Arkansas History Timeline

1819 - Territory Established

In 1819, Arkansas became the new frontier of the United States, as Missouri Territory applied to become a state without its southern five counties or the adjoining Indian lands. The inhabitants of this sparsely settled area, seeking benefits from the federal government, petitioned Congress to be organized as a territory of the United States. On March 2, Congress approved the act creating the "Arkansaw" Territory with the seat of government being the Post of Arkansas. After lengthy debate, Congress refused to limit slavery in the new territory.

To oversee the new territory, President James Monroe appointed James Miller, a hero of the War of 1812, Governor, and Robert Crittenden, a 21-year-old Kentuckian, Secretary of the Territory. By mistake, Miller's appointment was sent to Arkansas rather than to his New Hampshire home, delaying his arrival in the new territory, but not delaying the establishment of government. The executive and judicial branches, consisting of Crittenden and three newly appointed Superior Court judges - Charles Jouett, Robert Letcher, and Andrew Scott, constituted the legislature in the Territory's "first grade" of government. After an initial short session, which made appointments, appropriated funds, and declared the laws of the Missouri Territory to be applicable in Arkansas, Jouett and Letcher left the seat of territorial government, never to return. Crittenden then called the first territorial election for November 20, 1819, seeking to elevate Arkansas to the "second grade" of government with an elected General Assembly. James Woodson Bates was elected over Stephen F. Austin for delegate to Congress. As the sole representative to Washington, this was the most powerful elected position of the Territory.

Anticipating the opportunity a new territory might hold for a printer, William E. Woodruff arrived at the Post of Arkansas in late October with a Ramage press and his printing supplies loaded in a pirogue. The first issue of theArkansas Gazette appeared on Election Day, November 20.

Governor Miller finally arrived at the Post of Arkansas by keelboat on December 26.

