Per­sonal pol­i­tics in a tough ter­ri­tory

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - PERSPECTIVE - TOM DIL­LARD

Ter­ri­to­rial Gov­er­nor Ge­orge Izard should have been a good gov­er­nor for Arkansas. He was well ed­u­cated, hon­est, and strong­willed. Izard, Arkansas’ sec­ond ter­ri­to­rial gov­er­nor, worked hard to bring or­der and de­vel­op­ment to fron­tier Arkansas. Though he ul­ti­mately failed, he was a sta­bi­liz­ing force in a tiny west­ern ju­ris­dic­tion known as Arkansas— where the politi­cians were famed for killing each other in du­els.

Izard was born Oct. 21, 1776, in Lon­don, Eng­land, where his par­ents were liv­ing tem­po­rar­ily. At the time the fam­ily name was pro­nounced with the em­pha­sis on the sec­ond syl­la­ble. His fa­ther was a wealthy South Carolina busi­ness­man, diplo­mat, and mem­ber of the Con­ti­nen­tal Congress and later U.S. se­na­tor. Izard was one of 12 chil­dren. The fam­ily re­lo­cated to Paris in 1777 as Lon­don be­came an un­safe place for colo­nials of du­bi­ous loy­alty.

With­out a doubt, Izard was one of the bet­ter-ed­u­cated gov­er­nors in Arkansas his­tory, with the kind of ed­u­ca­tion that a fam­ily of great wealth and power could of­fer its off­spring. Wes Good­ner of Lit­tle Rock, a keen stu­dent of Gov. Izard and au­thor of the gov­er­nor’s en­try in the En­cy­clo­pe­dia of Arkansas His­tory & Cul­ture, re­ports that young Ge­orge be­gan his ed­u­ca­tion at the Col­lege de Navarre in Paris.

In 1780, Mrs. Izard and the chil­dren sailed for Amer­ica to re­join her hus­band in South Carolina. When his pri­vate tu­tor died, young Ge­orge was sent to a board­ing school in Charleston. Later he stud­ied at Columbia Univer­sity and the Col­lege of Philadel­phia, tak­ing a bach­e­lor’s de­gree in 1792 at the ten­der age of 16.

Izard con­tin­ued his stud­ies in Europe, first in Bri­tain, then Ger­many, and fi­nally at Ecole du Ge­nie in France. While in Paris, Izard was of­fered a lieu­tenancy in the U.S. Corps of Ar­tillerists and En­gi­neers, a post he as­sumed in 1797. He later over­saw con­struc­tion of Fort Pinck­ney in South Carolina.

De­spite his youth, Izard held prom­i­nent posts in the Army, in­clud­ing as aide de camp to Gen­eral Alexan­der Hamil­ton. Later he be­came com­man­der of the post at West Point, but he grew bored and re­signed his com­mis­sion.

The War of 1812 brought him back into the Army, where he was quickly pro­moted to colonel, then bri­gadier gen­eral. On a cold day in Jan­uary 1814, Izard was pro­moted to ma­jor gen­eral and given com­mand of the North­ern Army on Lake Cham­plain. The Cana­dian front was a daunt­ing as­sign­ment, and Izard pro­ceeded cau­tiously. His re­treat to win­ter quar­ters brought crit­i­cism, and again he re­signed his com­mis­sion. In 1816, he pub­lished a de­tailed re­sponse to his crit­ics.

Izard had to be con­vinced to ac­cept the gov­er­nor­ship of Arkansas, a small ter­ri­tory just or­ga­nized on the west­ern fron­tier. He had hoped for a diplo­matic post. His pre­de­ces­sor James Miller had been the first gov­er­nor of ter­ri­to­rial Arkansas. Miller was no match for the 22-year-old ter­ri­to­rial sec­re­tary Robert Crittenden, who ar­rived to find the gov­er­nor miss­ing and pro­ceeded to as­sume con­trol over the state. Gov. Miller spent much of his time back home in New Hamp­shire, fi­nally re­sign­ing on the last day of 1824.

Ter­ri­to­rial Arkansas was a po­lit­i­cal briar patch. For such a tiny place (the 1820 pop­u­la­tion was 14,255), ter­ri­to­rial Arkansas was over­run with am­bi­tious young men who prac­ticed pol­i­tics as if it were war­fare, and they took no prison­ers. Fist­fights of­ten broke out over triv­ial af­fronts, and Arkansas had its first duel in 1820, only a year af­ter the ter­ri­tory was cre­ated. His­to­rian Michael B. Dougan has de­scribed it as “the era of per­sonal pol­i­tics.”

Izard ar­rived in Arkansas in May 1825. He was not happy with what he found. The ter­ri­to­rial govern­ment was in sham­bles, with lit­tle in the way of records— and act­ing gov­er­nor Sec­re­tary Crittenden was back home in Ken­tucky. In­evitably, the two strong-willed men were des­tined to be­come po­lit­i­cal foes, and it cer­tainly did not help that Izard found the ter­ri­tory in such a sorry state.

Izard was noth­ing if not an or­ga­nizer; he set about to bring some or­der and de­vel­op­ment to the rugged ter­ri­tory. The gov­er­nor sought fed­eral fund­ing for roads, then prac­ti­cally un­known in Arkansas. He worked hard to or­ga­nize the ter­ri­to­rial mili­tia, fear­ing that re­moval of eastern In­di­ans through Arkansas would en­dan­ger the state. While the mili­tia had a large ros­ter of prom­i­nent of­fi­cers, it was more form than fact.

Izard’s un­bend­ing na­ture put him at odds with much of the po­lit­i­cal in­fras­truc­ture in the ter­ri­tory. He es­pe­cially ruf­fled feath­ers when he charged two In­dian agents with cor­rup­tion. In 1828, Gov. Izard called a spe­cial ses­sion of the Leg­is­la­ture, and when leg­is­la­tors re­sponded slowly to his pro­gram, he ques­tioned their dili­gence. The Leg­is­la­ture re­acted an­grily, ac­cus­ing Izard of wield­ing “dic­ta­to­rial power.”

Izard and Crittenden were as dif­fer­ent as two men could be, and from the be­gin­ning did not get along. Izard adroitly co-opted much of Crittenden’s po­lit­i­cal power by court­ing the po­lit­i­cal elite, in­clud­ing award­ing mili­tia colonel­cies to Henry Con­way, Ambrose Se­vier, and Ch­ester Ash­ley—all des­tined to be­come fu­ture gov­er­nors or U.S. se­na­tors.

A man of ed­u­ca­tion and broad in­ter­ests, Izard stud­ied Arkansas’ nat­u­ral his­tory as well as “abo­rig­i­nal in­hab­i­tants.” He was a mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Philo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety of Philadel­phia, and the group pub­lished Izard’s pe­ri­odic re­ports on the ter­ri­tory. He also sent a “small col­lec­tion of rep­tiles and in­sects,” and his most im­por­tant sub­mis­sion was a Qua­paw In­dian vo­cab­u­lary.

Mrs. Izard, who stayed in Philadel­phia and never moved to Arkansas, died in 1826. Gov. Izard died on Nov. 22, 1828, and was buried in Lit­tle Rock in a ceme­tery near where the fed­eral build­ing on Capi­tol Av­enue now stands. His re­mains were later moved to Mount Holly Ceme­tery where he was in­terred in the plot of Sen. Ch­ester Ash­ley.

Tom Dil­lard is a his­to­rian and re­tired ar­chiv­ist liv­ing near Glen Rose in ru­ral Hot Spring County. Email him at Ark­[email protected] An ear­lier ver­sion of this col­umn was pub­lished Oct. 28, 2007.

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