career in the Indiana Senate catalyzed his labor activism and Presidential campaigns under the Socialist Party ticket. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Eugene V. Debs, ca. 1890s. His frustrating, short-lived career in the Indiana Senate catalyzed his labor activism and Presidential campaigns under the Socialist Party ticket. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

James Sidney Hinton, 1881. Hinton was the first African-American in the Indiana General Assembly and the first African-American to hold a public office in Indiana state government. Courtesy of  Statehouse File.

James Sidney Hinton, 1881. Hinton was the first African-American in the Indiana General Assembly and the first African-American to hold a public office in Indiana state government. Courtesy of Statehouse File.

Governor Isaac P. Gray. His desire to become a U.S. Senator lead to the violent

Governor Isaac P. Gray. His desire to become a U.S. Senator lead to the violent “Black Day” of the Indiana General Assembly. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The Reconstruction Era and the Gilded Age

            After the Civil War, Indiana’s economy and society progressed in multiple ways, but the politics were still divided, problematic and, at least on one occasion, violent. During Reconstruction and the Gilded Age, the party “bosses” (often embodied in party committeemen), controlled a large portion of the political dialogue, especially in the election of legislators and the framing of state legislative accomplishments.[1] Members elected to the General Assembly were also extremely local; as historian Philip Vandermeer notes, “63% were lifetime residents of their communities.”[2] An internal divide existed between the state parties’ leadership and the local politicians, always trying to find a balance of power. Furthermore, a contraction of money during the recessions of 1868 and 1873 precipitated legislative remedies from the General Assembly, including regulations on railroad rates. It even inspired a whole political movement around sound monetary policy, the Greenback Party, which won a minority of seats in the legislature during the 1874 election.[3] The Republican Party had a nice foothold on the politics of Indiana immediately after the Civil War, but during the Gilded Age, the General Assembly was mostly a Democratic institution.

The movement for temperance, and outright prohibition, grew in the immediate years after Reconstruction. In Indiana, many powerful organizations emerged whose main mission was to limit or to outlaw alcohol all together. The Indiana Temperance Alliance, in conjunction with the national Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), held conferences throughout the 1870s that favored prohibition and limited alcohol use. This activism inspired only minor legislation from the Indiana General Assembly, most notably a law that outlawed Sunday and holiday liquor sales. Public drunkenness was also given stronger punishments. Despite all this, the temperance movement didn’t back down. In response to growing complaints from citizens and temperance groups, a prohibition amendment was proposed by the Indiana House of Representatives in 1881, but was shot down. Temperance would continue to shape the state throughout the late nineteenth century and would lead to the implementation of national Prohibition during the 1920s.[4]

The Rise of Suffrage

Along with temperance, Women’s suffrage emerged as an influential force the late nineteenth century, and it equally influenced Indiana. Dr. Mary Thomas and Amanda Way, both motivated by their Quaker upbringing, helped to found the Indiana Women’s Rights Association (IWRA) in 1851. In 1859, Dr. Thomas was the first woman to speak in front of the Indiana General Assembly, where she introduced a petition to extend full political equality to women. Historian James H. Madison described the General Assembly’s response: “Legislators listened, some ridiculed, nothing resulted.”[5] After a hiatus in the 1850s, Way and Thomas reinstated the IWRA in 1869, which led to another presentation to the Indiana General Assembly in 1871. This time, Way spoke to the legislature and argued for the same legal and political equality that Thomas had called for a generation prior.[6] The General Assembly decided against Way’s requests, and even passed a law in 1873 that limited divorces in the state.[7] Nevertheless, Way and Thomas’s activism on suffrage and equality impacted generations of women’s rights activists who eventually saw the passage of the Women’s suffrage amendment in 1920.

The “Black Day” of the Indiana General Assembly

            Beginning as an electoral dispute that turned into outright violence, the “Black Day” of the Indiana General Assembly remains one of the darkest moments in Indiana political history. In 1885, Governor Isaac P. Gray voiced interest in an appointment to Benjamin Harrison’s U. S. Senate seat after Harrison’s presumed election to the Presidency in 1888. From this, an internal battle over the Lieutenant Governor’s position began. Robert Roberson’s election to Lieutenant Governor in an 1886 run-off race bitterly pitted Democrats against Republicans. The Democrats even went so far as to ignore the wishes of the people and not seat Robertson as President of the Senate in the 1887 legislative session. As a countermeasure, Assembly Democrats chose their own Lieutenant Governor, Alonzo Green Smith, and decided to seat him instead of Robertson. This action led to a four-hour melee in the General Assembly on February 24, 1887. Fighting went throughout the state house, and some legislators were seriously injured. It led to a complete breakdown of state government that lasted throughout the 1887 session. This terrible example, among others, inspired the federal government to pass a Constitutional amendment mandating the direct election of U.S. Senators, so as to avoid these transgressions in the future.[8]

