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CHAPTER II

THE TERRITORY OF MINNESOTA

1. THE PASSAGE OF THE ORGANIC ACT. The first bill to organize the territory of Minnesota, as has been related, was introduced prematurely into Congress in 1846 by Morgan L. Martin, the delegate from Wisconsin. The next effort was put forth early in 1848 when Senator Douglas brought in a similar bill. This proposal proving unsatisfactory, at Douglas's own request it was recommitted to his committee, reconsidered, amended, and brought in again, too late for further action that summer. 2

The beginning of the next session found the matter again before Congress. To Minnesotans the need was more urgent than ever, but Congress took its usual deliberate course. On January 18, the day on which the House voted down an appropriation for "Wisconsin Territory,” the bill came up for brief debate in the Senate 3 A more extended discussion followed the next day. There was no studied opposition to the bill. True, there were some ominous rumblings from one southern senator to the effect that the creation of new territories in the northwest was detrimental to the "particular interests” of his section, but even among the southern members the consensus was that Minnesota should not be left without laws and that if the population were large enough, a territorial organization should be set up. The bill passed the Senate on the same day without a record vote.

In the House the bill fell upon evil days. It devolved upon Sibley to urge its adoption in the face of a hostile Whig majority. Not until February 22, after a fruitless attempt ten days earlier, was he able to procure a suspension of the rules, discharging the committee of the whole on the state of the Union from consideration of the bill, so that it could be taken up directly by the House. He at once moved the previous question. There ensued then a parliamentary squabble, which had no sooner subsided than the House proceeded to adopt a whole series of amendments to the Senate's measure. The last of these, adopted by a party vote of 101 to 95, postponed the taking effect of the act until March 10, 1849, a .week after Taylor, the Whig presidentelect, was to take office. Without this provision, President Polk might have

1 See p. 21.
* Cong. Globe, 30 Cong., 1 sess., pp. 136, 656, 772, 1052.

* This was three days after Sibley had been given his seat in the House as a delegate from Wisconsin territory. Cong. Globe, 30 Cong., 2 sess., p. 286.

Ibid., pp. 581-83.

the appointment of the first territorial officers. The bill passed as amended on February 28.5

The measure now seemed as bad as lost. There remained but three days of the session. On the terms of the bill the Whig majority in the House had thrown down the gauntlet to the Democratic majority in the Senate by the adoption of a strictly partisan amendment. Sibley may well have despaired of the outcome. As he himself put it, “the bill was suspended between the two bodies, and would probably be killed.” On March 1 the Senate quickly acceded to all the House amendments except the last.? Speaking to that, however, Senator Douglas denounced the Whigs for proposing what he termed a vote of censure upon President Polk. There followed some bitter partisan repartee, and a vote of 30 to 18 rejecting the final House amendment. The next day in the House, Sibley moved the previous question on concurring with the Senate's views, and it was so ordered. The vote was postponed, however, until the next day, the last of the session.

In the meantime, Sibley had become the intermediary in striking a neat political bargain. The Whig majority in the House had a keen interest in the passage of the bill to create the Department of the Interior, an interest perhaps not unconnected with the filling of the new offices. The Democratic majority in the Senate was decidedly cool to the whole proposal. Sibley himself may tell the remainder of the story:

It was while laboring under great apprehensions lest the Minnesota bill should be defeated, that I chanced to find myself in the Senate. I expressed my fears to several of the Democratic senators who were my personal friends, and they, to the number of five or six authorized me to say to the Whig leaders in the House, that unless that body receded from its amendment, and thus permitted Minnesota to be organized, they would cast their votes against the bill for the formation of the Interior Department. I hastened back to the House, called together several of the prominent Whig members, and informed them of the state of affairs. Satisfied that the votes of the senators I named would turn the whole scale for or against a measure they particularly desired should succeed, they went to work in the House, and produced so great a change in a short time, that a motion to recede from their amendment to the senate bill was adopted the same evening, by a majority of some thirty or forty, and into our infant Territory was breathed the breath of life.10

It was on March 3, 1849, that the House yielded to the Senate by eliminating its amendment. The bill was passed and signed that day and went into effect at once.

