heard of General Larimer as a banker and politician of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He had been a disappointed candidate for governor and had failed as a banker, so I was astonished, to find him here, squatting on a magnificent prairie and running a sawmill. He was living with his family in a board shanty in apparent poverty, but with some evidences of former wealth about him. He was a magnificent, brainy man and bore his changed condition with fortitude. About a year after this, when the news of the discovery of gold at Pike's Peak stirred the whole country, the people of Nebraska were the first to rush for the new El Dorado. General Larimer hurried there and was one of the first settlers on Cherry Creek where he helped to establish Denver, and one of its streets bears his name. He was a prominent man in the early days of Colorado, and I presume deceased there.8
This reference to Denver and Colorado opens a broad field, which is so intimately related to Nebraska that I feel constrained to say something about it. When the discovery of gold in the Pike's Peak field was first reported, there was a hegira from Omaha. All the loose and unattached men rushed there, and many of them became permanent settlers. William N. Byers took out a press and font of type on a wagon, 600 miles across the prairie, and established the Rocky Mountain News and was afterwards postmaster of Denver and of importance in business affairs. David Moffat, a boy of about eighteen, was among the number. He started a newspaper stand, a stationery store, and progressed rapidly, became president of a bank, a builder of railroads and is called a millionaire. There was a host of just such men who assisted in building up Denver.9 In fact Colorado is the child of Omaha.
A man who lived at Florence, just north of Omaha,
8See preceding footnote 7.--ED.
9 For biographies of William Newton Byers, see History of Nebraska, I, 224; also The National Cyclopedia of American Biography, XIII, 514; of David Halliday Moffat, ibid., VI, 441.--ED.
hitched up his team and started for Cherry Creek. His name was Steele. In less than a year afterward he called on me and in conversation informed me that he was the squatter governor of the Territory of Jefferson. The vast aggregation of people of all kinds, good and bad, made it necessary to form a government, and so, in mass convention at Cherry Creek, the Territory of Jefferson was organized.10 Officers were elected, courts established, trial by jury was had, and swift punishment was meted out to all offenders. When all this had been done Congress acted.11
The spring of 1857 opened beautifully. The cold and gloom and hardships of winter passed away, and all nature smiled. There was an influx of men from the east and south. I can remember a few of them only--Gilbert C. Monell, James W. Van Nostrand, James M. Woolworth, John I. Redick, David D. Belden, Joseph IL Millard, Judge Clinton Briggs, all of whom were identified more or less with the early history of Nebraska. Lumber to build houses with was a prime necessity, and the little that could be obtained from St. Joseph, Missouri, brought exorbitant prices. I saw it all and decided to supply the demand. I purchased a large quantity in Chicago, sent it in barges through a canal, then existing, to the Mississippi River, floated them down the river to St. Louis, loaded two steam
10For an account of the attempt to establish the Territory of Jefferson and the state of Jefferson, see Bancroft's Works (history of Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming) XXV, 403-413; for biographies of Robert W. Steele, ibid., 410, History of Nebraska, I, 364.--ED.
11An act of Congress passed February 28, 1861, provided the Territory of Colorado with a legal government. Mr. Gwyer exaggerates somewhat the activities of the provisional government. Its authority was never generally recognized by the inhabitants, whose allegiance was divided between the legitimate territorial government of Kansas, organizations extemporized by miners, and the similar organizations of the Territory of Jefferson. The northern boundary line of Kansas ran about eighteen miles north of the first settlement, now the heart of Denver, and a short distance south of the southern extremity of Boulder whose site was therefore within Nebraska. Most, though not all, of the mines of the Pike's Peak gold field were south of the Kansas-Nebraska boundary.--ED.