Completion of the New State House

            The first state house in Indianapolis, built in 1835 and structurally problematic, was eventually demolished in 1877. In March of that year, the General Assembly approved the construction of a new state house, one that reflected the respectability and integrity of Indiana.[9] The legislation appropriated $2 million to its construction and selected Edwin Way as its chief architect. Construction began in the fall of 1878, and the functions of state government moved into the Marion County Courthouse. The Courthouse itself was only two years old, so facilitating the needs of the state’s government while still continuing its original purposes presented a challenge to administrators. The building was completed on October 2, 1888, on time and nearly $20,000 under budget. As historian Justin Walsh notes, the new state house presented a “rare example of a public building erected for less than the original estimate.”[10] Two years later, in 1890, a statue of former Governor and Vice-President Thomas Hendricks was installed on the southeast lawn, flanked by statues of History and Justice. The new state house represented government at its best: a well-built building made on time and on budget and still serves as the state house to this day. It is such a testament to the effectiveness of the government of its era, even when they fiercely, and sometimes violently, disagreed.

Notable Legislators

  • James Sidney Hinton

Hinton holds a special place within the history Indiana government: he is the first African-American elected to the Indiana General Assembly. Born in 1834 in the slave-holding state of South Carolina, Hinton’s family moved to Terre Haute in 1848. Hinton’s parents died when he was quite young and he was educated within the Quakers’ school system. He even had an interest in becoming a doctor. During the Civil War, Hinton became a recruiter for black infantrymen in Massachusetts, and when Indiana changed its rules on black servicemen, Hinton became a recruiter for the 28th Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops.

After the war, Hinton went into public service. As trustee of the Wabash and Erie canals from 1873-75, he was the first African American to serve in Indiana public office. In 1880, he was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives, becoming the first African American member of the Indiana General Assembly. After the legislature, Hinton remained a sought-after public speaker and Republican Party leader until his death in 1893. Reflecting on his place in history and the advancement of African Americans, Hinton said, “The forces of truth and the principles of liberty, born in the days of the revolution, and proclaimed in the Declaration of 1776 have placed the negro for the first time in his history on this continent in position to realize that he is a man and an American citizen.”[11]

  • Eugene V. Debs

Politician and labor activist Eugene V. Debs consolidated his place in American history with memorable Presidential campaigns in the early 20th century, running on the Socialist Party ticket. However, his roots in politics go much further. Born November 5, 1855 in Terre Haute, Indiana, Debs seemed destined for a revolutionary life. His two given names, Eugene and Victor, came from radicals in their own right: European revolutionary Eugene Sue and author Victor Hugo.[12] A lumber and railroad worker, Debs eventually served as Terre Haute City Clerk from 1879-1883. He was elected in the 1884 election to the Indiana Senate as a Democrat.[13] While in session, Debs worked hard to secure the passage of a bill that would, “require corporations to compensate employees for job-related injuries.”[14] After the bill failed to get passed, he did not seek reelection and left electoral politics in the state of Indiana.

Debs’ activism and keen insight showed itself in the Pullman Railcar Strike of 1894. Debs appeared reluctant to advance the strike, especially if violence was involved. When violence did break out and the federal government sent in soldiers to quell the strike, Debs saw the brighter side of the strike. As historian H. Wayne Morgan notes, the Pullman Strike, “impressed something on his mind that he never forgot: the strikers had stood together for a common cause until the power of the state itself had been called in to crush them. Here was the secret of success for any movement, whether it be in labor or politics-unity of purpose and action.”[15] Learning from his experience, Debs went on to help found the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) and the Social Democrat Party of America (1897). He ran for President five times of the Socialist Party ticket, receiving nearly a million votes in the 1920 election. A strong voice for labor and the working class, Debs remains, “one of the most influential Americans to have served in the Indiana legislature between 1850 and 1890.”[16]

[1] Philip R. Vandermeer, “Bosses, Machines, and Democratic Leadership: Party Organization and Managers in Indiana,1880-1910”, Social Science History 12, no. 4 (Winter 1988): 418-419.

[2] Ibid, 405.

[3] William G. Carleton, “The Money Question in Indiana Politics: 1865-1890,” Indiana Magazine of History 42, no. 2 (June 1946): 117-118, 122-124.

[4] For an excellent overview of temperance in Indiana, see Charles E. Canup, “The Temperance Movement in Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History 16, no. 2 (June 1920): 112-151.

[5] James H. Madison, The Indiana Way: A State History (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1986), 226.

[6] Eric L. Hamilton, “The Role of Quakerism in the Indiana Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1851-1885: Towards a More Perfect Freedom for All,” (Master’s Thesis, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 2013), 63.

