For faster navigation, this Iframe is preloading the Wikiwand page for Wisconsin Territory.

Wisconsin Territory

Territory of Wisconsin
Organized incorporated territory of the United States
Territorial seal of Wisconsin Territory
Territorial seal

Map of the Wisconsin Territory, 1836–1848
CapitalMadison (1838–1848)
Burlington (1837)
Belmont (July–December 1836)
 • TypeOrganized incorporated territory
• 1836–1841
Henry Dodge
• 1841–1844
James Duane Doty
• 1844–1845
Nathaniel P. Tallmadge
• 1845–1848
Henry Dodge
• 1848
John Catlin (acting)
LegislatureLegislative Assembly of the Territory of Wisconsin
• Organic Act effective
July 3 1836
• Iowa Territory split off
July 4, 1838
May 29 1848
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Michigan Territory
Iowa Territory
Minnesota Territory

The Territory of Wisconsin was an organized and incorporated territory of the United States that existed from July 3, 1836,[1] until May 29, 1848, when an eastern portion of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Wisconsin. Belmont was initially chosen as the capital of the territory. In 1837, the territorial legislature met in Burlington, just north of the Skunk River on the Mississippi, which became part of the Iowa Territory in 1838.[2] In that year, 1838, the territorial capital of Wisconsin was moved to Madison.

Territorial area

The Wisconsin Territory initially included all of the present-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, as well as part of the Dakotas east of the Missouri River. Much of the territory had originally been part of the Northwest Territory, which was ceded by Britain in 1783. The portion in what is now Iowa and the Dakotas was originally part of the Louisiana Purchase, though a small fraction was part of a parcel ceded by Great Britain in 1818, and was split off from the Missouri Territory in 1821 and attached to the Michigan Territory in 1834.

The portion that was formerly part of the Northwest Territory and which later became the state of Wisconsin was part of the Indiana Territory when this was formed in 1800. In 1809, it became part of the Illinois Territory; then, when Illinois was about to become a state in 1818, this area was joined to the Michigan Territory. Then the Wisconsin Territory was split off from Michigan Territory in 1836 as the state of Michigan prepared for statehood.[3] In 1838, the section of the territory to the west of the Mississippi became the Iowa Territory.

In 1838, the Iowa Territory was formed, reducing the Wisconsin Territory to the boundaries for the next ten years; upon granting statehood to Wisconsin, its boundaries were once again reduced, to their present location.[4]

In 1850, 10 years after the end of the Second Great Awakening (1790–1840), of the 341 churches with regular services in the Wisconsin, 110 were Methodist, 64 were Catholic, 49 were Baptist, 40 were Presbyterian, 37 were Congregationalist, 20 were Lutheran, 19 were Episcopal, and 2 were Dutch Reformed.[5] In the 1840 United States census, 22 counties in the Wisconsin Territory reported the following population counts:[6]

Rank County Population
1 Milwaukee 5,605
2 Iowa 3,978
3 Grant 3,926
4 Racine 3,475
5 Walworth 2,611
6 Brown 2,107
7 Rock 1,701
8 Portage 1,623
9 Crawford 1,502
10 Green 933
11 Jefferson 914
12 St. Croix 809
13 Washington 343
14 Dane 314
15 Calumet 275
16 Manitowoc 235
17 Fond du Lac 139
18 Winnebago 135
19 Sheboygan 133
20 Sauk 102
21 Dodge 67
22 Marquette 18
Wisconsin Territory 30,945


The Wisconsin Territory as depicted on this 1835 Tourist's Pocket Map of Michigan, showing a Menominee-filled Brown County, Wisconsin that spans the northern half of the territory
The Wisconsin Territory as depicted on this 1835 Tourist's Pocket Map of Michigan, showing a Menominee-filled Brown County, Wisconsin that spans the northern half of the territory

There are irregularities in the historical timeline at the outset of the Territory. After Congress refused Michigan's petition for statehood, despite meeting the requirements specified in the Northwest Ordinance, the people of Michigan authorized its constitution in October 1835 and began self-governance at that time. Yet, Michigan did not enter the Union until January 26, 1837, and Congress did not organize the Wisconsin Territory separately from Michigan until July 3, 1836.