The first territorial General Assembly met in February and immediately petitioned President Monroe for federal assistance in providing services felt crucial to the improvement of the Territory: to remove Native American Indians from Arkansas; to establish two land offices and to offer land for sale; to survey and mark territorial boundaries to open 12-foot wide roads along post routes; and to force appointed judges to reside in Arkansas before being paid. The Presbyterian Church established Dwight Mission, a school for the Cherokee Nation in Arkansas. These western Cherokees encouraged continued relocation from the "old Cherokee Nation" to strengthen them in their struggle against the Osage tribe, a struggle which occupied much of Governor Miller's time. Late in the year, the United States negotiated a treaty giving a large tract of Arkansas land to the Choctaw Nation. Settlers in Arkansas vigorously complained that the newly proposed Choctaw tract occupied the most densely populated portion of the Territory. The "Missouri Compromise" in the United States Congress cleared the way for the Maine and Missouri territories to become states. This Compromise maintained the balance of free and slave state representatives in the Senate and prohibited slavery in the remainder of the Louisiana Purchase Territory north of Arkansas. Having postponed the decision from February, the Arkansas General Assembly met again in the fall and chose Little Rock as the new seat of government beginning in 1821. Serving as temporary clerk of the House was Ambrose Hundley Sevier, 19 years of age, first cousin to Henry Wharton Conway, 27 years of age, who was receiver of public monies for the Arkansas Land District. Both would play major roles in Arkansas history.
Much to the dismay of settlers in Arkansas, the Senate ratified the Choctaw Treaty. Official protests from the Territory over the proposed treaty failed to reach Washington before President Monroe signed the bill on January 8. By the 1820 census, Indians already outnumbered settlers in Arkansas, 14,760 to 14267, and territorial officials claimed that the influx of the Choctaw Nation would be a grave deterrent to the progress of Arkansas. On August 6, incumbent James Woodson Bates defeated Matthew Lyon in the race for delegate to Congress. Lyon accused Acting Governor Crittenden of manipulating the vote in Bates' favor. Due to rival claims to the proposed town site, the General Assembly met and adjourned without having relocated the capital to Little Rock. Though the United States owned the property, speculators held two different types of land claims by which they hoped to gain title. William Russell, of Saint Louis, had acquired "preemption claims" based on the settlement of the site; Chester Ashley represented a group holding New Madrid claims granted to citizens who lost land in the New Madrid earthquake. The New Madrid claimants called their town Arkopolis to distinguish it from Russell's Little Rock. At one point in the controversy, the claimants, represented by Ashley, removed all of the structures from that portion of the town site claimed by Russell. Finally, realizing both sides could profit from compromise, Ashley and Russell came to an agreement on November 22, making rival claimants joint owners. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams officially appointed William E. Woodruff Printer to the Territory. He was to be paid for the publication of the laws of the United States and for other official business. After the rival claims to the Little Rock town site were settled, Woodruff set out for the new capital where he moved into a one room log printing office. He published his first issue at Little Rock on December 29.
An Act of Congress in 1819 had established "Arkansaw" Territory. "Arkansaw," "Arkinsas," and "Arkansa" were variations in spelling used in the first few years. By 1822, with the aid of the consistent and highly visible use of "Arkansas" in Woodruff's Arkansas Gazette, the spelling had become standardized, with only few exceptions. During this year and the next, Woodruff had paper problems with the Gazette and, at one point, suspended publication for two weeks when a yellow fever quarantine of a steamboat caused delay in paper delivery. Then, low water cut off shipments for almost six months. In February, a United States Army regiment commanded by Colonel Matthew Arbuckle arrived at Fort Smith to replace Major William Bradford and his chronically short-handed company. Bradford and his soldiers had held the thankless job of peacemaker in this, the furthest frontier of the United States, since 1817. Governor Miller spent several months trying to satisfy government obligations made to the Indians and attempting to settle disputes between tribes. In September, he successfully negotiated a peace treaty between the Osage and Cherokee tribes. Growing tired of frontier life, Miller then requested a leave of absence for the approaching spring and summer to visit family and friends "at the East." Crittenden was ready to take over as acting governor.
Early in the year, several Arkansawyers expressed interest in the race for delegate to Congress. Henry Conway, wanting to replace J. Woodson Bates as Arkansas's representative in Washington, began his campaign by securing the support of Bates' ally, Robert Crittenden. In January, two others also announced their candidacy for the position. When Bates arrived home in June from Washington, he learned of Conway's campaign and that his most influential friends now supported his opponent. Bates quickly announced he would not seek reelection. By the time of the August election, William Bradford was Conway's only opponent and Conway won by a vote of 1,300 to 921. In its fall meeting, the General Assembly made military bounty lands subject to taxation. Most veterans who had been given lands in Arkansas for their military service did not live in the Territory, so, in the issue of the Gazetteannouncing the act authorizing this tax, Woodruff advertised himself as agent for non-resident owners. Thus Woodruff began his land agency business which ultimately brought him much greater wealth and fewer headaches, than did his printing business. On December 2, in President Monroe's annual message to Congress, he outlined a policy of special concern for the western hemisphere and for its protection from future European colonization. The significance of this policy, known as the Monroe Doctrine, was not fully realized until later in the century.
Bottomlands, bayous and swamps made overland travel into Arkansas very difficult. To encourage immigration, Congress authorized the surveying of a road from Memphis to Little Rock in January. Expansion was further aided when Acting Governor Crittenden began negotiating a treaty with the Quapaw tribe which was finally signed on November 5. The Quapaw, despite the pleadings of Chief Heckaton, were forced to give up their ancestral home for a small amount of money, merchandise and an annuity. The tribe was to be merged with the Caddo in the Red River region to the southwest. With the Quapaw out of the way, white settlement could now expand into a large part of central Arkansas and Little Rock could spread east past the "Little Rock" into former Quapaw lands. Violence often flared up as a part of frontier life. Andrew Scott killed Joseph Seldon in a duel on May 26. While this was not the first duel in Arkansas, the fact that both men were presidentially appointed Superior Court judges did not reflect well on the developing reputation of the Territory. In the presidential election, the "western" candidate Andrew Jackson won a plurality of popular and electoral votes, but failed to win a majority. Thus, the election was referred to the House of Representatives to be decided early the next year. On December 27, James Miller submitted his resignation as governor of the Territory. Miller, absent from Arkansas for 18 months, gave poor health as his reason for resigning. He then became Collector at the Port of Salem, Massachusetts and later appeared in that position in the introduction to Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter.
Now mindful of the concerns of Arkansas settlers, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun and a delegation from the Choctaw Nation came to agreement on January 20 establishing a new reservation for the tribe. The Treaty of 1820, which had set aside a large part of settled Arkansas Territory for the Choctaws, was superseded. The Choctaws, who still resided east of the Mississippi River, were now to move west of a line running south from Fort Smith. The new treaty freed Arkansas Territory of almost all Indian claims. In the House of Representatives, John Quincy Adams received a majority vote over Andrew Jackson and William Crawford. As one of the new president's first official actions, he appointed George Izard Governor of Arkansas Territory. On May 31, Izard arrived in Little Rock from Philadelphia and immediately set to work. Secretary and Acting Governor Crittenden, hoping for the position himself, had left for Kentucky when he heard of Izard's appointment. The new governor did not appreciate Crittenden's absence or his apparent neglect of duty as judged by the condition of the government's records. Crittenden's relationship with the new governor was strained from the beginning, but Izard made quick allies of Henry Conway, Ambrose Sevier, Chester Ashley and William Woodruff. By the end of the year Conway, Sevier and Ashley had been appointed the Governor's aides-de-camp with the militia rank of lieutenant colonel. All three men carried the title of colonel the rest of their lives. In the congressional election held on August 1, Henry Conway won a resounding victory over J. Woodson Bates-2,105 to 519. The Erie Canal, crossing New York state from the Hudson River to Lake Erie, opened in October. This marvel of engineering further stimulated immigration and trade in the Midwest.
Arkansas Territory, still primarily wilderness, gradually acquired some of the trappings of progress. Steamboats plied the rivers impeded only by snags and high or low water; Little Rock now had a brickyard, several brick structures and a church building. In 1826, the first steam- powered sawmill was set up in Helena, joining the Territory's several horse-powered and water- powered grist mills and sawmills. The first stagecoach line in the Territory opened between Little Rock and Arkansas Post. On November 7, Woodruff announced the establishment of an experimental lending library. By mid-year, speculation suggested Henry Conway would have vigorous competition for the 1827 congressional election. Political lines would be drawn between two factions: those allied to Crittenden and Robert Oden, versus Conway, Izard and their supporters. Crittenden became worried about his handling of public funds and wished to go to Washington to explain his actions to the federal auditors in person. He wrote to Secretary of State Henry Clay requesting permission to visit the capital at the same time Izard planned a visit to Philadelphia. Clay suggested Crittenden stay at his post, but also assured him his position as Secretary of the Territory was not threatened.
Crittenden left Little Rock for Washington on January 9 without the permission of the Secretary of State. He did not know his reappointment as Secretary of the Territory was already in the works. Having taken care of his business in the nation's capital, he hurried back to Little Rock, arriving on March 20. In April, Henry Conway and Robert Oden announced their candidacies for delegate to Congress. Campaign controversy centered around Conway and Crittenden as the recognized leaders of the two political factions; both had misused the federal funds entrusted to them and were roundly criticized for it. Unfortunately, criticisms reached the level of threats and violence, and Crittenden filed a $25,000 libel suit against Woodruff. In the election, Conway easily defeated Oden with a vote of 2,427 to 856, but the controversy was not over! After the election, Conway responded to a Crittenden charge made during the campaign by accusing Crittenden of "willful misrepresentation." The accusation led Crittenden to uphold his "honor" by challenging Conway to a duel. Before this challenge could be resolved, two of their supporters were also drawn into the hot-blooded conflict. Ambrose Sevier and Thomas Newton exchanged shots in Cherokee territory, but luckily, both escaped injury. When Crittenden and Conway met, the outcome was different. After traveling to Mississippi, as dueling was illegal in Arkansas, Crittenden wounded Conway at first fire on October 29 and Conway died on November 9. The killing of the popular delegate to Congress damaged Crittenden's reputation, as well as that of the Arkansas Territory. William E. Woodruff, at the center of the controversy as the only newspaperman in the Territory, found time during this hectic year to court and marry Jane Eliza Mills, 17 years of age. In the election called to fill Conway's now vacant position, his first cousin, Ambrose Sevier, defeated Richard Searcy and Andrew Scott. Sevier had recently married Juliette Johnson, the daughter of Judge Benjamin Johnson. The alliance of the Sevier, Johnson and Conway clans was developing into a formidable political power for pre-Civil War Arkansas.
Political violence continued into the new year. John R. Garrett, a close friend of Crittenden, attempted to kill Chester Ashley in Woodruff's print shop. Ashley was seen as the mastermind behind the opposition to Crittenden and Garrett also held a personal grudge against him. Woodruff managed to deflect Garrett's aim and Garrett received a fatal wound in the abdomen. Dr. Matthew Cunningham held a coroner's inquest and the case was closed without indictment. Ashley effected a compromise on the libel suit between Crittenden and Woodruff. Woodruff was greatly relieved by this settlement because both witnesses who could testify for him, Henry Conway and Isaac Watkins, were now dead. An agreement negotiated with the Cherokee Nation moved the Cherokee-Arkansas border to a line running north from Fort Smith. The Territory was now completely freed of all tribal property. Governor George Izard died in office on November 22 and Robert Crittenden and Andrew Scott both applied for the appointment as governor. Before their applications arrived in Washington, the Electoral College had elected a new president. The Senate refused to confirm President Adams's choice for governor, preferring to leave the decision to President-elect Andrew Jackson. Awaiting President-elect Jackson was a more significant problem-the Tariff of 1828, or the Tariff of Abominations. Several southern states protested the tariff, feeling it placed an undue hardship on the south by raising the price of manufactured goods brought into the area. As an ominous hint of the future, John C. Calhoun, in an anonymous essay, proclaimed the right of individual states to nullify individual federal laws. Situated in the west, Arkansas did not share the concern of her southeastern neighbors.
