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These men went at that in not exactly an artistic way; they didn't pay so much attention to the way a word was spelled as to the use of the same, you know. They seldom spelled a name twice alike. It was the substance they were after. They can't spell the name right, perhaps, but they get in the meaning. But this was when they started the state, and they started in a good way. They started by enacting the common law of England, subject to the constitution of the United States and the organic act of the Territory of Nebraska. There they had a code in one section with five or six lines, and they had a code of laws to proceed under right there, if they hadn't done anything else, and even if they did enact laws and then repeal them. Some legislatures would repeal anything others did, but they had this governing system that has governed for ages in England, with the modification of the constitution of the United States. And notwithstanding that they did soon after repeal the civil and criminal code, they had a code here. Some people think that if legislators didn't know so many words, and couldn't use so many words, they wouldn't pass so many acts and the public would be better off.
Here is another instance: A law "To make a road from Pawnee to Nebraska Center.” I don't know where Nebraska Center is, but just look at the brevity of this: "Section 1. Be it enacted," and so forth, "that Lorin Miller, D. C. Oakes, and John B. Bennett, or a majority of them, be appointed commissioners to locate and establish a territorial road from Pawnee to Nebraska Center. Section 2. The said commissioners shall meet at Pawnee on the first Monday in June next, or within six months thereafter, and proceed to lay out and establish a territorial road according to the true intent and meaning of this act, and after lo. cating the same, shall deposit a certified plat of same for record in the register's office at Pawnee.” (Laws of 1855, p. 331.)
If that act had been drawn in the modern way you could get up a lawsuit on the subject, with the probability of an awful scrap among the attorneys as to when it was located and whether it was located at all or not, until that map was filed, but under
the language of this act they couldn't have any point on that, because it was located before that is filed, and then after it was located they filed a map of it. It doesn't say how the commissioners shall be paid. I don't suppose they cared whether they were paid at all or not, but when they got the map out and had the road staked out, there was the road.
Then here is a city charter of the city of Brownville, in five sections. They got together and said, “We have all the offices we want”; and the assembly said, “You don't have to have any. thing unless you want it, and if you want anything you can have all you want." (Laws of 1855, p. 406.)
They were great on joint memorials to congress, and there wasn't anything small about them either. South Pass, as I understand it, was over on the other side of the mountains. There must have been a good many Indians around here about that time and they were making a good deal of trouble. And the people memorialized the legislative assembly of the territory of Nebraska, representing that the interests of this territory and the nation at large would be greatly advanced by the construction of a railroad running from the town of Plattsmouth, in Cass county, immediately on the Missouri river, via Fort Kearney and Fort Laramie to the South Pass, with a branch starting at or near the mouth of the Nema'ha river, and intersecting the main trunk at Fort Kearney or Grand Island. And they memorialized congress, and they go on to tell congress what a great country this is. You can see there is nothing small about them. They propose to start two tracks, one in the south part of the state, at the Missouri river, and the other in the north part, and run on out to Denver and to the mountains and South Pass. There is nothing small about them. They memorialized congress to grant a right of way and to grant land, and then they told their delegate in congress to get that through. (Laws of 1855, p. 451.)
Then here is another joint resolution. It shows that they are all in line with what they thought was the trend of the democratic party at that time. There wasn't any trouble about democrats then; they were all right. “Resolved, that we herewith
endorse the principles enunciated in the bill organizing the territory of Nebraska and Kansas; that we rejoice that the geographical line between the Northern and Southern states has been erased, leaving the people of every state and territory free to control their domestic institutions, and that we commend the firm and patriotic course of the men, without distinction of party, who have aided in establishing the sound constitutional principles of the compromise of 1850. And resolved, furthermore, that we pledge ourselves to oppose any unfair discriminations, such as those of the late Missouri compromise, but to protect and defend the rights of the states, and the union of the states, and to advance and to perpetuate the doctrine of popular sorereignty."
Then there was the mail route, the Overland Route. There was nothing small about that either. It extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific. "Concerning the protection of settlers and emigrants between the Mississippi valley and the Pacific ocean, including the establishment of postal and telegraphic correspondence across the American continent."
