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Politics

In the past few centuries, the region of the United States now known as Arkansas has undergone drastic changes in its land and its governance. Before European powers began to influence this area, several Native American nations - especially the Caddo, Osage and Quapaw - lived here. Even after France claimed Arkansas as a part of Louisiana, the Indian Nations maintained a mutually beneficial relationship with the French. After the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803 and the advent of settlers into the region, the Indians were gradually pushed out of Arkansas.

Photo of the Arkansas House Chamber     Arkansas was a section of Missouri Territory until Missouri decided to enter the Union as a state. Missouri Territory's southern counties became Arkansas Territory in 1819. By the mid-1830s, Arkansas had population enough to be eligible for statehood, and, as Michigan was looking to join the Union as a free state, the Arkansas Territorial Assembly voted to apply for statehood as a slave state. At that time a balance was being maintained in the United States Senate between slave and free states. Arkansas became the 25th state of the United States in 1836.

Politics in pre-Civil War Arkansas was dominated by the Democratic Party, which was led by a remarkable collection of cousins known as the Family or the Dynasty. The Johnson/Conway/Sevier family was able to serve or select others to serve in most of the important positions of state government up to the time of the Civil War. The issues with which they coped, sometimes successfully and other times not so, included the bankruptcy of the State Bank and the Real Estate Bank, the Mexican War and migration to Texas, the Gold Rush, Play The Department of Arkansas Heritage trivia quizand the sectional tensions that led to the Civil War. Arkansas voted to join the Confederate States of America only after hostilities began at Fort Sumpter in South Carolina.

The Civil War - known in the South as the War Between the States - took a toll on Arkansas in the loss of lives, homes and property. The slave population was finally free and began to play an important role in politics in the Reconstruction era. After reconstruction ended, the power was taken back from the Republican Party by the Democrats, who were able to push segregation laws through the General Assembly. By the end of the 19th century, African-Americans were held back from political power by such techniques as the poll tax. Arkansas remained solidly Democratic.

The Progressive Era early in the 20th century brought improvements in education and health, as the state began to rely on professionals running the agencies in state government. Economic hardships after the First World War brought a more conservative tenor to politics in the state, even though progressive Sen. Joe T. Robinson became the vice presidential candidate for the Democratic Party in 1928. A year later the Great Depression exacerbated the state's economic situation. After World War II the economy improved until 1957, when the desegregation crisis at Central High School polarized the political scene. After Orval Faubus declined to seek a seventh term as governor, a series of progressive governors followed, a list that includes Bill Clinton, who after twelve years as governor, was elected president of the United States.

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