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The Rump Council

by Joseph Schafer
from Wisconsin Historical Society, Proceedings   1920


The territory of Wisconsin was created by an act of Congress approved April 20, 1836, which went into effect July 3 of the same year. The boundaries of the new territory on the east, and on the south as far west as the Mississippi, were the same as those of the present state. Beyond the Mississippi they embraced the present Iowa, Minnesota, and most of the Dakotas, regions which in 1834 had been attached to Michigan Territory for administrative purposes. President Jackson appointed Henry Dodge governor and John S. Horner secretary. The new government began to function July 3, 1836, and Wisconsin thereafter went its way independently of the Michigan peninsula to which it had been attached since 1818. The first legislative assembly of the new territory was convoked by Governor Dodge at Belmont, in the present Lafayette County, on the twenty-fifth of October, 1836.

All this time, however, Michigan was still technically in the territorial stage, and her affairs for some years back, owing largely to the struggle with Ohio over the southeastern boundary, were in a disturbed, not to say chaotic, condition. The peninsula claimed by 1834 a population of more than 80,000; and inasmuch as under the Ordinance of 1787, 60,000 qualified for statehood, there should have been no difficulty in the way of her admission into the Union. The boundary dispute, however, which raised up against the territory the powerful political enmity of Ohio, rendered abortive the effort for statehood which began in the United States Senate as early as May 9, 1834, and was continued unavailingly for nearly three years.

Meantime, the people of Michigan, falling back upon the supposed sanctions of the Ordinance of 1787, the overruling law of the Northwest, decided to sever the Gordian knot in the one way that seemed open to them. They held a constitutional convention in May, 1835, drafted a constitution which fixed the boundaries of the new state according to the Ordinance (thereby arousing the hostility of Indiana in addition to Ohio), and at the regular election in November adopted the constitution by the overwhelming majority of 6,299 to 1,359. They also, at the same election, chose a full set of state officers headed by Stevens Thomson Mason, former secretary and acting governor of the territory, as first governor of the new state. Then they confronted Congress with the fait accompli, only to encounter new complications requiring more than a year to unravel, not gaining admission into the Union until the twenty-sixth of January, 1837.

After the framing of the constitution, which it was foreseen would be adopted, Acting Territorial Governor Mason on August 25, 1835 issued a proclamation for the election of a legislative council in the district not embraced within the proposed state of Michigan, and convoking the Council at Green Bay for January 1, 1836. This proclamation, the sole legal basis for holding the Rump Council, was as follows:


WHEREAS, By an act of the Legislative Council, approved March 30, 1835, the Governor of the territory is directed "to make such apportionment of the members of the Legislative Council to the several counties in that district of country not embraced within the limits of the state of Michigan, as he may deem expedient, and by proclamation to convene the said Legislative Council for the transacting of business at such time and place as he may appoint";

Now, THEREFORE, By virtue of the authority vested in said act, I do hereby make the following apportionment of the members of the Legislative Council to the several counties not embraced within the limits of the state of Michigan, viz:

The counties of Brown and Milwaukee shall compose the first district and shall be entitled to elect five members of the Legislative Council.

The county of Iowa shall constitute the second district and shall be entitled to elect three members.

The county of Crawford shall constitute the third district and shall be entitled to elect one member.

The county of Dubuque shall constitute the fourth district and shall be entitled to elect two members.

The county of Demoine shall constitute the fifth district and shall be entitled to elect two members.

And I do further appoint Friday the first day of January next for the meeting of the said Legislative Council; and the members thereof are hereby required to convene on that day at Green Bay, in the county of Brown, or such other place as may be hereafter directed by law, in order to proceed to the execution of their official duties.

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand
and affixed the great seal of
the territory this 25th day
of August, A. D. 1835.

Governor Mason's motive was to guard against a possible lapse of civil government in the region beyond the Peninsula. Michigan proper was about to reorganize under the state constitution, though some time would inevitably elapse before she could be admitted into the Union and before a law could be passed for organizing the western regions, until then associated with her, as a new territory. His idea was to bridge over the interval by continuing technically the territorial legislature of Michigan for the behoof of what was coming to be called, though without warrant of law, the territory of Wisconsin. This explains why the Rump Council styled itself "The Seventh Legislative Council of the Territory of Michigan." The act of the Council of March 30, 1835, permitting the election of a western Council, and an amendatory act of September 23, 1835 prove that the people of Michigan generally shared the Governor's views in the matter and were anxious that Michigan's anomalous political status should not work a hardship upon their erstwhile associates west of the lake.

Doubtless this plan would have worked out smoothly had Mason remained territorial governor, and had Washington remained quiescent. But the "Toledo War," as the Ohio boundary dispute was called, wrecked these plans. Governor Mason had engaged in sharp conflict with the federal government, as well as the government of Ohio, over the boundary question and on the fifteenth of August, 1835 he was removed from the office of secretary and acting governor of Michigan Territory, President Jackson appointing in his stead the same John S. Horner (of Virginia) who became secretary of Wisconsin Territory the next year.

