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Who's Who in Nebraska, 1940

Nebraska History

Who's Who

and house to report desirable changes in the interest of economy and social progress. Addison E. Sheldon, secretary, assembled the material and wrote the report of this committee. This report of forty-eight pages became the basic document in discussion of changes in state and local government in the years which followed. It was the first document of its kind in the United States and was called for around the world. Among its chief recommendations were these:

    1. Radical, specified reforms in legislative procedure.
   2. Radical reduction of legislative employes.
   3. One-house legislature of about sixty members. (First time proposed in Nebraska.)
   4. A true cabinet system of state government similar to the cabinet systems in western Canada.
   5. A scientific study of Nebraska resources and income of her people, and a planned program based thereon.
   6. A state budget system prepared by the governor, with expenditures based on the general income of Nebraska people from year to year.
   7. Consolidation of state offices and institutions, and location of the latter at one of two geographic points.
   8. A state efficiency survey as basis for further reform.*

   *The joint committee making these recommendations consisted of J. N. Norton of Polk County, chairman; O. A. Corbin of Johnson County and H. C. Palmer of Clay County, for the House: Walter Kiechel, Nemaha County; J. M. Talcott, Knox County; B. K. Bushee, Kimball County for the Senate; Addison E. Sheldon, secretary.
   This committee held a number of meetings. It went over the vast amount of material secured and digested by its secretary. It agreed upon an unanimous report which was printed in pamphlet form.

   The legislature of 1915 adopted part of this program. The part adopted has continued in force. The new legislative procedure reduced legislative expenses about $30,000 for each session and made legislative work simpler, more responsible and efficient.

   The next step in the march toward changes in Nebraska state government was the constitutional convention of 1919-20. One hundred members of this convention, chosen at a special election Nov. 4, 1919, met in the capitol on Dec. 2, 1919. The chief division in the convention was between progressives and conservatives. The conservatives were in a decided majority. Forty-one amendments were submitted to the voters at the special election Sept. 20, 1920. All were adopted. Only about one in six voters voted at the election. Most of the amendments were not important. Salaries were doubled and trebled to correspond with war prices. This large raise in salaries was the main motive of many members. New officers were provided for. Other features included woman suffrage; initiative and referendum; taxes (other than property); public utility control; irrigation; co-operative associations. Submission to the voters of a one-house legislature, a cabinet form of state government, a tax system for promotion of tree planting, with other advanced steps, were all voted down by the conservatives.

The "Code" Controversy

   The constitution makers of 1875 planned to prevent the creation of more offices and more state expenses by directly forbidding them. As the state grew, demand arose for new state services such as health protection, fish and game regulation, livestock disease prevention, and many others. To meet these demands and "get around" the constitution, the legislatures, from time to time, created "commissions" and "boards" to perform these new duties. These commissions and boards were attached (in a. nominal way) to the offices created by the constitution, but their real work was done by additional officers. By 1913 there were so many functions of the state, governed by eighty-two different departments, boards and commissions, that a demand arose for their reduction or consolidation. This demand was voiced by governors in their messages and put in strong, statistical argument in the Legislative Reform Committee Report of 1913.
   Governor McKelvie, Republican, and the Republican legislature in 1919 undertook to do this job of consolidating. They made the same mistake President Woodrow Wilson made when he went overseas to set up the League of Nations. Wilson took no Republicans on the job. McKelvie took no Democrats.

New Departments Established

   The Republican made Civil Administrative Code, called "the Code" for short, created six new departments of state work, each with a head appointed by the governor. In these six new code departments it merged most of the former boards and commissions. Passage of this act, prepared and presented by a partisan group, precipitated a bogus campaign issue in Nebraska politics for the next ten years. The Democrats saw their chance and used it. "Abolish the Code" became the Democratic battlecry, and in it joined some Republicans. The fact that the battle-cry was bogus was fully disclosed in 1923, after Democrat Charles W. Bryan had become governor on a platform demanding abolition of the Code. Bryan's bill for this purpose repealed the Republican Code law but re-enacted its program under a new set of names. The Bryan bill was beaten and the Code still exists In Nebraska. No party pretends it should or will be abolished
   Bryan was elected governor in 1922. The vote stood:

