CHAPTER I - Selecting A Site for the Territorial Capital
The Meeting at Green Bay
Upon formally becoming a part of the United States with the passage of the Northwest Ordinance in 1787,
Wisconsin was made part of a succession of territorial entities, each with its own capital, until coming into its
own as a full-fledged territory. From 1788 to 1800, while a part of the Northwest Territory, we looked to Marietta,
Ohio, as our capital, followed by Vincennes while part of the Indiana Territory (1800-1809), Kaskaskia during the
period that we were part of the Illinois Territory (1809-1818) and, finally, Detroit while part of the Territory
of Michigan (1818-1836). When the time came for Wisconsin to enter the ranks of United States Territories, the
selection of our capital city developed into an issue which was not only one of the most controversial of the day,
but would reemerge repeatedly over the course of the ensuing century. Even before attaining territorial status,
the "capital question" would be broached and generate a measure of animated debate.
In 1835, with statehood apparently just around the corner, Michigan's Territorial Council moved to
establish an Interim Council for the western portion of the territory and set October elections for 13 legislative
representatives from the western counties and for a delegate to Congress. The truncated territorial "Council"
would meet at a time and place specified by Acting Governor Stevens T. Mason. Mason called for the meeting to be
held at Green Bay on January 1, 1836, but, before the meeting took place, President Andrew Jackson replaced him
with John S. Horner of Virginia, who advanced the meeting date to December 1, 1835, possibly in anticipation of
the opening session of Congress in that month. Curiously, Horner waspresent for neither the December 1 date,
which the recently elected representatives ignored, nor the January 1 session, which nine of the 13 representatives
attended. In spite of Horner's and the other four representatives' absence, the "Council" got down to
the business of preparing memorials to Congress in anticipation of the impending lapse of civil government for
the territory west of Lake Michigan caused by Michigan's anticipated entry into the Union. After selecting a committee
to draft the memorial to ask Congress to establish the Wisconsin Territory, the issue of the seat of government
for the new territory was raised.
William S. Hamilton, son of Alexander Hamilton, had come to the southwestern area of Wisconsin in 1827
to take advantage of the boom in lead mining then underway. Since he soon became a prominent leader in the region,
it was no surprise that he was elected to represent Iowa County at the Green Bay session. Once at Green Bay, Hamilton
was elected President of the Council. After James Vineyard, also representing Iowa County, moved that the committee
be instructed to establish the new territorial capital on the "east bank of the Mississippi River south of
the Wisconsin River", Hamilton moved that the resolution be altered to specify the town of Cassville in Iowa
County. In support of his proposal, Hamilton waxed eloquently: "Cassville stands on the east bank of the Mississippi
surrounded by very pretty scenery. The eye can rest on the soft and soothing, the grand and sublime. There will
be found everything necessary for the promotion of man's comfort, and the exercise of his energies. In a word nature
has done all in her power to make it one of the most delightful spots in the "far West"."
William Slaughter of Brown County voiced his opposition to selecting any site for a proposed territorial
capital, while Thomas Burnett of Crawford County opined that if capital locations were to be discussed, he would
favor his own Prairie du Chien. However, when the dust settled and the question was called, only Slaughter and
John Lawe, the other Brown County representative, cast votes against the selection of Cassville, and the resolution
was incorporated into the memorial.
The issue was not allowed to rest. In an attempt to secure the selection of Cassville, James Vineyard
(who later gained notoriety by shooting an opponent on the floor of the legislative chamber in the midst of a heated
debate) proposed a resolution that the Interim Council next meet in Cassville, thus redoubling the commitment to
that nascent Mississippi river community. Slaughter moved to replace Cassville with his own Fond du Lac, and when
that move failed, Gilbert Knapp of Milwaukee County, in an effort which also failed, moved that Racine be substituted.
Finally, Slaughter suggested that the law prescribed that Green Bay must be the meeting place for the next session,
and in apparent recognition that no alternate site could be successful, the Council defeated Vineyard's original
resolution. The Council continued in session three more days dealing with other matters and adjourned on January
15, 1836. For all the debate over their preferences regarding the seat of the new territorial government, their
memorial was either not timely enough to be effective or was ignored by Congress.
