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The Southern States of America
Chapter II - Arkansas from 1836 - 1861

Admission to the Union.

The admission of Arkansas into the Union in 1836 gave rise, temporarily, to a species of agitation which was destined to break out into greater fury some years later, and that was agitation of the subject of slavery. With that jealous watchfulness of the balance of power as between the slave states and the free, which had governed legislative action for a decade, it had become the settled policy of Congress to admit states to the Union in pairs, and so when the time was at hand for the admission of Arkansas, Michigan was likewise admitted as her free sister—her co-mate in the galaxy of stars. This policy was the direct outgrowth of the Missouri Compromise, wherein it was settled that no state allowing slavery should be created north of the compromise line, the south line of Missouri, but that south of the line states might have slavery or not as they chose. They could only be free north of the line; they might be free south of it, if so ordered. So when the question of statehood for Arkansas was up, it hung fire in the legislative halls. Among her people the desire to pass out of territorial government into that of a state had been gaining headway, and for five years had been actively pressed. Arkansas had now been a territory for fifteen years, dating, as she did, from the bill introduced by John Scott, territorial representative, detaching her from Missouri territory in 1819.

The new territory was a region but sparsely settled. The census of 1820, the year after her creation, showed only a total population of 14,255. This had been more than doubled in 1830, which showed 30,388, and the next census showed 97,574. These figures indicate that the tide of emigration was setting strongly in her direction. The advantages the new territory had to offer were not lost on the home-seeker. Her fine lands, her illimitable timber resources, her mineral fields, her splendid rivers for navigation, her equable climate, were beginning to be understood and availed of. And so, with her population advanced to sufficient proportions and the state of public affairs seeming propitious, in 1834 Ambrose H. Sevier, her delegate, introduced a bill in Congress for her admission as a state. At once the opposition to receiving a state allowing slavery became active, and the subject was held back for two years. But public interest was aroused, and meetings favoring statehood were held at many points. Finally a convention was called and held, which framed a constitution, reciting their sufficiency of population and their ability to maintain themselves, and asking to be admitted into the Federal Union. The constitution was forwarded to "Washington and laid before Congress.

Upon the subject being thus presented, the opposition arose stronger than ever. The act of the people was declared to be revolutionary, in that they had presumed to frame a constitution and petition for admission without first asking permission of Congress to do so. The opposition was carried to the extent of taking the opinion of the attorney-general Benjamin F. Butler as to the legality of the proceedings. Mr. Butler put a quietus on the opposition by rendering the common-sense opinion that it was the right of the people at all times peaceably to assemble and, by petition, to make any request that they saw fit; that the holding of the convention was nothing more than their peaceably assembling, and their request to be admitted to the Union was nothing more than the exercise of their undoubted right to make, by petition, any request that they saw fit, and hence there was no illegality in the proceedings. So with all further opposition removed and with nothing at hand to prevent her reception, along with Michigan, Arkansas was duly enrolled in the sisterhood of states—the twelfth state after the original thirteen.

Politics and Parties.

In her territorial life, and even more accentuated in her statehood, the vote of Arkansas was overwhelmingly Democratic, and such it has continued to be up to the present time. The two parties dividing public attention of the time were the Whigs, who dated from about 1820, and who, from about 1829, were called Whigs from the name of one of the parties of the American Revolution, and the other the Democrats, the successors of the old Republican party, or as founded by Jefferson, the party of the people; who, from near the opening of the century took the name of Democrats.

The Whigs of Arkansas were headed by able men and leaders, of whom Robert Crittenden, the first secretary of the territory, was the chief, and associated with him were Absalom Fowler, Ebenezer Cummins, Benjamin Desha, Frederick W. Trapnall, and others of like ability; but their vote was in so much of a minority that the political contests of the day were a succession of Democratic triumphs, under the leadership of Ambrose H. Sevier, Chester Ashley, the Conways, Henry W. and James S., Archibald Yell, Charles Caldwell, the Rectors, Wharton and Elias, William S. Fulton, and others equally eminent; while the power of the press was wielded for the Democratic side by William E. Woodruff, as editor of the Gazette, which, from its early beginning in 1819, was a moulder and leader of public opinion, which it still continues to be.

For the Whigs the Advocate was the party organ, founded by Charles P. Bertrand, but later passing to Albert Pike.