11

o Cong. Globe, 30 Cong., 2 sess., p. 617.
• Minn. Hist. Col., 1:62, note.

Cong. Globe, 30 Cong., 2 sess., pp. 635-37.
& Ibid., p. 637.
Ibid., p. 666.

10 Minn. Hist. Col., 1:62, note; 1:63-65. The quotation is from a speech delivered June 1, 1858, ten years after the events narrated.

11 Cong, Globe, 30 Cong., 2 sess., pp. 693, 699; Stat. at Large, 9:403-9.

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2. THE TERRITORY OF MINNESOTA, 1849-1858. The Democratic victory over the Whigs, if such it was, in the struggle for the amendment of the organic act, came too late to permit the victors to claim the spoils. Within a few hours after the passage of the act both houses of Congress adjourned, thereby closing the history of the 30th Congress, and preventing a ratification of any Democratic appointees by the Senate. The result was that President Polk had to forego the pleasure of appointing Democratic friends to organize the new territory and it fell to the incoming Whig president, Zachary Taylor, to make the selections. He chose as the first territorial governor of Minnesota the sturdy, youthful, and politically successful Alexander Ramsey of Pennsylvania.

We need but to picture Mr. Ramsey's arrival in Minnesota to see what great changes have occurred in the past seventy years. He arrived in St. Paul early in the morning of May 27, 1849, a total stranger in a new country.He found St. Paul a village of less than a thousand people, in which there was not room to house even the governor. A small frame house was indeed in the process of erection for him, but he found it necessary for several weeks to accept the hospitality of Mr. Sibley in his more pretentious home at Mendota. The total population of the entire territory at this time, counting half-breeds and all others, was less than 5,000, and to make up this number it was necessary to include the large settlement of French and halfbreed traders at Pembina, now in the state of North Dakota. When Ramsey's house was finally near enough to completion so that it was possible for him to move in, the story runs, there could not be found in the village of St. Paul a drayman to haul his household goods from the wharf to his residence, but he chanced to find an ox-cart which was soon mustered into service and the governor and his wife were presently parading up the street with their household goods on the cart, Mrs. Ramsey sitting atop the load.

It was on June 1, 1849, that Judge Cooper wrote out the proclamation signed by Governor Ramsey declaring the territorial government in existence.18 From that day until 1858, the organic act was the basic charter of the government of Minnesota territory. For nine years Minnesota was an organized territory of the United States, subject to the federal constitution, the organic act, and the over-ruling power of Congress.

The act under which the new government began, it may here be remarked, was the joint product of the labors of a number of men. Senator Douglas's bill introduced January 10, 1848, had been withdrawn by him for purposes of revision on May 16. It was reintroduced as amended on August 9, but came to naught. The same bill was before the Senate at its next session. On December 20, it was recommitted to the committee on territories of

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18 Hall, Observations, pp. 8-11; Minn. in Three Cen., 2:429; Minn, Hist. Col., 13:8-10.
10 Minn. in Three Cen., 2:429.

which he was chairman. The purpose in recommitting it on this occasion was to permit Sibley, then in Washington, "to change certain provisions of the bill so as to meet the wishes of his constituents," as he put it. One notable change made by him at this time was to have the capital established at St. Paul instead of at Mendota as had been proposed by Douglas. It is not unlikely that Henry M. Rice, who was in Washington lobbying for the bill, also had some influence on the details of the act, especially with reference to the boundaries of the proposed territory. The bill was further slightly amended in its passage through the Senate and again amended with the subsequent concurrence of the Senate by the House.