Creation of the Territory of Wisconsin
George W. Jones, Wisconsin's de facto delegate to Congress, submitted a memorial of his own to the House
of Representatives on January 7, 1836 to establish a territorial government for the counties west of Lake Michigan.
It was followed two weeks later by the introduction of a bill to that effect by Delaware Senator John M. Clayton,
who skillfully steered the measure through the Senate. Once in the House, opposition began to emerge over the Illinois-Wisconsin
boundary, appropriations for a law library and the governor's salary, as well as a land grant of 10,000 acres,
the sale of which was to pay for constructing public buildings including a capitol. Eventually, the boundary was
confirmed as the status quo, the law library provision remained and the governor's salary was reduced, but the
land grant was supplanted by a $20,000 appropriation, a prize which would nevertheless soon be sought eagerly by
a score of town promoters and speculators. Finally, the measure passed and was signed into law by Andrew Jackson
on April 20, 1836, creating the Territory of Wisconsin, but without specifying a territorial capital.
With the passage of the Wisconsin Territorial Act, the slate was wiped clean: Cassville's chances of
becoming the new territory s capital dimmed perceptibly, the preference for that town expressed in the January
memorial having been ignored by Congress. Instead, the act specified that, after having a census of voters taken
in the newly formed territory, the governor would apportion the number of members of the Council and the territorial
House of Representatives for each county based upon population and would see that elections were held. The elected
representatives would then convene "at such time and place in said territory as the governor thereof should
appoint and direct". It was clear that the governor's selection was not intended to be the final word; rather,
it was to be an expedient until the Legislature and the governor could jointly agree upon a permanent seat of government.
It was this latter capital that would receive the benefit of $20,000 in federal money for the construction of public
buildings. Since the governor had absolute veto power over the Territorial Legislature, the choice of governor
was of crucial importance in the eventual selection of the permanent seat of government.
Henry Dodge: First Territorial Governor
It should be no surprise that Andrew Jackson appointed Henry Dodge as Wisconsin's first territorial governor.
Dodge's career and personal attributes closely resembled those of Jackson, and he had the strong support of the
influential mining interests and the Democrats. Dodge had served with the Missouri militia during the War of 1812,
attaining the rank of brigadier general and, after moving to Wisconsin's lead-mining region in the late 1820s,
had distinguished himself during the Blackhawk War as a colonel with the Iowa County militia. After that war, Jackson
gave Dodge a commission leading a contingent of the United States Dragoons, whose mission it was to protect settlers
from Indian attacks. During his four years with the dragoons, Dodge's exploits did not go unnoticed by the local
press in the mining area, and his ensuing popularity helped to make him a leading candidate for
the governorship. In stature and appearance, Dodge's resemblance to Jackson, conscious or unconscious, further
augmented his popular image among miners. His military bearing made him appear tall and thin, and he seemed most
at ease and congenial when dressed in buckskins rather than in uniform. He constantly carried two large pistols
in his belt. Dodge's longtime vigorous support of the lead-miners' interests and his affiliation with the Democrats,
then in power, together with his reputation as a military leader, must have made him an irresistible choice for
the gubernatorial post, for when Jackson's nomination of Dodge reached the Senate in late April 1836, the appointment
was confirmed as soon as it was submitted.
Dodge would remain silent on his selection of an initial site for the first meeting of the Territorial
Legislature until well after he was officially sworn in on July 4, 1836, at Mineral Point, but it was abundantly
clear that whatever town he chose would have a distinct advantage in the eventual determination. This served to
stimulate land speculation and optimistic preparations and puffery by town promoters seeking the $20,000 prize
and the obvious economic advantages in being chosen the territorial capital. Even John S. Horner, the inexplicably
absent territorial governor of the Green Bay Council, who was also sworn in with Dodge at Mineral Point as Territorial
Secretary, was not immune to the speculative urge: he had purchased several tracts of land in Cassville, hopeful
that Dodge would support the wishes of the Green Bay Council as expressed in their memorial. During that summer,
construction began on a four-story red brick hotel in Cassville destined to house legislators, other government
officials and lobbyists. The owner, Garrett V. Denniston, offered to refund the $20,000 in federal money to the
territory at the end of two years if Cassville was selected as the permanent seat of government.