Hoping to provide for some continuity in governance during that interim, acting Governor of the Michigan Territory, Stevens T. Mason, issued a proclamation on August 25, 1835, that called for the election of a western legislative council (the Seventh Michigan Territorial Council), which became known as the Rump Council. This council was to meet in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on January 1, 1836. However, because of the controversy between Michigan and Ohio over the Toledo Strip, known as the Toledo War, President Jackson removed Mason from office on August 15, 1835, and replaced him with John S. Horner. Horner issued his own proclamation on November 9, 1835, calling for the council to meet on December 1, 1835 — giving delegates less than a month to learn of the change and travel to the meeting. This caused considerable annoyance among the delegates, who ignored it. Even Horner himself neglected to attend. The Council convened on January 1 as previously scheduled, but Horner, while reportedly intending to attend, was delayed by illness and in the Governor's absence the council could do little more than perform some administrative and ceremonial duties. For its concession to the Toledo Strip, Michigan was given the Upper Peninsula.[7]

President Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge Governor and Horner Secretary. The first legislative assembly of the new territory was convened by Governor Dodge at Belmont, in the present Lafayette County, on October 25, 1836.[8] In 1837, Burlington, Iowa, became the second territorial capital of the Wisconsin Territory. The next year, the Iowa Territory was created and the capital was moved to Madison.[9]

Wisconsin Enabling Act

In 1846, Congress approved the Wisconsin Enabling Act, which was the first step on the road to statehood for Wisconsin. Wisconsin would become the fifth state created out of the old Northwest Territory. Representing the expressed intent of the Wisconsin territorial legislature, Morgan Lewis Martin, Wisconsin's territorial delegate to Congress, initially argued that the proposed state should incorporate all remaining land in the original Northwest Territory as defined by the Northwest Ordinance of 1787.[10]

Most members of Congress believed that such a state would be too large. They eventually accepted the argument of Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, chairman of the House Committee on Territories, that Congress was not bound by the Northwest Ordinance, and passed legislation allowing a sixth state to be formed from the remnant of the Northwest Territory excluded from the new state of Wisconsin.[10][11]: 176  However, subsequent bills in 1847 and 1848 to organize a new "Territory of Minasota" were rejected on the grounds that "Minasota" did not have anywhere near the 5,000 free adult males required for legal territorial status.[11]

Wisconsin Territory after Wisconsin became a state

When Wisconsin became a state on May 29, 1848, no provision was made for the section of land between the St. Croix River and the Mississippi River which had previously been organized as part of Wisconsin Territory. Additionally when Iowa became a state on December 28, 1846, no provision was made for official organization of the remainder of what had been Iowa Territory.[12]

In the summer of 1848, residents in the area organized themselves and called a series of meetings. As these meetings commenced, the most recent territorial delegate to congress John H. Tweedy officially tendered his resignation, thus vacating the seat. Secretary of State John Catlin went to Stillwater, Minnesota, and in the capacity of acting governor of the territory issued writs for a special election to fill the seat, which was won by Henry H. Sibley on October 30.[13][14]

When Sibley went to Washington to take his seat in Congress, he was not immediately recognized. Only after a long political battle was he allowed to take his seat on January 15, 1849. For a period of time, there were simultaneously representatives in Congress from both the State of Wisconsin and the Territory of Wisconsin, an unprecedented situation. Sibley made it his first order of business to push through the statute necessary to establish the Territory of Minnesota, which occurred on March 3, 1849.[15][16]

Secretaries of Wisconsin Territory


The Legislative Assembly of the Wisconsin Territory consisted of a council (equivalent to a senate) and representatives. The first session of the First Legislative Assembly convened at Belmont, Iowa County (now in Lafayette County), on October 25, and adjourned December 9, 1836. The Council at that time had 14 seats, and was presided over by Henry Baird of Brown County. There were 26 representatives; the Speaker of the House was Peter H. Engle of Dubuque County ("Dubuque County" at this time embraced all of the territory west of the Mississippi River and north of the latitude of the south end of Rock Island).

