Indiana became a state 199 years ago — on December 11, 1816 — and we are a mere one year from our bicentennial. I wanted to take a little look at our State’s history. Hopefully, I can manage a bit of a series by way of tribute.
The Indiana Territory was created in 1800, extending westward to the Mississippi and from the Ohio River up to Canada. It had about 5,600 white people (the only ones who “counted” at the time), mostly clustered around Clark’s Grant and Vincennes. Even by 1813, when the territory was much reduced by the splitting off of the Michigan and Illinois Territories and the territorial capital was moved from Vincennes to Corydon, the population was mostly in a crescent down the Whitewater, along the Ohio, and up the lower Wabash. The primary reason for this was Indian resistance to white expansion. As territorial governor, William Henry Harrison was primarily responsible for dealing with this. Harrison was expansionist and aggressive, negotiating land cessation treaties in the early 1800s. The loss of land, among other things, provoked resentment among the Native Americans, creating an environment ripe for the rise of Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, the Prophet. While the Prophet preached, Tecumseh worked on uniting the tribes of the Northwest. Harrison described Tecumseh as “the efficient man-the Moses of the family . . . a bold, active, sensible man daring in the extreme and capable of any undertaking.” (James Madison, “the Indiana Way” at p. 43). Adding to the concerns of the Americans were the friendly relationships of the Native Americans with the British. Convinced that hostilities were imminent and concerned about Tecumseh’s ability, Harrison determined to strike while Tecumseh was away. On November 7, 2011, Harrison defeated the Prophet at the Battle of Tippecanoe (which is, as luck would have it, about 5 miles away from where I am writing this.)
The War of 1812 initially went poorly, with Indians striking into southern Indiana as far south as Scott County. But eventually, the Northwest Army with Harrison in charge pushed back and by October of 2013, the Indians were defeated decisively at the Battle of the Thames north of Lake Erie at which Tecumseh died. That was pretty well the end of Indiana military resistance to white incursions into Indiana. Not that non-military efforts did the Indians any good. The Miamis who had stayed neutral and tried to honor their treaties with the Americans were not treated noticeably better than the Shawnee or the others.
Indiana’s initial push for statehood was unsuccessful. As a Congressman, Jonathan Jennings petitioned Congress for Indiana statehood in 1811. The War of 1812 broke out, and Congress had other concerns. After the war, a census of the Indiana Territory was taken. 60,000 adults were needed for a territory to become a state, and Indiana was found to have 63,000. Jennings again petitioned for an enabling act to permit the Indiana territory to become a state. Congress drew up the boundaries and delegates were selected in the State to go to Corydon and draw up a state constitution.
Jennings was an interesting character who dominated early Indiana politics but who seems largely forgotten now. By the time he died, apparently he was so broke, there was nothing left with which to purchase a headstone and he was buried in an unmarked grave.
Born the middle child of an educated family, he grew up in Pennsylvania and eventually studied law. A couple of his childhood friends in Pennsylvania, William Hendricks and William Wick, would go on to be his political allies in Indiana. Jennings briefly practiced with his brother in Steubenville, Ohio before heading west to the Indiana Territory in 1806, opening a law practice in Vincennes. There wasn’t, apparently, a great deal of work for lawyers at the time; so he fell in with the territorial land office and made a good deal of money in land speculation.
Fairly soon after arriving in Vincennes, Jennings seems to have developed an antagonistic relationship with Harrison arising out of Harrison’s relationship to Vincennes University and Jennings position of clerk with the Board of Trustees. But the antagonism would develop deeper roots when Jennings moved east where there were more anti-slavery sentiments and a resentment of Harrison’s aristocratic manner. When the position for territorial representative to Congress opened up, Jennings ran against Harrison’s preferred candidate (Thomas Randolph — the territory’s attorney general who would die at the Battle of Tippecanoe two years later) and won — with a large part of his support coming from the Quakers in the eastern part of the Territory. Irregularities in Dearborn County’s vote counting led a U.S. House committee to recommend a re-vote, but the full House eventually rejected that proposal, leading the way for Jennings to take his seat.
Harrison and slavery would also figure prominently in Jennings’ campaign for re-election. Harrison and Randolph’s support was further eroded when the Illinois territory was separated off from the Indiana territory because the pro-slavery faction, loyal to Harrison, was based more to the west. After his re-election, Jennings kept after Harrison. One of the complaints against Harrison was the sense that he unnecessarily raised tensions with the Native Americans. This line of attack probably became more complicated after the Battle of Tippecanoe and the beginning of the War of 1812. Jennings lamented the battle but promoted a bill to compensate veterans of the battle and their widows and orphans. He was not a hawk with respect to the War of 1812, but resigned himself to it.