Ambrose H. Sevier was the territory's chief political factor. He was her "tower of strength that stood foursquare to every wind that blew.'' At the state organization James S. Conway was chosen governor, and A. H. Sevier and William S. Fulton (the last governor of the territory) were made United States senators. Upon the death of Fulton, Chester Ashley became senator. Both he and Sevier were men of mark in the Assembly. Both were eminent for their services, and were recognized by appointment on important committees, Ashley going to that of the judiciary. Archibald Yell was elected congressman, and served as such until the outbreak of the Mexican War, in which he lost his life, his associate, after 1839, being Edward Cross. Yell was succeeded by Thomas W. Newton, the only Whig who ever sat in Congress from Arkansas.

Economic and Social Condition.

The general quality of the population of Arkansas at this time was of the very best. The emigration which had flowed into her borders had been largely of the best element, drawn in great measure from cultured families of the South. Around points such as Little Bock, Hot Springs, Arkadelphia, Camden, Washington, Pine Bluff, Helena, Van Buren and Fort Smith, were clustered groups of families of culture and refinement, while in and through the region of Jefferson county were many residents from old French families.

The home life of these people was of a delightful order. Generally of education, of refinement and means, and with hospitality which has grown world-famous as the universal attribute of their section; frequently of literary and even scholastic attainments, their communities were charming social centres. Being generally slave-owners, agricultural pursuits engaged the attention of the people, ranging from the well-cultivated small farms of the north and west, with their chief products of grains and fruits, to the immense cotton plantations of the east and south, for all of which the chief market was New Orleans, and river traffic the chief mode of travel and conveyance.

Wildcat Banking.

Unfortunately, the first step taken by Arkansas in beginning her career of statehood was a false and mistaken one. It in a decided measure committed the state to the dangerous enterprise of herself going into the banking business. The wisdom of the hour saw only present necessities. The situation was that everybody had land, while but few had ready money. So, to relieve the keenness of the situation and provide a circulating medium, the state created two banks, known respectively as the State Bank and Real Estate Bank. The State Bank was a state institution, with officers elected by the legislature, and owned and controlled exclusively by the state. The capital stock was one million dollars, for which the state issued her bonds, which the bank sold, the proceeds constituting her banking capital. This amount was speedily loaned out, and in five years the bank was put into liquidation, owing two million dollars, with assets nominally nearly the same, but three-fourths of which were represented by borrower's notes, which were uncollectable; so that for the outstanding debts the state stood in the attitude of an endorser whose principal has become insolvent and left him with the debt to pay. And paying the debt meant additional burdens on the people to get the money to pay it with.

With the Real Estate Bank, affairs were somewhat similar. The capital stock here was two million dollars. Any stockholder could borrow money of it with a lien on his real estate for security. Here, also, the proceeds of the state's bonds were the banking capital. So many men offered to subscribe for stock that they could not all be accommodated. The funds were loaned out on long terms, with real estate security. In but a short time this bank also failed, and a struggle to realize on its securities was begun by its trustees that ran through nearly sixty years. But the state stood responsible on the bonds she had issued, and a certain half million of them played an exciting part in after history.

They were deposited with a loan and trust company of New York as collateral for the loan of $121,000. Without waiting for the state to redeem her pledge and take up the collateral, the trust company, by a breach of faith, sold the bonds to James Holford, a banker of London, for $325,000, and in a short time thereafter the trust company failed and made an assignment, having pocketed something over $200,000 by their method of handling the Arkansas bonds. These bonds thereafter became known as the "Holford Bonds." In the reconstruction times following the war, the legislature passed laws for the refunding of these bonds, but their issue was afterwards contested on the ground of there being fraud and breach of faith in their sale by the trust company, and an amendment known as the Fishback Amendment, taking its name from William M. Fishback, of Fort Smith, the author of the measure, prohibiting their payment, was adopted by the people in 1884 as amendment No. 1 to the state constitution.

Thus the bank mania had run its course of confusion and ruin through infinite channels. With the planting of the seed in 1836 there had come the gathering of the outgrowth as late as 1896, or even 1906, in impoverished estates, mortgaged homes, clouded titles and struggling debtors, often born to cope with inherited debts. It was the sowing of the storm in the one generation, and the reaping of the whirlwind in succeeding ones.

Arkansas in the Mexican War.

The ten years following the entry of Arkansas into the Union were years of growing prosperity, but suddenly the serenity of the time was disturbed by the outbreak of a war with Mexico, in which she was called to take an active part. It is said that "Revolutions have long roots in the past," and it is a circumstance worthy of note that out of Arkansas came an initial event which was destined to have an effect, a great and controlling effect, on the final events that led to that struggle. In the year 1820 there came from Potosi, Missouri, to "the little rock" on the Arkansas River, one Moses Austin, who built the first cabin at the place where the capital city now is. Soon came also his son, Stephen F. Austin, than which there is no greater name in Texas history, who became one of the founders of the town of Little Rock, and one of the original townsite proprietors. Soon Moses Austin went to New Orleans, and there Stephen F. Austin joined him and gathered together his colony which he led into Texas and planted: the first American settlers to populate or gain a footing in that magnificent region.

