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.
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.
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.