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.

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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.