[7] Madison, The Indiana Way, 226.

[8] For more on the “Black Day” of the Indiana General Assembly, see Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 203-207.

[9] Walsh, Centennial History, 275.

[10] Ibid, 276.

[11] “Speech Delivered by J.S. Hinton at Woods Hill, Vigo County, IN, July 4, 1876,” (Indianapolis: Indiana State Library, Indiana Division, 1876). A great overview of Hinton’s life can be found in Alan F. January and Justin Walsh, A Century of Achievement: Black Hoosiers in the Indiana General Assembly: 1881-1986 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1986), 19.

[12] H. Wayne Morgan, “The Utopia of Eugene V. Debs,” American Quarterly 11, no. 2 (Summer 1959): 129.

[13] Charles W. Calhoun, Alan F. January, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Rebecca Shepherd, A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, Volume 1: 1816-1899 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980), 96.

[14] Justin E. Walsh, Centennial History, 257.

[15] H. Wayne Morgan, “The Utopia of Eugene V. Debs,” 123.

[16] Walsh, Centennial History, 257.

The Indiana General Assembly, a History: Part Three (1850-1865)

The revised 1851 Indiana Constitution. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The revised 1851 Indiana Constitution. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

Indiana's war-time Governor. His policies led to a fierce inner civil war with the General Assembly.

Indiana’s war-time Governor. His policies led to a fierce internal civil war with the General Assembly. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society.

The New State Constitution of 1851

After years of political and budgetary turmoil, the Indiana General Assembly and the general public agreed that it was time for an improved state constitution. The failures of the Mammoth Internal Improvements Act in the 1830s and 40s precipitated a need for more safeguards against “special legislation,” or local legislation that served special interests.[1] The election of state delegates, many from within the General Assembly, ensured that state debt would be contained and allowed for only special defense purposes. For example, delegate Schulyer Colfax (future vice-president under Ulysses S. Grant) wanted the language on debt to be so clear that, “no more State debt shall hereafter be created upon any pretext whatever. . .”[2] The limitations enacted against the General Assembly created a rigid political system that neglected the promise of debt remuneration for at least three decades, especially during the disastrous effects of the Civil War.

The delegates, however, did create more effective organizational tools for the legislature. The General Assembly was provided with biennial sessions with sixty-one days of legislative time, and a two-year term for representatives and a four-year term for senators were also established. Furthermore, the House and Senate were limited to only 100 and 50 members, respectively. These same provisions continue today, with the notable exception that the General Assembly now meets every year. The delegates also made some social progress, instituting a stronger push for public schools and easier access to citizenship for immigrants.[3] Yet, there was one particular provision of the new state constitution that created widespread animosity up through the Civil War.

Indiana and Race: The Antebellum Years

When the state constitution was ratified by the public in February 1851, it institutionalized its own version of racism. Article 13 stated that, “No negro or mulatto shall come into or settle in the State, after the adoption of this Constitution.”[4] Even though Indiana was a Free State, a strong antagonism towards African-Americans lingered. As historian David G. Vanderstel noted, Article 13, “demonstrated the strength of the exclusion and colonization movements, which sought to remove blacks to Africa.”[5] Voting rights for the already 11,000 African-American citizens was also prohibited by the 1851 constitution, and African-American marriages were also left unrecognized.[6] Many of these egregious policies were slowly reversed after the Civil War, but discrimination and legal obfuscations continued well into the mid twentieth century.

Indiana and the Civil War

The Civil War permanently altered the course of the United States, and Indiana’s unique role in the conflict underscored these drastic changes. Indiana ranked second among the Union in the amount of troops, just over 197,000, and suffered over 25,000 casualties.[7] While personal sacrifices occurred on the battlefield, an internal civil war erupted between the Governor and the Indiana General Assembly. The eye of this political hurricane was Governor Oliver P. Morton, often cited as Indiana’s most influential Governor. Elected as Lieutenant Governor under Henry Smith Lane, Morton assumed the Governorship after Lane went the U.S. Senate.[8] From 1861 to 1867, Morton made his presence felt throughout the state, often in controversial ways.

Morton’s leadership exacerbated the political divisions within the Indiana General Assembly. Some Democratic legislators scrambled to remain relevant, supporting the aims of the Union but not the executive power grabs of Morton or President Lincoln. Others were fierce “Peace Democrats,” which the Morton administration targeted as “Copperheads” and “traitors.”[9] The same divide pervaded the Republicans as well, but their leadership often bowed to Morton’s forceful demands. But by 1862, the barrage of military failures and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation had angered the Indiana public enough to ensure a Democratic sweep in the mid-term elections.

