In our last installment, the anti-slave faction of Jonathan Jennings had prevailed over the pro-slavery faction of William Henry Harrison, the delegates to the Constitutional Convention had hammered out a Constitution, and President Madison signed the congressional resolution admitting Indiana as one of the United States.
I won’t hold myself too it in any strict way, but my general notion is to cover stretches of about 16 years with these installments. During the period from 1816-1832, we had the following governors:
1817 – 1822 Jonathan Jennings
1822 – 1822 Ratliff Boon
1822 – 1825 William Hendricks
1825 – 1831 James B. Ray
The National Scene
It’s probably useful to have a bit of national context as well. On the national level, the Presidents of the United States during this period:
1817 – 1825 James Monroe
1825 – 1829 John Q. Adams
1829 – 1837 Andrew Jackson
Monroe’s presidency saw an expansion of the country as Florida was acquired and America acquired some joint interests with Britain in the Pacific Northwest. Monroe’s secretary of state (and future President), John Quincy Adams developed the Monroe doctrine which asserted American supremacy in the western hemisphere. The Panic of 1819 caused significant economic distress, and the admission of Missouri highlighted tensions between the slave holding and non-slaveholding states, leading to the Missouri Compromise where slaveholding Missouri could not be admitted until Maine was admitted at the same time; maintaining the status quo in the United States Senate between slaveholding and non-slaveholding states. John Quincy Adams was elected President in a hotly contested election that was ultimately decided in the House of Representatives. One of the candidates, Henry Clay, threw his support to Adams, giving him the Presidency. Andrew Jackson, never an even-tempered man, felt cheated and held a grudge. Adams embraced the American System which imposed high tariffs to fund internal improvements such as road-building, and a national bank to encourage productive enterprise and form a national currency. In the 1828 rematch, Jackson beat Adams in a landslide and became President. His Presidency featured opposition to the national bank and aggressive Indian removal policies.
Expansion into the frontier was very much a part of the national dynamic in this time as well as that of the state. Down by the Ohio river, settlement was coming up from the southern states. In the middle of the state, settlers tended to come from the mid-Atlantic states, and in the north, Yankees were more prevalent. In 1816, Thomas Lincoln and his famous son, Abraham, moved across the Ohio River from Kentucky to Indiana. One of the main features he saw in Indiana was a more reliable land survey system. In Kentucky, he had lost property in title disputes. (As I’ve argued before, there is nothing naturally inalienable about property rights. That’s a function of law. The distinction between Kentucky and Indiana at the time is an illustration.) The ability to securely own property was a major concern in a young country. Settlers would often acquire a tract of land and proceed to clear it. They would build a lean-to that gave them basic shelter, then they would clear some land in order to get crops planted. After some time, they would build a log cabin and try to generate a surplus they could sell. Typically the flow of trade would follow the river, heading south and west toward New Orleans. From there, crops could be transported by ship to the east. With the exception of light and/or valuable goods that were worth transporting up stream, finished goods would flow from the east to the west. Roads would be an early concern.
Indiana’s first Governor was Jonathan Jennings who loomed large in the run-up to statehood and the writing of the Indiana Constitution. His opponent in Indiana’s first state election was Thomas Posey who had been Indiana’s last territorial governor. Posey thought Indiana’s statehood was premature and suffered from health problems, so the election was not much of a contest. Jennings won with about 57% of the vote. “Jennings’s agenda called for establishing court proceedings to secure justice, organizing a state-funded educational systems, creating a state banking system, preventing unlawful seizure and enslavement of free blacks, organizing a state library, and planning internal improvements.”
Jennings proposed a free, state-funded education system as provided for in the state constitution, but — and stop me if you’ve heard this one before — Hoosiers were not eager to pay taxes to fund public schools. Infrastructure improvements were fairly ambitious but the State’s population was not large enough to provide it with tax revenue to build the roads and canals it needed to attract more population. State government and the state’s banks became heavily intertwined. In 1817, the territorially chartered Bank of Vincennes became the state chartered First State Bank of Indiana. The other major banking institution was the Farmers and Mechanics Bank of Madison, founded in 1814. The Panic of 1819 made Indiana’s challenging financial situation even tougher. The First State Bank’s position became so precarious that the its bills were not accepted from federal land offices and, by 1822, the bank had failed.