President Jackson appointed John Pope, of Kentucky, Governor of the Territory. Pope had hoped to be named United States Attorney General, but accepted this position on the frontier. In an action surprising to many in Arkansas, Jackson removed Arkansas's secretary of 10 years, Robert Crittenden and replaced him with William Savin Fulton, of Alabama, a close friend and former aide of the new president. The Congressional election found Ambrose Sevier retaining his seat with a victory over Richard Searcy. The General Assembly authorized counties to establish public schools, but public education in Arkansas would be a long time coming. Two years earlier Congress had authorized a land grant for a "Seminary of Learning," but territorial officials paid little interest. Public lands in the Territory continued to be sold into private hands through federal land offices in Batesville and Little Rock. Throughout the early to mid-1800s, the United States was committed to placing public property into private ownership. Not only would property be added to the tax rolls, but private land ownership was also seen as training for citizenship. Conflicts regularly arose over claims to valuable property and lawyers and surveyors proved very important in handling these disputes.
On March 31, the Arkansas Gazette lost its monopoly on printing when the first issue of the Arkansas Advocateappeared. Charles Pierre Bertrand, 21 years of age, began the Advocate four months after completing his indentured apprenticeship with William E. Woodruff and the Gazette. Bertrand, stepson of Dr. Matthew Cunningham, became a spokesman for Robert Crittenden. By the end of the year, Woodruff reported competition from the Advocate had helped to expand the Gazette's subscription list by 20 percent. Though the Indians had lost their lands in Arkansas Territory, it was not until May 28 that Congress officially adopted an Indian removal policy for those tribes east of the Mississippi River. Congress established the area west of Arkansas as the repository for the Indian nations. Sam Houston, living there among his Cherokee friends, wrote a series of letters to the Gazette complaining of the poor treatment of the Indians.
After Governor Pope appointed his nephew, Fontaine Pope, aide-de-camp, young Pope fought two duels as self-appointed defender of his uncle's honor. The first, against John Cocke in 1830, ended happily after three shots were exchanged and no one was injured. The second found Pope facing Charles Fenton Mercer Noland. Fent Noland had been brought to Arkansas from his Virginia home to settle him down. His father had authored the Virginia law against dueling. Nevertheless, concern for "honor" carried Pope and Noland into combat on the Mexican side of the Red River. Pope was wounded and died four months later. Many in the Territory associated the consumption of liquor with the uncivilized elements of frontier life. A Temperance Society was founded in April to battle the grog shops and those who visited them. The General Assembly, dominated by Crittenden supporters, struck a blow at William Woodruff's pride by electing Charles Bertrand Printer to the Territory. The Assembly also incorporated the town of Little Rock, which now went from a trustee to a mayor-council form of government. Recognizing that Arkansas needed a government building, Congress granted 10 sections (6,400 acres) of land to the Territory to be traded or sold to construct or acquire a capital building. The General Assembly voted to exchange the 10 sections for the Robert Crittenden home, which could immediately serve as the State House. Governor Pope did not appreciate this poor bargain and vetoed the bill, only to meet strong criticism. Late in August, Nat Turner, a black preacher, led a slave insurrection in Virginia in which 57 whites were killed. Turner and his followers were subsequently killed or executed, but slaveholders in the southeast took the insurrection as a major threat. Yet, it received slight mention in the Little Rock newspapers, suggesting Arkansas considered itself more western than southern.
President Jackson, ignoring protests against Governor Pope, reappointed him in March. Congress then transferred authority to select and sell the 10 sections of land for the State House from the General Assembly to the territorial governor. Congress also appropriated $15,000 to maintain the Arkansas River Channel. Dr. Matthew Cunningham became the first mayor of Little Rock and his stepson, Charles Bertrand, was chosen town printer. Woodruff, formerly both town printer and town trustee, served on a Board of Health created by the new Town Council in response to a cholera epidemic brought by migrating Indians. The illustrious Washington Irving passed through Little Rock, returning from a visit to Indian Territory and spent the night at the Woodruff home. The Second Bank of the United States had become, to some people in the nation, a symbol of "money power" and aristocracy against common productive citizens. As states were carved out of the wilderness, citizens of the west and south wanted easier credit and more money in circulation to finance improvements. President Jackson led the battle against the Second Bank, and on July 10 vetoed a bill to recharter it. Jackson won his political victory over the bank and reelection over Henry Clay. His actions, however, later contributed to the Panic of 1837. South Carolina declared the "Tariff of Abominations" and the new, milder Tariff of 1832 null and void. The State further authorized the raising of a military force to enforce this ordinance of nullification. President Jackson asserted an individual state could not choose which of the nation's laws it wanted to follow. He warned, "Disunion by armed force is treason."
While Arkansas struggled to enter the United States, South Carolina threatened to leave the Union if the President used military power to enforce the tariff. Congress reacted to the nullification crisis by giving Jackson the power to force South Carolina to obey the law and by passing a compromise tariff. The controversy ended with both sides claiming victory. However, the issue of states' rights versus national power was not resolved. Governor Pope sold the 10 sections set aside for a government building for $31,722 and hired Kentucky architect Gideon Shryock to design the State House. George Weigart came to Arkansas to supervise construction and Chester Ashley became the business agent for the project. But, by ignoring Secretary Fulton in the handling of the "ten sections" bill, Pope began losing what support he had in the Territory. The August election featured the only direct confrontation between the heads of the two political factions, Robert Crittenden and Ambrose Sevier. Sevier won reelection to Congress with a vote of 4,776 to 2,520. The Crittenden faction had begun their campaign against Sevier and his allies with an attempt to remove Judge Benjamin Johnson, Sevier's father-in-law, from office. Accusations of favoritism, irritability, incapacity and intemperance were countered by many letters of defense and Judge Johnson retained his seat in the Superior Court. Late in the year Sevier officially pushed the Territory toward statehood by requesting the authorization of a constitutional convention. Although the Territory was not fully prepared for this step, Sevier argued that, to enter the Union as a slave state, Arkansas would have to be paired with a free one. Michigan Territory sought permission to hold a constitutional convention and Sevier wanted Arkansas and Michigan to be sister states. Although even his critics supported Sevier's action, they claimed he only wanted to gain Arkansas's electoral votes for his wife's uncle, Richard M. Johnson, in the 1835 vice-presidential race.
Trouble in Mexico was coming to a head. After an 1833 convention, in which Texans called for separation from Mexico, Stephen F. Austin was arrested by Santa Anna and held prisoner for eight months. Using two snag boats, three machine boats and another steamboat, Captain Henry M. Shreve reached Little Rock on February 22. In their efforts to clear the Arkansas River channel for the Corps of Engineers, Shreve and his crew removed 4,907 snags from the high water bed of the river, an average of one snag every 88 yards. Shreve later cleared the Red River raft in Louisiana. Feeling the need for a newspaper he could have more influence over, Governor Pope made an alliance with John Steele, publisher of the Helena Herald. Steele, failing to buy out William Woodruff, established the Political Intelligencer. In August, Governor Pope appointed Steele publisher of the digest of Arkansas laws. Woodruff, who had assumed he would get this good printing job, joined the opposition to the Governor. Underlying tension which had begun to alienate Pope from his supporters rose to the surface and Woodruff contributed as much as he could to this alienation. The final blow was probably delivered by Secretary Fulton in personal correspondence with his friend Andrew Jackson. Fulton described Pope as Jackson's enemy and a supporter of the hated Bank of the United States. Late in the year Robert Crittenden died, but his political faction remained unified, becoming a part of the new Whig party.
On January 30, President Jackson survived an assassination attempt. The assailant's pistols misfired; he was judged insane and committed to a lunatic asylum. Jackson, deciding against reappointing John Pope, chose William S. Fulton as Governor of Arkansas. Lewis Randolph, grandson of Thomas Jefferson, replaced Fulton as Territorial Secretary. Pope soon left for Kentucky and his editor, John Steele, departed after receiving payment for the law digest. Steele's legal defense of certain criminals and his knack for locating and returning stolen slaves for a fee had raised the suspicions of some people in the Territory. A criminal gang, led by John A. Murrell, terrorized parts of Arkansas while professional gamblers plagued Little Rock. In response to the crime problem, worried citizens organized the Anti-Gaming Society. While the Society advocated legal means for solving this problem, Woodruff suggested lynching when those means failed. Albert Pike, the most restrained editorial voice during the crime wave, suggested the need for a penitentiary which would adequately hold all eligible prisoners. Pike, a recent arrival from Massachusetts, had acquired the Arkansas Advocate early in the year, after his bride inherited a handsome estate. As anti-slavery publications began to reach the South in greater numbers, Woodruff regularly warned his readers of the danger of freeing the slaves. For a while he urged that all free Negroes under 60 years of age be sent to Liberia. Although Governor Fulton remained noncommittal on the issue, the General Assembly voted to call a constitutional convention as the next step toward statehood. After all, the Indians had been removed and Arkansas had better roads, regular steamboat service and met the population requirements for statehood. Agricultural production had grown and, through land office sales, private ownership of land had increased from 2,000 acres in 1830 to 630,000 acres in Arkansas even had Cane Hill College, its first institution of higher learning, founded by the Cumberland Presbyterians.
In the Territory's final action to qualify for statehood, the Constitutional Convention met and framed a constitution, choosing Fent Noland to deliver the document to Washington City. The Gazette's Extra, containing the constitution, arrived before Noland and was the basis of the House committee's consideration of Arkansas's statehood. The Senate passed the bill for statehood in early April, but the House deliberated longer, particularly over the slavery issue. The proposed constitution forbade the legislature of Arkansas from freeing slaves or from excluding slave importation into the State. These two provisions drew the concern of John Quincy Adams and Caleb Cushing, who were otherwise willing for Arkansas to enter as a slave state. Finally, over their protests, the bill for statehood passed. On June 15, President Jackson signed it into law. Although still a frontier region, Arkansas was now a state with representation in both houses of Congress and equality with the other 24 states of the union. Arkansas politics in 1836 was clearly dominated by the Sevier-Conway-Johnson family. A small caucus of family members and allies met in January to nominate Democratic candidates for the first state offices. Fulton, though not a "family" member, would join Sevier as the state's first senators to be elected by the General Assembly. James Sevier Conway would have the honor of being the first governor, with his brother Elias as State Auditor. Archibald Yell, a very powerful "outsider," was conceded the seat in the House while William Woodruff, a strong ally, was selected for State Treasurer. While remaining a publisher, Woodruff retired as editor of the Gazette in anticipation of a busy life in state and private business. The elections proceeded just as the caucus had planned with only minor protests over the "family" influence. The most fateful decision of the first State General Assembly, meeting in the new State House, was the chartering of the State Bank of Arkansas, a government agency and the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas, a government-backed institution. Created to strengthen the state's economy and assist growth, they would both fail within a few years.
For the only time in its history, the election of a vice-president was thrown into the United States Senate and Richard M. Johnson won. The Sevier-Conway-Johnson family welcomed this victory of their relative. The State Bank of Arkansas opened with operating capital of $1 million in bond sales. Little Rock held the main office, with branches in Fayetteville, Batesville, Arkansas Post and later Washington, Arkansas. Although the nationwide effect of the Panic of 1837 included bank failures, a fall in the price of cotton and demonstrations by unemployed workers, Arkansas's economy did not suffer. Little Rock presented the picture of healthy commercial activity. In June alone, more than 100 steamboats arrived on the Arkansas River. The treasury of the state even had a small surplus which was used to reduce taxes. Still concerned about the Indian threat and the uncertainty of the Texas situation, the United States Army began work on the Little Rock Arsenal in May. Initial enthusiasm in Arkansas for Texas' independence, won in 1836, dampened when Texas petitioned for annexation to the United States. Leaders in Arkansas feared population and resources would drain into Texas if it was admitted to the Union. With nationwide public sentiment against Texas annexation, Arkansas remained the edge of the United States for eight more years. Late in the year and early in 1838, the first special session of the State General Assembly was held. The most dramatic and shocking episode took place when Speaker of the House John Wilson fatally stabbed Representative J.J. Anthony in the House Chamber for poking fun at the Speaker. The House expelled Wilson, although he was later acquitted of murder. Again, the intemperate actions of public officials injured the reputation of the state.
