On April 20, 1836, President Andrew Jackson signed a bill creating the Wisconsin Territory. To mark this pivotal event in the westward expansion of America, try your luck with our trivia questions to see how much you know about this part of the country and the role it played in American history.
What Present-Day States Did the Territory Originally Include? Under the legislation passed by the U.S. Congress, the Wisconsin Territory covered an area far larger than that occupied by the state of Wisconsin today. In fact, it encompassed all of the modern-day states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa, as well as those portions of North and South Dakota lying east of the Missouri River. The bill signed by Jackson set the official date for the territory's creation as July 3, 1836, just a little over two months after the bill was signed. At the time that it became a territory, only about 22,000 people inhabited this vast area.
What Was the First Capital of the Territory? Belmont, a small village in the southwestern corner of the modern-day state of Wisconsin, was selected to serve as the first capital of the territory. Only a year before its designation as territorial capital, Belmont was founded by land speculator John Atchison. It sat near the center of a lead mining area, one of the more heavily populated areas in the sprawling new territory. To accommodate the business of government suddenly thrust upon it, the town fathers of Belmont constructed two buildings. The first, known as the Council House, was the meeting place for the territorial legislature, which met there for 46 days in 1836. The other was built to house the territory's supreme court, which never actually assembled there in the brief time Belmont was the capital. During this short time that Belmont was capital, the legislature passed 42 laws, the bulk of which formed the legislative foundation for the early governance of the state of Wisconsin.
What Happened in 1838 to Shrink the Size of the Territory? An act of Congress in 1838 established the Territory of Iowa on that portion of the Wisconsin Territory lying west of the Mississippi River. Covering roughly 194,000 square miles, Iowa Territory was eventually broken up to form the states of Iowa and Minnesota, as well as the easternmost portions of North and South Dakota. The creation of the Iowa Territory, which became official on July 4, 1838, reduced the Wisconsin Territory to less than half of its original size.
How Did Madison End Up as Wisconsin Territory Capital? After Belmont's brief time as territorial capital, the territorial legislature moved the capital south-southwestward to Burlington, which lies on the western banks of the Mississippi River in what is now the state of Iowa. The legislature of the Wisconsin Territory met there only in 1837, because the following year Burlington became part of the newly created Iowa Territory. Beginning in 1838, the capital of the Wisconsin Territory -- and eventually the state of Wisconsin -- became Madison.
When Did Wisconsin Become a State?
On May 29, 1848, Wisconsin became the 30th state to be admitted to the Union. The legislation creating the state of Wisconsin made no provision for that portion of the Wisconsin Territory lying west of the St. Croix River, which today forms the northwestern boundary of Wisconsin. Those lands eventually became part of the modern-day state of Minnesota.
Photo credit: Jimmy Emerson, DVM