Dakota Datebook

Tenure of Office

Thursday, March 20, 2014

 

The 18th Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Dakota ended on March 8th 1889. The relationship between Governor Louis Church and the Legislature, and even with the people of Dakota Territory in general, had been filled with hostility.  Church was a Democrat appointee governing over a strongly Republican territory.  Although Democratic President Cleveland had signed the Omnibus Bill, which set the wheels in motion towards statehood, the territorial governor was heavily involved in the steps necessary to achieve statehood. So, the very presence of Church could derail or delay the process.  It was imperative that Governor Church be removed.

With only an hour left in the session on March 8th, a resolution was introduced calling for the removal of Governor Church, but it failed to pass on a tie vote.  But after four years with a Democratic President and majority in Congress, the prayers of Dakota had been answered.  On March 4th, Benjamin Harrison had assumed the office of President, and the resolution to remove Church had come to his attention.  Within a week he appointed Arthur C. Mellette as Governor of Dakota Territory.

With the change of President, many of the Democratic incumbents to territorial offices had resigned, since the spoils system of politics all but assured that they would be replaced.  Midway through the previous legislative session, Gov. Church had submitted a new slate of names of territorial officials to be confirmed by the legislature, but the lawmakers preferred not to act on it.  In absence of their approval, he nonetheless appointed these people and they assumed their offices immediately.

Once again, Church raised the ire of the Dakota people by filling the positions with Democrats, and he claimed it was his right as governor.  However, these positions were subject to the Tenure of Office Act.  Under the terms of this act, current officeholders would lose their positions ten days after the termination or death of the incumbent governor.  If there was a delay in the approval of the new governor, they would retain their offices until ten days after the new governor qualified, then their fate rested in his hands.

Gov. Mellette’s first act was to remove the Democratic Supreme Court judges to avert any appeals to the high court.  The rest would be dealt with over time.  So tenuous were their positions that one Republican legislator was heard to quip, “Democratic office holders are like the flowers that bloom in the spring, they will soon be gone.”

 

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis

Sources:

The Bismarck Weekly Tribune March 22, 1889

Jamestown Weekly Alert March 21, 1889

Grand Forks Weekly Herald March 22, 1889

Territory of Dakota, Journal of the Council of the Eighteenth Session of the Legislative Assembly, January 1889, Bismarck Tribune Printers. & Binders, 1889

Laws of the Eighteenth Session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Dakota, Bismarck Tribune Printers & Binders, 1889

History of Dakota Territory by George W. Kinsgbury;  S. J. Clarke Publishing 1915

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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