William E. Woodruff ran the State Treasurer's office conscientiously, but also with an eye toward personal gain. Before statehood, the treasurer had retained a 10 percent commission on the redemption of land sold for taxes and Woodruff assumed this practice would continue. He also assumed that he would be reimbursed by the state for travel required in the cashing of federal revenue drafts. The lingering impact of the Panic of 1837 made collection of the money in specie (gold or silver) difficult and Woodruff went to great lengths to collect as much of the revenue in specie as possible. When he submitted his account statement, the General Assembly disallowed both the commission on land sales and almost half of his travel expenses and demanded he return $2,395.18. When he decided to challenge this decision in court, Absalom Fowler and other Whigs tried to have Woodruff impeached, but the House rejected the proposal. Woodruff's troubles with the legislature also extended to his role as state printer, so, late in the year, he chose to sell the Gazette and declined to run for another term as treasurer. He still had his land agency business to attend to and, in August, he received delivery on the small steamboat, Little Rock, built for him in Cincinnati. To carry out the Indian removal policy established by Andrew Jackson, thousands of Native Americans were forced to migrate to new Indian territory. Every path on this "Trail of Tears" came through Arkansas. In 1838, 2,970 Cherokees, 630 Chickasaws and 2,237 Seminole Indians passed through Little Rock from their homelands east of the Mississippi River. After having a difficult time selling bonds to raise capital, the Real Estate Bank of Arkansas finally opened to assist agriculture in Arkansas. Within weeks, the Bank loaned out all of its funds with only land mortgages as security. In the congressional election of 1838, Judge Edward Cross of Hempstead County, brother-in-law of Chester Ashley's wife, defeated the Whig candidate, William Cummins. Democrats also won a healthy majority in the General Assembly over the Whigs. The assembly finally recognized the crime problem on the frontier and appropriated funds to acquire property and begin construction of a state penitentiary.
Unfortunately, less than adequate transportation helped keep Arkansas in the "backwoods" of the nation. In its chartering of two private railroad companies, the General Assembly hoped the state would soon be tied to a national transportation system. The two proposed lines would connect Little Rock with the Mississippi River at Helena and Napolean, but Arkansas would have to wait more than 18 years for its first train ride. Religion was scarce on the frontier, as Baptist, Methodist and Cumberland Presbyterian circuit riders occasionally served the scattered settlements. Following the Baptists, the Cumberland Presbyterians built their first church in Little Rock in 1828. By 1833, the Methodists were constructing a brick church and citizens could claim that religion was beginning to civilize the frontier. As evidence of another denomination's commitment to the west, the first missionary bishop of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas arrived in Little Rock in 1839. The Right Reverend Leonidas Polk preached his first sermon in Little Rock's Presbyterian Church on March 10. To the surprise of many old residents, the ownership of real estate in Little Rock was apparently still unsettled. In action sustained by federal court, Roswell Beebe claimed title to the entire town to secure, for the present owners, indisputable title. Beebe had found the original preemption claims to the property were not as strong as earlier supposed and, for a small fee from each property owner, he settled the titles once and for all. But the state's economic situation was worsening. The State Bank and the Real Estate Bank suspended payments in specie for their bank notes. The bank directors claimed the action was taken to keep specie from leaving Arkansas, but issued its own paper money-corporation notes-in small denominations for the convenience of citizens who wanted to buy less than five dollars worth of a commodity or service. They were to be issued as exchange for bank notes. Almost 20 years later, the General Assembly would outlaw such low denomination paper money. When it became obvious that James Conway would not seek a second term, Archibald Yell declared his candidacy for governor as a Democrat. The state of the economy would provide the next governor with a major challenge.
While Arkansas could not fulfill the Spanish explorers' dreams of gold, other explorers found different valuables from the earth. Early in the year the Gazette announced the discovery of anthracite coal in northwest Arkansas. By the end of the year, the Spadra Coal Company was in operation. Nationally, the Whig campaign for the presidency keyed on personalities rather than issues. "Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too" was the slogan of the "log cabin and hard cider campaign," which featured placards, emblems, campaign hats, huge rallies and log cabin floats. William Henry Harrison, the hero of the Battle of Tippecanoe against the Shawnee Indians, was pictured as a simple man born in a log cabin, opposing the aristocratic Martin Van Buren. Arkansas Whigs attempted the same kind of campaign. In Little Rock, a log cabin and liberty pole were raised by the Whigs who appeared to have strong support, at least as long as they were serving hard cider. At the culmination of a statewide convention, more than 1,000 Whigs gathered at the Arsenal grounds to listen to campaign speeches for Harrison. Arkansas, still solidly Democratic, voted for Van Buren, while nationally Harrison and Tyler won. The local Whigs conceded the governor's race and the Democrat, Yell, won without opposition. Cross was reelected to Congress. Little Rock's new fire engine proved of little use without hooks, ladders and trained firemen as fire destroyed a half block of downtown on April 26. Luck and a recent rain were credited for saving the surrounding area. Less than two months later Little Rock was hit by a violent tornado which destroyed or damaged businesses, residences and steamboats. The offices of the new Whig newspaper, the Arkansas Star, especially suffered from the storm. In a desperate and technically illegal, action, the Real Estate Bank sold its last 500 bonds at reduced value to raise the money to pay interest on its other bonds and to meet further obligations. Because the bonds were discounted, they brought only $121,336 instead of $500,000. These bonds were then sold to an innocent third party. The legal problems produced by these "Holford bonds" extended beyond the Civil War.
The 1840 census gave Arkansawyers a chance to look back on the progress they had made in shaping a state out of the wilderness. In 20 years, the white population of Arkansas had grown from 12,582 to 77,174 people; free blacks now numbered 465, while, in 1820 only 59 had lived in Arkansas; and the number of slaves had grown from 1,617 to 19,935. Arkansas Territory in 1820 had contained nine counties-Lawrence, Independence, Phillips, Arkansas, Pulaski, Crawford, Clark, Hempstead and Miller. In 1840, Bradley and Perry became the 40th and 41st counties. Two physical signs of progress in Little Rock included the completion of the Anthony House Hotel and the Tower Building of the United States Arsenal. The Anthony House, which sat where Nicholas Peay had first built a hotel in 1828, would become the most famous Little Rock hotel of the day. By the death of President Harrison, only one month after taking office, John Tyler became the first vice president to succeed to the presidency. When the army outpost at Fort Smith was moved farther up the Arkansas River to Fort Gibson, General Matthew Arbuckle had remained in command. Now, after almost 20 years of serving Arkansas and Indian territory, Arbuckle was relieved by Brigadier General Zachary Taylor. The combined effect of the new lenient federal bankruptcy law, passed on August 19 and the general decline in the state's economy, retarded the attempts of the state's two banks to regain solvency. Bank officials endeavored to foreclose on mortgages, but were often met with notices of bankruptcy. Congress repealed the law in 1843. December found William Woodruff back in the newspaper and printing business. George Burnett, who had replaced Edward Cole as editor and proprietor of the Gazette, died at the age of 27 with his debt to Woodruff unpaid. Woodruff had to resume control until he could find a suitable buyer.
The Real Estate Bank of Arkansas failed and went into receivership on April 1. Unfortunately, the bank's trustees were left to settle its accounts. The state, now burdened with its own debt of nearly $300,000, had to assume the debts of the Real Estate Bank without being able to participate in the settlement of its affairs. Arkansas bank notes were at 50 percent of face value and the state's economy, apparently so healthy a few years earlier, suffered greatly. In reaction to the dire economic situation and the failing banks, change and reform came to dominate General Assembly politics. The new faces in the legislature found their targets in corruption, mismanagement and favoritism. Early in its fourth regular session, the General Assembly reelected Ambrose Sevier to the Senate. But later in the session, a joint committee investigation into Sevier's role as a bank commissioner left him and fellow commissioner T.T. Williamson, censured for several irregularities. Their unauthorized activities included loaning bank money to four Arkansawyers in New York, retaining bank funds for their own use and paying themselves $5,000 for their services as commissioners. Into this reform-minded General Assembly, William E. Woodruff went with a non- competitive bid for the office of state printer and a request for relief from the debt he incurred during his term as state treasurer. He pointed out how valuable the Gazette had been for the election of Democrats and also warned he might be forced to sell the newspaper if he were not supported by his party. But such a political payoff did not appeal to the General Assembly, especially for someone who had been on the Board of the Real Estate Bank. Woodruff lost on both issues and immediately made arrangements to sell the Gazette to the opposition Whig party. Though an excellent businessman and an effective campaigner for others, Woodruff was not graceful in his own defense. People's minds were quickly taken off the bad economy when Samuel G. Trowbridge, the new mayor of Little Rock, was arrested as the mastermind of a gang of clever burglars and counterfeiters. This criminal case proved to be Little Rock's most sensational for many years.
The economy's difficulties continued in 1843. The State Bank of Arkansas officially went into receivership with liabilities placed at $1,910,023 and assets at $1,176,810; the Treasury of the United States announced it would not pay federal Land Distribution funds to the Arkansas State Treasury because of the default on Arkansas bank bonds bought by the Smithsonian legacy; and Arkansas notes fluctuated at less than 50 percent of face value. William E. Woodruff used the state of the economy as his excuse to sell his newspaper, and, with the Gazette now in Whig hands, the Democrats had no journal to influence public opinion. This came at a time when the Johnson-Conway-Sevier family faced increased criticism, including an article in the Batesville News which listed 18 office-holding members of this "dynasty." The General Assembly's censure of Sevier was also used as ammunition by "dynasty" opponents and Elias Conway and Robert Ward Johnson needed a sympathetic press in their plans for seeking higher offices. The Democrats established the Arkansas Banner and imported Dr. Solon Borland, a combative editor from Louisville, Ky., to represent their cause. Borland arrived just in time for the Democratic party convention in which Elias Conway was nominated for governor, but only 16 of the state's 42 counties were represented at the convention. For the second time, Woodruff established a library for public benefit. The "Little Rock Circulating Library" had membership dues of $2 per year and continued in existence until the Civil War. After inflammatory editorials in the Whig and Democratic newspapers, the editors, Dr. Solon Borland (Democrat) and Benjamin Borden (Whig), fought, first with fists and then in a duel. Borland dominated both engagements-in the duel, coolly wounding Borden in the side after Borden's pistol misfired. Trying to bolster their chances for the coming election, the Democrats dropped Elias Conway as candidate for governor in favor of Dr. Daniel Chapman, their candidate for Congress. Chapman was replaced in the congressional race by Governor Yell who resigned on April 29 to stump the state against David Walker. Chapman later withdrew from the governor's race due to ill health and a hasty party caucus picked Thomas Drew as the Democratic nominee. Another variable was added to the political picture by the demise of Senator Fulton, whose death was attributed to sleeping in a freshly painted room. Yell was known to have a strong interest in a Senate seat, but Chester Ashley immediately pitched in as a candidate, visiting 40 counties in 40 days. Woodruff joined the campaign by actively assisting Drew and Ashley through his voluminous correspondence. In the election for governor, Drew won with a plurality of the vote. Yell beat Walker handily in the race for Congress and the General Assembly elected Ashley to the remainder of Fulton's term in the Senate.
The great flood of 1844 prompted a public meeting at Arkansas Post to propose a system of levees for the Arkansas and Mississippi rivers. The General Assembly incorporated the Arkansas Railroad and Transportation Company. The Texas question dominated national politics this election year. Anticipating problems with Mexico over the possible annexation of Texas, the Army transferred General Zachary Taylor from Fort Gibson on the Arkansas frontier to Fort Jessup, La., on the Texas border. In June, the Senate rejected a proposed treaty of annexation, but James K. Polk campaigned for the presidency on an expansionist platform. The Democrats won with Polk narrowly defeating Henry Clay, the Whig candidate.
Through a joint resolution, Congress committed to the annexation of Texas in February. After action by the Texas Congress and approval by the electorate in Texas, Arkansas lost its place as the physical edge of the United States. Texas was admitted to the Union on December 29 as the 28th state. By this time, most Arkansawyers supported the acquisition of Texas as a part of the nation's natural expansion. Editor Solon Borland rejoiced at the news of annexation: "Let the Star of Empire Westward take its way!" President Polk defended the annexation and claimed all of the Oregon country up to the 54°40' parallel (Russian territory), evoking the Monroe Doctrine. He was supported by the expansionist battle cry, "Fifty-four Forty or fight!" Nevertheless, in 1846 the United States and Great Britain reached a compromise setting the boundary between British Canada and Oregon at the 49th parallel, where the boundary remains today. Realizing his need for political support in anticipation of a re-election campaign in 1846, Senator Ashley tried to enlist the aid of Governor Drew in forming a new Democratic political machine, but Drew declined. Ashley also tried to buy the Arkansas Banner to be his editorial voice, but the Democratic Central Committee, controlled by the "dynasty," rejected his offer. Citizen involvement in the life of the community often took the form of public meetings, committees and associations. Public improvements were initiated this way and public concerns expressed. This year committees were formed to "foster the general welfare of the southwestern states," and to organize appropriate observance of the death of former President Andrew Jackson. The recently organized Mechanics Association of Little Rock protested the "ruinous competition" of convict labor from the state penitentiary and the Little Rock Bridge Company was formed with hopes of spanning the Arkansas River at Little Rock and the Ouachita River at the military road. Another form of public meeting aroused considerable dissention within the community as a 26-day revival won 95 converts to the Christian Church. Most of the converts were from other established denominations in Little Rock, which resented the competition.
