A History of Minnesota
(v. I)

William Watts Folwell

William Watts Folwell These pages:A History of Minnesota

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A History of Minnesota
Volume I

First published 1921
Revised edition Copyright © 1956 by the Minnesota Historical Society

XIII. Peopling the Territory

The boom of 1856–57 in Minnesota had its parallel in all our western states, but it may be doubted whether its violence and rate were elsewhere quite equaled. The whole urban population was more or less infected with the virus of speculation. Fortunes seemed to be dropping from the skies, and those who would not reach and gather them were but stupids and sluggards. Every man who had credit or could obtain it invested in property which ever continued to rise in value. At the existing interest rate, every man who had money to spare would be slow to refuse a loan. Debt became universal. The boom was at no time greater than in the spring and summer of 1857. People were pouring in, hotels were overflowing, merchants could hardly keep their stocks filled up, the town-site speculators thronged the curbstones, there was prospect of a good harvest — all signs pointed to continued and increasing prosperity.

On the twenty-fourth of August the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company of New York failed; its immediate creditors were forced to default, as were those next in order. Before sundown there were suspensions and failures in every considerable town in the whole country. The panic struck Minnesota with extreme violence. The eastern banks and other creditors called their loans. What money could be reached was shipped to them. There were no consignments of produce or merchandise to draw against, and there were no credits in favor of Minnesota. Eastern exchange rose to ten per cent. Everybody was in debt, and the territory was literally emptied of money. Business ceased, banks closed their doors, merchants suspended or assigned. Holders of property desiring to realize dropped their prices. City lots became virtually valueless. Thousands who had believed themselves wealthy soon found themselves in actual bodily need.



XIV. Territorial Politics He denounced the habitual breaking of treaties by the government. Treaty commissioners made promises which they knew could not possibly be kept and then plumed themselves on having made good bargains for the government. As a consequence not one treaty in ten had been kept. He ridiculed the policy of making treaties with Indians as with really independent powers and advocated the use of reasonable force in dealing with them, under the law of the land. It was more than twenty years before Congress decided to stop making treaties with Indians and adopted the plan of making “agreements” which could be broken with somewhat less infamy.

Note (Hal’s):
Henry H. Sibley, then territorial delegate to Congress, speaking on the Indian appropriation bill.

— end note

Academies, colleges, and universities were established on paper with a liberality which would indicate an appreciation of the value of higher education, were it not known that many founders of new cities were ambitious to have announcements of such institutions on their advertising prospectuses.



XV. Preparation for Statehood

Note (Hal’s):
Quotes from this chapter describe the convention held to prepare a constitution in anticipation of statehood. Election of some delegates was disputed, and neither Republicans nor Democrats trusted their opponents with leadership privileges. Even the time to convene was disputed (as was, for that matter, the proper setting of the clock; this was well before the adoption of standard time zones). The parties convened separately and had to work out a way for both factions to approve one document.

— end note

About a quarter of an hour before twelve — precisely seventeen minutes by the Democratic time is the statement of one delegate — the quiet watch of the Republicans was suddenly broken by the irruption in a body of the Democratic delegates headed by Charles L. Chase, the secretary of the territory. Without a moment’s pause the secretary mounted the platform and began calling the convention to order. Instantly North sprang to his side and, according to arrangement, also attempted to call it to order. All accounts agree that the convention did not come to order, but without pause, while members were still on their feet, Governor Gorman moved an adjournment till the next day at twelve o’clock, noon. Chase put the question; ayes were shouted by the Democratic members; and they claimed that Republicans were heard to shout, “No,” thus recognizing Chase’s call to order. The motion was declared to be carried and the Democrats at once hurried out of the hall. Their journal relates that “the Convention adjourned.” This the Republicans stoutly denied, claiming that there was nothing to adjourn; a number of delegates elect prematurely and uncivilly absented themselves, that was all. The absentees claimed that they had merely exercised the highest privilege of parliamentary bodies, that of resting from labor at pleasure. This contention has never been judicially settled. The same uncertainty surrounds the question as to which one of the two personages had the right to call the convention to order.
On Tuesday, the second day, the Democratic delegates assembled at noon about the door of the hall in which the Republicans were in session. They were then informed by Secretary Chase that the hall was occupied by citizens, who refused to give place to the convention. An adjournment was taken to the Council chamber, where the territorial secretary called the convention to order.

While the committees were at work for some days preparing the drafts of the usual articles, the orators of the two sections had opportunity to defend in elaborate speeches the legitimacy of their respective organizations. The speeches, as reported in the journals, are well worth reading as a recreation by the student of Minnesota history.

There is good reason for believing that the Republican delegates were ready and desirous to meet any reasonable overtures which might come from the other end of the Capitol. They had not been many days in attendance before they discovered that George W. Armstrong, the territorial treasurer, being of the Democratic faith, naturally regarded the Democratic assembly as the only legal one. He therefore promptly accepted the pay warrants of the Democratic delegates and firmly refused to recognize those of the Republicans. This was an inconvenience and in some cases a hardship. Persistence in separate actions would, they saw, be likely to deprive them of all claim to remuneration or would at least force them to costly and tedious litigation.

On the afternoon of August 25, Delegate Wilson made a remark which ex-Governor Gorman construed to be an impeachment of his veracity and a personal insult. Without demanding apology or explanation he rose to his feet and with his loaded cane struck Wilson, who was seated, a blow on the head violent enough to break the cane. The latter seized his own cane and started for his assailant, but bystanders prevented further conflict. In the absence of impartial testimony it is difficult to apportion the blame for the unseemly occurrence.