Belmont: The First Territorial Capital
Another speculator who entered the capital sweepstakes was John Atchison, a general merchandise businessman
in Galena, Illinois and a land speculator, who as a contractor for the Iowa County militia during the Blackhawk
War had come to know Dodge well. In 1835, Atchison purchased an 80-acre tract 25 miles northeast of Galena, laid
out a city on paper the following spring and began offering lots for sale in New York, Washington, Dubuque and
Mineral Point in his new town of Belmont. When Congress declined to name a seat of government in the Wisconsin
Territorial Act, Atchison gambled on his new venture and, like Denniston and others, began constructing buildings
to serve the new government on the assumption that, if accommodations for meeting places and lodging for the new
officials were ready, a prospective capital would have a decided advantage when the final decision was made.
It is clear that Atchison's four public buildings were constructed outside of Wisconsin, then transported to Belmont
in sections. This practice was not uncommon at the time, for - although the lead-mining area had frequent scattered
stands of timber - there was not a sufficient supply of lumber in the southern third of Wisconsin for construction
of frame buildings and it would be another year before the Winnebago, Sioux and Chippewa cessions would open the
rich timberlands to the north to lumbering. According to the most often quoted source, the buildings were constructed
at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then shipped by steamboat down the Ohio River, up the Mississippi River, up the
Galena or Fever River and, finally, by wagon the last 25 miles to Belmont. While there is no contemporary corroboration
of this account, a report made during restoration activities in the 1950s confirms that the lumber used in construction
was not native to Wisconsin.
Atchison commissioned the construction of a capitol (also called the Council House), which would serve
both the Council and the House, a court building for the three-member Territorial Supreme Court, a governor's residence,
and a lodging house for legislators, although it is not clear precisely when these structures were started or completed.
It is evident that work on the Council House must have started in mid- to late-summer 1836, well in advance of
Dodge's announcement of his selection of the temporary capital, because it was used as the site of a nominating
committee for Iowa County on September 23. The lodging house, about which little is known, was ready for the opening
session of the Territorial Legislature in late October and the court building, which never saw the use for which
it was intended, was apparently not completed on December 8, 1836 when the Court convened its first session in
the "Council Chamber of the Legislative Assembly". The governor's residence left few traces, but was
apparently occupied by Dodge well into the next year.
While Atchison was optimistically building these structures along the main street of his "town",
the county sheriffs were conducting a census of the territory pursuant to the provision in the territorial act.
On September 9, Dodge announced the results of the census together with the number of legislators for both houses
who would represent each county. The apportionment broke down as follows:
In the same proclamation, Dodge set legislative elections for the second Monday in October and stated that the
legislators would "convene at Belmont in the county of Iowa on the 25th of October, for the purpose of organizing
the first session of the Legislative Assembly". Atchison's gamble had apparently paid off.
The reasoning behind Dodge's choice of Belmont is obscure. The temptation to attribute some darker motive,
based upon Dodge's previous association with Atchison, is inescapable, then and now, but there exists no concrete
evidence to support such a connection. The fact that Belmont was situated in the middle of the lead-mining region
or that it was roughly halfway on the East-West axis of the sprawling Wisconsin territory (which included what
is today Iowa, Minnesota and part of the Dakotas) may have had more to do with Dodge's choice than any sort of
imputed cronyism. Alice E. Smith, biographer of James Duane Doty and historian of early Wisconsin, variously attributes
the selection to Dodge's having "unwisely allowed himself to be persuaded by Atchison" and to a desire
to quiet "importuning promoters by choosing this isolated site". Dodge himself defended his choice by
claiming that it was in the geographical center of the population of the territory, an assertion which is borne
out by the distribution of people reflected in the table above. But why not select an existing town such as Mineral
Point rather than one barely off the plat map? Whatever Dodge's reasons, the fact that Belmont was to be the first,
but not necessarily permanent, capital of the Wisconsin Territory was one that was not lost on a score of town
promoters. To be sure, Dodge had an absolute
veto over the actions of the Legislature, but to use it on so sensitive an issue in the context of a newly formed
civil government would have been a risky and potentially divisive move.