Austin's colony proving successful, a number of other American colonies likewise came in, until, by 1835, they had grown so strong and prosperous as to excite the jealousy of the Mexican government, which treated them with great harshness and injustice. This precipitated a revolution in which Texan independence was gloriously won at San Jacinto in 1836, and her separate existence was recognized by many governments and acquiesced in by Mexico. Then for nine years the Republic of Texas stood knocking at the door, requesting admission to the American Union. The same demurrage and baffling delays that Arkansas had experienced were again exerted, because Texas was a slave state. But finally the door was opened and Texas was duly received into the Union. At once Mexico, although she had done nothing to repossess herself of Texas, suddenly asserted a claim to her territory and began war against the United States. Each nation sprang to arms. Under President Polk's proclamation the quota of troops from Arkansas was 1,400. These were speedily raised, more men volunteering than could be received, and two commands were formed: a cavalry regiment under Archibald Yell, who resigned his seat in Congress to command it, and a battalion for the defense of the frontier under Col. William Gray, and two companies of the Twelfth Infantry Regulars were recruited from Arkansas. The rendezvous of the troops was at "Washington, Hempstead county, and from there they marched to Mexico. On arriving at the scene of action Yell's regiment was put into active service, and at Buena Vista, the decisive battle of the war, distinguished themselves. In a charge of the Mexican lancers, which they received and repulsed, Yell was killed by a lance wound, and they lost many officers and men. The battle of Buena Vista was fought Feb. 23, 1847, but the news did not reach Little Rock until April, when some discharged soldiers from the town, returning by the method of ox-cart traveling, brought the information to the astonished villagers.

Buena Vista was the principal battle of this war in which Arkansas troops took part, but those of the Twelfth Infantry, under Capt. Allan Wood, participated in the engagements of Contreras and Cherubusco.

But these incidents were the early forerunners of peace. The state's senior senator, A. H. Sevier, resigned his office and was sent as Minister to Mexico, concluding a treaty of peace which added greatly to our public domain, as the valor of our troops in the war had added greatly to our prestige among the nations of the earth.

The Rising War-Cloud.

The ten years from 1850 to 1860 were years of an unctuous peace for Arkansas. It was that fatness and increase were all in all,

"and Peace Piped on her pastoral hillock a languid note,
Watching her harvests ripen; her herds increase,"

but it was broken by a distant muttering that grew louder as the decade waned, until it broke in a thunderous roar. Growth and prosperity was abroad on every hand; but through it all

"There ran a dark thought, like a creeping trace;
Or like a black threat, that by some misplace,
Life had strung through the pearls of happy years;
A thought that bordered all our joys with tears."

That thought was the incessant agitation of the subject of slavery. By 1840 a political party had been formed at the North, bearing the name of the Abolition party, the avowed object of which was the abolition of slavery, from which it took its name. From about 1854 this party was absorbed by a stronger organization formed about that time, which took the name of the Republican party, harking back to the opening of the century to appropriate a name under which the Democratic party had at that time existed. The growing strength of this newly formed party was evident, and the increasing heat of public excitement, fanned into flame by the enactment in Congress of the "Fugitive Slave Law," resulting in the counter enactment in many Northern states of what were called "Personal Liberty" bills, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise act, the bill establishing territorial governments for Kansas and Nebraska, with or without slavery, as the people of these territories might choose; and the delivery by the Supreme Court of the Dred Scott decision had the effect of drawing to them many adherents whose interest had previously only loosely attached to any precise form of doctrine on such subjects.

And contributing not a little to the firing of the Northern mind in the same direction was the novel Uncle Tom's Cabin, both in its book and in its dramatized form; and in the Central West the great debate between Lincoln and Douglas over the subject of slavery, in which Lincoln had enunciated his doctrine that "this country could not exist part slave and part free," had simply brought public excitement to a white heat. The nation had become little less than a powder magazine that needed only a single spark to produce an explosion, and that spark came out of the long and bloody war in Kansas, called the Border "War, and John Brown's Insurrection at Harper's Ferry. These were the torches applied to the dry stubble, and the blaze went sweeping onward like a besom of destruction. The desirability of withdrawing from the Union began to be advocated in many parts of the South, through the press and on the stump, on the street corner and in the private home, and secession, as an abstract right, was defended. Eloquent orators like E. C. Jordan and E. W. Gantt, in our own midst, were not wanting to strongly advocate secession, recommending it as a proceeding which states of the North had themselves three times threatened to put into effect, over the Louisiana Purchase of 1803, in the Hartford Convention of 1815, and in the Haverhill Resolutions of 1842; but there were equally eloquent orators like John B. Fellows, John Kirkwood, J. M. S. Causin, and many others who made powerful pleas for the perpetuity of the Union, and so the debate went on from forum to forum, and from stump to stump, irrespective of whether the speakers were candidates for office, or merely discussing the tendency of the times.

