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Indiana was originally part of the Northwest Territory, established under the Ordinance of 1787. In the earliest stage of the Northwest Territory, most of the European Americans in what would become Indiana were the French inhabitants of Vincennes, and they were ruled by a governor, Arthur St. Clair; a secretary; and three judges, all appointed by the president with the consent of the Senate. The governor and judges had the power to pass all necessary laws by adopting laws from the already established states; the governor also had the power to appoint all civil officers at the county level. In 1798 the Northwest Territory entered into its second stage, permitting the establishment of a bicameral General Assembly, which, meeting in joint session, would select a nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress. One half of the General Assembly was a House of Representatives, made up of men who were elected for two-year terms by all free men over twenty-one holding fifty or more acres of land. The second half was a Legislative Council, whose membership was selected as follows: The House would draw up a list of ten candidates, from whom the resident would select five. In this second stage, the governor retained the right to select county officials, but the General Assembly defined the powers of these offices. For most of modern Indiana, this second stage of self-government was short-lived; in 1800, the Indiana Territory, which included present-day Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, and the western half of Michigan, most of the state was split from the Northwest Territory. Because few European Americans lived in this new territory, it was organized once again without representative government, with William Henry Harrison appointed governor (1800–1813) and governing much as the Northwest Territory had been governed in its first stage. In 1803 the state of Ohio was formed from the Northwest Territory, and a small "gore" east of the Greenville Treaty line was added to Indiana Territory, together with the eastern half of present-day Michigan.

The 1800 act establishing Indiana Territory provided for the residents of Indiana to move to the second stage of territorial government without regard to population, if the move was the will of the people. In 1804, in an election in which only 400 hundred votes were cast, Indiana residents signaled their desire to move into the second stage, and in 1805, Governor Harrison set into motion the creation of a General Assembly with seven members in the House of Representatives. In the midst of moving to the second stage, Michigan was established as a separate territory by Congress in 1805. In accommodating the desires of European American residents, Harrison showed greater wisdom than Arthur St. Clair, who had attempted to slow the progression of the Northwest Territory into statehood until two Federalist states could be created. Harrison, though initially appointed by Federalist Adams, won the favor of Jeffersonian Republicans and was reappointed by both Jefferson and Madison. Despite his ability to navigate national politics, Harrison was unable to avoid the distrust of his executive power that lay at the heart of the earlier conflicts with St. Clair; much of this suspicion revolved around the issue of the introduction of slavery into the territory. Even before Harrison's arrival in Indiana, some in the territory had sought to repeal the Ordinance of 1787's ban on slavery in the territory, and Harrison allied himself with the effort to repeal. Congress was deaf to these petitions, but in both the first and the second stage, Harrison and his allies passed laws that introduced African American servitude. As the territory became more settled, a regional split appeared; those living in southeastern and south central Indiana tended to oppose slavery, whereas those living in the Wabash Valley and the Illinois country tended to support slavery. Eventually, the supporters of slavery themselves were split: Illinois country supporters believed that being a separate territory, and ultimately a separate state, would best bring slavery to their communities. Thus Harrison and his Wabash Valley allies were left in a minority in Indiana Territory when Illinois Territory was created in 1809, leaving Indiana with approximately its modern boundaries, plus a segment of the Upper Peninsula of modern Michigan. The easterner-versus-westerner split in Indiana politics would remain evident for some time.

Indianans repeatedly petitioned the U.S. Congress for a more democratic territorial government. In 1808 Congress extended the suffrage to those owning town lots and those in the act of purchasing public lands, but the act specifically excluded nonwhites. In 1809 Congress provided for the direct election of the Legislative Council and of the nonvoting delegate to the Congress. In 1811 Congress further extended the suffrage to all white men over twenty-one who had paid a local tax and who had resided in the territory for one year. In 1811 the territorial General Assembly changed the method of voting from viva voce to ballot. About this time, Harrison, who had been accused abusing his power over local officials, acceded to popular will and began holding extralegal elections for sheriff when vacancies occurred, appointing the winners. Harrison resigned in the midst of the War of 1812, and Madison appointed Thomas Posey governor (1813–1816); Virginian Posey reassured Indianans that he opposed slavery. The forces that had opposed slavery in Indiana Territory had already begun to drive toward statehood, coalescing behind congressional delegate (1809–1816) Jonathan Jennings. As early as 1811, Indiana petitioned to become a state, which in the minds of many residents would assure them of their full rights as citizens of a democratic republic.

In 1816 Congress authorized Indiana to write a state constitution. Responding to the belief that the territorial governors exercised excessive powers, the framers of this constitution provided for a weak governor, one whose vetoes could be overridden by a simple majority in both houses of the state legislature, which was a General Assembly composed of a Senate, one-third of whose members were elected each year, and a House of Representatives, whose members were elected annually. The governor was also elected for a three-year term, and there was a separate elected office of lieutenant governor. The other executive officers (secretary of state, auditor, and treasurer and the presiding judges of the circuit courts were elected by joint ballot of both houses of the legislature. The governor did appoint, with the consent of the Senate, the three justices on the state supreme court. County officials, including the associate judges for each county, were popularly elected. The suffrage was further extended to all white men over twenty-one who had lived in the state for one year, and all voting was to take place by ballot. (The state constitution gave the 1821 legislature the one-time option of changing the voting to viva voce; that option was not exercised.)

Rewarded for his shepherding in Congress of Indiana's democratic desires, Jonathan Jennings was elected the new state's first governor. By his second term, concerns about his improper exercise of executive power began to coalesce. Jennings was closely allied with the State Bank created in 1816, and concerns over its failure in the wake of the Panic of 1819 raised concerns about Jennings as well. He nevertheless was elected to the U.S. Congress in 1822, taking the place of Williams Hendricks, who had resigned the congressional seat to become governor (1822–1825). Jennings was concurrently elected to one of the three new congressional seats established after the 1820 census redistricting. This horse-trading of offices, combined with the bank’s failure and the use of patronage by both Hendricks and Jennings, stirred dissatisfaction among an unorganized cohort of Indiana voters. Such dissatisfaction began to coalesce around the presidential candidacy of Andrew Jackson, and in 1824, the voters in Indiana had their first opportunity to vote for presidential electors (the legislature had picked Indiana's Monroe electors in 1816 and 1824), and Jackson captured 47 percent of the vote. Despite supporting either Clay or Adams, men such as Jennings, Hendricks, and James Noble (U.S. Senator, 1816–1831) retained sufficient popular appeal because of their role in leading Indiana to statehood.


  • Barnhart, John D. and Dorothy Riker. Indiana to 1816: The Colonial Period. Volume 1 of The History of Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 1971.
  • Carmony, Donald F. Indiana, 1816–1850: The Pioneer Era. Volume 2 of The History of Indiana. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau and Indiana Historical Society, 1998.
  • Mills, Randy Keith. Jonathan Jennings: Indiana's First Governor. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society, 2005.
  • "Indiana Documents Leading to Statehood." Indiana Historical Bureau.
  • "Road to Indiana Statehood." The Digital Collections of IUPUI Library.
  • Nation, Richard F. At Home in the Hoosier Hills: Agriculture, Politics, and Religion in Southern Indiana, 1810–1870. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.