Aside from the prospect of exacerbating the tensions between regional and economic interests which would
almost certainly have resulted from a gubernatorial veto, Dodge s own democratic ideals compelled him to leave
the selection of the permanent seat of government to the people s representatives, who, Dodge naively thought,
would act in the best interest of all. While Congress was still in the initial stages of debating the Territorial
Act in January 1836, Dodge wrote to George W. Jones, Wisconsin's de facto delegate: "The location of the seat
of Government is a subject of much interest to the people; if there could be a provision that the Council could
select the place with the approbation of the Governor, it would be most satisfactory to the majority. In a Territorial
Government I am in favor of permitting the people to participate as far as practicable ..." A month
after his inauguration as governor, Dodge reiterated his feelings on the matter in another letter to Jones, saying,
"As it respects the seat of Territorial Government I think I am not misunderstood. Wherever a majority of
the representatives of the people agree on its location will meet my approbation."
Criticism of his choice of Belmont as the site of the first session of the Territorial Legislature must
have reinforced Dodge's predilection toward leaving the selection of the Territory's permanent capital in the hands
of the legislators. On the second day of the Legislature's first session, Dodge delivered his first address to
the combined houses outlining the most pressing issues facing them. At the end of his concise speech, he announced
publicly his intentions on the capital question: "Under the organic law of Congress it was made the duty of
the executive to convene the Legislative Assembly at some place designated by him. In the discharge of that duty
I have selected this place. The permanent location of the Seat of Government is a subject of vital importance to
the people of this territory, and I deem it proper to state that my assent will be given to its location at any
point where a majority of the representatives of the people agree it will best promote the public good." In
retrospect, Dodge would later regret forswearing his veto on this issue, but his die was cast.
Although it would be another two weeks before the Legislature would begin formal action on the question,
the pace of the competition for the capital quickened almost immediately. Editorials and letters festooned the
tiny Belmont Gazette, a newspaper published out of an annex attached to the yet unfinished court building. The
owners and promoters of one planned city, Wisconsinapolis, even took out an advertisement in the Gazette, extolling
the virtues and advantages of the paper city just east of Portage. However, speculators and the owners of lots
in Belmont, who were found to be in "a state of wildest excitement" before the convening of the Legislature,
must have been disheartened by Dodge's announcement of his laissez faire policy. Some town boosters were not deterred
by this setback and continued their efforts to secure the ultimate prize for Belmont. These promoters envisioned
spacious hotels, boarding houses, "princely mansions" and a railroad for their nascent community's future.
Atchison continued to solicit local investors for Belmont through advertisements in the Dubuque Visitor, and, while
not openly conceding the loss of the "capital prize", he judiciously omitted any mention of its current
and hoped for status as the seat of government in favor of touting the town's suitability as a county seat, another
trophy which was destined to slip through his fingers.
Belmont's competitive edge in the "capital sweepstakes" continued to dull as the session wore
on and the legislators and lobbyists wearied of the stark frontier town with its lack of creature comforts. Brown
County Council member, Henry S. Baird, wrote his wife immediately after arriving in the Iowa County community that
he was "agreeably surprised, when emerging from the wood to see 6 or 8 very pretty framed buildings, neatly
painted, together with several other frames in a state of forwarding." But after barely a month had passed,
Baird's complaints of the crowded rooms and lack of heat and water were typical of his colleagues. A fellow legislator
from Brown County, Ebenezer Childs, echoed Baird's sentiments, condemning their accommodations as "most miserable"
and noting that the entire county delegation, including lobbyists, were "lodged in one room, about fifteen
by twenty feet." In addition to the cramped sleeping arrangements, those at Belmont found much to be desired
in the meager bill of fare served at the boarding house and tavern, prompting one anonymous wag to comment wryly
in the Dubuque Visitor: "That the Legislators of the great Territory of Wisconsin should be made comfortable
during the discharge of their duties (is), I think necessary for the enactment of good and substantial law. Empty
stomachs make clear heads, but not good laws. The Lord deliver us from a set of hungry legislators."