C. W. Bryan, Democrat


C. H. Randall, Republican


H. O. Parmenter, Progressive


   Campaign issues most talked about were the great increases in state expenses, which had doubled since the World War began. Mr. Bryan promised to reduce them. Mr. Randall, Republican nominee, lost most votes from the fact that he had voted in the senate for the bill forbidding instruction in any foreign language of any child who had not passed the eighth grade.
   Another illustration of party politics and deception in Nebraska during this period to the


in Nebraska

Nebraska History

"deficit" in the state treasury. Under the Nebraska constitution, no state debt above $100,000 can be created. But when there is no money in the state treasury to meet current appropriation bills, there is a "deficit" in the form of unpaid state warrants drawing interest--which is a state debt under an-other name. Several times in our history this has been the case.
   Governor Bryan in his outgoing message of Jan. 18, 1925, disclosed existence of a "deficit" of more than $2,000,000. The existence of any deficit was promptly denied by the Republicans. Each party called the other a liar many times, but the facts were never clearly established. At the election in 1926 the Republicans discovered that there was a "deficit," and that it was made by Governor Bryan.
   Adam McMullen, Republican of Beatrice, was elected governor in 1924 over J. N. Norton, Democrat, as shown by the official canvass:

Adam McMullen, Republican


J. N. Norton, Democrat


Dan B. Butler, Progressive


   The Democratic national convention named C. W. Bryan for vice president with John W. Davis for president. It was a Republican year. Calvin Coolidge and his brand of prosperity were popular. The LaFollette Progressive vote in Nebraska was nearly as large as the Davis and Bryan vote for president.
   "Poverty has been abolished," the nation was advised. Employment was at its top. Profits were at their peak. Stocks and bonds were at their summit and still going higher. Salesmen by the thousands were making magnificent salaries. The people who bought their wares were made richer every morning by advance in prices. The future forecast held nothing but pictures of boundless prosperity for everyone,--if only the agitators and trouble makers could be kept suppressed.
   Arthur J. Weaver became governor of Nebraska the same year that Herbert Hoover became president. He was elected over C. W. Bryan by a plurality of more than 77,000. The vote was:

A. J. Weaver, Republican


C. W. Bryan, Democrat


F. Philip Hafner, Socialist


   When Governor Weaver first sat down in the big carved armchair in the office of the chief executive, he inherited more political grief than he realized. At the top of his trouble was the state banking situation. This had become a peril of the first magnitude. As early as 1909 the Nebraska legislature had passed the Bank Guaranty law which required all state banks to pay a small annual tax to create a bank deposit insurance fund. When any bank failed, its depositors were paid at once from the insurance fund. The assets of the failed bank were, converted into cash and used to reimburse the insurance fund. Depositors would be made safe, runs on banks would be avoided and the financial interests of the community made stable and sound. In its first years this system worked well. Conditions were fairly prosperous. Few banks closed. Depositors were promptly paid. The cost of the insurance was low. Confidence in the banks grew. Deposits increased. The people were pleased.

Prosperity Period.

   Later, the World War brought a business boom. Prices rose. Speculation increased. Promoters seized upon the state banking business as one with promise of great profit. Only $10,000 capital would start a bank. With its deposits insured, such a bank might secure hundreds of thousands of deposit money to loan. Loans were freely made. Profits rolled in. A tabulated statement shows the state bank situation.


Number of state banks



$ 12,000,000




Number of state banks



$ 26,000,000




Number of state banks



$ 19,000,000



   Then the banking situation in Nebraska grew worse. Banks continued to close their doors, The big world depression was on. The deficit in the bank guaranty fund rose to over $16,000,000. Interests of bank depositors and of surviving banks clamored for safety. The regular 1929 session of the legislature found no solution. Governor Weaver appointed a commission (with former Gov. A. C. Shallenberger at its head) to investigate and report. This committee made report March 3, 1930. The report is an important historical document as a review of the state's banking policies and experience.
   On March 4, 1930, Governor Weaver called the 1929 legislature to meet in special session and to repeal the Bank Guaranty Law of 1909--to free the state, as the governor said, of a "condition intolerable to depositors in the failed banks, the existing state banks, and the public." The legislature promptly passed the act repealing bank guaranty. In its stead it passed a new law for two-tenths of one percent on average daily deposits of surviving state banks for ten years. This fund, with proceeds from closed banks, was called the "Final Settlement Fund" for depositors in broken banks.
   And thus ended the twenty-year Nebraska state experiment in guaranty of bank deposits.
   "The breaks" favored the Democrats in the state election of 1930. Their campaign platform denounced the Weaver administration as "one of