The boundary dispute having entered upon a new phase about that time, Mr. Horner as a young official received his baptism of trouble without delay. Whether it was because of these harassments or by reason of a natural want of tact, he very promptly took steps which were bound to arouse against him the united opposition of the western people. For, instead of co-operating with them by falling in with Mason's program, which was in process of execution--the western districts having engaged in a canvass for members of the Council in accordance with his proclamation of August 25--Horner now, on November 9, issued his proclamation convoking the Council at Green Bay for December 1, 1835, instead of January 1, 1836. This proclamation reads:


WHEREAS, By an act of the Legislative Council, approved March 30th, 1835, the Governor of the territory is directed "by proclamation to convene the said Legislative Council for the transaction of business at such time and place as he may appoint"--

Now, THEREFORE, By virtue of the authority vested in me by said act, and for divers good causes and considerations, I do hereby appoint the first day of December next for the meeting of said Council, instead of the first day of January, 1836: And the members thereof are hereby required to meet on that day at Green Bay, in the county of Brown, in order to proceed to the execution of their official duties:

IN TESTIMONY WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand
and affixed the great seal of
said territory this ninth day
of November, 1835.
Secretary and Acting Governor in and over
Michigan Territory.

The election was held on the sixth of October, and it was several weeks before the result was clearly known. Mr. Horner's proclamation came so late that, considering the means of travel, compliance with it would have been impracticable. As a matter of fact, it produced such universal irritation and was considered so unreasonable that the representatives appear to have decided spontaneously on the policy of disregarding it and going to Green Bay for a session at the time set in Mason's proclamation of earlier date. Horner himself did not come to Green Bay for the session he had convoked. Nor was he at hand when the members of the Council came together a month later. Instead of meeting the Council, he caused the publication, December 30, 1835, in the Green Bay paper, of the letter by his private secretary which is printed in the proceedings, making excuses for his absence.

It was under these trying circumstances that the Council met and organized, and it is these conditions which determined the character to be given the proceedings. No ordinary legislation was possible, the Governor being absent; this limited the Council's activity to the preparation and adoption of reports and memorials to Congress. The discussions centering in the subject matter of these reports and memorials throw some light on the conditions in the territory at that time and more on the expectations and hopes of its citizens, while the documents themselves have a distinct historical value.

The "Rump Council," as will be seen by reading the proceedings of that body, despite its anomalous political status and precarious financial footing, did not leave to chance the recording of its work. On the second day of the session, January 4, 1836, it was "Resolved, That Messrs. Ellis and Arndt be appointed printers to the Council, and that they be paid for their services such compensation as is allowed to the printers to Congress."

On January 6 it was "Resolved, That the printers to the Council be required to furnish each member twelve copies of their paper, published in this town, and containing the proceedings of the Council."

The paper referred to was the Green Bay Intelligencer and Wisconsin Democrat, of which A. G. Ellis and C. C. P. Arndt were editors and publishers. Mr. Ellis was also secretary of the Council, chosen to that post on the opening day of the session, and he was given the custody of all "books, papers, and records" of the session when the Council adjourned. When the committee on expenses made their report, January 15, they recommended that the sum of $491.22 be paid Ellis and Arndt, printers to the Council, as per bill rendered. Mr. Burnett moved to amend the report by inserting a proviso that the sum of $310 [additional] be paid the printers to the Council, "on completion of the Journal of Proceedings." After some discussion, this was agreed to and the report was adopted.

The printers produced a Journal of Proceedings but that document is so excessively rare that the State Historical Society of Wisconsin, which has been on the lookout for it these many years, has succeeded in locating only a single copy, the one that is now in the state library of the state of Michigan, at Lansing. Moreover, that copy is so fragile as to be practically unusable, it having been decided by the custodian not even to permit it to be taken from the vault for reproduction by photostatic process. There is therefore an obvious necessity for the publication of the records of this, the first legislative body to deal with the problems of the territory lying west of Lake Michigan.

Ellis and Arndt having been regularly appointed as printers to the Council, and their paper being regarded by the Council as the official Journal of its proceedings from week to week, there can hardly be much divergence between the reports carried by the Green Bay Intelligencer of January 6, 13, 20, 27 and February 3, and the so-called Journal of Proceedings issued after the Council adjourned. At all events, the newspaper provides us with the only available text of the proceedings, and it is that text which is reproduced in the following pages. The first days' proceedings only are taken from the text contained in the Gazette and Advertiser of Galena, for January 30, 1836, no copy of the Green Bay paper for January 6, 1836, being available. The editor of the Gazette and Advertiser says: "We give the proceedings of the Legislative Council of Wisconsin as far as we have received them." Doubtless they were received from Green Bay, in the form of a copy of the Intelligencer, and were merely copied into the Galena paper.

1 From Green Bay Intelligencer, September 19, 1835, p. 3, c. 4.

2 Ibid., December 9, 1835, p. 3, c. 1.

Schafer, Joseph. "The Rump Council." Wisconsin Historical Society, Proceedings 1920. 62-67.
From the collection of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin: F 576 W74.