James Duane Doty
Into this scenario of primitive conditions and town promoters jockeying for position entered Wisconsin's
promoter and lobbyist par excellence, James Duane Doty. As a young man, Doty, as many others of his day, had gone
west to seek his fortune and had been particularly successful at it. Arriving in Detroit from his native New York
in 1818, young Doty quicklyattracted the attention of the notables of legal and government circles in the territorial capital.
Working first in the attorney general's office, Doty wended his way upward rapidly, through a law partnership (he
was admitted to the bar even before he was able to vote), clerk of the territorial supreme court, and secretary
to Governor Cass during the latter's trans-territorial expedition in 1820, until in 1823 he was able to bring enough
influence to bear to engineer his own appointment to a federal "additional" court for the three western
counties of Mackinaw, Brown and Crawford. Doty remained a judge until 1832, after which he served a term in the
Michigan Territorial Legislature and acted as a retainer for John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company. After an
unsuccessful bid for "territorial delegate" to Congress for the western counties in October 1835, Doty
turned his attention to land speculation.
James Doty was no stranger to buying and selling land for speculative purposes and, after he left public
life in 1835, he began to pursue his interests in this area with a little more asperity. In that year, several
other large land speculators began purchasing lake-front property in the Four Lakes region, an area between Milwaukee
and Mineral Point, and - not one to be left behind - Doty entered 100 acres near the Catfish (later Yahara) River
on the Fourth (Mendota) Lake side of the isthmus between Fourth Lake and Third (Monona) Lake. That the property
was, at that time, largely uninhabitable swampy ground was irrelevant; it was an investment to be developed and
exploited. A few months later, Doty was present at the meeting of the truncated Territorial Council at Green Bay,
where he was able to interest a group of a dozen or so men in purchasing more land in the region and forming a
land company for large scale development. All agreed to follow this course, but, for reasons which are not clear,
the company never materialized and the land remained in government hands, awaiting a purchaser. Returning from
New York on other business that spring, Doty stopped at Detroit, where he met with Stevens Mason, then awaiting
inauguration as Michigan's first state governor. Mason inquired of Doty about investment opportunities in the new
territory and Doty brought up the isthmus property, still largely untaken. The two agreed to buy a thousand acres
pending the formation of a joint stock land company in which shares would be sold to finance development. Both
men deposited the funds necessary to cover the cost of the purchase in a Detroit bank, and Doty wrote to the land
registrar in Green Bay instructing him to enter their tract selected at random from the township plat on the isthmus.
A solid tract of land was entered jointly in Doty's and Mason's names on April 6, 1836. The center of the thousand
acre tract was at the corners of sections 13, 14, 23 and 24 of Township 7 North, Range 9 East, precisely on the
spot where the State Capitol stands today.
Doty then began taking several actions to implement their plan, although the reasoning behind some of
his moves are obscure. On May 1, he deeded title to his portion of the land to Mason; four weeks later, Mason gave
Doty a power of attorney to divide, plat and dispose of the property that they "jointly" owned. In the
rush to form their company and further their new venture, the technicality that Doty was no longer a "joint"
owner seemed to have escaped their notice. This oversight would prove to be the seed of a controversy which would
later call into question the territory s ownership of the ground on which its capitol stood.
A few days later, Doty organized the Four Lakes Company with ownership divided into 24 shares (plus Mason's
two shares) valued at $100 per share; Doty named himself trustee and sales agent for the company. The same day,
acting as attorney for both Mason and an eastern land speculator, Francis Tillou, as well as trustee for the company,
Doty had a sizeable portion of the Four Lakes holdings and Tillou's property in the area deeded to himself for
the purpose of selling town lots.
A month later, Doty drew up a plat map of the "Town of Madison" and, in early October, accompanied
by a surveyor, arrived to stake out the town. In the meantime, Doty, together with Morgan L. Martin and William
B. Slaughter, both of Green Bay, had purchased a sizeable area on the northwest side of Fourth Lake, which they
named "City of the Four Lakes". By the time the Territorial Legislature convened in Belmont, then, Doty
had invested a considerable amount of time, effort and funds in the Four Lakes region.
Apparently, there is no significant evidence that Doty developed the area around Fourth Lake before Dodge's
announcement of his no-veto policy in order to secure the location of the territorial seat of government there.
