Iowa became a state December 28, 1846. She was the twenty-ninth state to enter the Union, and the fourth state carved from the Louisiana Purchase. Ansel Briggs was the first governor. The capitol building was then located at Iowa City, but in obedience to the feeling that the seat of government should be nearer the center of the state, it was changed to Des Moines in 1857.
Iowa came into the Union as a free state. But slavery was a burning issue for years before the Civil War. Many of the settlers came from the South. A few of these had owned slaves, and all had lived in a community where slavery was the natural order of things. They had no sympathy for escaped slaves, and looked upon the Abolitionists as “Nigger Stealers. ” When the Fugitive Slave Law was passed, compelling all citizens to aid in the capture of runaway slaves, these people were very willing to help. So an ” Underground Railway” was formed by the Negro sympathizers for the purpose of passing the blacks on to Canada. But it was a “railway” only in name, and “underground” really meant underhand, inasmuch as the route was kept very secret, the trips being mostly made at night. It ran from Tabor, in the southwestern part of the state, not far from the Missouri border-line, through Des Moines, Grinnell, Iowa City, West Liberty, and Low Moor, reaching the Mississippi at Clinton. Here the Negroes were taken across the river in skiffs, passed by wagon to Union Grove, Illinois, and at length arrived on the shores of Lake Michigan, where transportation into Canada was furnished. Harboring slaves was desperate business, and only the bravest, most resolute men dared engage in it. Many of these were the liberty-loving Quakers, who came to Iowa in great numbers from Pennsylvania.
When the Civil War came, Iowa, spurred on by the efforts of patriotic Governor Kirkwood, sent nearly 80,000 men to help the cause. No soldiers were braver, none rose higher in the public eye, but we have not space for their deeds here. Aside from invasions by wandering bands of guerrillas and the murders committed by the Copperheads, 3 the tide of war touched Iowa but once. This was in the skirmish at Athens, some twenty miles north of Keokuk, where a number of lives were lost.
“Tempered and welded by the flame of battle,” Iowa emerged from the war to forge well among the front ranks of her sister states. Nothing shows her progress better, perhaps, than her magnificent $3, 000, 000 capitol building, of which all her citizens are justly proud. She is one of the leading agricultural states. No other state in the Union has so large a number of acres in farms, and nowhere in the world are there finer herds of stock. She stands next to the top in the literacy of her people. More than $9,000,000 are used annually to keep up her public schools. The school buildings themselves are valued at more than eighteen million dollars. She has three state institutions for higher education, and there are colleges, business schools, academies, and public libraries without number. There is also a large list of benevolent and reformatory institutions. The wellordered cities and towns speak highly for the morality and intelligence of her people. Her pulse beats high with hope for the future. She sits enthroned a “Prairie Queen:”