boats bound for Omaha to the water's edge and paid freight bills to the amount of three hundred dollars. The freight added to the cost in Chicago involved an expenditure of $20,000. I began selling at prices which seem astounding at the present time. Common rough boards and studding sold at $60 to $75 per thousand, weather-boarding at $100, flooring at $120, shingles and lath at $12 per M., and sashes and doors at correspondingly high prices, The profits were enormous, and everything seemed to indicate a grand success. Money was abundant, all brought in from the east; lots and lands were selling, without any title but "claims", to ready purchasers; all was at flood tide, when, suddenly, without warning, news came of the failure of the Ohio Life and Trust Company followed by the collapse of numerous banking institutions east of us. The speculative bubble burst wide open. The Nebraska banks closed. Every one who had money in them lost it, and every one who had money anywhere lost it; for there was no one to cash it. This condition was a deathblow to everybody in Nebraska. I was caught, not because I owed money, but because I could not sell anything I owned. No one could buy lumber, so my stock was utterly unsalable. I could not sell sufficient to purchase provisions for my family. It was the ruin of all my high ambitious. The question was no longer how I could best promote the state of Nebraska but how I, personally, could exist at all. But I did live through it some way,12 and my ambition was not
12 Mr. Gwyer's black picture of financial conditions is rather too uniform. For example, the Platte Valley Bank, at Nebraska City, one of seven banks of the territory which were chartered by acts of the legislative assembly, was uniformly solvent and redeemed all of its money bills, and this was true also of the Bank of Dakota, at Dakota City, which was operated without legal authority. The cause of this remarkable condition was that there was no stable property in the territory as a basis for sound credit until Nebraska City became a depot and reshipping point for supplies for the army which was sent to Utah in 1857 and 1858 to suppress the Mormon rebellion. The Kountze brothers, who backed the Bank of Dakota, had gained credit outside of Nebraska. Samuel E. Rogers, who afterward became a substantial
entirely crushed. At the next election13 I was chosen a member of the House of Representatives, and, from the time of my election to the beginning of the session, I prepared bills to be presented to the House. They were all for the benefit of the people. I spent weeks writing a revenue act. It was no small matter to think out the ways and means of providing a revenue for the territory which should be just and proper for all citizens. In due time this bill14 was reported back to the House, and then was com-
citizen of Omaha and had a prosperous private bank there in 1856, said: "The panic of 1857 set in in the autumn of that year and the then village of Omaha was at once almost deserted. The population of about 2,000 was rapidly reduced to about 500 by the spring of 1858, by which time nearly all business was suspended." Nebraska State Historical Society, Proceedings and Collections, second series, II, 116. In an address at the state fair on September 26, 1878, Algernon S. Paddock, then United States senator for Nebraska, said: "When I first arrived at Omaha, after nearly a week's journey by steamboat from St. Louis, the entire population . . . then sojourning there could not have exceeded fifteen hundred at most. And, as I soon learned, not one in twenty of these had any visible means of support, any faith in the country, or any expectation whatever other than to leave as soon as he could sell his lot in town or his preëmption claim in the country, which, quite likely, he had acquired, not by an investment of hard earned money, but by certain circumlocutory processes, the invention of speculative genius."
For a full account, by the present editor, of the condition of the banks of that period see Watkins, History of Nebraska, II, chapter 1; also chapter VIII, by Henry W. Yates. On page 312 Mr. Yates describes the demoralized economic conditions at this time.-ED.
13The election of members of this legislative assembly--the fifth---was held August 2, 1858.--ED.
14 House Bill No. 6, "An act for the collection of the revenue". Presented September 27, at the session called by Governor William A. Richardson to meet September 21, 1858; but inasmuch as there was no provision in the organic act for the payment of members for special sessions, an act was passed on October 2 which declared that the session should be deemed regular from October 4, thus merging the special and regular sessions into the fifth session. See further, Watkins, History of Nebraska, I, 360; House Journal, fifth legislative assembly, p. 60. Mr. Gwyer tried unsuccessfully to have his bill referred to the judiciary committee. Instead of the committee of ways and means, which on October 13 reported as follows:
Your committee, to whom was referred
H. R. No. 6, "A bill for the collection of the revenue,"
Beg leave to report a new bill as a substitute.
Your committee would submit, that to arrange a Revenue Bill, so as to work smoothly, without clashing, Is perhaps the most difficult duty required in the formation of a new code of laws; and though your committee have used great care, they are by no means certain that the bill reported is without fault, and on account of its importance, would ask of the House its most careful consideration, and to that end would recommend that the bill be laid on the table to be printed.