Once the Democrats had control of the state’s legislature and finances, the legislative progress of Indiana stagnated for over two years. When the General Assembly tried to pass a law that truncated the Governor’s war-time powers, the Republicans, “bolted, fleeing Indianapolis in order not to be forced to provide a legislative quorum.”[10] The finances of the state become so dire that Governor Morton, along with a consortium of bankers united by fellow Hoosier James Lanier, financed the state government by fiat, without legislative approval. At one point, Morton doled out funds from a safe in his office, virtually circumventing the General Assembly.[11] By 1864, Morton was essentially a dictator, but the cause of the Union, at least in his perspective, was larger than the need of constant legislative approval. The Indiana public largely agreed. The 1864 elections swept a wave of Republicans into the legislature, reelected Morton, and helped calm some of the storm that was Indiana’s government.

Once the war was over, Morton finished out his term and became a United States Senator. The Indiana General Assembly, by 1869, was flooded with Radical Republicans, ensuring that at least some of Reconstruction’s policies were carried out. Nonetheless, the Civil War divided the Hoosier state in ways not felt since, and Morton’s tempestuous relationship with the General Assembly certainly motivated those divisions.

Notable Legislators

  • Horace Heffren
    • The Civil War era was full of cantankerous characters, and State Representative Horace Heffren was no exception. In 1861, Heffren, a Democratic representative from Washington County, was accused of treason by Republican lawmaker Gideon C. Moody. Tensions grew so quickly that on February 11, 1861, Moody challenged Heffren to a duel in Campbell County, Kentucky. A Sheriff stopped them just before fatal shots could be fired and the Indiana General Assembly took no recourse against them.[12] After the attempted duel, Heffren was again tried for treason in 1864, but to no avail. Heffren was lambasted by Republicans as, “one of the most loudmouthed, rampant, bitter, boisterous, violent, venomous, poisonous copperheads that could be found on the face of the footstool.”[13] Whether or not Heffren was actually a traitor is lost to history, but the level of animus against him shows the bitter divisions within the Indiana General Assembly during the Civil War.
  • Alexander J. Douglas
    • The arrest and trial of Indiana State Senator Alexander J. Douglas provides us with a glimpse into the intense and polarizing era of the Civil War. Douglas, born in Ohio in 1827, practiced law and served as Whitley County prosecutor from 1859 until his election to the Indiana General Assembly in 1862.[14] With a voting public disgruntled from the heavy-handed policies of Morton, Douglas benefited from wave of votes for Democrats in the mid-term elections. As a fierce opponent of the policies of Lincoln and Governor Oliver P. Morton, Douglas used his new-found influence in the Senate to denounce Unionist policies and their “centralization” of state of power.[15] These tensions accelerated after the arrest of noted anti-war Democrat Clement Vallandigham, whose speech in Columbus, OH chastised the dissent-snuffing policies of General Ambrose Burnside. Douglas came to Vallandigham’s defense in a series of speeches denouncing the use of military arrest on civilians. Douglas was then arrested by General William Tecumseh Sherman and put on trial through a military tribunal.[16] Even though he was found not guilty of treason, Douglas’s trial illustrated the deep ideological and political divisions at the heart of Indiana during the Civil War.

[1] Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 179.

[2] Donald F. Carmony, “Historical Background of the Restrictions Against State Debt in the Indiana Constitution of 1851,” Indiana Magazine of History 47, no. 2 (June 1951): 129, 140.

[3] James H. Madison, The Indiana Way: A State History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), 138-140.

[4] Charles Kettlebrough, Constitution Making In Indiana, 3 vols. (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1916, 1930 [reprint edition], Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1971), 1: 360.

[5] David G. Vanderstel, “The 1851 Indiana Constitution,” Indiana Historical Bureau, accessed November 12, 2014, http://www.in.gov/history/2689.htm.

[6] Madison, The Indiana Way, 169-170.

[7] Ibid, 197.

[8] Ibid, 198.

[9] John D. Barnhart, “The Impact of the Civil War in Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History 57, no. 3 (September 1961): 187.

[10] Madison, The Indiana Way, 203.

[11] Ibid, 203.

[12] Walsh, Centennial History, 189.

[13] Ibid, 190-191.

[14] Stephen Towne, “Worse than Vallandigham: Governor Oliver P. Morton, Lambdin P. Milligan, and the Military Arrest and Trial of Indiana State Senator Alexander J. Douglas during the Civil War,” Indiana Magazine of History 106 (March 2010): 6-8.

[15] Ibid, 10.

[16] Ibid, 32.