Nebraska History

Who's Who

the blackest pages in the history of Nebraska," emphasizing the plight of bank depositors who could not get their money, and the increase in state expenses.
   The personal campaigns of the rival candidates for governor took on the same color. Mr. Bryan knew that the Republicans were in the majority in the state, but the growing depression and public unrest made it possible for him to win. It was necessary to mix strong medicine and hand it out hot to the voters. Mr. Bryan handed it out red hot. At first Governor Weaver's reply speeches were a reasoned review of the conditions. Soon he became convinced that was not what the campaign required. He joined in the game of mixing strong personal medicine for his opponent and handing it out hot. So the campaign became a hammer and tongs series of personal attacks. This was a sad and unsatisfactory campaign for intelligent voters who knew both men and the real facts of the campaign.
   But the governorship campaign was a thirty-two watt electric bulb beside a naval searchlight as compared with the campaign for U. S. senator.
   Senator George W. Norris was the most bitterly hated and most ardently loved of public men in Nebraska. He had bolted Herbert Hoover and supported Al Smith for president in 1928. The Repubican faction opposed to Senator Norris filed an unknown grocery clerk at Broken Bow, who bore the name of George W. Norris, as candidate in the Republican primary. The purpose was to deceive voters, split the Norris vote and beat the senator. The attempt was prevented by an order of the Nebraska supreme court. Its effect was to arouse voters who were opposed to, campaign trickery, and to help nominate Senator Norris in the primary and elect him over Gilbert M. Hitchcock in the election. Some of the most prominent Republicans in the state organized "Hitchcock Republican Clubs" and covered the state with anti-Norris literature and radio speeches. The election returns were as follows:

For United States Senator:

George W. Norris, Republican


Gilbert M. Hitchcock, Democrat


Beatrice Fenton Craig, petition


For Governor:

Charles W. Bryan, Democrat


Arthur J. Weaver, Republican


Years of Depression and Conflict

   Gov. Charles Bryan began his service Jan. 8, 1931, with a legislature Republican in both branches:






   The big battle of the 1931 legislature was the budget battle between Governor Bryan and the Republican legislature. The governor's budget for state expenses, payable from taxes on property, totaled $10,687,098. After a long winter's fight the house finance committee report recommended $15,965,141.
   On April 8 by a vote of 53 yeas to 41 nays, with 6 not voting, the house turned down its own finance committee and passed the Bryan budget. The senate passed the bill with numerous increases over the Bryan budget. The house refused to accept the senate bill.
   On May 1 the governor amended his budget, adding $382,500, and sent it to the legislature. No agreement could be reached, and on May 3 the legislature adjourned with no appropriation bill passed. For the first time in its history the state government was left with no means of support after July 1.
   A special session was called by Governor Bryan for June 9, 1931. He presented a new budget increasing tax appropriations to $13,413,078, as against his original budget of $10,687,098. Both houses of the legislature took up the job of finding figures which would be supported by the necessary three-fifths vote. The final result increased Governor Bryan's third budget by the sum of $728,750. This passed both houses by practically unanimous vote. The most stubborn and dangerous conflict over state expenses in the history of Nebraska then ended in compromise.
   The election of 1932 was a Democratic landslide greater than the Republican landslide of 1928. In Nebraska the entire Democratic ticket was elected by overwhelming majorities. The vote for governor was as follows:

