Arkansas (är´kənsô´, ärkăn´zŭs), state in the south-central United States. It is bordered by Tennessee and Mississippi, across the Mississippi R. (E), Louisiana (S), Texas and Oklahoma (W), and Missouri (N).
Facts and Figures
Area, 53,104 sq mi (137,539 sq km). Pop. (2000) 2,673,400, a 13.7% increase since the 1990 census. Capital and largest city, Little Rock. Statehood, June 15, 1836 (25th state). Highest pt., Magazine Mt., 2,753 ft (840 m); lowest pt., Ouachita River, 55 ft (17 m). Nickname, Land of Opportunity. Motto,Regnat Populus [The People Rule]. State bird, mockingbird. State flower, apple blossom. State tree, pine. Abbr., Ark.; AK
The Arkansas River flows southeast across the state between the Ozark plateau and the Ouachita Mountains and runs down to the southern and eastern plains to empty into the Mississippi River. The other rivers of the state also flow generally SE or S to the Mississippi; these include the Saint Francis (which forms part of the E Missouri line), the White River, the Ouachita, and the Red River (which forms part of the Texas line). The state's transportation network is based on rivers as well as roads, railroads, and air travel. The 440 mi (708 km) Arkansas River Navigation System links Oklahoma and Arkansas to the Mississippi River.
The capital and largest city is Little Rock; other important cities are Fort Smith, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Hot Springs, and West Memphis.
The climate of Arkansas is marked by long, hot summers and mild winters. The state's many lakes and streams and its abundant wildlife provide excellent hunting and fishing. The mineral springs at Hot Springs also attract many visitors to Arkansas, where tourism is an important industry.
A major cotton-producing state in the 19th cent., Arkansas has since diversified its agricultural production and overall economy. Cotton is still an important crop, but ranks below soybeans and rice. Arkansas has become a leading producer of poultry, raising over one billion broiler chickens a year; turkeys, dairy goods, and catfish are also important. The state's most important mineral products are petroleum, bromine and bromine compounds, and natural gas, and it is the nation's leading bauxite producer. Principal manufactures are food products, chemicals, lumber and paper goods, electrical equipment, furniture, automobile and airplane parts, and machinery. The Pine Bluff Arsenal is among military installations contributing to the Arkansas economy.
Government and Higher Education
The state constitution (1874) provides for an elected governor and bicameral legislature, with a 35-member senate and a 100-member house of representatives. Arkansas sends two senators and four representatives to the U.S. Congress and has six electoral votes.
Bill Clinton was elected governor five times between 1978 and 1990. Jim Guy Tucker, a Democrat, succeeded Clinton but resigned in 1996 when he was convicted of fraud in a Whitewater-related scheme; Republican Mike Huckabee, the lieutenant governor, became governor, and was reelected in 1998 and 2002. In 2006, Mike Beebe, a Democrat, was elected to the post; he was reelected in 2010. The state legislature has long been heavily Democratic, but Arkansas's congressional delegation is more bipartisan.
Among the institutions of higher education in the state are the Univ. of Arkansas, at Fayetteville; Arkansas State Univ., at Jonesboro; Hendrix College and the State College of Arkansas, at Conway; Ouachita Baptist College and Henderson State College, at Arkadelphia; the College of the Ozarks, at Clarksville; Arkansas College, at Batesville; and Harding College, at Searcy.
Early History to Statehood
A people known as the Bluff Dwellers, who inhabited caves, probably lived in the Arkansas area before 500. They were followed by the Mound Builders, who received their name from the mounds they constructed, apparently for ceremonial purposes. The first Europeans to arrive in Arkansas (1541–42) were probably members of the Spanish expedition under Hernando De Soto. Later the French explorers Jacques Marquette and Louis Jolliet came S along the Mississippi to the mouth of the Arkansas River. A number of Native American groups, such as the Osage, Quapaw, and Caddo, lived in the vicinity.
In 1682, Robert La Salle's lieutenant, Henri de Tonti, established Arkansas Post, the first white settlement in the Arkansas area. La Salle claimed the Mississippi valley for France, and the region became part of the French territory of Louisiana. The French ceded the Louisiana territory to Spain in 1762 but regained it before it passed to the United States under the Louisiana Purchase (1803).
