Bribery Scandal Taints Iowa’s Admission into the Union
On Dec. 28, 1846, Iowa gained admission into the Union as the 29th state. Local settlers had been clamoring for statehood ever since Iowa Territory was established on July 4, 1838, and just eight years later they got their wish. The birth of Iowa’s statehood was not without controversy, however; the newspaper articles below describe a corruption investigation that accompanied Iowa’s admission into the Union.
The Daily National Tribune (Washington, D.C.) published the official announcement of Iowa’s statehood on Jan. 1, 1847:
Laws of the United States,
Passed at the Second Session of the Twenty-Ninth Congress.
An act for the admission of the State of Iowa into the Union.
Whereas the people of the Territory of Iowa did, on the eighteenth day of May, anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-six, by a convention of delegates called and assembled for that purpose, form for themselves a constitution and State Government, which constitution is republican in its character and features; and said convention has asked admission of the said territory into the Union as a State on an equal footing with the original States, in obedience to “An act for the admission of the States of Iowa and Florida into the Union,” approved March third, eighteen hundred and forty-five, and “An act to define the boundaries of the State of Iowa, and to repeal so much of the act of the third March, one thousand eight hundred and forty-five, as relates to the boundaries of Iowa,” which said last act was approved August fourth, anno Domini eighteen hundred and forty-six. Therefore
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the State of Iowa shall be one, and is hereby declared to be one, of the United States of America, and admitted into the Union on an equal footing with the original States in all respects whatsoever.
Sec. 2. And be it further enacted, That all the provisions of “An act supplemental to the act for the admission of the States of Iowa and Florida into the Union,” approved March third, eighteen hundred and forty-five, be and the same are hereby declared to continue and remain in full force as applicable to the State of Iowa, as hereby admitted and received into the Union.
John W. Davis, Speaker of the House of Representatives.
G. M. Dallas, Vice President of the United States and President of the Senate.
Approved, December 28, 1846. –James K. Polk.
The Daily National Tribune published a report of Iowa’s corruption scandal on Jan. 4, 1847:
Bribery and Corruption in Iowa
(From a correspondent.)
The action of the Legislature of Iowa, now a State of the Union, as the election of two United States Senators is to be made, is looked to with no little anxiety, especially by the Locofocos, who in times past have held entire control over that body. It is doubtless within the recollection of all that the “Official Organ” here, months ago, set down the return of Locofoco Senators from Iowa as a question beyond dispute. The election returns proved, however, that the people, who have as yet some say in these matters, were unwilling to confirm these pretensions. A Legislature was chosen altogether intractable, in which the Whigs, with three Independent Democrats—two in the House and one in the Senate—have the power to do whatever they will. In this condition of things, in order to make good the assumptions of the “Organ,” it became necessary to use other than honest means, and adopt another rule than that of political integrity. Overtures were therefore made to Mr. Nelson King, a Whig member of the House from the county of Keokuk, to desert his friends and vote for the “Democratic Senators”; and, to accomplish this, promises of reward, present and remote, were most lavishly made to him. The principal agent in this most corrupt attempt to defeat the will of the people, by destroying the purity of their Legislature, is represented to have been Mr. S. T. Marshall, of Lee county, to whom, it seems, active “aid and comfort” were given by a certain Mr. Stott and a Government agent by the name of Haight. This latter personage, we have reason to believe, is in the employment of the Secretary of the Treasury, under what law we know not, at five dollars a day, to detect counterfeiters and others guilty of offences against the United States. Whether his recent manifestation of fealty to “the powers that be” falls within the sphere of his secret agency we leave an intelligent public to determine.
We rejoice to know that the whole matter is undergoing a strict investigation, and can only regret that the House has no power to punish the actors in this most nefarious transaction (one of them, Mr. Marshall, is in custody) as they deserve. The remarks of Mr. King, on bringing the subject before the House, which are hereto subjoined, will enable our readers to form a proper estimate of the act and those engaged in it. It is only necessary to add Messrs. Clifton and Conlee, Independent Democrats, from Lee county, stated to the House that similar efforts had been made to bribe them.
More details were provided in an article published by the St. Louis Republican and reprinted by the Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Georgia) on Jan. 6, 1847:
Democracy in Iowa—Strange Developments
The Legislature of this new State has met and organized by the election of Democratic officers in the Senate and Whigs in the House. Great excitement prevails in relation to the election of U.S. Senators, and Democracy in order to succeed, has been playing some very “fantastic tricks,” which are thus described by the St. Louis Republican of the 18th ult.:
On the 10th inst. immediately on the assembling of the House, after dinner of that day, Mr. King, member from Keokuk county—a Whig, but representing a Locofoco county—rose in his place and asked leave to make a statement—which was granted. He then informed the House, that Mr. Marshall, a lawyer from Lee county, had been negotiating with him, from the second day of the session up to that time, to vote for Gen. Dodge—that his first offer was a suit of clothes and $100 in cash, which was increased, as he held off for higher wages, to the promise of a “d---d fat office” and as “much money as he wished.” He stated also that Marshall told him “there was six thousand dollars there to secure Dodge’s election,” and that on Tuesday Marshall gave him fifteen dollars “to bind the bargain”—which he (King) by the advice of friends took. These are the leading facts. When King took his seat, Clifton and Conlee, Democratic “Possums,” rose and stated that they too, could “a tale unfold” whenever interrogated.
The House at once raised a Committee to investigate the facts, and the Sergeant-at-Arms took Marshall into custody. During King’s speech, it is said that some of the “Royal Family” were present, and that they looked as black as a thunder-cloud.
To give Mr. King an excuse for voting for Dodge, a set of instructions were procured, directing him to vote for Democratic Senators. Mr. King made allusion to these instructions in his speech—said that every man who signed them “voted against him”; that he “received his instructions at the ballot-box”; that he “was elected as a Whig,” and should vote with his party.
We are promised an early report of the result of the investigation. If the charges are sustained, we think it ought to satisfy the people of Iowa that Locofocoism has had sway long enough in that State.
For more information, visit the official Iowa website.