Charles W. Bryan, Democrat


Dwight Griswold, Republican


John M. Paul, Socialist


   When the legislature met in 1933 Governor Bryan reviewed his fight for reduction of state expenses and the economics of his two-year administration. He declared that the total cash value of Nebraska crops for 1932 was $86,880,000, while the total taxes--state and local--were $49,588,994. He said: "We meet in the most unfavorable and distressing economic conditions ever inflicted upon us," and presented a budget calling for property taxes of $10,736,750--a reduction (26 percent) from the similar appropriation of $14,523,436 in 1931. After the usual tax fight during the session the final amount appropriated was $11,012,167.
   Salaries fixed by the constitution of 1920 may be changed not oftener than once in eight years. The legislature of 1933 undertook to reduce these salaries according to the following schedule:

State Officers

Annual Salary*








Lieutenant Governor


Twice that of

a legislator

Secretary of State




Auditor of Public Accounts




State Treasurer




Supt. of Public Instruction




Attorney General




State Railway Commissioner (3)




   *The Nebraska supreme court on July 20, 1933, held this reduction of salaries unconstitutional and the 1920 salaries were restored. The form of its decision is regarded by competent students as a permanent supreme court bar on future attempts to reduce the top salaries in our state.


in Nebraska

Nebraska History

Party Circle Dropped

   An act was passed removing the party circle from the ballot so that the voter must make separate choice for each office in marking his ballot. The state banking department was reorganized.
   Roy L. Cochran of North Platte was elected governor in 1934; re-elected in 1936 and 1938. He is the first governor to serve six consecutive years in that office. Coming to the governor's office after eleven years' service (1923-1934) as chief engineer at the head of the Department of Roads and Irrigation, he will be known as Nebraska's civil engineer governor. In this period of 1923-40 (with Cochran as chief engineer and governor), the creation of a state highway system of 11,142 miles and development of Nebraska's irrigation system to cover 900,000 acres and several hundred miles of irrigation canals took place.
   The vote for governor in the past three elections is shown by the following figures:


Roy L. Cochran, Democrat


Dwight Griswold, Republican


Ralph W. Madison, by petition



Roy L. Cochran, Democrat


Dwight Griswold, Republican


Peter Mehrens, by petition



Roy L. Cochran, Democrat .


Charles J. Warner, Republican


Charles W. Bryan, by petition


   Governor Cochran's six-year administration has been called upon to face (in Nebraska and the nation) a revolution in the relation of government to the individual; to provide means to pay the current cost of revolution out of greatly reduced taxpayer income; to meet the clamorous demand of belligerent taxpayers, organized and unorganized, for a radical reduction in all public expenses; and the equally clamorous needs of state institutions and of people unemployed and suffering for the ordinary necessities of living.
   Social security, relief and unemployment have become the chief political and economic questions with which Nebraska and national governments have had to grapple in the past decade.
   Nebraska has experienced four major financial depressions since her birth: 1857-59, 1873-79, 1890-99, 1929-39.
   The assessed value of property in Nebraska has shrunk from $3,167,489,300 In 1929 to $2,033,302,482 in 1939.
   Each of these panic depressions has been worldwide--more severe in some parts than elsewhere, but felt over the civilized world. The people of Nebraska in former depressions have "starved it through" with no general tax supported relief program. The legislatures of 1891-95 voted $450,000 from the state treasury (partly as a loan for seed and feed to farmers). The federal government in the grasshopper-drouth period of the seventies distributed a few thousand dollars of relief through army officers. People out of employment (and there were many) lived upon their neighbors. The aged and sick were cared for by their relatives and friends. There was no general, continuous government relief or employment in those former depressions. There was no state or federal budgeted relief Life was hard for all of us. We accepted it as part of the risk of living and hoped for better times--which came.
   The total appropriations of the state legislature in the past decade, for all purposes and from all funds, compare thus:

Personal Direct Relief

State Tax
Federal and


Other Funds

























   Figures show the following status of our population during four of Governor Cochran's six years:

Personal Unemployment Relief

Personal Direct Relief



of Persons













Personal Unemploy-

  ment Relief














Highway Expenditures












   It is this new public opinion and new economic status which Governor Cochran's administration has had to meet during the past six years. The problem has been the most difficult--the most exacting--of any six years in Nebraska history.
   Among other new features of Nebraska government during the past six years have been these:

    (1) Unicameral Legislature, first urged by the writer of this sketch as secretary of the Legislative Reform Committee in 1913; championed by Senator George W. Norris and voted by the people In 1934. Started in operation in January, 1937.