The Indiana General Assembly, A History: Part Two (1826-1846)

Indiana Governor Noah Noble (1831-1837). Noble was a substantial supporter of the first Indiana geological survey and the Internal Improvements Act. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society

Indiana Governor Noah Noble (1831-1837). Noble was a substantial supporter of the first Indiana geological survey and the Internal Improvements Act. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society

Wabash_and_Erie_Bond

A state bond for the Wabash and Erie Canal. Bonds like this were issued to citizens and speculators for funding of the failed Internal Improvements Act of 1836. Courtesy of the Indiana Historical Society


Indiana’s Geological Survey

One of the more daunting tasks asked of the legislature was establishing a geologic survey of the state. Its origins date to 1830, when the General Assembly passed a resolution calling for the state’s first geologic survey connected with a professorship at Indiana University. This plan failed and the issue was not readdressed until 1836, when the General Assembly passed a new resolution calling for the creation of a geologic survey, led by twenty-seven year old David Dale Owen. Starting in 1837, Owen surveyed the state’s southern half and made his way northward. His primary task involved marking the delineation of coal and mineral deposits.[1]

Owen also perfected a method for determining the depth of coal deposits, which stipulated that once miners discovered limestone displaying specific fossils, no more coal was underneath. Owen’s reports to the General Assembly in 1837-39 gave legislators a wide range of information about the geologic properties of the state, including a topographical analysis and exact measurements of coal and mineral deposits. Due to his superb findings on the first geological survey, the General Assembly even consulted Owen on future geological projects up until his death in 1860. Owen’s dedication to science and exact methods inspired generations of geologists interested in Indiana and the Midwest.[2]

The First State House in Indianapolis

While the current state house in Indianapolis remains a hub for visitors and legislators alike, it was not the city’s first permanent seat of state government. The first state house in Indianapolis was completed in 1835 and designed by New York architects Ithiel Town and Alexander Jackson Davis, whose designs won approval from the Indiana General Assembly in 1831. A year before, the General Assembly authorized the construction of a new state house, with funding supplied through the sale of land plots within the city.[3] Construction began in 1832 with an original cost of $58,000 but an accelerated schedule grew costs to $60,000.[4] The builders’ speed insured the state house’s opening in December 1835, just in time for the incoming session of the Indiana General Assembly.

Town and Davis’ derived inspiration from Greco-Roman architecture; the state houses’ design resembled a temple surrounded by Doric columns like that of the world-famous Parthenon. Above the temple stood a rotunda dome influenced by Italian Renaissance style.[5] The state house’s visage contradicted much of the architecture in early Indianapolis. One legislator noted the building’s “striking contrast with the log huts interspersed through the almost ‘boundless contiguity of shade’ which surrounds it.”[6] The state house ushered in a new era for Indianapolis, filled with architectural marvels and urban transformation.

The state houses’ most notable visitor, Abraham Lincoln, also had humble roots in the Hoosier state. After his childhood years in Indiana, Lincoln visited the statehouse in 1861 as President-Elect of the United States and his body returned with a funeral procession after the assassination in April 1865.[7] The building’s poor materials, mostly of wood and stucco, brought the collapse of the roof in the summer of 1867. The building went through numerous repairs before the Indiana General Assembly approved the construction of a new state house in 1877. The original Indianapolis state house was demolished the same year.[8]

Internal Improvements and Financial Collapse

During the early years of the American republic, the policy that united most legislators and the public was “internal improvements,” which today we might call “infrastructure.” No state caught this fever quite like Indiana. Inspired by the successful opening of Fort Wayne’s Wabash and Erie Canal in July 1835, the General Assembly passed the Massive Internal Improvements Act of 1836.[9] The act, strengthened with over $10,000,000 through loans, proposed the creation of interconnected canals, turnpikes and railroads throughout the entire state. It was supposed to come under budget and take only ten years to finish.[10]

The economic Panic of 1837 and the dissolution of the Second Bank of the United States left the country gripping with economic hardship. This hit the internal improvements plan in Indiana dramatically, with construction costs ballooning over $10,000,000 and leaving little to no funds for repair costs. By August, 1839, none of the railroad, canal, or turnpike projects were finished and implementation stopped when the state ran out of funds.[11] State bonds, sold to citizens after the state’s land sales left the plan short, could not be paid back. Indiana’s state debt increased to, “$13,148,453 of which $9,464,453 was on account of the internal improvement system.”[12] By 1846, the General Assembly passed the Butler Bill, which funded the state debt two ways: revenues from the successful Wabash and Erie Canal and raising tax revenues.[13] These massive tax increases were hard on citizens and left many in the state with ill feeling towards unmanageable government spending. The financial failure of the internal improvement system heavily influenced the new state constitution of 1851, which required strict limits on government expenditures and enforcement of tax collection.

