Museum > Iowa and the Underground Railroad

Iowa Antislavery Timeline

1839 - 1854

“An Act to Regulate Blacks and Mulattoes.”
Passed by first territorial legislature of Iowa.  The Law required Negroes and Mulattoes to obtain from a court a certificate stating they were free.  The person had to post a five hundred dollar bond as guarantee of their good behavior.  A fine of five to one hundred dollars could be charged to anyone who hired or harbored a Negro or mulatto who had failed to obtain a certificate or post the required bond.  Slaveholders could pass through Iowa with their slaves and fugitive slaves were to be arrested and returned.

Blacks and mulattoes forbidden to marry whites.
This was enacted by the Iowa territorial legislature.  Local anti-slavery societies and Liberty parties tended to subordinate questions of Negro rights to issues on slavery.

Early 1843
Local petitions seek repeal of 1839 Act to Regulate Blacks and mulattoes
When Quakers in Salem (Henry County) Iowa considered hiring Negro mechanics for work in their village, a petition to the legislature requested repeal of the 1839 law concerning hiring or harboring blacks.  Another petition from Washington County residents asked for repeal of the entire law.  Neither was reported out of the Judiciary committee to which they were referred.

Summer 1843
First Liberty party ticket in Iowa appears in Henry County.

Constitution of 1844 prohibits slavery but restricts Negro rights
The final draft allowed Negroes to settle in Iowa, but denied them rights of suffrage, militia service, or ability to hold legislative office.

April 1846
Constitutional convention ignores questions of Negro rights.
The resulting constitution, which served Iowa from 1846to 1857, imposed restrictions on blacks and mulattoes similar to what had been in the constitution of 1844, essentially carrying the Black Laws over into the statehood period.

November 1846
Annual anti-slavery meeting calls for Liberty party to be organized
At annual anti-slavery society meeting, delegates called for a state Liberty party to be formed in early 1847 and sent several petitions to the legislature during the winter of 1846-1847.

November 1847
Alanson St. Clair, anti-slavery agitator, comes to Iowa
Iowa anti-slavery men hired St. Clair as a lecturer in the fall of 1847 after he had recently organized abolitionist activity in Illinois.   Residing in Fort Madison, he became editor of a new abolitionist paper, The Iowa Freeman, which eventually became a Free Soil paper and moved to Mount Pleasant.

December 14-15, 1847
Liberty convention organizes state party at Yellow Springs (Des Moines County)
Under chairmanship of Eli Jessup, a Quaker from Salem, committees of the new party were formed along with creation of a state central committee and recommendation for a Liberty newspaper to be established.

May 24, 1848
First state convention of Liberty Party
Met at Salem (Henry County) Iowa and put forth complete tickets for state and national offices then at stake.  This action was spurred by near silence of the major parties on slavery and was reinforced by failure of the Whig State Convention on May 11th to take a strong stand against slavery.

Fall 1848
The Freeman, first established as a Liberty party newspaper, becomes the sole Free Soil party paper for Iowa

February 8, 1850
Southeast Iowa Free Soilers unwilling to unite with Whigs
Free Soilers in southeastern Iowa (Des Moines, Henry, and Lee Counties) met in convention and declared their unwillness to unite with the Whigs, which they concluded had abandoned anti-slavery principles.

May 8, 1850
Free Soil state convention in Iowa City (Johnson County) Iowa.
Met one week before the Whig state convention to select a list of candidates.  Delegates hoped Whigs would respond with measures to attract Free Soil vote such as a strong anti-slavery platform or support for Free Soil candidates.  Whigs ignored the overatures.

June 21, 1850
A second Free Soil convention at Salem (Henry County) Iowa
Selected Dr. George Shedd as candidate for 1st District Congress

October 30, 1851
Free Soil Convention at Yellow Springs (Lee County) Iowa
With George Shedd as president, delegates resolved that “slavery and freedom cannot long exist together” under the new Fugitive Slave Act.