With a war on, Harrison resigned as territorial governor to serve as a military general. Jennings and his allies took advantage of this by pushing to move the territorial capitol away from Vincennes – a Harrison stronghold. Jennings also won another election against a Harrison ally with Jennings running under the campaign slogan, “No Slavery in Indiana.”
Indiana petitioned for Statehood in 1815. This was not universally supported. Among the most persuasive arguments was that Indiana did not yet have the population to support statehood financially. Statehood would mean that a lot of support from the federal government would go away even as the new state had to finance the infrastructure of government. Proponents of statehood were often willing to overlook this difficulty inasmuch as they hoped to fill the newly created government offices. (But also: democracy). On April 19, 1816, President Madison signed into law an Enabling Act, providing for election of delegates to a convention. (Mississipi was Indiana’s Slave Twin State — suggesting a precursor to the Missouri Compromise was underway in Congress already.)
[S]aid state shall consist of all the territory included within the following boundaries, to wit: bounded on the east, by the meridian line which forms the western boundary of the state of Ohio; on the south, by the river Ohio, from the mouth of the Great Miami river, to the mouth of the river Wabash; on the west, by a line drawn along the middle of the Wabash from its mouth, to a point, where a due north line drawn from the town of Vincennes, would last touch the north western shore of the said river; and from thence by a due north line, until the same shall intersect an east and west line, drawn through a point ten miles north of the southern extreme of lake Michigan; on the north, by the said east and west line, until the same shall intersect the first mentioned meridian line which forms the western boundary of the state of Ohio[.]
Delegates were elected by the white men in the territory according to the population in the various counties. Specifically, the counties and their delegate counts: Wayne (4), Franklin (5), Dearborn (3), Switzerland (1), Jefferson (3), Clark (5), Harrison (5), Washington (5), Knox (5), Gibson (4), Posey (1), Warrick (1), Perry (1). These 43 men met at Corydon for the Constitutional convention (often under the shade of a large elm tree). Most had origins from south of the Ohio River, including 27 hailing from Kentucky. Three had been at the Battle of Tippecanoe: James Smith of Gibson County, Patrick Shields of Harrison County, and Benjamin Parke of Knox County.
The delegates copied liberally from the constitutions of other states, Ohio and Kentucky in particular. There was generally (but not necessarily sharply) a split in factions between eastern, pro-statehood Jennings men on the one side and western, anti-statehood Harrison men on the other. Great quote from John Badollet of Vincennes describing the Jennings faction as “empty babblers, democratic to madness, having incessantly the people in their mouths and their dear selves in their eyes.” (Madison at 51) — Guess some things don’t change all that much. The Jennings faction mostly got their way, resulting in a more populist set up. Members of the House were to be elected annually; members of the Senate every three years. The legislature was to be the dominant branch of government. All white male citizens over 21 who had resided in the State for a year would be able to vote. Men between 18 and 45 were required to enroll in the militia, “Negroes, Mulattoes, and Indians excepted.” In addition to the revolutionary stuff for the time that we take for granted — freedom of speech, to bear arms, to assemble, to worship, etc. — the Hoosier delegates were fairly creative and progressive for the time by requiring that the General Assembly provide for a general system of education from township schools to a state university. Free and open to all (as soon as circumstances will permit). There was also the provision, still in our present Constitution, requiring that the the penal code be “founded on the principles of reformation and not of vindictive Justice.” (Some criminal punishments have struck me – as an outsider – as being more vindictive than restorative; but it’s good to have noble aspirations in any case.)
With regard to slavery, the State would be mostly slave free. Slavery and involuntary servitude were formally banned. However, only indentures of “any negro or mulatto hereafter made” were declared invalid. So, there was wiggle room for indentured servitude already in force at the time of the Constitution. This was more prevalent in the western, pro-slavery section of the state and not so common in the east (for which you can probably thank, in part, the Quakers). Knox County apparently remained a popular place to own slaves even after Statehood. However, it was not too long before the Indiana Supreme Court took steps to end slavery for good in the State.
The new constitution was signed by the delegates on June 29, 1816. Elections took place in August. Jennings easily defeated his pro-Harrison opponent, Thomas Posey, and, on December 11, 1816, President Madison signed the congressional resolution admitting Indiana into the Union.