180 Years of Statehood: The People Rule

Department of Arkansas Heritage - Monday, June 06, 2016

This year, Arkansas celebrates 180 years of statehood. The Old State House will be the center of these celebrations, centered around the theme, “The People Rule,” which is the English translation of the state motto, Regnat Populus

Although the area we now know as Arkansas was inhabited by indigenous populations for some 13,000 years beforehand, European explorers didn’t come onto the scene until the mid-16th century.

Between 1541 when the first Europeans stepped foot in Arkansas and 1803 when Arkansas joined the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase, little permanent change came to Arkansas. By 1803, Arkansas had fewer than 500 European inhabitants.

By 1819, Arkansas became its own territory. The population continued to grow slowly but steadily and reached more than 30,000 by 1830. Then, the population boomed as Americans began moving West in earnest.

Soon, Arkansas met the population requirements to apply for statehood, which was granted on June 15, 1836. One of the prominent symbols of this early statehood was the state house. Construction on the state house began in 1833, following an effort by territorial governor John Pope to secure funding for a territorial capitol.

In 1836, when Arkansas became a state, legislators moved into the building, even though construction was ongoing. The state house served as the state’s capitol until the current capitol building was completed in 1911.

In the intermediate years, the building now known as the Old State House saw a myriad of Arkansas history, including a lethal knife fight between legislators and secession from the United States during the Civil War. Even after 1911, the Old State House was host to pioneering research in eliminating hookworms and malaria and to two acceptance speeches by the president of the United States.

For more information on Arkansas statehood history, click here.

For information about statehood celebrations, planned for June 11, click here.