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ACTING-GOVERNOR HON. J. STERLING MORTON.
Dec. 5, 1858 to May 2, 1859, and Feb. 24 to May 15, 1861.
Hon. J. Sterling Morton' came to Bellevue, Nebraska Territory, November 10, 1854, and on April 12, 1855, removed to Nebraska City, where he established his permanent home.
By the appointment of President Buchanan he became secretary of the Territory July 12, 1858; which office he held until succeeded by A. S. Paddock, under the administration of Abraham Lincoln. At the date of his arrival, he was only twentytwo years of age, having been born in 1832. No young man ever came to the territory better prepared for a useful and honorable career. Having enjoyed the advantages of Michigan University, and having received his final diploma from Union College, New York, and being endowed with a fine command of language, with the fancy of a picturesque writer, and the aggressive style of the ready debater and orator, journalism and politics offered inducements in the line of his capabilities and taste.
But these acquisitions and natural endowments were fortified, directed, and restrained by sound morals, high sense of honor and that chivalric bearing that charms society and makes home happy. As a writer on the Detroit Free Press and Chicago Times, his contributions were highly prized, while before his appointment as Secretary, he was editor of the Nebraska City News, and in 1855 elected to the legislature. During the session he attempted to stem the tide of wild-cat banking, which resulted in his defeat in the election of 1856. This was a source of regret on the part of many new made friends; but the Board of Regents, members of the faculty, and many students of the Michigan University, could have said, "I told you so"; for I re
Abner Morton emigrated from St. Albans, Vt., to Jefferson County, N. Y., about 1816. His son, Joseph D. Morton, emigrated from N. Y. to Michigan in 1834. Julius Sterling Morton, son of Joseph D., was born in Jefferson County, N. Y., April 22, 1832.
member how the boy stood by an excommunicated professor in the college, denounced all in authority, and chose expulsion rather than sacrifice a single conviction. In 1857 he was again elected to the legislature and saw at once in exploded banks and a defrauded people, evidence of the wisdom of his unrelenting opposition to the issue of an inflated, irredeemable paper currency of 1855.
In 1860 he was democratic candidate for delegate to Congress against Samuel G. Daily, republican, and inasmuch as the Buchanan administration with which he was connected, stood charged with being the hot bed of treason, and his party the home of traitors, in the hour of national peril no explanation or protestation could prevail. Even Douglas democrats who approved Mr. Lincoln's war policy, could not receive absolution, unless the name of democrat was discarded for that of republican. But after the storm passed over, Mr. Blaine, a republican historian, declared no man would have lamented over a destroyed Union more than President Buchanan. In this campaign, joint discussions were held by the rival candidates, thousands of miles traveled, a few voters addressed and cabins and dug-outs transformed into opera houses and hotels, with the open prairies as an annex. No railroads or turnpikes or canals aided in travel, but private vehicles struggled through the grass, marshes and quicksands, furnishing opportunities for walking, wading and swimming. Patriotism was retailed at a premium, eloquence lavished in profusion. Yet only 5,900 votes were returned, of which a majority of fourteen awarded Mr. Morton, but afterwards lost by a contest in Congress.1
Six years thereafter, in 1866, we find him a candidate for first governor of the new state, against David Butler, republican. Public arguments, for speedy admission as a state, were used by republicans, to the effect that the best government lands were being taken by settlement, and in a few years a new state would have to receive an inferior grade as her donation for education and internal improvement purposes; that the Territory could
1 Pages 90-99.
not draw capital to it as readily as a state could; and that the salaries named in the constitution to be voted upon, were so small the people could meet them without oppressive taxation, on account of the enhanced value of property.
To which it was replied that the national domain was inexhaustible, the salaries delusively low, and increased prosperity would demand corresponding expense. Republicans were influenced privately by the consideration that they were now in a majority, and state and national patronage would be dispensed in their behalf. But democrats hoped that enough conservative republicans, sustaining the policy of Andrew Johnson, could by union with them capture the state and national offices, with a few years' delay. Accordingly, when they voted for Mr. Morton, many also voted against state admission, but the returns finally gave Butler a majority of 145, and state admission a majority of 100.
At the first election of United States senators, Mr. Morton was a democratic candidate, receiving the full party vote, as against T. W. Tipton, republican. Sixteen years thereafter, in 1882, when the vote had increased from 8,041 in 1860, to 87,345 in 1880, Mr. Morton was again put forward by his party as a candidate for governor against James W. Dawes. In this contest a majority of the votes were given to Mr. Morton and Mr. Ingersol; but Mr. Dawes, having more than either of the others, was elected. Again in 1884, Mr. Morton and Mr. Dawes were opposing candidates, while Mr. Morton increased his vote over that of two years previous from 28,562 to 57,634, and Mr. Dawes raised his from 43,495 to 72,835 and was again elected. In 1892, he once more carried the minority party's banner, in a contest for governor, and returning it unsullied, re-entered the democratic ranks.
Often called upon to act in the capacity of governor, during the absence of that official, and at one time for six months continuously, following the resignation of Richardson, he met the emergencies with promptness and efficiency. In 1859, on account of the attack of the Pawnee Indians upon the persons and property of citizens of Dodge and Cuming counties, he called
upon Colonel Charles May, commander at Ft. Kearney, for aid in the shape of cavalry. As a result of this appeal Lieutenant Robertson, U. S. Army, Comd'g 2nd Dragoons, joined the command under Gen'l Thayer, which was accompanied by Gov. Black and staff, and overtaking the Indians in camp, received their surrender, the delivery up of seven of their young men, and pledges of future good conduct.
In September of the same year, 1859, Secretary Morton delivered the address at the Agricultural Fair, Nebraska City, which was incorporated with the first annual report of the state society and entered upon the legislative records. No other citizen could have given such a sketch of the first five years of territorial life; and at no other place and time could the intellectual photograph have been pictured. Without agricultural data on which to draw, the task of "brick without straw" was re-enacted; and the address comes forth to-day, from the tomb of official documents as history embalmed in sparkling garniture, We claim it as a Nebraska classic, and have only one fear of our proprietary right being disputed. This arises from the fact that the young orator emigrated from the state of Michigan, whose Professor, Moses Coit Tyler, in his history of "American Literature," declared that England had a claim to our early Pilgrim literature, inasmuch as "an Englishman undergoes no literary evolution by sitting down to write in America instead of England." We set forth in our demurrer, that the Pilgrim eloquence was couched in ancient forms, while ours revelled in the freedom and independence of impulses unchained, thoughts exuberant, and fancies born of a future of incomprehensible splendor.
In introducing him, Robert W. Furnas, president of the territorial board of agriculture, said:
Ladies and Gentlemen: I congratulate the Nebraska Territorial Board of Agriculture, and others who honor us with their presence and aid on this first effort made to hold an Nebr. State Hist. Soc. Pub., first series, II., 194-196, 181-185; III., 279-286. At II., 194-196, may be found copies of a petition to Secretary Morton, the letter of Secretary Morton to Col. May, a reply by Lieut. William G. Gill, and a list of the officers in the expedition.