On motion of Mr. Gwyer,
The report was accepted, and the bill ordered printed. House Journal, fifth legislative assembly, page 98.
After the third reading of the bill, on October 29, Mr. Gwyer asked that his protest against a part of section 31 be entered on the journal, which being denied, his request to be excused from voting was granted. The bill was then passed by a vote of 25 to 3. Ibid., p. 182. On the next day the Council made short work of the bill. It was presented on the 29th, taken up on the 30th and read twice, the second time by title under suspension of the rules; considered briefly in committee of the whole, read the third time and passed by a vote of 9 to 2, William E. Moore of Douglas county and Elmer S. Dundy of Richardson voting no. Council Journal, fifth legislative assembly, pp. 194, 201, 202. The title of the bill as passed is "A Bill For An Act to Provide for the Valuation and Assessment of the Real and Personal Property, and for the Levying and Collection of Taxes in the Territory of Nebraska."
It ought to be improbable, at least, that the committee appropriated Mr. Gwyer's bill, reported it as "a new bill", without change, and specifically represented that it was their own creation. Following is the statement accompanying the bill:
Your committee would submit, that to arrange a Revenue Bill, so as to work smoothly, without clashing, is perhaps the most difficult duty required in the formation of a new code of laws; and though your committee have used great care, they are by no means certain that the bill reported is without fault, and on account of its importance, would ask of the House its most careful consideration, and to that end would recommend that the bill be laid on the table to be printed.
S. G. DAILY, Chairman,
J. H. SEYMOUR,
LEWIS M. KLINE,
E. P. RANKIN,
WM. C. FLEMING.
On the other hand, a member of this selfsame assembly pleaded in palliation of an irregularity previously committed by himself, "You are aware that is the way things were done in those days"; and not all of the signers of the report would have balked at the trick which Mr. Gwyer accuses them of playing through delicacy of conscientious scruple. But between them time and carelessness have so dealt with the evidence touching this question of veracity that It may never be settled.--ED.
mitted a most shameful and dastardly act which should meet the scorn and detestation of all honorable men. My plain and simple title of the bill to provide revenue for the territory of Nebraska was struck out, and a long list of words to make it more imposing was substituted, and reported back as their bill. The text was not changed in any way. I never received a word of commendation for the work I had done, and the people of Nebraska never knew that I was the author of the revenue act, and the actors in this shameful deed smirked over it as a smart trick.
Notwithstanding the injustice that was done me, I succeeded in placing on the statute books an act which is immortal and which will live to the credit of Nebraska as long as the state exists. Noting that county clerks and recorders of deeds were charging ten cents every time a citizen wanted any information about the records, I thought this should he remedied and, sitting at my desk one day in the House, I wrote a short bill, "An act to authorize every citizen of Nebraska to examine the public records",15 presented and passed it. It went through without a thought of its importance. I am willing to admit I did not myself see its far reaching results. It has saved many thousands of dollars in the pockets of the people: all records of the state, and counties, and courts come under this sweeping act; in fact, every record of a public
15 House Bill No. 13, "An act to authorize citizens to view the public records"; introduced September 29, read first and second time, referred to committee on judiciary, Oliver P. Mason, chairman; reported back amended by striking out "at all seasonable hours", which was adopted; ordered engrossed for a third reading "on tomorrow"; September 30, read third time and passed without roll call; October 1, reported to Council and read first time; October 2, read second time and "ordered engrossed and read third time tomorrow"; Monday, October 4, read third time, ayes and nays demanded on its passage, passed 6 to 2, George W. Doane of Douglas county and William H. Taylor of Otoe voting no, For the act see Laws of Nebraska, 4-6 Ter. Sessions, p. 221. It appears as, section 5595 of The Revised Statutes of the State of Nebraska 1913, without other change than the substitution of "state" for territory.