Notable Legislators

  • John Finley
    • John Finley, the state’s first Poet-Legislator, served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1828-1831. A newspaper editor by trade, Finley’s greatest contribution came with the publication of his poem “The Hoosier’s Nest” in 1833. Finley’s use of the term “Hoosier” in literature helped garner the term respect, rather than its traditionally pejorative meaning of “country backwoodsman.” He also owned and edited the Richmond Palladium from 1831-1834 and published a book of poems, including “The Hoosier’s Nest,” in 1860. He died in Richmond, Indiana in 1866.[14]
  • John Ewing
    • Born in Cork County Ireland in 1789, John Ewing represented Vincennes and Knox County as a State Senator from 1825-1833 and again from 1842-1845. He was also a United States Representative from 1833-1839. Ewing’s success as politician came with equal scorn. He home was set on fire multiple times due to his staunch Whig party beliefs in an era of Democratic domination. His most valiant performance as a legislator came with his very public battle against State Representative Samuel Judah. Judah’s General Assembly bill re-chartering the financial benefits of then-defunct Vincennes University pushed Ewing to come home from the U.S. Congress, regain his State Senate seat, and defeat the bill though both legislation and through the courts. While his plans failed (he lost his seat in 1845 and his reforms did not pass), Ewing’s commitment to sound financial policy earned him respect and honor as one of the longest serving State Senators from his era.[15]

 

[1] For a detailed account of David Dale Owen, see Walter B. Henderson, “David Dale Owen and Indiana’s First Geological Survey,” Indiana Magazine of History 36, no 1, 1-15, accessed October 9, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/7194/8101.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 132.

[4] Dorothy Riker and Gayle Thornbrough, eds., Messages and Papers Relating to the Administration of Noah Noble, Governor of Indiana, 1831–1837 (Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. XXXVIII; Indianapolis, 1958), 351-352, accessed October 22, 2014, https://archive.org/stream/messagespapersre55nobl#page/350/mode/2up.

[5] James A. Glass, “The Architects Town and Davis and the Second Indiana Statehouse,” Indiana Magazine of History 80, no. 4 (December 1984), 335-337, accessed October 9, 2014, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27790832.

[6] Walsh, Centennial History, 132.

[7] For a detailed description of Lincoln’s visits to Indianapolis, see George S. Cottman, “Lincoln in Indianapolis,” Indiana Magazine of History 24 (March 1928), 1-14.

[8] Glass, “The Architects Town and Davis,” 337.

[9] Margaret Duden, “Internal Improvements in Indiana: 1818-1846,” Indiana Magazine of History 5, no. 4 (December 1909), accessed October 22, 2014, http://www.jstor.org/stable/view/27785234, 163.

[10] George S. Cottman, “The Internal Improvement System of Indiana,” Indiana Magazine of History 3, no. 3, accessed October 22, 2014, http://scholarworks.iu.edu/journals/index.php/imh/article/view/5612/4946, 119.

[11] James H. Madison, The Indiana Way: A State History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), 83.

[12] Margaret Duden, “Internal Improvements in Indiana,” 168.

[13] Ibid, 169.

[14] Walsh, Centennial History, 124. Calhoun, January, Shanahan-Shoemaker, and Shepherd, Biographical Directory, 126.

[15] Walsh, Centennial History, 126-129. For Ewing’s government positions and elections, see Charles W. Calhoun, Alan F. January, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Rebecca Shepherd, A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, Volume 1: 1816-1899 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980), 437-446.

The Indiana General Assembly, A History: Part One (1815-1825)

The first Indiana Statehouse in Corydon, used from 1816-1825.

The first Indiana Statehouse in Corydon, used from 1816-1825.

  • World Events

During the early nineteenth century, the end of the Napoleonic Wars shaped the direction of the western world. After his defeat in the Cossacks (Russia) in 1814, the western powers reshaped the international order. To this end, the European powers that defeated Napoleon’s imperial ambitions (Russia, Great Britain, Prussia, and Austria) met in 1814-1815 in Vienna to create a new system of alliances that would keep the peace in Europe for the next 100 years. Called the Congress of Vienna, these meetings built a new international order based on the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht, creating a “balance of power” system throughout the region.[1] This framework of negotiations continued to meet annually until 1822, when meetings met more sporadically. The Congress of Vienna was the first attempt by nation states in the modern period to create a system of peace that would be long lasting, internally strong (which due to the exclusion of the Ottoman Empire would be problematic), and fair.[2]

  • National Events

The “Era of Good Feeling,” embodied by the Presidency of James Monroe (1817-1825), defined the decade. The Democratic-Republicans, a party solidified under President Thomas Jefferson, became the dominant party in the United States. The War of 1812, bitterly fought between the United States and Great Britain, had strained the young republic, especially for a young territory turned state like Indiana. As historian Logan Esarey notes, “the first results of the War of 1812 were disastrous. The inroads of the Indians broke up many settlements.”[3] The election of 1820 saw President Monroe reelected to the Presidency with all electoral votes, except one. This sweeping mandate reaffirmed the public’s trust in the Democratic-Republicans and Monroe’s vision for the United States.[4]