In the last days three propositions were generously submitted in the Democratic convention to provide for the payment of the Republican delegates, at least of those whose election could not be disputed; none met with acceptance. An argument offered by Joseph R. Brown in favor of such payment ought, it would seem, to have prevailed. The separation into two sections had been an economical arrangement. He ventured to say that “if both parties had remained in the same Convention, there would not have been two Articles of the Constitution adopted by the first of January next, and the expense would have been double that of both Conventions now.”* [...]

* [...] Treasurer Armstrong declared that the Republicans were as well off as the Democrats, for there was no money for either.

Appendix 3. The Dakota Dictionary and Grammar

The latest reference to the matter has been found in a letter from Samuel Pond to John H. Stevens, dated March 6, 1891: “[...] While Mr Riggs was living my brother and I told him plainly what we thought of his not rendering credit to whom credit was due, but I am not disposed to say anything to the public affecting his reputation, for I believe he was a good man and he is dead. But so is Dr Williamson dead and Mr Gavin is dead and my brother is dead, and I shall soon be dead, and is it quite fair to our memory to have it understood that we were all here so many years waiting for him to come and reduce the language to writing and prepare a dictionary for us, when in fact he only followed where others led and prepared the way for him by doing a work for which he was incompetent and without which he could have accomplished so little?”

Appendix 4. Steele’s Preëmption at the Falls of St. Anthony The elementary tradition is that both Plympton and Steele received official notice of the ratification of the Indian treaties of 1837 by the same mail late in the day. Steele with one or more assistants and with such outfit as could easily be carried immediately started along the east bank of the river for the falls. Plympton was content to wait till morning, when he took his way along the west bank, forded the river above the falls, and turning downstream a short distance found Steele at breakfast in a sufficient shack, and, according to one account, with a crop of corn planted; but July 16 is rather late for corn-planting.
It is of course quite possible that at some time the actual truth of the celebrated preëmption may be ascertained, but no research is necessary to reveal the colossal absurdity of our American policy of virtually making a gift of mines, deposits, and water powers to their lucky discoverers. Some day the American people will assert their common rights to such properties, and at prodigious expense they will recover possession of them.
Appendix 9. Chippewa Half-Breed Scrip

The revelations of the Neal commission evidently suspended the issue of patents for land which had been located with Chippewa half-breed scrip. This was embarrassing to persons who had paid good money for it. As innocent purchasers they felt themselves entitled to relief at the hands of a government which for years had tolerated, if not invited, trading in this scrip. A body of holders actuated by a common interest sought such relief. They had the good fortune to secure the intervention of the senior United States senator from Minnesota, the more cheerfully rendered, perhaps, because he had acquired an interest in some locations, and the more effective because he was at the time the chairman of the Senate committee on public lands. Upon his initiative, Congress on June 8, 1872, passed an act entitled: “An Act to perfect certain Land-titles therein described.” The rapidity with which the bill was expedited to passage is noteworthy. [...]

[...] The Jones commission also concurred with the Neal commission of the previous year in the conclusion that all the so-called scrip except the Gilbert scrip and forty-five other pieces was so tainted with actual and clearly established fraud as to be of no value or validity. It found the persons whose claims it approved to be in no way implicated in these frauds. “Indeed, the testimony tends to show that these parties had very little knowledge, and made no inquiry on that subject.” Those who had got up the scheme had managed it with such wonderful prudence and caution as to conceal its fraudulent features from these very capable men of affairs. They were, therefore, innocent purchasers in good faith, entitled under the act of June 8, 1872, to purchase directly from the United States the tracts designated by their worthless certificates. [...]

[...] Every piece issued bore on its face the statement that it was unassignable. The remarkable thing about this last phase of the business is that no more experienced or astute dealers in pine lands have been known in Minnesota than these “innocent purchasers.” It is no pleasure to tell this story.

Note (Hal’s):
Folwell hesitates to name the senior “senior United States senator from Minnesota” involved in this transaction. It was former Governor (both territorial and state) Alexander Ramsey.

— end note

Appendix 11. Sioux Half-Breed Scrip It could be located on forest as well as on agricultural lands, and no small proportion was so used. In instances notably numerous it happened that, soon after a “piece” of scrip had been located on a promising tract of pine land, the timber would be cut and removed. Thereupon the locator would go to the land office, allege some error in selection, and demand the privilege of abandoning the land thus devastated and of making a relocation for his deserving principal. What is remarkable is that the same thing would recur after no long interval, through the indulgence, not to say the connivance, of the land officers. It became chronic and general, and the operation came to be known as “the floating of scrip.” It is, of course, not necessary to give the plain English for this method of acquiring pine timber from the United States.
Appendix 12. The Boundaries of Minnesota

In February, 1842, a committee of the territorial Council submitted a report in which it was argued that under the Ordinance of 1787 Wisconsin had the right to become the fifth state authorized to be formed out of the old Northwest Territory whenever the population should reach sixty thousand. This “solemn compact entered into between the thirteen original States, and the people and future State of Wisconsin,” argued the committee, Congress could no more repeal than it could repeal the Constitution itself.*

* [...] A more elaborate report of similar tenor submitted by the Council in December, 1843, was adopted by both houses the next month and was sent to Congress. It contains the following passage: “We could . . . take for ourselves and our state the boundaries fixed by that ordinance [of 1787], form our state constitution . . . apply for admission into the Union with those boundaries, and if refused, so that we could not be a state in the Union, we would be a State out of the Union, and possess, exercise, and enjoy, all the rights, privileges and powers of the sovereign, independent State of Wisconsin, and if difficulties must ensue, we could appeal with confidence to the GREAT UMPIRE of nations to adjust them.” An accompanying address is even more truculent.



text checked (see note) Mar 2008

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