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State Historical Society of Iowa Press Release

For immediate release April 17, 2009

Contact: Jeff Morgan, Jeff.Morgan@iowa.gov, (515) 281-3858

Historic presidential documents to State Historical Society of Iowa

Van Buren, Polk appointed Burlington’s James Clarke as territorial governor, secretary

(IOWA CITY) – Historic presidential documents appointing Burlington’s James Clarke as a territorial secretary and governor of Iowa will be donated to the State Historical Society of Iowa next week in Iowa City.

Issued by Presidents Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk, the historic documents will be donated to SHSI by the State Historical Society, Inc., a private, non-profit organization. The event will be at 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 21, 2009, at the Centennial Building, 402 Iowa Avenue in Iowa City. The event is free and open to the public.

“We are very grateful to the State Historical Society, Inc. for acquiring these historic documents and entrusting them to our care for preservation,” SHSI Administrator Jerome Thompson said. “These are significant documents that will help us and future generations of Iowans better understand our state’s history.”

Iowa’s statehood was still a year away when Clarke was appointed as the new governor of the Iowa Territory in 1845. Clarke was already well known in political circles since he had served as territorial secretary to Iowa’s first territorial governor, Robert Lucas.

Clarke was a printer by trade when he moved to Belmont, the new capital of the Wisconsin Territory, in 1836. He married Christiana Dodge, the daughter of territorial governor Henry Dodge, and became territorial librarian.

Clarke later moved with his family to Burlington, where he founded the “Wisconsin Territorial Gazette and Burlington Advertiser.”

When the Iowa Territory was established, President Van Buren appointed him “Secretary in and for the Territory of Iowa,” as shown in two of the donated documents, dated Nov. 27, 1839, and Feb. 19, 1840.

By 1842, the territorial capital had moved from Burlington to Iowa City, where Secretary Clarke assisted Gov. Lucas with government and political business. 

Some people opposed Clarke’s appointment because of his close personal ties to the Dodge family, but as the mayor of Burlington and editor of the “Burlington Gazette,” Clarke had gained a reputation as one of the leading advocates for statehood.

President Polk appointed Clarke as governor of the Iowa Territory on Nov. 8, 1845, as shown on the original velum document to be donated by SHS, Inc. This document also has on the reverse side the handwritten oath of office signed by Clarke and sworn to by Charles Mason as Chief Justice of the Iowa Territory.

Historians rely on the evidence offered in documents like these to unravel the stories of Iowa’s past, and these appointment papers are particularly valuable given the scarcity of manuscripts from this early period in Iowa history.

Clarke played a pivotal role in the development of Iowa, helping to define the state’s boundaries and forming the first constitutional conventions. Only four weeks after Clarke delivered his last official message as governor in December 1846, Iowa became the 29th state to join the union.

Clarke resumed his work as a newspaper editor and remained active in political affairs in Burlington until tragedy struck in July 1850. His wife and infant son succumbed to a cholera epidemic that swept through Burlington and other Mississippi River towns. Just two weeks later, 38-year-old Clarke also died of cholera. The Clarkes are buried in Aspen Grove Cemetery in Burlington.

State Historical Society, Inc. is a non-profit organization that supports projects related to Iowa history.

Over the past decade, SHS, Inc. has contributed funds for 90 research grants of $1,000 each, which are awarded to scholars studying Iowa history. The non-profit also helps fund the National History Day program, which is coordinated in Iowa by SHSI.

SHS, Inc. has also sponsored special projects at the Iowa Women’s Archives like “Voices from the Land,” which preserves the history of farm women in Iowa, and “Mujeres Latinas,” an oral history program that collects and preserves materials that document the lives and contributions of Latinas and their families to Iowa history.


The State Historical Society of Iowa is a division of the Iowa Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a trustee of Iowa's historical legacy and an advocate for understanding Iowa's past. It identifies, records, collects, preserves, manages and provides access to Iowa's historical resources. Its dual mission of preservation and education serves Iowans of all ages, conducts and stimulates research, disseminates information, and encourages and supports historical preservation and education efforts of others throughout the state. Visit www.iowahistory.org or call 515-281-5111 for more information.


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