The boundaries of the territory on the south, east, and north were identical with those of the present state. To the west they extended to the Missouri and White Earth rivers, including, therefore, much of the present territory of North and South Dakota.15 Congress expressly reserved the right to divide this region at any time into two or more territories. According to the usual practice, the governor, secretary, chief justice and associate justices, attorney, and marshal of the territory were nominated by the president and appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate.16 The members of both houses of the legislative assembly, and most of the local officers in the territory, were chosen by the electorate, as was also the delegate to Congress. The body of electors included "every free white male inhabitant above the age of twenty-one years" who was a resident at the time of the passage of the act. Declarants were especially included among the electorate, although in the cases of Wisconsin territory (1836) and Iowa territory (1838) the suffrage had been expressly restricted by act of Congress to citizens of the United States. 18

It is impossible to read any of the organic acts of the territories from 1787 down through the following century without being deeply impressed by the sweeping powers conferred upon the territorial governor. In his person was represented the authority of the national government keeping order on the lawless frontier. He stood, also, at the head of the local corporate community, guiding its legislation and enforcing its laws. The governor of Minnesota territory had “the executive power and authority in and over said Territory of Minnesota” vested in him for a period of four years. He had

14 Cong. Globe, 30 Cong., 2 sess., p. 68.
15 Organic act, sec. 1.
18 Ibid., sec. II.
17 Ibid., secs. 4, 7, 14.
18 Ibid., sec. 5.

The federal government's policy in the matter of suffrage in the territories did not follow any consistent course. From 1787 down to the passage of the Wisconsin organic act the suffrage was bestowed, in one form or another, on free white male inhabitants, whether citizens or not. The Missouri organic act of 1812 was exceptional. In the territories of Wisconsin and Iowa, organized in 1836 and 1838 respectively, the suffrage was limited to inhabitants who were citizens. With the organization of Oregon and Minnesota territories, in 1848 and 1849, the laws permitted alien inhabitants who had declared their intention to become citizens to vote equally with citizens.

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the power to command the militia, and often did so in person. He was superintendent of Indian affairs; he granted pardons, commissioned all territorial officers, and was required and empowered to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”19 The legislative power of the territory was vested not in the legislature alone but "in the governor and a legislative assembly." He inaugurated the legislative body by making a preliminary apportionment of members among the districts which he designated, by providing for the election, and by setting the date for the first session.20 Thereafter he had substantially the same power of veto over legislative acts as the president possesses with reference to congressional legislation.21 Under his direction was to be spent the federal appropriation for a territorial library.22 His consent was necessary to the designation of the temporary territorial capital and to the expenditure of the fund set aside for territorial buildings.23 He was to define judicial districts in the first instance and to make the first assignment of judges.24 A broad power of appointment was also conferred upon him, subject to the advice and consent of the legislative council.25

The secretary, attorney, and marshal of the territory were the only o her executive and administrative officers who received their appointments directly from the president.26 Of the three, only the secretary had an annual salary sufficient to maintain him in an independent position. The attorney and marshal had casual functions. They relied more upon their private incomes and employments than upon the uncertain fees which constituted their chief pay from the public, and consequently they never rose to positions of importance in the territorial administration. The secretary, on the other hand, was little more than a recording officer except that he was acting governor in the absence of the executive. In fine, the governor of the territory, unlike the latter-day state executive, stood alone and unrivaled as the head of the administration.

What has been said amounts to a fact of no little importance in our state constitutional history. Just as the English royal colonies in America before the Revolution, having suffered from the excesses of powerful, appointed governors, reacted against a continuance of "one man rule" when they drew up their first state constitutions, even so did some of the new states in the west whose experience under powerful territorial governors had been none too happy, create for themselves executives much weakened as compared to the territorial governors. In Minnesota both the Ramsey and Gorman administrations were much criticized. Mr. Gorman was exceedingly unpopular

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19 Organic act, sec. 2.

Ibid., sec. 4.
21 Ibid., sec. 20.
* Ibid., sec. 17.

Ibid., sec. 13.
* Ibid., sec. 19.
* Ibid., sec. 7.
» Ibid., secs. 3, 10, 11.

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