It might have been a consideration, but Doty does not appear to have entered the "Capital Sweepstakes"
in earnest until the fall of 1836. After surveying Madison, Doty proceeded to Belmont, where his presence would
soon be felt even though he had no official capacity there.
The Fight Over Madison
Upon arriving in Belmont in early November 1836, Doty immediately set to work promoting his many ventures,
among which was the advancement of his Four Lakes' interests as a possible location for the territorial capital.
Doty could be very ingratiating and generous, and he was influential. Over the years, he had established friendships
and alliances with many men who were now legislators at Belmont. Through the liberal distribution of Madison town
lots and of buffalo robes to ward of the chill of the November nights, Doty made it clear that he was entering
Madison in the "Capital Sweepstakes". In all, by the end of the short legislative session, 16 legislators,
the clerks of both houses and Governor Dodge's son, Augustus, owned property in the paper town. When Doty approached
Dodge himself about securing an interest in the town, the latter indignantly refused in a tone that intimated impending
violence. Doty also took advantage of existing regional antipathies by supporting a plan to split the $20,000 appropriation
between a temporary capital and a permanent one.
In retrospect, Doty's lobbying methods have often been roundly condemned, but, at that time, speculators
resorted to a wide variety of schemes to entice the legislators to vote for their towns. Many displayed elaborate
maps of prospective cities featuring broad streets with proposed railroads and canals passing through or nearby.
Cassville's Garrett Denniston offered to refund the entire $20,000 federal appropriation to the territory after
two years if his town were chosen; Jeremiah "Major Jerry" Smith, Council representative from Des Moines
County, promised to have a capitol ready for the next session of the Legislative Assembly if his Burlington were
selected as temporary seat of government for the territory. Undoubtedly, many others offered town lots free or
for sale at a nominal price, as Doty had, in exchange for consideration of their town as a potential capital. Doty
differed from the other developers only in that he was the most adept and, ultimately, the most successful. Had
another town been chosen as the permanent seat of government that town's history would probably contain a person
similar to James Duane Doty. Nevertheless, even contemporary accounts vilified Doty as the "shrewdest, most
subtle, suave and insinuating" of town promoters and a "consummate political manipulator, a master of
The details of Doty's efforts were, needless to say, never recorded, but the progress, development and
passage of the bill selecting the capital site was clearly chronicled. On November 10, 1836, the first move was
made in the Council. John Arndt, representing Brown County, introduced a bill "to locate and establish the
seat of government of the Territory of Wisconsin, and for the erection of public buildings." However, Arndt's
bill specified two capitals instead of one. The measure called for a temporary seat of government at Dubuque until
1839 with $8,000 of the federal money allocated to construct public buildings there, and the establishment of a
permanent capital at Fond du Lac with the remaining $12,000 set aside for construction. Arndt hoped to align the
Brown County delegation and others who had invested in Fond du Lac with the Dubuque County members but this tactic
would quickly backfire on him over the next two days. Joseph Teas, supported by Arthur Inghram - both of Des Moines
County - and Alanson Sweet of Milwaukee County, offered an amendment to Arndt's bill to substitute Madison for
Fond du Lac and allocate the entire $20,000 to the former town. Henry Baird, siding with Arndt and others, attempted
to head off Teas' move by offering an amendment to the amendment, supplanting Madison with the City of the Four
Lakes, which failed when it came to a vote. Baird quickly offered another amendment, this time substituting Portage
as the permanent capital; but before the question was called, the Council adjourned until November 14. On that
day, Arndt, probably realizing that the issue would continue to generate more heated debate and that he would need
time to muster his forces, successfully moved to defer further consideration for one week.
The lobbying and maneuvering in that intervening week must have been intense, with Arndt trying to consolidate
his Brown-Dubuque alliance and Doty, behind the scenes, working on a countervailing coalition of Des Moines and
Iowa County Council members. Dodge, in despair over the wheeling and dealing occurring off the Council floor, pondered
reneging on his promise not to use his veto in a letter to George Jones, now Wisconsin's official territorial delegate
to Congress: "Notwithstanding I have given the Legislative Assembly the power of locating the permanent Territorial
seat of Government, and my object in doing so was to quiet as far as in my power all parties and their jarring
interests, hoping all would unite in making laws for the good of the people of the Territory - in that I have been
mistaken. Doty is exerting himself to get the permanent seat of Government on his land at the Four Lakes, and the
temporary seat located at Burlington for two or three years, making a bargain to unite the Des Moines and Iowa
county members that give nineteen votes. I never will consent to do an act of injustice to the people, should their
representatives consent to do so."