character is open to every citizen, high or low, rich or poor, learned and unlearned, nothing may be concealed from them. This act was used with great effect by Attorney General Estabrook in the impeachment case of Governor David Butler. General Estabrook walked into the office of the state treasurer and demanded a "show up", and he got it. When the state government was organized, the territorial statutes were examined by a commission appointed for that purpose, and this act was incorporated in the statutes of the state. The people of Nebraska, lawyers included, seem to think they were born to it, that it is a sort of birthright, when the fact is it is entirely a creature of legislation. It was a Nebraska baby, and I am the father of it. The eastern states can learn a lesson from Nebraska. States that have existed from the time of the Mayflower have no similar law.16
16 This principle of which Mr. Gwyer claims to be the originator had been long established both by the common law and by statute. Justice Casody of the Wisconsin supreme court stated the common law principle briefly, as follows: "Counsel contends that the right to inspect and copy public records is confined to those having some interest in the particular record sought to be inspected or copied, and does not extend to one seeking to do so from mere curiosity, or for his own private gain. Such seems to be substantially the rule at common law." Hanson vs. Eichstaedt, 69 Wis., 538. In his opinion Judge Casody quoted from a Michigan case cited by counsel the statement that "there is no common law right to make copies or abstracts of public records for speculative purposes. . . "
Section 50, article 2, title 2, chapter 3, part 3 Revised Statutes of New York, 1852, provided that records of deeds and mortgages in all counties of New York "shall at all proper times be open for the inspection of any person paying therefor the fees allowed by law." The New York court of appeals declared that
The records are, therefore, public records which every person has the right to inspect, examine and copy, at all reasonable times, in a proper way, and the register cannot deny access to his office or to the books for such purposes, to any person coming there at a proper time and in an orderly manner. New York Reports, XCIX, 623.
Section 65 of chapter 117, Revised Statutes of Wisconsin, 1858, provided that all records in the offices of county judges "shall at all reasonable times be open to access and inspection by any person having any business therewith," and section 156, chapter 13, of the same
I pass over the five years of the rebellion, as that may appear at another time, and proceed to say that I returned to Omaha in 1866. I was elected to the senate in 1873, was president of that body, and for a short period acting governor. I had prepared a number of bills which were introduced by a colleague, at my request, and some were enacted. I was a member of the constitutional convention of 1875 which framed the present organic act of the state. I there did a good service for the benefit of all the people. The state owns many millions of acres of the lands of the state. A beneficent government, prodigal of its lands and considering education as essential to good citizenship, placed in the enabling act of 1854 a clause donating to the state of Nebraska sections 16 and 36 in every township. This is one-eighteenth part of all the lands in the state to be used for educational purposes; it was a wondrous endowment, and no government heretofore had ever done such a thing.17 This land might be sold, but the proceeds
statute, provided that "All books and papers required to be kept in" all the county offices "shall be open for the examination of any person, and any person when so examining the same may take minutes therefrom . . ." This provision, in substance, is contained in section 137, chapter 10 of the Revised Statutes of 1849. The statutes of 1858 provided that the records of the secretary of state should be open to inspection by the governor and committees of either house of the legislature. The statutes of many states had provided for general access to public records, in some cases free of charge and in others on payment of a fee, long before Mr. Gwyer wrote the foregoing paper. Other states have preferred to leave the question subject to the common law.--ED.
