Territory of Iowa
Organized incorporated territory of the United States
Territorial seal of Iowa Territory
Territorial seal

The territory that did not become the state of Iowa in 1846 became unorganized territory. The government for this area would become organized as part of the Minnesota Territory in 1849.
CapitalBurlington (1838–1841)
Iowa City (1841–1849)
 • TypeOrganized incorporated territory
• 1838–1841
Robert Lucas
• 1841–1845
John Chambers
• 1845–1849
James Clarke
LegislatureIowa Legislative Assembly
• Organized from Wisconsin Territory
July 4, 1838
December 28, 1846
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Wisconsin Territory

The Territory of Iowa was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 4, 1838,[1] until December 28, 1846, when the southeastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the state of Iowa. The remainder of the territory would have no organized territorial government until the Minnesota Territory was organized on March 3, 1849.


Seal of the Territory of Iowa

Most of the area in the territory was originally part of the Louisiana Purchase and was a part of the Missouri Territory. When Missouri became a state in 1821, this area (along with the Dakotas) effectively became unorganized territory. The area was closed to white settlers until the 1830s, after the Black Hawk War ended. It was attached to the Michigan Territory on June 28, 1834. At an extra session of the Sixth Legislative Assembly of Michigan held in September, 1834, the Iowa District was divided into two counties by running a line due west from the lower end of Rock Island in the Mississippi River. The territory north of this line (which started just south of the present-day Davenport) was named Dubuque County, and all south of it was Des Moines County. When Michigan became a state in 1836 the area became the Iowa District of western Wisconsin Territory—the region west of the Mississippi River.

The original boundaries of the territory, as established in 1838, included Minnesota and parts of the Dakotas, covering about 194,000 square miles (500,000 km2) of land.

Burlington was the provisional capital; Iowa City was designated as the official territorial capital in 1841.[2] Fort Snelling was located on the western side of the Mississippi placing it within the Territory until statehood.

When Iowa became a state on December 28, 1846, no provision was made for official organization of the remainder of the territory.[3] Morgan L. Martin, the Wisconsin territorial delegate to congress, pushed through a bill to organize a territory of Minnesota which would encompass this land. While the bill passed in the house, it did not pass the senate. In the following session a bill by Stephen A. Douglas was introduced in the senate but also did not pass. The situation was resolved when Minnesota Territory was organized on March 3, 1849, the day before the close of congress.[4]

In the 1840 United States census, 18 counties in the Iowa Territory reported the following population counts:[5]

Rank County Population
1 Van Buren 6,146
2 Lee 6,093
3 Des Moines 5,577
4 Henry 3,772
5 Dubuque 3,059
6 Jefferson 2,773
7 Muscatine 1,942
8 Louisa 1,927
9 Washington 1,594
10 Johnson 1,491
11 Jackson 1,411
12 Linn 1,373
13 Cedar 1,253
14 Scott 1,240
15 Clayton 1,101
16 Clinton 821
17 Jones 471
18 Delaware 168
Unincorporated 900
Iowa Territory 43,112


The executive powers of the Territory were vested in a Governor, a Secretary (who in case of the death, removal, resignation, or absence from the Territory of the Governor had gubernatorial powers and would perform gubernatorial duties), a Treasurer and an Auditor.

Territorial officers and Congressional delegates

Territorial officers of Iowa Territory from 1838 to 1846.[6]





Congressional delegates


Legislative powers were vested in a Territory of Iowa Legislative Assembly, which like that of Wisconsin Territory was divided into an upper house called the "Council" (although some legislative histories refer to the Council as the Senate) of 13 members, and a House of Representatives of 26.[7]

See also


  1. ^ Stat. 235
  2. ^ "HOW IOWA BECAME A TERRITORY". iagenweb.org.
  3. ^ "Chapter 2 — Founding Documents" (PDF). 2013 - 2014 Minnesota Legislative Manual (Blue Book) (PDF). Saint Paul, MN: Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. 2013. p. 50. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  4. ^ Shortridge, Wilson P. (August 1919). "Henry Hastings Sibley and the Minnesota Frontier". Minnesota History Bulletin. 3 (3): 115–125. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  5. ^ Forstall, Richard L. (ed.). Population of the States and Counties of the United States: 1790–1990 (PDF) (Report). United States Census Bureau. pp. 55–57. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  6. ^ "IAGenWeb Project". Retrieved August 2, 2018.
  7. ^ Shambaugh, Benjamin F. The constitutions of Iowa: Published by the State historical society in commemoration of the one hundredth anniversary of the establishment of civil government in Iowa. Iowa City: State Historical Society of Iowa, 1934; p. 79

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