The political season started early as the State Democratic Convention nominated Robert Ward Johnson, another "dynasty" member, for Arkansas's seat in the House. Anticipating a strong challenge to his own re-election by Congressman Yell, Senator Ashley turned to Woodruff for assistance. Ashley sent letters to the newspapers through Woodruff and Woodruff himself began a series of letters to the Arkansas Banner. When the editor of theBanner declined to publish one of Woodruff's letters, due to objectionable passages, Woodruff paid for its publication and took the opportunity to suggest the establishment of a new paper "which no power on earth can MUZZLE." Ill feelings reached Washington as Yell attempted to have Woodruff removed as postmaster, a position he took in 1845, but Woodruff retained the support of the postmaster general. Woodruff continued "PAID FOR" articles and after unsuccessfully attempting to buy back the Gazette, he announced he would start his own paper, the Arkansas Democrat. War with Mexico suddenly overshadowed the political situation in Arkansas. Mexico had broken off diplomatic relations with the United States and a border skirmish on April 25 was followed by two victories of the United States Army under the command of General Zachary Taylor. Arkansas volunteers for the Mexican War included editor Solon Borland, S.H. Tucker, John Selden Roane, C.C. Danley, Albert Pike's Little Rock Guards (including Woodruff's oldest son, Alden) and, surprisingly, Congressman Yell. Yell, therefore, was not in the state during the fall so could not campaign for the Senate. Further, news of a serious quarrel between Yell and his former ally, Solon Borland, reached Little Rock prior to the senatorial election in the General Assembly. Ashley won reelection handily and Yell lost his seat in Congress when Governor Drew, realizing Arkansas's best interests required a congressman in Washington, declared the seat vacant. Since Robert Ward Johnson had been elected to the term beginning in March 1847, a special election had to be held in December to pick a temporary congressman. Thomas Newton became the first Whig to win a statewide race in Arkansas though he only served for a few weeks. The legislature changed the method of casting a vote in Arkansas elections from voice to paper ballot, a more private form of voting and dealt with the general economic depression by reducing the expenses of government. Woodruff requested and again was denied, relief from his 1837 debt to the state.
Folks back home eagerly awaited news from the Mexican War, which was usually two months old by the time it reached Arkansas. General Taylor's victory over Santa Anna at the Battle of Buena Vista ended the war in northern Mexico and a Mexican lance took the life of Archibald Yell. A controversy arose when Albert Pike questioned the bravery of some of the Arkansas troops at Buena Vista. John S. Roane strongly defended those troops and a court of inquiry settled the issue, but not for long. After their enlistments expired, Pike and Roane exchanged shots in a duel in Indian Territory without injury to either. Other Arkansawyers continued to fight the enemy. Two of them, Solon Borland and C.C. Danley, were captured, escaped and served with distinction in the assault on Mexico City. Borland returned to Little Rock on December 1, but Danley remained in a military hospital with a crippling wound to the knee. Although the "dynasty" lost a strong ally when Yell died, others were waiting to accept leadership roles in that wing of the Democratic Party. Governor Thomas Drew remained the most established outsider in the "family" which still looked to Ambrose Sevier as its leader. Congressman Robert W. Johnson and State Auditor Elias Conway were the "dynasty" members most eager for higher office. That leadership faced the formidable challenge of William E. Woodruff, whose press once helped bring the "dynasty" to power and who now represented the opposition Democratic faction. Woodruff's primary concern rested with promoting Chester Ashley, but he quickly latched onto war heroes Solon Borland and C.C. Danley as potential opposition candidates. Whigs in Arkansas and throughout the nation, were already touting another war hero, General Zachary Taylor, as their candidate for president in 1848.
The first few months of the year saw Woodruff and the Arkansas Democrat devote time to promoting Borland since Ashley was secure in his position. When the Mexican War ended, Senator Sevier, who served as chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, resigned to become Commissioner to Mexico. Sevier hoped a friend would be appointed by Governor Drew to hold his Senate seat, but Drew appointed Borland, who immediately announced his intention to remain in the position and seek election. On April 29, death again altered Arkansas politics. Senator Ashley died in Washington, and Drew appointed William K. Sebastian to his seat. Although Woodruff would remain in the newspaper business nearly five more years, the death of his closest friend depleted much of his spirit. An artillery salute greeted the steamboat COTTON PLANT when it arrived in Little Rock on May 27. The festivities honored C.C. Danley's return from the Mexican War, but the COTTON PLANT also brought home the body of Chester Ashley. Ashley was buried in Mount Holly Cemetery, which he and Roswell Beebe had donated to the city in 1843. Having completed his mission to Mexico, Ambrose Sevier sought election to his old Senate seat, but his health was failing. The General Assembly elected Borland and Sebastian to the Senate seats they held by appointment, giving Sevier his first political defeat in more than 25 years of public service. Sevier died at the home of his father-in-law, Benjamin Johnson, on December 31, weakened by defeat and disease. Governor Drew, re-elected without real opposition, announced he would retire after the adjournment of the seventh session of the General Assembly. John Selden Roane, a veteran of the war, received the Democratic Party nomination at the convention in December. Nationally, peace with Mexico filled the news and Zachary Taylor (Whig) rode his popularity as a war hero to the White House. Taylor won in the first election conducted on a uniform election day, November 7. Concern for reforms in American society expressed itself at the Seneca Falls Convention held in New York during July. The Convention adopted several women's rights resolutions including a demand for women's suffrage and for less discrimination in employment and education. While lead mining generated local interest in Arkansas, gold mining in California became an international obsession. Gold was discovered at Sutter's Mill in January and, by December, Fort Smith was gearing up as a jumping-off place to the gold fields.
The second blow Woodruff and the opposition faction inflicted on the "dynasty" came when the General Assembly elected C.C. Danley to be state auditor over Elias Conway. Conway had served as auditor since before statehood, but Danley's war record brought him a narrow victory. In a very close election, John S. Roane defeated Whig candidate Cyrus Wilson to fill the unexpired term of Governor Drew. Although Roane, from his duel with Pike, should have been disqualified by the state law which precluded a duelist from holding public office, the issue did not reach the courts and he took office as governor. Richard C. Byrd served as acting governor until Roane's inauguration. Gold fever swept across the country this year. The Arkansas Route became one of four principal avenues to California. Emigrants traveled up the Arkansas River to Fort Smith and Van Buren and then set out overland to Santa Fe and on to the West Coast. James McVicar, Henry Keatts, Alden Woodruff, James Murphy, George B. King and W.W. Stevenson were elected officers of the first Little Rock company setting out for the gold fields. Leaving Fort Smith on April 16 with Captain R.B. Marcy commanding a military escort as far as Santa Fe, the company reached California in early October. The Arkansas Route overland proved a long one, but these "argonauts" arrived before other Arkansawyers who took the water route around South America. Arkansas stood to benefit as one of the primary jumping-off places to the gold fields. Estimates made in April suggested that emigrants spent $60,000 for oxen, horses, mules, bacon, flour, etc., in Van Buren alone and Fort Smith fared equally well in the "boom town" economy. The tide of emigration touched Little Rock also. Wanting to take advantage of the gold rush, one Little Rock committee drafted a memorandum to Congress requesting a railroad route be surveyed from Arkansas to Santa Fe to the Pacific Ocean. In October, Arkansas was well represented at the Memphis Railroad Convention.
The Mexican War enlarged the United States, with lands in the new southwest stretching all the way to the Pacific Ocean. The question of allowing slavery in this new territory revived sectional conflicts between the North and the South, as did concern over the slave trade and the return of fugitive slaves to the South. Senate debate on these issues was the greatest in congressional history as John C. Calhoun and Daniel Webster wrestled with Henry Clay and his proposed compromises. Stricken by a terminal illness, Calhoun listened to the reading of his arguments against compromise and against a United States government which would not provide special protection for the South. Measures, later known as the Compromise of 1850, were finally passed. They included entry of California as a free state; "popular sovereignty," through election by the people, on the slavery question in the newly established territories of New Mexico and Utah; strengthening of the fugitive slave law; and the abolition of the slave trade in Washington, D.C. The latest sheriff's census gave Arkansas a total population of 198,796, with 636 free Negroes and 45,242 slaves. One indication of a frontier is the predominance of men to women. In 1835, less than 38 percent of the white population was female; now, more than 46 percent were (82,217 men; 70,701 women). Little Rock counted 2,006 residents. Of the 570,123 acres of land in cultivation in the state's 51 counties, only 24 percent were in cotton. Although public schools would not be permanently established until after the Civil War, education in Arkansas was a concern of many. The first kindergarten was started by Mrs. S.A. Haralson in Little Rock; the Masonic Grand Lodge of Arkansas committed to the creation of Saint John's College in Little Rock; the "State Blind Asylum" in Clarksville sought state funding; and the recently established Alexander Institute at Tulip changed its name to the Arkansas Military Institute. Woodruff complained of legislative squandering of the federal allocations of land which were to have gone to support public education. Woodruff bought the Arkansas Gazette, which lay close to bankruptcy. There was little he kept except its name and its tradition as the oldest newspaper in the state. On February 8, he introduced theArkansas State Gazette and Democrat.
Most people in Arkansas farmed for a living and strong agriculture in the Arkansas and Mississippi River lowlands depended on a proposed system of levees. In January, Governor Roane approved an act which provided for the reclaiming of swamp and overflowed lands recently donated by the federal government. The proceeds from these land sales were used to begin levee work on the rivers adjoining them. By September, a contract was let for levee construction from Bayou Meto to Hornbuckle's Bayou and more contracts followed. The state finally acted on an 1841 federal land donation for internal improvements by creating Internal Improvement Commissions in each county. Roswell Beebe, hoping funds could be pooled to build a railroad, initiated a convention of internal improvement commissioners, which recommended the combining of funds and the construction of "good" roads for the state. Another federal action benefiting the state was the creation of a second district court for Arkansas. One district would serve most of the state; the other, western Arkansas and Indian territory. Although the western district did not yet have a separate judge, a district attorney and marshall were stationed at Van Buren. Later the court site was moved to Fort Smith, where, beginning in 1875, "hanging judge" Isaac Parker dispensed justice. The state penitentiary was destroyed by fire for the second time in six years. A contract was let to John Robins of Little Rock for the construction of new workshops, a jailhouse and an enclosing stone wall. Arkansas publicized its mineral resources by shipping a block of Little Rock granite to Washington to be part of the Washington Monument and a 1,300 pound specimen of lead and silver ore headed for the London World's Fair. Hopeful of keeping the newspaper in family hands, William Woodruff named his son, Alden, editor of the Gazette and Democrat. The Banner, which soon would be renamed the True Democrat, took on a new editor in Richard H. Johnson, younger brother of Congressman Bob Johnson. Death claimed three pioneers of early Arkansas in 1851: General Matthew Arbuckle, longtime commander of the army on the Arkansas frontier; Andrew Scott, one of the three original judges of the Superior Court of Arkansas Territory; and James Miller, first governor of the Territory.
As gold fever decreased, what might be called "railroad fever" struck Arkansas. A large railroad convention met in Little Rock and decided the Memphis to Fulton (at the Texas border) route through Little Rock should be the first line to receive financial aid. In the flurry of activity, three railroad companies were incorporated, but, to be successful, each company needed a land grant from the federal government. Bills by Senator Borland and Representative Johnson were pending in Congress, but no action was taken. The hope for railroads played a role in the governor's race between Elias Conway, nominated by the "dynasty" Democrats and Bryan Smithson, an independent Democrat endorsed by the Whigs. Smithson campaigned on internal improvements, focusing on the proposed Central Railroad. The practical Conway suggested the state first ought to have a system of good dirt roads. Woodruff, still opposing the "Family," gave the support of the Gazetteand Democrat to Smithson, labeling Conway the "dirt roads" candidate. While Smithson won in Pulaski County and Little Rock, the voters in the state elected Conway. Senator Borland continued to live up to his combative reputation when he broke the nose of J.C.G. Kennedy, superintendent of the census bureau. Kennedy insulted Borland in an effort to change his mind over a proposed census publication. The subsequent punch in the face brought Arkansas more adverse national publicity. Beginning a long and prosperous involvement with river commerce in Arkansas, Major John D. Adams acquired a line of steamboats which engaged in the transporting of United States mail from Napolean to Little Rock. Riverboat travel sometimes proved to be a risky business with dangers from snags, collisions and especially explosions and fires. In March, the steamboat POCAHONTAS blew a boiler scalding 18 persons, eight of whom died; in April, it burned and sank, killing 13 passengers. Nationally, the Whig Party nominated a presidential candidate for the last time, General Winfield Scott, who lost to Democratic nominee Franklin Pierce in the November 2 election. Harriet Beecher Stowe's book Uncle Tom's Cabin, a sentimental anti-slavery novel, became a best seller in the North after its publication in March. The fugitive slave act of 1850 inspired the book, which was particularly effective at crystallizing emotions against the brutality and injustice of slavery.