17 This was the organic act, a body of law authorizing the organization of the territory and for its government. The enabling act, passed In 1864, authorized the people of the territory to adopt a constitution Preparatory to its admission as a state into the Union. The statement that this grant of two sections of land from each township of Nebraska Was the first of its kind is quite erroneous. A like provision had already been made in the organic act of Oregon (1848), Minnesota (1849), New Mexico and Utah (1850), and Washington (1853); also in the organic act of Kansas, passed simultaneously with that of Nebraska, and it is in all the subsequent organic acts--the last one for Oklahoma, passed in 1890--with We exception of Arizona, where conditions were peculiar. The enabling act for the state of Arizona, passed
of sales must be kept perpetually for the use of future generations. The state organized a board of public lands to take charge of these lands and sell the same at their discretion. It was a sacred trust for the present and future. I found the board was selling some of these lands at what I thought was very low prices, in some instances as low as two or three dollars per acre. I was determined that this should not continue. I wrote a clause and secured its adoption in the organic act, prohibiting the board from selling any of the school lands for a less sum than the minimum price of seven dollars per acre. And there it stands to-day, beyond the reach of the legislature, or the chicanery of any man, the lands cannot be frittered away, they are saved for value now and in the future; and can
in 1906, gave four sections of every township for the support of common schools. The enabling act for the state of Oklahoma (1906) provided a fund of five million dollars for the support of common schools, in lieu of the usual grant of lands for the Indian Territory which was incorporated in the state. The enabling act of Utah (1894) gave an additional section from each township. Prior to the grant in the organic act for Oregon it had been the custom to give, through the enabling acts for states, section 16 of each township for the support of common schools. Indiana in 1816, Illinois in 1818, Alabama in 1819, Missouri in 1820, Arkansas and Michigan in 1836, Iowa in 1845, Wisconsin in 1846 received this allowance.
The common school system became the beneficiary of the abundance of public lands at an early time. Thus, the New York constitution of 1821 appropriated the proceeds of all lands belonging to the state as a perpetual fund for the support of common schools; the Ohio constitution of 1851 provided that the principal of all funds arising from the sale or other disposition of all lands granted or entrusted to the state for educational or religious purposes should forever be preserved inviolate and undiminished; Texas with a provision in her first constitution that no lands then held or thereafter granted for the support of schools should be alienated; the first constitution of California (1849) constituted the proceeds of all land that might be granted by the United States for the support of public schools and the 500,000 acres granted to each new state by the act of 1841, a perpetual common school fund. The constitutions of the reconstructed southern states, such as Florida (1865), North Carolina and South Carolina (1868), Virginia and Tennessee (1870), alike jealously guarded the proceeds of land granted by Congress or otherwise acquired.--ED.
be reached only by changing or abolishing the organic act. When the work was all done, I was complimented by a vote of thanks of the convention for work well performed.18
18 The constitution which had been painstakingly prepared by a convention held in 1871, but which was rejected by a small majority of voters through the hostility of railroad and religious corporations, was used as a model by the convention of 1875. Accordingly most of the sections of the article on education, which was reported by Mr. Walther, chairman of the committee on education, school funds and lands, in the convention of 1875, of which committee Mr. Gwyer was a member, were copied verbatim from the corresponding article of the constitution of 1871. The section in question--fixing a minimum price of seven dollars an acre for school lands--is a literal copy of the corresponding section of the constitution of 1871. Constitutional Conventions, III, 456, 543, 544. It was section 7 of the article on education, which was reported to the convention by Experience Estabrook, as chairman of the committee on education, school funds and lands. Ibid., I, 253, 254. In the convention, Mr. Seth Robinson, a delegate from Lancaster county, moved to reduce the minimum price from seven dollars to three dollars, and the motion was rejected without debate by a vote of 6 ayes to 33 nays; whereupon the section was adopted by a vote of 28 to 12. Mr. Robinson explained his motion as follows:
I will state my reason for this, Mr. President. I believe the legislature raised the price of these lands to seven dollars an acre, and I think they ought to be sold for that price if we can get it, but I would like to allow the legislature after they have sold all they can at that price to have the privilege of putting it down to even three dollars. I know that there are some of the lands in this county that will not sell for twenty-five cents an acre, in section sixteen and thirty-six. Constitutional Conventions, II, 263.
Section 12 of an act of the legislature passed June 24, 1867, to provide for the control of school lands and of the proceeds of their sale, contained this clause:
Provided, That no lands shall be sold for less than seven dollars per acre in addition to the appraised value of the improvements on the land. Laws of Nebraska, third session (special), p. 40.
Thus the seven-dollar restriction on the price of school lands had been incorporated in both statute and constitution long before it was continued in the present constitution. Moreover, the convention of 1875 did not thank Mr. Gwyer for anything he may have had to do toward the protection of school lands or funds, but it did thank him for services as chairman of the committee on engrossment and enrollment. Constitutional Conventions, III, 675.--ED.
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