Yet the era was not without controversy. The hotly debated Missouri Compromise of 1820 created a balance of power between the slave states of the south and the free states of the north. The law called for Missouri’s admittance as a slave state and Maine as a free state, and prohibited slavery from the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line.[5] This was a compromise created out of various bills passed by both the House and the Senate who could not agree on whether to admit Missouri as a slave or free state. The law would remain in effect until the Kansas-Nebraska was passed in 1854. The debate on slavery was an instrumental part of Indiana’s own founding, with factions on every side.

  • State Events & Legislative Reponses

Indiana officially became a state on December 11, 1816, but the push for statehood traces back to before the War of 1812. Due to battles between British leaning Native Americans and the United States, the Indiana territory did not have the 60,000-residents status until after the conflict. Nevertheless, on April 19, 1816, the United States Congress passed the Enabling Act, which allowed for Indiana to petition for statehood.[6] Delegates met in Corydon in the summer of 1816, and on June 29, they signed the newly drafted constitution. This new constitution created a General Assembly, comprised of a House of Representatives and a Senate, with members serving one and three years, respectively.[7] The state constitution also authorized the General Assembly to create a primary and secondary public education system, which included Indiana University[8]

During its’ first ten years, the General Assembly faced many challenges, but the issue that divided its legislators the most was slavery. Admitted to the union in 1816 as a free state, Indiana nonetheless was politically fragmented on the issue. Indiana’s first Governor, Jonathan Jennings, led a wing of fiercely anti-slavery Democratic-Republicans (the only party of consequence in Indiana at the time). On the other side, the James Noble faction was pro slavery and the William Hendricks faction was neutral on the conflict.[9] To settle these divisions, the General Assembly passed a measure in 1816 that outlawed “man-stealing,” which authorized indentured servitude only if the claimant could substantiate his case in court, otherwise it was considered slavery and illegal under the Indiana Constitution.[10] This ensured a compromise that kept all parties happy but allowed some forms of slavery in Indiana well into the 1830s.[11]

The other pressing matters in the first ten years of Indiana’s statehood were funding, construction of infrastructure, and selecting a new state capital. An Ohio Falls Canal, along the Ohio River, was proposed with financial allotments enacted by the General Assembly in 1818. However, by 1825, the canal project collapsed; poor management of its finances and Kentucky’s finished Ohio River Canal destroyed any chances of Ohio Falls Canal’s completion.[12] Yet, these setbacks only served as a catalyst for future internal improvements. In 1820 and 1823, the General Assembly passed roadway legislation that, “provided for twenty-five roads along definite routes through various counties, including five that were to be routed to the site of the new seat of government [Indianapolis].”[13] Costing over $100,000, these new roadway systems began the layout of Indiana’s infrastructure.

While Corydon served the state well as its first capital, northern migration facilitated the need for a more centralized seat of government by 1820. Named Indianapolis by state Representative Jeremiah Sullivan, the new state capital was surveyed by Alexander Ralston and Elias P. Fordham. Ralston, a surveyor and city planner who had worked on Washington, D.C., surveyed plats for Indianapolis in a similar design to the nation’s capital. In 1822, the General Assembly approved a law authorizing plat sales to facilitate the transfer of government and the construction of a Marion County Courthouse. In the 9th session of the General Assembly in 1824, Indianapolis was made the legal capital of the state of Indiana and chose Samuel Merrill, the state Treasurer, to oversee the arduous task of moving the government. It took eleven days to trek the 125 miles to the new capital, but Merrill and the Indiana General Assembly had finally arrived at their permanent home.[14]

