First Territorial Legislature Nebraska

The first territorial legislature convened at Omaha January 16, 1855, and the occasion created intense excitement. The official roster of the first legislature stood as follows:

Richardson County, J. L. Sharp, president;
Burt County, B. R. Folsom;
Washington County, J. C. Mitchell;
Dodge County, M. H. Clark;
Douglas County, T. G. Goodwill, A. D. Jones, O. D. Richardson, S. E. Rogers;
Cass County, Luke Nuckolls;
Pierce County, A. H. Bradford, H. P. Bennett, C. H. Cowles;
Forney County, Richard Brown.

Dr. G. F. Miller, Omaha, chief clerk;
O. F. Lake, Brownville, assistant clerk;
S. A. Lewis, Omaha, sergeant-at-arms;
N. R. Folsom, doorkeeper.

Douglas, County, A. J. Hanscom, speaker, W. N. Byers, William Clancey, F. Davidson, Thomas Davis, A. D. Goyer, A. J. Poppleton, Robert Whitted;
Burt County, J. B. Robertson, A. C. Purple;
Washington County, A. Archer, A. J. Smith;
Dodge County, E. R. Doyle, J. W. Richardson;
Cass County, J. M. Latham, William Kempton, J. D. H. Thompson;
Pierce County, G. Bennett, J. H. Cowles, J. H. Decker, W. H. Hail, William Maddox;
Forney County, W. A. Finney, J. M. Wood;
Richardson County, D. M. Johnson, J. A. Singleton.

J. W. Paddock, chief clerk;
G. L. Eayre, assistant clerk;
J. L. Gibbs, sergeant-at-arms;
B. B. Thompson, doorkeeper.

During the first session of the legislature many important matters were provided for. The local machinery of government was provided for, county offices created and the nature and emoluments thereof fixed, the offices of territorial auditor, treasurer and librarian fixed. The legislature adopted the criminal code of Iowa, with necessary alterations, as the code of the territory. Napoleon B. Gidding, who had been elected delegate to congress, was instructed to use his influence in securing the passage of a homestead law for Nebraska similar to that of New Mexico and Oregon. Educational affairs received early recognition. The Simpson University at Omaha, the Nebraska University at Fontenelle, and the Nebraska City Collegiate and Preparatory Institute were incorporated at this first session. Governor M. W. Izard, who had been appointed governor to succeed Governor Burt, deceased, arrived and took the oath of office February 23, 1855, and delivered his first formal message to the legislature February 27.

The agitation over the permanent location of the state capital at this time was intense. The efforts of the Omaha men were crowned with success in the matter of the seat of government. Governor Izard appointed James C. Mitchell as the sole commissioner to locate the capitol building. On the 17th of March Commissioner Mitchell reported to the governor that he had that day selected the center of Capitol Square in Omaha City as the site for the edifice.

One of the measures passed by the first legislature was an act adopted March 6, 1855, relative to the claims of squatters. At this time the territory contained hundreds of would be settlers who were temporarily debarred from becoming legal citizens and at the same time owners of the lands of their choice because at that period the public domain was not fully in the market. The survey was begun and prosecuted as speedily as possible, but not rapidly enough to gratify the ambition of emigrants or the greed of speculators. Those men who were determined to remain and abide their time were known as “squatters,” and so numerous was this element that legislation in its behalf was enacted as a protection against the abhorred class called “claim jumpers,” or men disposed to violate the unwritten law of the territory. As in all new countries where expressed laws were inadequate to insure equity and peace, the citizens formed clubs, and through the action of those informal but efficient organizations order was maintained. By this act of March 6, 1855, it was provided that each claimant might hold three hundred and twenty acres when a member of a club, which was duly governed by established rules, a copy of which was filed with the registrar of the county. The clubs were vested with certain legislative power for their neighborhood. The constitutionality of this act was not permitted to be discussed. The clubs were a government unto and for themselves, as many a wretched man was able to testify after daring their wrath.

The first formal census of the territory was taken in 1855 in order that a readjustment of legislative representatives might be made. The reports from the existing counties showed population as follows: Burt county, 85; Cass, 712; Dakota. 86; Dodge, 139; Douglas, 1,028; Nemaha, 604; Otoe, 1,188; Pawnee, 142; Richardson, 299; Washington, 207; total, 4,491. Pierce County ceased to exist. The one now bearing that name dates from 1859. Dakota County was not accredited in the legislative proceedings with a representative.

Source: Compendium of History Reminiscence and Biography Of Nebraska, Alden Publishing Company, Chicago, 1912

Compendium of Nebraska

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