"SHSI Certificate of Recognition"
"Best on the Web"

Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
Jump to navigationJump to search

CITY CHARTER. Municipal government came to Dubuque in 1837. In late 1836 the Wisconsin territorial legislature, which governed Dubuque, decided to allow MINING settlements with over three hundred inhabitants to incorporate as cities. This allowed such communities to legally regulate commerce and administer justice. In the spring of 1837 white males over twenty-one years of age living in Dubuque voted to incorporate and establish a board of trustees to govern. The board was comprised of five men elected at-large with one appointed by the trustees to serve as president. (1)

This form of government lasted until 1840. Recommended by the citizens of Dubuque through the Board of Trustees, approved by the Territorial Legislature, and signed by Governor Lucas on January 17, 1840 the citizens of Dubuque received a special charter providing a mayor-council type of government. It provided for the election of a mayor and six aldermen--two elected from each of Dubuque's three wards to comprise a city council and gave to that group the usual powers needed for the establishment and maintenance of city government. The mayor, the administrative leader, voted only to break ties. (2)

The charter was much more comprehensive than the articles of incorporation which had been the governing document. The charter contained twenty-one sections compared to twelve in the older act. The charter granted powers, outlined the work of the city council, prescribed the duties of the mayor and other city officials, arranged for the creation of wards, described how elections were to be held, and regulated the opening and paving of streets, lanes, alleys, and sidewalks.

The charter specified that legal voters should meet at the courthouse on the first Monday in March, 1840 and vote on the new charter. For unknown reasons, this was not done until March 1, 1841 when the charter was approved by 58-38. On April 5, 1841 the citizens elected Caleb H. Booth, mayor; and Jesse P. FARLEY, Edward LANGWORTHY, Charles Miller, Henry Simplot, and W. W. Coriell, council members. (3)

The council was granted power on many subjects, but still had to pass ordinances. The first provided for the appointment of several city officers and outlined their duties. An ordinance was passed regulating "groceries" (liquor stores) and set the license fee at not less than $25 or more than $100. "Riotous conduct" in or about a grocery would result in a fine of between $10 and $40. Citizens were prohibited from throwing filth, rubbish or dead animals into streets and alleys or slaughter animals at home. To protect the city cemetery, a fine of $3 was given to anyone placing animals inside the fence. It was also illegal for more than two hogs or one sow and suckling pigs" per family to "run at large" within the city limits. Any animals collected by the city could be retrieved after paying a fine of fifty cents plus expenses. If animals were not collected quickly, they were sold and the money went into the city treasury. (4)

The original charter of 1840 was followed until January 19, 1846 when another was granted. A third charter was issued on February 24, 1847. The fourth and last charter was approved by Governor James W. Grimes on January 28, 1857. (5)

In 1897 Keokuk, Cedar Rapids, and Dubuque were threatened with a loss of their charters. The city attorney of Keokuk wrote to the Dubuque city attorney that it appeared an effort in the legislature would be made to place all cities then under special charter under the general incorporation act. The three cities authorities agreed to oppose the change. (6)

By 1919 this charter with the city ordinances composed a volume of 497 pages. (7)




1. Petersen, W. J. "Dubuque as a Chartered Town," Telegraph-Herald, November 28, 1940, p. 7

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. "Special Charter Agitation," The Dubuque Herald, January 20, 1897, p. 5

7. Petersen