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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