The last session of the assembly was the second session of the Fifth Legislative Assembly, which convened February 7, and adjourned March 13, 1848. The president of the 13-member council was Horatio N. Wells of Milwaukee, and the speaker of the 26-member House of Representatives was Timothy Burns of Iowa County.[17]

Attorneys General of Wisconsin Territory

Congressional delegates

See also Wisconsin Territory's at-large congressional district

See also


  1. ^ Stat. 10
  2. ^ Strong, Moses McCure (1885). History of the territory of Wisconsin, from 1836 to 1848. Madison: Democrat Printing Company. OL 14044833M.
  3. ^ State of Wisconsin (1921). Wisconsin statutes. Democrat Printing Co. p. 2701. Retrieved April 18, 2015.
  4. ^ Strong, Moses McCure. History of the Territory of Wisconsin, from 1836 to 1848 Madison: Democrat Printing Co., State Printers, 1885; pp. 67-266
  5. ^ Selcer, Richard F. (2006). Balkin, Richard (ed.). Civil War America: 1850 to 1875. New York: Facts on File. p. 143. ISBN 978-0816038671.
  6. ^ Forstall, Richard L. (ed.). Population of the States and Counties of the United States: 1790–1990 (PDF) (Report). United States Census Bureau. pp. 183–185. Retrieved May 18, 2020.
  7. ^ Schafer, Joseph (1920). "The Rump Council". Wisconsin Historical Society Proceedings, 1920. Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society.
  8. ^ "History of Wisconsin – Chapter 2 – Wisconsin as a Territory". Archived from the original on October 12, 2008. Retrieved February 10, 2008.
  9. ^ Mahan, Bruce E.; Gallaher, Ruth A. (1931). Stories of Iowa for Boys and Girls. New York: Macmillan.
  10. ^ a b Lass, William E. (Winter 1987). "Minnesota's Separation from Wisconsin: Boundary Making on the Upper Mississippi Frontier". Minnesota History. 50 (8): 309–320. JSTOR 20179067 – via JSTOR.
  11. ^ a b Wingerd, Mary Lethert (2010). North Country: The Making of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0-8166-4868-9.
  12. ^ "Chapter 2 — Founding Documents" (PDF). 2013 – 2014 Minnesota Legislative Manual (Blue Book) (PDF). Saint Paul, Minnesota: Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State. 2013. p. 50. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  13. ^ Shortridge, Wilson P. (August 1919). "Henry Hastings Sibley and the Minnesota Frontier". Minnesota History Bulletin. 3 (3): 115–125. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  14. ^ The History of Racine and Kenosha Counties, Wisconsin. Chicago: Western Historical Company. 1879. pp. 55–56. Retrieved August 25, 2014.
  15. ^ Sibley, Henry H. (1880). "Reminiscences of the Early Days of Minnesota". Minnesota Historical Collections. Retrieved August 18, 2014.
  16. ^ Williams, John Fletcher (1894). "Henry Hastings Sibley: A Memoir". Collections of the Minnesota Historical Society. 6. Minnesota Historical Society: 257–310. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  17. ^ Heg, J. E., ed. (1882). The Blue Book of the State of Wisconsin 1882. Madison: Wisconsin Secretary of State. pp. 161, 174.


44°N 90°W / 44°N 90°W / 44; -90

{{bottomLinkPreText}} {{bottomLinkText}}
Wisconsin Territory
Listen to this article

This browser is not supported by Wikiwand :(
Wikiwand requires a browser with modern capabilities in order to provide you with the best reading experience.
Please download and use one of the following browsers:

This article was just edited, click to reload
This article has been deleted on Wikipedia (Why?)

Back to homepage

Please click Add in the dialog above
Please click Allow in the top-left corner,
then click Install Now in the dialog
Please click Open in the download dialog,
then click Install
Please click the "Downloads" icon in the Safari toolbar, open the first download in the list,
then click Install

Install Wikiwand

Install on Chrome Install on Firefox
Don't forget to rate us

Tell your friends about Wikiwand!

Gmail Facebook Twitter Link

Enjoying Wikiwand?

Tell your friends and spread the love:
Share on Gmail Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Buffer

Our magic isn't perfect

You can help our automatic cover photo selection by reporting an unsuitable photo.

This photo is visually disturbing This photo is not a good choice

Thank you for helping!

Your input will affect cover photo selection, along with input from other users.


Get ready for Wikiwand 2.0 🎉! the new version arrives on September 1st! Don't want to wait?