Dodge continued wishing that Congress had, in the organic act, selected the capital; his idealism concerning
the legislators acting in the public good on this matter was clearly waning. If he was looking for support from
Jones, he was not likely to find much - Doty had been in touch with Jones since the spring concerning developments
of the Four Lakes Company and, after the capital site was selected, Jones was among those listed as property owners
On Monday, November 21, the Council resumed debate on Teas' amendment, still the issue before the legislative
body. The move to substitute Madison for Fond du Lac suffered repeated unsuccessful attempts over the next two
days to replace the Four Lakes town with Dubuque, Mineral Point, Milwaukee, Belmont, and Platteville. Finally,
late on Tuesday, the vote on the Teas amendment was called and succeeded by a margin of 7-6. Madison was named
the permanent seat of government with the whole $20,000 appropriation; the tide had turned, but the battle was
not yet over.
After passing the second section naming Burlington as the temporary capital until 1839, the Council took
the full measure under consideration on Wednesday afternoon. Arndt moved to amend the bill substituting Fond du
Lac for Madison, but it failed, 6 to 7. Dubuque County's John Foley then tried to replace Madison with Dubuque,
and this attempt also failed; but surprisingly and inexplicably, Arndt changed sides and proceeded to oppose all
further moves to dislodge Madison. Foley then unsuccessfully tried to substitute "the Portage of the Wisconsin
and Fox rivers," and another Council member, Iowa County's James Vineyard, also changed sides. With this last
switch, the lines were clearly drawn and hardened for the rest of the debate. Motion after motion to replace Madison
was made, and each, in turn, was voted down by the same 6 to 7 margin with the same members in favor and the same
in opposition. After the Portage vote, Vineyard, Foley and Gilbert Knapp (Milwaukee County) took turns proposing,
one after another, Helena, Milwaukee, Racine, Belmont, Mineral Point, Platteville, Astor (Green Bay), Cassville,
Bellview, Koshkonong, Wisconsinapolis, Peru and Wisconsin City. Each time they were joined by Baird (Brown County)
and Thomas Knight and Thomas McCraney, both of Dubuque County; and each time they were defeated by Ebenezer Brigham
and John Terry of Iowa County, Teas, Inghram and "Maj. Jerry" Smith of Des Moines County, Arndt of Brown
and Sweet of Milwaukee. Finally, on Thursday, November 24, Teas called the question and, with no deviation in voting
patterns, Madison was confirmed. In one final, vain, bitter attempt at stalling the bill, Foley, after Arndt moved
that the measure be engrossed and read a third time on the next day, tried to amend the motion to substitute "fourth
of July next" for "tomorrow".
The bill would suffer similar tribulations in the House on Friday, Saturday and Monday, but the margin
for Madison and Burlington was not as narrow as in the Council. At one point, however, the Madison supporters appear
to have been caught napping. James Dallam (Crawford County) moved to supplant Madison with Prairie du Chien, in
the same way that the opposition had tried in the Council, and, surprisingly, the amendment carried, 13-12. Iowa
County's Thomas Shanley immediately moved for a reconsideration of the vote and Madison regained its place, 11-14.
On Monday afternoon, the final House vote came and the bill passed easily, 15 to 11. The bill was sent back to
the Council the same day for concurrence on some minor changes in wording and was ordered enrolled for the Governor's
Doty appeared to have won, but the question now was whether Dodge would keep his public commitment to
accept any site or would, as he had privately written to Jones, not "consent to do an act of injustice to
the people." Either Dodge's resolve to prevent what he saw as an injustice had diminished, or he may have
entertained hopes that the protest against the bill, announced by Foley shortly after the Council's final vote,
would gather enough support to reverse the Legislature's action upon submission to Congress. Whatever his reasoning,
Dodge signed the bill into law December 3, 1836, privately rationalizing that a veto would divert "the remainder
of the session . . . to unprofitable discussion, when the good of the people requires the undivided effort of the
Legislative Assembly," even though the session lasted less than one more week.