In 1818, Jennings was appointed as a federal commissioner to negotiate the Treaty of State Mary’s with Potawatomi, Wea, Miami, and Delaware who lived in northern and central Indiana. This would open up those areas for Hoosier settlers, but, unfortunately for Jennings, the state constitution prohibited the governor from holding a federal government position. Lt. Governor Christopher Harrison claimed that Jennings had forfeited his position. The General Assembly investigated, but Jennings seems to have successfully stonewalled them. Disgruntled, Harrison resigned as lieutenant governor and, shortly thereafter, ran against Jennings in Jennings second election campaign. (Governors served 3 year terms and were prohibited from serving more than 6 years in a 9 year period.) In 1820, Jennings got 11,000 votes to Harrison’s 2,000. (By contrast, the first election had only about 8,000 total votes cast. Indiana was growing fairly rapidly.) By this time, however, Jennings was running into personal financial trouble. Dependent on an income from political office and barred for running for re-election for governor, Jennings decided to run for Congress. In 1823, shortly before his term was set to end, Jennings became a candidate for Congress. Indiana’s Congressional representative, William Hendricks, resigned to campaign for Congress. A special election was held to fill the remainder of Hendricks’ term. Jennings ran both as a candidate to fill the remainder of Hendricks’ term and as a regular candidate for the newly created Second District. He won both and resigned the remainder of his second term as governor. The Lieutenant Governor, Ratliff Boon, became governor and served for 84 days.
Boon’s only act of consequence during his short time as governor was to conduct a census of the area purchased by the Treaty of St. Mary’s and make recommendations for the creation of counties in the region. His proposal was adopted by the General Assembly, which organized county governments and created three seats in the assembly to provide representation to the subjects of the census.
William Hendricks ran unopposed for Governor and served from 1822-1825 — the last Governor, incidentally, to serve in Corydon. Hendricks had been a classmate of Jennings back in Pennsylvania where they grew up. (Hendricks was also the uncle of Thomas Hendricks who would go on to become governor and then Vice President in the mid-to-late 1800s). William Hendricks arrived in Indiana, by way of Ohio where he studied law in Cincinnati and practiced with his brother before moving to Indiana and setting up an anti-slavery printing press in Madison, Indiana (that press would also be used to print the first version of the Indiana Code). Within two or three years of moving to Indiana, he was well enough known that he was appointed secretary of the state’s Constitutional Convention in 1816. He succeeded his friend, Jennings, as Indiana’s Congressman (defeating Posey). While in Congress, he was a champion of internal improvements, supporting — among other things — the National Road.
When he took office, the state was in a bad financial situation, stemming from the Panic of 1819; the challenges of a new, lightly populated state government; and the laudable, but expensive, ambitions of such a state. Public lands were sold to stabilize the financial situation, and government accounts were moved to the Second Bank of the United States — Indiana’s bank having gone belly up. The state’s finances simply wouldn’t permit the ambitious internal improvement programs he would have preferred; so his focus was, of necessity, more limited in scope. There was apparently legislation passed during this time that required Hoosiers to spend an allotted amount of time contributing to the improvement of the state’s roads. (I don’t have the details and would love to see the text of that particular law.) The public school system (the first state funded system in the nation) began to take shape during the Hendricks’ administration. Each township was granted land on which a public school could be established. Additionally, construction of the State Seminary, which would become Indiana University, was constructed.
In 1824, an incident known as the “Fall Creek Massacre” took place. The relations between white Hoosiers and Native Americans were not good, but they were getting better. The bad news is that white people were still killing Native Americans. The good news is that they could no longer do so with impunity. It was the first documented case where white Americans were convicted, sentenced to capital punishment, and executed for the murder of Native Americans. Nine Native Americans (two men, three women, and four children) were murdered by seven settlers in Madison, Indiana. The massacre seems to have been borne of a lot of liquor, some suspicions with respect to stolen horses, and a great deal of prejudice. Three of the men — James Hudson, Andrew Sawyer, and John Bridge, Sr. — were executed by hanging. The fourth man convicted of the murders, John Bridge Jr., the 18 year old son of Bridge, Sr., was pardoned in somewhat dramatic fashion:
On June 3, 1825, another large crowd, including numerous Native Americans, gathered for the executions, which were conducted one at a time. Sawyer was hanged first, followed by the execution of Bridge, Sr. His eighteen-year-old son, John Bridge Jr., witnessed both hangings before being led to the gallows and fitted with a noose and hood. At that point, Governor Ray, who had arrived on horseback, moved through the crowd and stopped the execution. After presenting the pinioned teenage prisoner with a written pardon, the governor announced, “Here is your pardon. Go sir, and sin no more.” The young prisoner was immediately set free. A Seneca chief in attendance at the hangings and the dramatic pardon remarked, “We are satisfied.”