I will not weary the audience, but I wanted to read this much to show that an examination of these acts passed by that body of men only corroborates what a little thought and a little history will prove,—that when men are put so much upon their individuality anything that comes up in which actions and words reach down in a great matter, they are the kind of men whose words are gilded words and carry a thought with them, and their actions the same. That is impressed upon us largely in the acts passed in the first legislative assembly in the Territory of Nebraska, far more so than we can discover in any of the older states. That is only in harmony with what was heard in parliament when Chatham declared that in his opinion and judgment no body of legislators, ever assembled in the world, was greater than the Continental congress which assembled in Philadelphia. And so they used words with more far-seeing and penetrating minds than now. In those days, when they were brought so continually into great struggles, they impress themselves on the mind and make their acts strike deeper into their minds, and they were more careful to use words that would mean something; and secondly, they were freer from verbosity, and there was less than now of what we might call "a wilderness of words."
View of Hon. J. R. Webster. Delivered before the Society January 13, 1897.
Ladies and Gentlemen: In studying for the first time the results, from a legal point of view, of the first legislative assembly of Nebraska, it seemed to me that the best thing to say of it, in a general way, was that epitaph of a child that died very young: “Oh, what did I come for, to be so soon done for?” for most of its work remained a very short time. There is, however, a little to be noticed in its work which has remained. I notice in the president's paper that was read here to-night, he speaks of the mechanic's lien for the laboring man's protection as a development of the last fifty years.
Of course, so far as Nebraska is concerned that is a fact, but the mechanic's lien law, as a separate chapter in the part of this code that was so soon repealed, was one of the things passed and adopted, probably, from some other state at that legislative assembly.
Another thing I noticed was that the law for the protection of a married woman in her property rights was in every respect as liberal. It fully emancipated her, and gave her as complete control of that which was her own as the recently much lauded act of 1873, and I was surprised that as long ago as 1855, in the legislature of Nebraska, so liberal a view as that prevailed.
I also noticed that there was another action, that the owners of the salt manufactured goods incorporated, and that the corporation was granted more than ordinary powers; this was a manufacturing corporation to manufacture salt at some of the salt springs. It was made a governmental corporation, like a city. It was to build a town and the town was to be named Nesuma, and that corporation was given all corporate power of legislation that Nebraska City had, as a part of its charter of
incorporation. That certainly was not anti-municipal legislation.
Seventy-seven pages were given to the bridge and toll charters. Nearly every stream you could think of in Nebraska was provided with a toll bridge or a toll ferry, and 114 of these were private corporations. Yet you cannot say that the results to Nebraska of that first legislative assembly, in a judicial or legal point of view, were very marked.
Not much of it can now be traced. Most of the work was soon stricken down. Its most effective part, probably, was in the direction of education, and that remains. As I saw this picture of Governor Cuming here, I thought that the society ought to have-I may be out of order, but I will take a moment or two to say that you ought to have,--a picture of John M. Young, who
, used to live here in Lincoli, who was a man in whose heart no guile ever came. He reached the strength of manhood in intellectual thought, with the love and sincerity of a child. He led here a clan of men devoted to education, coming for the purpose of establishing here a center of education. That is the motive that brought him here, and the impress upon that clan of men through his spirit was shown in the fact that even after his death it has remained here. If there was any pioneer of Nebraska, in the early day, who more controlled, without knowing it and without knowing that he was a remarkable man, and who made his impress more plainly upon the state and the spirit that leads to its progress in liberal education, I never heard of him. I think perhaps some old photographs or pictures might be obtained from some of his relatives, and if the secretary of this society was instructed to collect two or three I would take it upon myself to get a good crayon made from those pictures, and I believe I could succeed. He is worthy to be honored by a portrait in the hall of this society, and I hope the society at the proper time and in the proper way will take this suggestion and work it out.
As to the repeal of this code, I think our president this evening may say something. When this repeal was made, as Judge Reese says, the governor vetoed it, and modestly suggested that