Foley was joined by all the other Council members who had opposed Madison except Vineyard. Among other
things, the protest criticized the isolation of Madison and the lack of building materials there, and incorrectly
claimed that Madison had been laid out and named since the convening of the Legislature. Not surprisingly, the
majority in the Council voted to refuse to receive the protest; however, shortly after the Legislature adjourned,
Dodge forwarded the spurned protest to Jones, in the vain hope that Congress would take some action to nullify
or force reconsideration of the selection.
Burlington: The Second Territorial Capital
Maj. Jerry Smith's offer to build a temporary capitol out of his own pocket and have it completed in
time for the next legislative session had almost certainly been the linchpin upon which turned the Des Moines County-Iowa
County alliance enabling passage of the Burlington-Madison bill. Burlington, almost 140 miles south of Belmont
in the southeastern quarter of what is now Iowa, was not much larger than Belmont at the time. By the summer of
1836, the population of the Mississippi River town was estimated at less than 500 and the buildings consisted principally
of log houses with a few scattered frame buildings. Smith, a farmer and merchant, was reputed to be the wealthiest
man in Des Moines County at the time. Early the following summer, Smith began construction on the Burlington capitol,
while construction on Madison's first capitol was beginning at the same time.
Throughout the Burlington summer, workmen rapidly built a 40 by 70 foot frame building, almost three
times the size of the Council House in Belmont. The temporary Capitol was located on Water Street, facing the river
between Columbia and Court Streets. It was two stories with an interior staircase; on one floor the House of Representatives
was to meet and on the other the Council had its chamber. Both chambers were separated from the lobby by a simple
railing. Jerry Smith's offer cost him between $7,000 and $10,000, less than half the federal appropriation given
The building was finished in time for the November 1837 session of the Legislature. In late October,
when Dodge and some of the legislators arrived in Burlington, they were treated to a cotillion in their honor.
Creature comforts for the legislators were generally agreed to be much better than in Belmont; Dodge's biographer,
Louis Pelzer, noted that "taverns and hotels were plenty, and the 'Exchange' was open at reasonable hours
where a clean tumbler, fresh water and an excellent glass courteously served may be had." The bill of fare
at the local eateries far surpassed Belmont's offerings, including prairie chickens, venison, duck, goose and fish;
the imminent "danger" of hungry lawmakers that the Dubuque--Visitor correspondent had commented on while
the Legislature was in Belmont would evidently not threaten the territory at Burlington.
On November 6, 1837, the Legislature formally convened its second session in Burlington. The reaction
to the new Capitol was as favorable as the comparison in lodging and boarding arrangements; one observer commented
that the Burlington Capitol "is commodious, handsomely build, and well arranged for the purpose of legislation
The halls are larger and much better adapted to the purpose for which they are intended, than those at Belmont."
The House and Council commenced a ten-week session, continuing the arduous, and sometimes tedious, work of establishing
the structure of a civil govemment. New counties were created, banks were chartered and memorials beseeching Congress
for funds for internal improvements and other needs were drafted. The progressive rhythm of this process was interrupted
suddenly and briefly on the night of December 12, when Maj. Jerry's Capitol was razed by an accidental fire.
The destruction of the Capitol did not curtail legislative proceedings but did force their removal to
temporary quarters. The House moved its activities into a room over Webber and Remey's store. The Council continued
in the west room of a structure known only as McCarver's building. It appears that the Legislature retained use
of these temporary quarters on Main Street until the end of the session, January 20, 1838, and probably used them
again for the special session that June.
While the Legislature was sitting in special session that summer, they received the not unexpected news
that Congress had passed an organic act creating the Territory of Iowa, which meant that they would be forced to
move to Madison earlier than anticipated. If they were uncertain about the progress of the construction at the
infant capital, Doty's requests for more money earlier in the session did little to allay their fears.
|| Council Members
|| House Members
Note: The Wisconsin Blue Book is a biannual publication of the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau. The Blue
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