Arkansas became part of the Territory of Missouri in 1812. The cotton boom of 1818 brought the first large wave of settlers, and the Southern plantation system, moving west, fixed itself in the alluvial plains of S and E Arkansas. In 1819 the area was made a separate entity, and the first territorial legislature met at Arkansas Post. The capital was moved to Little Rock in 1821. Arkansas achieved statehood in 1836.
The Civil War
As the Civil War began, poorer farmers were generally indifferent to questions of slavery and states' rights. The slaveholding planters held the most political power, however, and after some hesitation, Arkansas seceded (1861) from the Union. In the Civil War, Confederate defeats at Pea Ridge (Mar., 1862), Prairie Grove (Dec., 1862), and Arkansas Post (Jan., 1863) led to Union occupation of N Arkansas, and General Grant's Vicksburg campaign separated states W of the Mississippi from the rest of the Confederacy. In Sept., 1863, federal troops entered Little Rock, where a Unionist convention in Jan., 1864, set up a government that repudiated secession and abolished slavery. Because the state refused at first to enfranchise former slaves, Arkansas was not readmitted to the Union until 1868, when a new constitution gave African Americans the right to vote and hold office.
Reconstruction in Arkansas reached a turbulent climax in the struggle (1874) of two Republican claimants to the governorship, Elisha Baxter and Joseph Brooks. Baxter's apparent success in the election was not accepted by Brooks, and followers of the two men resorted to violence in what became known as the Brooks-Baxter War. After President Ulysses S. Grant declared Baxter to be governor, Baxter called a constituent assembly dominated by Democrats to frame a new state constitution. The convention adopted (1874) the constitution that, in amended form, still remains in force.
During Reconstruction the so-called carpetbaggers and scalawags were detested by most Arkansas whites, but their administrations brought advances in education and (at exorbitant costs caused by corruption) railroad construction. Because of high cotton prices and the failure to give the freed slaves any economic status, the broken plantation system was replaced by sharecropping and farm tenancy. The lives of the people of the Ozarks remained largely unchanged; they retained the customs, skills, and superstitions that have given the hill folk their distinctive regional characteristics. In the late 19th cent., as railroad construction proceeded, Arkansas's population grew substantially, and bauxite and lumbering industries developed. Oil was discovered in Arkansas, near El Dorado, in 1921.
Disaster struck in 1927 when the Mississippi River overflowed, flooding one fifth of the state. With the fortunes of the state pegged to the price of cotton, the depression of the early 1930s (see Great Depression) struck hard. Dispossessed tenants, black and white, formed (1939) the Southern Tenant Farmers Union; after trouble with the authorities, it moved its headquarters to Memphis, Tenn. A strike called in 1936 spread to other regions before its strength waned. Other impoverished farmers migrated west to California as
from neighboring Oklahoma. After World War I, African Americans left the state in a steady stream to the industrial North. World War II brought further loss of population as workers left Arkansas for war factories elsewhere. The war, however, created a boom for new industries in the state, notably the processing of bauxite into aluminum.
The Postwar Era
The decline of industrial output after the war was offset by the vigorous efforts of a state development commission formed in 1955 to attract new industry to Arkansas. Governor Orval Faubus of Arkansas became a center of national and world attention in 1957 when he resisted the desegregation of public schools in Little Rock (see integration). Arkansas has long been dominated by the Democratic party, but in 1966 Winthrop Rockefeller (see under Rockefeller, John Davison was elected the state's first Republican governor since Reconstruction. Although reelected in 1968, Rockefeller lost the governorship to a Democrat, Dale Bumpers, in 1970.
In 1971, Arkansas and Oklahoma joined in the Arkansas River Navigation System, a project that developed the Arkansas River basin to provide water transportation to the Mississippi. In the early 1990s, the Arkansas-based Wal-Mart merchandise chain, founded by Arkansan Sam Walton in 1962 as a small-town discount store, became the largest retailer in the United States. Bill Clinton, the governor of Arkansas (1979–81, 1983–92), was elected president of the United States in 1992. In the mid- to late 1990s national attention focused on Arkansas as Clinton associates, including Jim Guy Tucker, his successor as governor, were embroiled in Whitewater and other scandals.
See L. J. White, Politics on the Southwestern Frontier: Arkansas Territory, 1819–1836 (1964); H. S. Ashmore, Arkansas (1984); I. J. Spitzberg, Racial Politics in Little Rock, 1954–1964 (1987); G. T. Hanson and C. H. Moneyhon, Historical Atlas of Arkansas (1989).