Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

8. The Fight for the Capital

Whenever a new territory or state was created in the nineteenth century, there was often fierce competition among local residents to secure the capital. Nebraska was no exception. There the issue divided people along sectional lines, pitting those who lived north of the Platte River against those who lived south of it. Everyone recognized that the capital was a rich prize—that its selection was likely to turn any city into a boomtown. It is no coincidence that Nebraska’s two capitals are today the state’s largest cities. Omaha was the capital from 1855 to 1868, and Lincoln has enjoyed this distinction ever since.

After the Kansas-Nebraska Act officially opened the territory to settlement in 1854, speculators, most of whom were from Iowa, began to organize towns on the western side of the Missouri River. Under a federal town-site law designed to encourage settlement, entrepreneurs could plat 320 acres of land for a town and then add to the site by making claims to adjacent quarter sections under other land laws. They all hoped to make their own new “town” the capital of Nebraska and a way station on the proposed transcontinental railroad. This would enable them to sell off their lands at a handsome profit.

The chief competitors for the capital were Bellevue, Plattsmouth, Nebraska City, Florence, and Omaha. The oldest town, and probably the one with the best claim, was Bellevue, which dated back to the 1820s, when it had sprung up around a trading post. By 1854 there were about fifty people living in Bellevue. With the creation of Nebraska Territory, local residents began to promote the town in earnest. The Bellevue Nebraska Palladium proclaimed the goal of securing the capital and making Bellevue “the center of commerce, and the half-way house between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.”

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