Nevada Territory and Statehood
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Chapter Two Nevada Territory and Statehood In 1861, the settlers’ representative, John J. Musser, finally persuaded Congress to establish a separate territory in western Utah. Musser was aided by the election ofAbraham Lincoln as president and the resulting secession from the Union of the southern states.With the pro-slavery states no longer represented in Congress and unable to block the territory bill, passage was virtually guaranteed. And it certainly did not hurt the settlers’ cause that the influx of population and the increase in lawlessness in Carson County as a result of the discovery of the Comstock Lode had shown that the non-Mormon territorial government of Governor Cumming was no more effective than Brigham Young had been in assuring law and order and in quelling the desire for separate territorial status among the western Utah residents. On February 26, 1861, the U.S. Senate passed legislation entitled An Act to Organize the Territory of Nevada; the House of Representatives followed suit on March 2,and President Buchanan signed it into law later that day.Thus, after ten years of uninterrupted pleas and petitions, the western Utah settlers achieved their goal: the establishment of Nevada Territory. Two days after Buchanan signed the act establishing Nevada Territory,Abraham Lincoln was sworn in as president of the United States. The responsibility to name the territory’s first officers,therefore,devolved upon him.On March 22, he announced the appointment of James W. Nye of New York as territorial governor and Orion Clemens (brother of Samuel, better known as Mark Twain) as territorial secretary. Both were patronage appointments: Nye was a good friend of Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, and the two had campaigned in theWest for Lincoln during the 1860 election;Clemens had studied law in the St. Louis law offices of Edward Bates, Lincoln’s attorney general. Governor Nye arrived in Nevada on July 7, 1861. He chose Carson City as his site of operation and later instructed the first territorial legislature to meet there, indicating the town’s ascendance in the territory over the previously dominant Genoa. During the month of July, Nye issued three proclamations: the first named his appointees to various territorial offices (July 12); the second announced the creation of a judiciary (July 17), and the third called for elections to be held on August 31 for the purpose of selecting a delegate to Congress and members of the territorial legislature (July 24). Nye’s July 17 proclamation establishing a judiciary was one of the most important actions he took in this early organizational period.The lawlessness that 15 characterized Nevada demanded the creation of courts to enforce law and order; indeed, aside from the Mormon question, the absence of legal authority was the major reason the settlers had lobbied for separate territorial status. Following the dictates of Section 9 of theTerritorialAct of 1861,Nye established a supreme court, three district courts, probate courts, and justices of the peace. Three Lincoln-appointed territorial judges each heard cases on original jurisdiction in one of the district courts, and all three sat en banc as the supreme court to hear appeals. The lower-court judges were appointed by Nye until such time as elections could be held. In a letter to Secretary of State Seward, Nye confirmed the importance of establishing a judiciary in the territory when he noted that there was “no such thing as law or order existing in the Territory” and that there was, in particular, a great need for a court system to establish mining rights.1 In the August election, Judge Cradlebaugh was chosen to serve as the territory ’s first delegate to Congress. Also elected were nine members to serve in the Council and fifteen to serve in the House of Representatives, the upper and lower houses,respectively,of the territorial legislature.The legislature met only three times: in 1861, 1862, and 1864. The first session convened on October 1, 1861, at Abe Curry’s Warm Springs Hotel two miles outside of Carson City, a site purchased later by the territorial government for $75,000 that now serves as the Nevada State Prison. During this first session the legislature passed 107 pieces of legislation organizing the territory. Some of the more noteworthy acts were those adopting the common law of England, forming nine counties in the territory to be governed by three-member boards of commissioners, and establishing a system of common schools. And in marked contrast to what...


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