  • Notable Legislators
    • Thomas Hendricks was a State Representative and State Senator from 1823-1831 and 1831-1834, respectively. He represented Decatur, Henry, Rush, and Shelby Counties. Wearing many hats, Hendricks served as a school superintendent, surveyor for Decatur County, and a Colonel of the Indiana militia in 1822. He was the first in the long and illustrious Hendricks family line to be in Indiana public service. His brother, John Hendricks, also served in the Indiana General Assembly and his nephew Thomas A. Hendricks later became the twenty-first Vice President of the United States.[15]
    • Isaac Newton Blackford was the first Speaker of the Indiana House of Representatives, serving in the role from 1816-1817. Born in New Jersey and a graduate of Princeton, Blackford began his life in the Hoosier state as the Washington County Recorder. After a stint in the Indiana House of Representatives as its first Speaker, he went on to become an Indiana Supreme Court Justice, a role he filled until 1853. While never elected to higher office, he was appointed the United States Court of Claims in 1853, adjudicating cases until his death in 1859. Blackford is notable for his deep involvement in both the legislative and judicial branches of Indiana government, a role he pioneered and would have many follow in his footsteps.[16]
  • Session Dates and Locations, Number of Legislators, Number of Constituents[17]
    • 1st General Assembly: November 4, 1816-January 3, 1817. 10 Senators and 30 Representatives. Roughly 6,390 constituents per Senator and 2130 constituents per Representative.
    • 2nd General Assembly: December 1, 1817-January 29, 1818. 10 Senators and 29 Representatives. Roughly 6,390 constituents per Senator and 2,203 constituents per Representative.
    • 3rd General Assembly: December 7, 1818-January 2, 1819. 10 Senators and 28 Representatives. Roughly 6,390 constituents per Senator and 2,282 constituents per Representative.
    • 4th General Assembly: December 6, 1819-January 22, 1820. 10 Senators and 29 Representatives. Roughly 6,390 constituents per Senator and 2,203 constituents per Representative.
    • 5th General Assembly: November 27, 1820-January 9, 1821. 10 Senators and 29 Representatives. Roughly 14,171 constituents per Senator and 5,075 constituents per Representative.
    • 6th General Assembly: November 19, 1821-January 3, 1822. 16 Senators and 44 Representatives. Roughly 9,199 constituents per Senator and 3,345 constituents per Representative.
    • 7th General Assembly: December 2, 1822-January 11, 1823. 16 Senators and 44 Representatives. Roughly 9,199 constituents per Senator and 3,345 constituents per Representative.
    • 8th General Assembly: December 1, 1823-January 31, 1824. 16 Senators and 46 Representatives. Roughly 9,199 constituents per Senator and 3,200 constituents per Representative.
    • 9th General Assembly: January 10, 1825-February 12, 1825. 17 Senators and 46 Representatives. Roughly 8658 constituents per Senator and 3,200 constituents per Representative.
    • The 1st-8th General Assemblies met in Corydon, IN and the 9th was the first General Assembly that met in the new capital of Indianapolis.

[1] Stella Ghervas, “The Congress of Vienna: A Peace for the Strong.” History Today, last modified 2014, accessed September 11, 2014, http://www.historytoday.com/stella-ghervas/congress-vienna-peace-strong.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Logan Esarey, History of Indiana (Bloomington: Hoosier Heritage Press, 1969), 209.

[4] For an overview of this period, see “American Political History: “Era of Good Feeling”.” Eagleton Institute of Politics: Rutgers University, last modified 2014, accessed September 4, 2014, http://www.eagleton.rutgers.edu/research/

americanhistory/ap_goodfeeling.php.

[5] “Annals of Congress, House of Representatives, 16th Congress, 1st Session, Pages 1587 & 1588 of 2628.” A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875: Library of Congress, last modified July 30, 2010, accessed September 4, 2014, http://memory.loc.gov/cgibin/ampage?collId=llac&fileName=036/llac036.db&recNum=155.

[6] James H. Madison, The Indiana Way: A State History (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1986), 50.

[7] Ibid, 53.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Jacob Paitt Dunn , Indiana and Indianans. (New York and Chicago: American Historical Society, 1919), 334

[10] Ibid, 341.

[11] James H. Madison, The Indiana Way, 54.

[12] Justin E. Walsh, The Centennial History of the Indiana General Assembly, 1816-1978 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1987), 24.

[13] Ibid, 26, f.117.

[14] Ibid, 14-16.

[15] Charles W. Calhoun, Alan F. January, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Rebecca Shepherd, A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, Volume 1: 1816-1899 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980), 178.

[16] Minde C., Richard Humphrey, and Bruce Kleinschmidt, “Biographical Sketches of Indiana Supreme Court Justices,” Indiana Law Review 30, no. 1 (1997): 333.

[17]This data is compiled from two major sources: Charles W. Calhoun, Alan F. January, Elizabeth Shanahan-Shoemaker and Rebecca Shepherd, A Biographical Directory of the Indiana General Assembly, Volume 1: 1816-1899 (Indianapolis, Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980), 437-446 and James H. Madison, The Indiana Way, 50, 59, 325.

The Indiana General Assembly, A History: Introduction

The Indiana General Assembly, founded in 1816, has served the needs of Hoosiers for nearly 200 years. It has had many challenges and victories over this time, from the increasing demands of infrastructure, education, war, and commerce to the challenges presented by the United States and the World. This blog is an attempt to present this history to the general reader in the context of the State, the United States, and the World. Presenting these posts in increments of ten years, it will show the challenges to Indiana and how its legislative body responded to them. The first post, covering 1816-1825, will be posted within the next couple of weeks. Stay tuned!