The General Assembly chartered five railroad companies including the Memphis and Little Rock, which would become the first railroad in Arkansas going into public service and the Cairo and Fulton, forerunner of the Missouri Pacific line in Arkansas. After the legislature adjourned, Congress granted lands to Arkansas, for the development of the railroads, to be surveyed under the direction of the General Assembly, but Governor Conway refused to call a special session to proceed with the railroad grants. Conway's private secretary, Richard H. Johnson, editor of the True Democrat, defended Conway's inaction, saying it avoided "hasty and ill-natured legislation." Solon Borland's resignation from the Senate to become minister to Central America gave Conway another reason to postpone the special session. Bob Johnson, Conway's appointee to replace Borland, would have more time to establish himself as a senator before he faced election by the General Assembly. With Bob Johnson in the Senate and the state's growing population now qualifying it for two seats in the House of Representatives, Arkansas sent two new congressmen to Washington. The Democrats nominated Alfred Greenwood in the northern district and Edward A. Warren in the southern. Warren drew formidable opposition from the Whig candidate, Frederick W. Trapnall, but Trapnall died on the campaign trail and Warren easily won over James Curran, Trapnall's replacement. Weary of the public and political role that a newspaper publisher must play, William E. Woodruff sold the Gazetteand Democrat to C.C. Danley, the State Auditor and retired to his land agency business. He thus left public life for good, though he lived more than 30 more years.
On February 21, one of the most destructive fires in Little Rock history ravaged several of the best structures in the business section. Among the losses were the William B. Wait Building, housing several firms and the newspaper offices of both the True Democrat and the Gazette and Democrat. This disaster persuaded Little Rock citizens to organize the Defiance Hook and Ladder Company, a volunteer group of firefighters who served the community for many years. Railroads continued to spark public interest with surveys, meetings and some actual construction. As work on a road bed began at Hopefield, opposite Memphis, citizens of Helena argued that their community, not Memphis, should be chosen as the eastern terminus of the main line through the state. Governor Conway continued his refusal to call a special session to deal with the federal railroad grants, claiming that the regular session would be too expensive. In the congressional elections, the Democratic nominees, Alfred Greenwood and Albert Rust, won seats in the House. When the General Assembly met, Senator Bob Johnson was elected to complete the last few months of Solon Borland's unexpired term and to the following full six-year term. With the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in May, Congress reopened the issue of the extension of slavery. The new territories were allowed "popular sovereignty" regarding slavery, meaning that pro-slavery and anti-slavery settlers would soon rush into the area to try to achieve a majority. Trouble followed Solon Borland to Central America. After negotiating a treaty with Nicaragua, Borland was slightly wounded by a crowd of natives angry over a killing by an American steamboat captain. President Pierce, concerned over both Borland's treatment and a damage claim by Cornelius Vanderbilt's Accessory Transit Company, sent a warship to the coastal village of Greytown (San Juan). When the natives ignored the American demands, the captain gave 24-hour notice and then destroyed the town by bombardment. Borland again received publicity in the United States as the issue was debated. By the time the controversy died down, he was back in Little Rock, a partner in Dr. J.J. McAlmont's Drug Store.
The 10th regular session of the General Assembly finally dealt with federal railroad grants in January. Since the Memphis and Little Rock line had already begun construction, Governor Conway proposed that the eastern terminus of the railroad crossing Arkansas be Hopefield, opposite Memphis and that the route designated by the Cairo and Fulton be implemented for the rest of the state. The legislature accepted his recommendations and thus guaranteed that a railroad would indeed be operational in Arkansas before the end of the decade. Elias Conway's greatest triumph as governor took place in his successful battle against what remained of the Real Estate Bank. The General Assembly, in a strategy outlined by Conway, finally provided the means to place the bank in receivership. Thus Conway succeeded where three other governors failed. The final determination of the true condition of the bank confirmed what everyone feared regarding poor management. Conway's solution to the Real Estate Bank problem consisted in accounting for and collecting its assets and then applying that money to the payment of its debts. The funds would only go so far and Conway, unwilling to use tax monies to relieve the state of these obligations, left the state still burdened by these debts. Arkansas's credit problems would not be resolved for decades. Within the political flux caused nationwide by sectional differences, increased immigration, and the decline of the Whigs as a viable second party, two new political parties arose. The Republican Party, believing Congress had the authority to control slavery in the new territories, got no support in the South. The American (Know-Nothing) Party, suspicious of Roman Catholics and recent foreign immigrants, received some support in Arkansas. The concept of "popular sovereignty" on the slavery issue in Kansas led to the establishment of two legislatures, one pro-slavery and one against slavery. Tension mounted as the two sides moved towards violence.
Progress continued on the Memphis and Little Rock line including actual laying of track in April. Officers of the company claimed that 36,000 cross ties were made, 26 miles of line graded and another 8 miles cleared for grading. Later in the year, Roswell Beebe, one of the earliest proponents of railroads in Arkansas, died. On May 31, Hiram Whittington of Hot Springs announced he had begun the manufacture of whetrocks quarried out of the oilstone near Hot Springs, continuing the practice begun by the Indians. He claimed, "these stones are gaining a just celebrity all over the civilized world," and indeed, Arkansas whetstones continue that reputation to the present day. The American Party nominated James Yell to oppose Elias Conway for governor, but Yell's opposition proved weak. When the American Party claimed Conway "ruined" Arkansas, Conway pointed to progress in canceling the bonds of both the defunct banks, a reduction of state debt by more than $1 million and a treasury with $156,000 in specie. Although times were not easy, Arkansas had entered a period of comparative prosperity and the citizens of Arkansas re-elected Conway 28,159 to 15,436 for Yell. In the presidential campaign, strife over slavery in Kansas proved to be the major issue. Struggle for control between pro-slavery and abolitionist forces escalated into a small civil war, taking an estimated 200 lives. The Democrats dropped President Pierce as their candidate because of his close association with the Kansas problem and chose James Buchanan. The young Republican Party nominated John C. Fremont of California and the American Party proposed Millard Fillmore. Buchanan, while he failed to get a majority of the popular vote nationwide, carried Arkansas easily and won the election in the Electoral College.
Though the Panic of 1857 affected the entire nation with higher prices, signs of progress in Arkansas continued. The Masons completed construction of a building for Saint Johns' College and the tower was added to the Christian Church. The Arkansas Manufacturing Company established a cotton factory in Pike County and Governor Conway appointed Dr. Owen, a nationally respected geologist, to undertake a geological survey of the state. Noting the increase in property now taxable due to its transfer from public to private ownership, P.T. Crutchfield of the Federal Land Office in Little Rock said, "it proves the rapidity with which our state is marching on to wealth and greatness, despite the croakers within her own borders." In September, reporters, railroad officials and other dignitaries were treated to an excursion in the locomotive LITTLE ROCK, on several miles of track west from Hopefield. Questionable practices of the Swamplands Commission saw the management of levee work and swampland reclamation transferred to the governor's office. The General Assembly also made provision for filling in gaps of the levees on the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers. In one of the most shocking acts to occur in the westward migration, a band of Mormons and Indians slaughtered a group of Arkansawyers in southern Utah. The California-bound Arkansas emigrants surrendered to their captors, only to become their victims in the "Mountain Meadows Massacre." Of the 120 members of the wagon train, only 17 children were spared. The continuing problem in Kansas began to split the Democratic Party nationally as Stephen Douglas, Senator from Illinois, found himself in opposition to President Buchanan's support of the proposed pro-slavery constitution for Kansas. Sectional tension was further inflamed when the Supreme Court ruled against Dred Scott, a slave who had been taken into a free state. Scott sued for his liberty, arguing that through residence in a free state, he had become free. Many northerners denounced the Dred Scott decision, while some southerners used the northern reaction as further proof that the North would be forever hostile to the southern way of life. More and more people seemed to be hardening themselves against any peaceful solution to the sectional rivalry. In Arkansas, one example of the anticipation of military activity was the reorganization of the Capitol Guards militia company and a cavalry company, both in Little Rock.
On November 11, the Memphis and Little Rock railroad opened for passenger and freight service from Hopefield to Madison on the Saint Francis River. Although the line would not be completed until 1871, Arkansas had entered the railroad age. The second stop on the line after Hopefield was named Conway in honor of the governor. Colonel C.F.M. Noland died near Little Rock on June 23, a victim of consumption. Politically, Noland opposed the Democrats and failed in every statewide race he entered, but he left a rare legacy: a series of letters printed in theSpirit Of The Times, a popular New York sporting journal. His sketches of Arkansas, fictionalized under the pen name "Pete Whetstone," or otherwise attributed to "N. of Arkansas," appeared for more than 20 years. Today, they yield a valuable view of early Arkansas. In the race for Congress, the Democrats nominated Thomas C. Hindman in the first district and Albert Rust in the second; both men won handily. Hindman was only a temporary ally of the "dynasty," and would not receive the support of the True Democrat in the next election. Abraham Lincoln emerged as a national political figure in a series of debates with Stephen Douglas as both campaigned for the Senate in Illinois. Although Douglas won the election, Republicans made major gains in Congress throughout the North. Republican Senator William H. Seward warned that the United States approached an "irrepressible conflict," while Democrats became increasingly divided over the sectional issue.
Arkansas continued making progress in education: the General Assembly incorporated the Arkansas Institute for the Blind to succeed the State Blind Asylum; Jefferson High School of Pine Bluff opened as the state's first coeducational high school; Saint Johns' College in Little Rock officially began classes in October; and Arkansas College in Fayetteville conferred two Master of Arts degrees, the first such granted in the state. Arkansas College and three other institutions made Washington County the education center for the state. Other trappings of progress included the grading of the railroad bed from north of the Arkansas River at Little Rock to the White River and the organization of a gas company to erect a plant and provide gas lighting to Little Rock. Edward Payton Washburn offered for sale prints of his recent painting, the "Arkansas Traveler," for $2.50. The story of the "Traveler," as told by Sanford C. Faulkner, was printed to accompany the engraving. The picture and story have become a staple of American folklore and many musicians have used the "Traveler" theme. Since Washburn died in 1860, he did not profit much from the print, which was later mass-produced by Currier and Ives. As time passed, the Arkansas Traveler image became criticized locally for the "backwards" impression it gives of Arkansas. The Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union appointed Mrs. Robert Ward Johnson to be Vice Regent from Arkansas. Mrs. Johnson announced that the Ladies Association had entered into a contract to buy the "mansion, gardens, landing place and above all, tomb," of George Washington's estate on the Potomac River. She urged women of the state to help raise the purchase price for the home of the "father of our country." (The fourth Vice Regent from Arkansas, Mrs. J. Fairfax Loughborough, founded Historic Arkansas Museum in 1939.) Two national events displayed a new aggressiveness in sectional strife. The Southern Commercial Convention in Vicksburg, not content to retain the right of slave ownership in the South, sought to open up the foreign slave trade again. Congress had prohibited the foreign slave trade in 1808. In October, John Brown led an attack on the arsenal and armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in an attempt to instigate a slave rebellion. A force of United States Marines, commanded by Colonel Robert E. Lee, took Brown and his followers prisoner. Brown was later hanged for treason and criminal conspiracy. Even before these events, the General Assembly followed Governor Conway's advice and acted to remove all free Negroes from Arkansas. Free persons of color were seen as a potentially disruptive element and, after 1860, were to be enslaved for a year and their earnings from that period were to be used for their removal.
1860 - Shadow of Fear