November 1851
Anti-Slavery men resolve to petition legislatures against Fugitive Slave Act
Meeting in Van Buren County, persons attended resolved to send petitions to state and national legislatures asking for repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act

Winter 1850-1851
Free Soilers hold non-political public meetings against Fugitive Slave Act
Seeing decline in opposition to the Fugitive Slave Act, Free Soilers organized non-political meetings to protest the law.  Three in Danville (Lee County) on December 27th, 1850, January 16 and January 24, 1851 went against the anti-slavery men.  They found supporters of the Fugitive Slave Act had packed the meetings and easily outnumbered anti-slavery opponents in resolutions voted upon.

February 1851
Exclusion Law passed by state
The state legislature prohibited Negro immigration into Iowa.  Those already here could remain, but any subsequent migrants to Iowa were to depart within three days and were subject to a fine of two dollars a day and imprisonment if they remained in Iowa.  Twelve years later, in a test case, a district court judge ruled that the law was a violation of both the state and national constitutions and was therefore not binding.  One year later the legislature repealed it.

April 1851
Associated Presbytery  of Iowa call for abolition of slavery
Meeting in Crawfordsville, Iowa, the church body called for “unconditional and immediate abolition of slavery,” with members actions toward the fugitive slave act to “obey God rather than man and abide the consequences.”

June 1851
General Association of Congregational Churches affirms being guided by higher law than man-made law toward slavery.
Meeting in Denmark, Iowa, members declare that a higher law than man-made law should guide their acts and that members do nothing to aid in apprehending fugitive slaves.

June 25, 1851
Free Soilers in six southeastern counties hold mass meeting.
In Washington, Iowa, anti-slavery delegates adopt 28 resolutions, half of which are against the new fugitive law, slavery’s existence, and extension of slavery into the territories.  Other mass gatherings took place on July 4th at Columbus City and Salem.

July 1851
William Dove, of African Methodist Episcopal Church in Muscatine, attends anti-slavery convention in Chicago
The minister represented Iowa at a Northwestern Christian Anti-Slavery Convention.

August 1851
Free Soilers send four delegates to national convention
The delegation included Samuel Luke Howe of Mt. Pleasant, Asa Turner of Denmark, Joseph Whithan of Quasqueton, and D. P. Nichols of Charleston.

December 1853
Senator Augustus C. Dodge of Iowa introduces another bill to organize Nebraska territory.
This time Dodge extends boundaries on the north to 43°30’, which was the latitude of Iowa’s northern boundary.  Referred to Senate Committee on Territories

January 4, 1854
Senate Committee on Territories, headed by Stephen Douglas of Illinois, reports out substitute for Dodge’s measure.
Among changes is a stipulation that “all questions pertaining to slavery in the Territories, and in the new States to be formed therefrom, are to be left to the decision of the people residing therein, through their appropriate representatives.”  This amounts to abandonment of Missouri Compromise of 1820 prohibiting slavery in Louisiana Purchase north of 36°30’.

January 23, 1854
Senator Douglas introduces second substitute bill specifically ending non-slavery provision of 1820 Missouri Compromise in Louisiana territory.
The bill specifically declared that Section Eight of the Missouri Compromise had been “superseded” by principles of the Compromise of 1850 and was therefore “inoperative.”  It also would create two territories, Kansas and Nebraska, out of the Nebraska country.

February 22 1854
Whig state convention platform disapproves Congressional efforts to allow slavery into Nebraska territory
The second resolution spoke of the “binding force” of he Missouri Compromise as a “final settlement,” while a third resolution  “emphatically disapprove of the efforts. . . being made in Congress to legislate slavery into the Territory of Nebraska.”

March 28, 1854
Slavery attacked in “To the People of Iowa” address authored by James W. Grimes, Whig candidate for governor.  The address was read before Free Soil 2nd state convention at Crawfordsville, which endorsed his candidacy.
In the longest section of the address, Grimes attacked the “infamous attempt to nationalize slavery”  and of how Iowa would not tolerate slavery in Nebraska territory.  The address quickly became a campaign issue after Whig newspapers published it in early April.

May 30, 1854
Kansas-Nebraska Act signed into law.
Issue dominates ensuing campaign in Iowa and surprising Democratic losses result from narrow margin of victories.

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