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The Squatter Governor’s Inaugural Address

Times may have been rough in Nebraska’s territorial days, but settlers tried to find humor in

adversity. Then as now, politics were sometimes a laughing matter. In 1857, an informal

group called the “Squatter Legislature” or “The Third House” parodied territorial government.

Three days after Territorial Governor M. W. Izard delivered his January 5 inaugural address,

the “Squatters” convened to hear their leader’s version of “the state of the territory.” This

group, composed of territorial officers, representatives, former representatives, and Omaha

residents, had elected J. Sterling Morton as their “Squatter Governor.” “The Third House”

joined with Morton in a good laugh about conditions in the new territory.



Morton parodied not only the substance of Izard’s address, but also lampooned the florid

oratorical style of the day. Governor Izard began his remarks by attributing all kinds of

economic benefits to the election of President Buchanan, a Democrat. The squatter governor

Morton, himself a Democrat, opined that “The commercial effects of Democratic triumphs is

always indicated by a rise in the price of corn whiskey, plug tobacco, flannel shirts, brogan

boots, and bibles.”



The real Governor complained of inadequate territorial finances. Morton moaned “I have

often found myself cramped and disabled pecuniarily, by a negation of funds in the treasury.

At times, even, to such an extent has it been depleted, that I have for days and days refrained

from smoking segars, and also from the use of all beverages ranging higher than five cents

per glass. I do not refer to my self-denial egotistically, but solemnly and mournfully,

sorrowing at the drinks which I found not when I was athirst.”



Izard announced the necessity of establishing a public school system; Morton recommended

the establishment of “a memorial to Governor Slade of Vermont, for an immediate shipment

to Nebraska of fifteen hundred school ma’ams, not under sixteen, nor over twenty years of

age. Such a measure would not only greatly improve, but by proper culture, greatly increase

the rising generation.”



Izard praised the progress made on the second territorial capitol building in Omaha; Morton

observed, “the Capitol building, during the past year, has progressed upward at an average

speed of an inch per day, and at a cost of $87.15 per inch.”



Izard commented on the fine condition of the Territorial Library. Morton noted the

“excellent state of preservation of the books, owing probably to the fact that they are seldom

read.”



Governor Izard recommended the establishment of the territorial penitentiary; Morton

seconded that motion, and reminded the assembled multitude that, “Such a step, gentlemen,

may secure some of you a home in your declining years.”


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