Already in the shadow of war, Arkansas continued to show signs of progress. Arkansas's first state fair was held in Little Rock; the Little Rock gas plant was completed and gas lighting entered homes and businesses; Elias Conway, the outgoing governor, could point to $304,106.98 in specie in the state treasury; and the telegraph reached Fayetteville, providing a communication link with the east coast.

This year's elections offered the "dynasty" its strongest opposition. Thomas Hindman, openly hostile to the True Democrat, won re-election easily as first district Congressman. Edward Gantt, winner in the second district, was also outside the "dynasty." But the primary challenge came from a blood relative, Henry M. Rector who opposed Richard H. Johnson for governor. (When Johnson left the True Democrat, he was replaced as editor by Elias Boudinot, a lawyer of Cherokee heritage who had worked for the Fayetteville Arkansian.) Rector defeated Johnson, 30,577 to 28,618.

In the presidential campaign, the Democratic Party divided into two factions, with Stephen A. Douglas the nominee of the northern wing and John C. Breckinridge of the southern wing. Remnants of the Whig and American parties nominated John Bell as the Constitutional Union Party candidate. The Republican Party chose newcomer Abraham Lincoln as its candidate for president. The electoral vote went along clear sectional lines with Lincoln victorious in 18 free states, Breckinridge carrying 11 slave states (including Arkansas), Bell winning three border states and Douglas carrying Missouri and three New Jersey votes.