Also during Hendricks’ tenure, Indiana’s laws were codified as the Indiana Code, and Hendricks approved a measure that would move the capital from Corydon to Indianapolis.
These days, having the capitol in Indianapolis makes a certain amount of sense. It’s a big city in the middle of the state. However, at the time, there was pressure to keep the capitol in the South. That’s where most of the population was. Marion County was on the edge of the frontier. The site which would become Indianapolis was opened up by the 1818 Treaty of St. Mary’s which created “The New Purchase.” In the early 1820s, the legislature appointed a committee which selected the site, and a former assistant of Washington D.C.’s Pierre L’Enfant by the name of Alexander Ralston surveyed and designed the layout of the city’s “Mile Square” (bounded by North, East, South, and West streets). On January 1, 1825, Indianapolis became the seat of government, and the General Assembly first met in session in Indianapolis on January 10, 1825.
On February 14, 1825, Hendricks resigned his position as governor to become U.S. Senator, having been elected to that position by the Indiana Senate. Ratliff Boon almost got to add to his 84 days as governor, but he had resigned as Lt. Governor the year before. The Lt. Governor position was vacant and so the governorship devolved to the president pro tempore of the Senate, James B. Ray. He was young, 31 years old, but managed to prove that he was old enough to take office (minimum age 30). During Ray’s tenure, the state was enjoying rapid growth (45%) and a period of relative prosperity. Party politics were rising, but Ray managed to stay out of them and, in fact, use his independence as a selling point when he ran for a full three year term later in 1825. He defeated Supreme Court Justice, Isaac Blackford, on a platform of party independence and that old favorite, internal improvements.
Ray’s view on internal improvements was interesting at that time as he became opposed to canals and championed a relative newcomer — railroads. Canals were all the rage. Ohio had recently had economic success with its canal projects and, of course, the grandaddy of them all, the Erie Canal in New York was an economic juggernaut. Railroads, by contrast, were unproven and their economic value not evident. Ray asked the General Assembly to create a committee explore the construction of new railroads. The committee returned with a finding that Ray’s plans to turn Indianapolis into a railroad hub were “utopian” and “mad and impractical.” No, said the General Assembly committee in its infinite wisdom, canals are where it’s at. (I’m paraphrasing). Design plans for the Wabash & Erie Canal were approved during this period, but Ray sort of sandbagged its progress, delaying construction where he could. He managed to leverage his position to facilitate construction of the state’s first railroad,a shortline from Shelbyville to Indianapolis. That railroad would later be expanded to connect Madison and Jeffersonville.
Ray also worked for the construction of the Michigan Road, the state’s first “super highway,” running from Madison to Michigan City. One of the things that needed to be done for the road was acquisition of land in northern Indiana from the Potawatomi Indians. The road would later be part of the Potawatomi Trail of Death when they were forcibly removed from the state in 1838. President John Quincy Adams appointed Ray (along with John Tipton and Lewis Cass) to negotiate the land acquisition treaty. This led to a replay of the situation faced by Jennings where opponents tried to oust him from the governorship for allegedly violating the constitutional prohibition against holding a federal government position. By a vote of 31 – 27, he narrowly avoided impeachment proceedings.
Additionally, Ray advocated that the Indiana State Seminary be elevated to a college — one of the steps on the way to its becoming Indiana University. He also attempted a revision to model Indiana’s laws after the Napoleonic Code, similar to Louisiana, but this never came to fruition.
During Ray’s run for a second term, he was not quite as successful in avoiding the growing force of party politics. He purported to accept the overtures of the new Jacksonians under the condition that his alliance with them remain secret. However, shortly after this, he told a pro-Henry Clay newspaper that the Jacksonian Democrats were outrageous and violent. The Jacksonians fielded a candidate but Ray managed to win in a three way race, defeating Democrat Harbin Moore and Whig Israel Branby.
Ray’s second term ended poorly. The legislature wanted certain Supreme Court Justices reappointed. Ray delayed the reappointments, seeking to leverage them in exchange for appointment by the legislature to the U.S. Senate. (Contrary to the modern day reimagining of the virtues of the old U.S. Senate appointment process by those such as state senator James Smith, these were the kinds of shenanigans you got which led to the 17th Amendment.) Ray’s leverage attempt was unsuccessful. His double dealings with the political parties and his insane ideas about railroads led to his defeat. (Former governor Hendricks was re-elected instead.) Ray’s return to private life in 1832 was ignominious. His business ventures were unsuccessful, he had few friends and he was apparently believed to be mentally deranged. Ultimately, he died in Cincinnati of cholera in 1848 at the age of 54.