The year 1860 brought matters to a crisis. It was in the midst of this condition of public unrest that an election for governor of Arkansas was held. Richard H. Johnson was the regular Democratic nominee, and his opponent was Henry M. Rector, who had resigned his seat as judge of the Supreme Court of Arkansas to become an independent candidate for the office. Johnson represented the views of extremists, while Rector's platform was for moderation and conservatism. After a campaign of tremendous excitement, Rector was elected. The vote cast was a large one, as the vote then stood 61,198, of which Rector's vote was nearly 32,000. The vote was, of course, affected by local issues and personal preferences, but the majority, as pronounced in favor of conservative views rather than the opposite, was significant.


There is no room for doubt that the close of 1860 and the opening of 1861 found the Union sentiment in Arkansas in the ascendancy. This was not only reflected in the vote in the race between Rector and Johnson, but it was emphasized in the trend of public action. Rector, being inaugurated before the legislature which sat in January, 1861, delivered an inaugural counselling moderation in the impending crisis, and expressing conservative sentiments. In the exercise of their undeniable right as the lawmaking body of a state in the Federal Union, an act was passed by the legislature directing that a vote of the people be had as to whether a convention should be held "to take into consideration the condition of public affairs and to determine what course the state of Arkansas should take in the present political crisis." The vote upon the proposition exhibited a decided majority for the holding of the convention.

The convention thus ordered sat in March, with David Walker, of Fayetteville, as president. Its membership comprised the best and ablest minds in Arkansas. In its general result, nothing favorable to secession was done. Several times during the session measures providing for a withdrawal from the Union were presented, but they were either voted down or were strangled by parliamentary procedure, and the body adjourned to a date in August, but with power in the president to call it together again at an earlier date should the exigencies of the times require.

Two things it did were in the line of peace and the Union by unmistakable act. One was a vote of thanks to John J. Crittenden for his efforts to secure a compromise between the two divergent views of the times, and the other was to name five delegates to attend a peace convention proposed by the states of Virginia and Missouri, to be held at Frankfort, Kentucky, in May.

But the delegates appointed to it never served, for before the time arrived at which the convention was to be held, the nation was in the throes of a mighty war. Like a thunder-clap out of a clear sky came the news of the fall of Sumter, and the proclamation of President Lincoln calling for troops to put down the "Rebellion," and calling upon the unseceded states of the South to furnish a portion of them, the quota for Arkansas being put at 780 men. Governor Rector returned an indignant reply refusing to furnish the troops, and the convention, under the call of its president, assembled a second time. Events since their adjournment had completely altered public sentiment. The commencement of hostilities, the call for troops, the call upon Arkansas to furnish a portion of them, had entirely swept away the Union sentiment. The convention was now practically unanimous for secession. Shortly after assembling, it passed an ordinance, introduced by William Porter Grace, of Jefferson county, "Dissolving the Union existing between the State of Arkansas and those united with her under the compact entitled ' The Constitution of the United States of America.' " The vote on its adoption was sixty-nine in the affirmative and one in the negative. The negative vote was that of Isaac Murphy, of Madison county, who was made governor when a state government was afterwards organized in Arkansas under Federal auspices.

The adoption of the Ordinance of Secession had not been any hasty conclusion impelled by the excitement of the moment, but had been a step taken in the deliberate judgment that the sacred ties of kinship and affinity demanded it. When the issue had been forced upon her that she must either assist in making war upon the other states of the South by remaining in the Union, or that she must stand with the South by going out, she promptly withdrew.

An eye-witness to the passage of the Ordinance of Secession said of the proceedings: "Doubtless every member who gave his vote for it realized that it meant a conflict. But what else could be done? Since the North had already begun the attempted subjugation of the South, it was war if we remained in the Union, and war if we went out. It was war, waged by us and through us if we stayed in, and war waged on us and against us if we went out. But every principle of honor and right dictated that we should rather be made war upon, than that we should, either actively or passively, suffer ourselves to aid in making war upon the other states of the South.''

Bibliography—Pope, W. P.: Early Days in Arkansas.

Fay Hempstead,
Author of Hempstead's History of Arkansas.

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