    (2) State Planning Board, recommended by Legislative Reform Committee In 1913. Instituted by Governor Cochran in 1937.

    (3) State Assistance Department, under State Board of Control, taking charge of the State Relief program. Begun in 1935.

    (4) Irrigation and Water Power Creation, by joint action of the federal government and state, of a giant program of dams, canals and hydro-electric plants to utilize the waters of Nebraska for production of power and irrigation of land.


Nebraska History

Who's Who

Social Problems and Movements--1867-1940

   The most important section of Nebraska history is not the list of officers elected, the political majorities nor the temporary controversies. The state of Nebraska has been a fluid society, with great shifting of population, of occupation, of questions considered, decisions made and undetermined problems carried over. In this closing chapter I shall state some of the more important social problems fought over, and some of the Nebraska movements in the evolution now going on.

1. Extension of Democracy

    There has been an extension of democracy in Nebraska society. Causes of this extension have been dissatisfaction with the original representative form of government and the unequal distribution of wealth and political power achieved under that set-up. The chief legal landmarks of this revolution in Nebraska are:

    (a) Australian ballot, giving secrecy and independence to the voter. Enacted 1891.
   (b) The direct primary, superseding the old caucus-convention plan and providing for direct nomination of candidates for office by popular vote. Enacted in 1907.
   (c) Initiative, referendum and recall, giving direct people's control of lawmaking and public officers. Municipal form enacted in 1897. State form adopted 1912.
   (d) Woman suffrage on same conditions as man suffrage. Adopted 1920.
   (e) Limitation of campaign expenses, and sworn reports of the same. Enacted in 1915.
    (f) Non-partisan nomination and election (replacing political party choice) for judicial and school officers. Enacted in 1917. Extended to unicameral legislature 1934.
   (g) Election of United States senators by popular vote instead of by legislature. Adopted 1913.

2. Growth of Government Functions and Expenditures

   This growth had been continuous throughout Nebraska's statehood--more aggressive in some years than in others, but continuous and rapid. It is partly measured by the increase in money expenditure by the state and by the local subdivisions. It may be stated in its broadest form by the fact that from 1890 the population of Nebraska has increased about 32.2 percent, while the annual expenditures of public money by the state have increased 1628 percent.






$ 2,886,575













1940 (est.)



3. The Extension of Public Ownership

   Public ownership has been extended from a few basic needs, like roads and schools, to include the principal necessities of life--water, light, heat, power, transportation, libraries, school books, public auditoriums, irrigation, drainage.

4. Extension of Public Service

   Public service has been extended to cover the principal phases of community life, such as health, employment, insurance, security, home building, parks, recreation.

5. Group Protection from Competition

   This includes laws to limit competition in the principal occupations of the people. Each group is constantly seeking legislative aid to limit its competition and increase its income. In the profession of law, medicine, ministry, school teaching; in the, fields of engineering, transportation, merchandising and salesmanship, there has been special activity. A series of restrictive acts alleging a purpose of protection to the public, but with a main motive of reducing competition in the interest of those engaged in various lines of business, has been enacted through the years. The future program is filled with further plans.

6. Social Security--Employment Assurance--Assistance

   All three of these additional social expenses and programs have had their chief development in the past ten years. They have become integral parts of the government undertakings. Based upon coordinated federal expenditures (matching dollars), they have become the largest items of public expense in Nebraska and probably a permanent item in the social budget. (See figures in previous pages.)

Undetermined Nebraska Questions

   Unsettled Nebraska problems find fit place in this closing chapter. Some of these questions are not political issues at present. Some are not on the active list, although subjects of discussion. It is certain, however, that these issues will be active in the coming Nebraska years.

1. Land Ownership and Use

   The whole subject of land control, use and production is coming rapidly forward in Nebraska and other states. Access to land is the first condition of human existence. At present 50 percent of Nebraska farm land is farmed by tenants. This percentage is increasing. Universal suffrage and landless population do not go together. The Republican party slogan in 1860 was "Vote yourself a farm." That slogan may return with new application.
   The question of large-scale farming versus small-scale farming is certain to be a live issue in the near future. Improved machinery makes food production cheaper on the large farm. But the small farm makes a family home. It makes a


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