Several Southern states had threatened to secede from the United States upon a Republican victory. South Carolina immediately did so and other states would follow early in 1861.

Although Arkansas had strong Unionist sentiment, particularly in the northwest where slavery was not as prevalent, the southeast was now solid in the "cotton kingdom." In 1850, 512 Arkansawyers could be considered "planters" by owning more than 20 slaves; by 1860, the number had reached 1,363. While there were officially only 11,481 slaveholders out of 325,000 whites in Arkansas, slaveholders and their families formed a strong class in the state.

1861 - The Civil War

By February 1, the seven states of the lower south had seceded from the United States. On February 5, a group of more than 800 armed secessionists arrived in Little Rock from south Arkansas to take control of the United States Arsenal. These troops were reacting to a rumor the United States government planned to reinforce the Arsenal. The Little Rock City Council adopted a resolution declaring the movement disrespectful to state authorities, and further labeled the group nothing more or less than a mob. To avoid bloodshed and disorder, the City Council finally requested Governor Rector to take the Arsenal in the name of the state. On February 8, the United States troops evacuated the Arsenal and the property was turned over to the governor. Little Rock citizens presented a sword to Captain James Totten, federal commander of the Arsenal, for managing to avoid violence in the face of considerable tension.

At the March convention called to consider Arkansas leaving the United States, Unionist sentiment prevailed. But it was clear, if war began, Arkansas would stick with its southern sisters. When the convention reconvened after the southern attack on Fort Sumter, South Carolina, the outcome was different. Only Isaac Murphy of Madison County would not vote "aye" in the final 69-1 decision for secession. Arkansas, the 25th state in the United States, became the ninth of the Confederate States of America.

Gearing up for war, the Secession Convention raised taxes, issued war bonds, confiscated all public lands formerly belonging to the United States, and called for volunteers. Flushed with the excitement of anticipated battle, the community jumped into mobilization. Companies were mustered, women were fabricating uniforms and flags and donations were made to "the Cause."

Volunteers from Arkansas entered actual warfare for the first time at the Battle of Oak Hill (Wilson's Creek) in southwest Missouri. In 1862, the battles of Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove brought the fighting to Arkansas, and by the end of 1863, most of Arkansas had fallen to the Union. The war, from various perspectives called the Civil War, the War Between the States, the War of the Rebellion, the War of Northern Aggression and the Late Unpleasantness, killed thousands of Arkansawyers in four years on both sides of the conflict. While it settled two issues - the end of slavery and the return of Arkansas to the United States - it could not hope to settle the more complicated economic and social problems left behind.