Nebraska Moments

By Donald R. Hickey; Susan A. Wunder et al. | Go to book overview

7. Nebraska Statehood and Its First Governor

Nebraska’s early history with democracy proved an extremely complicated and controversial experience. It some ways it reflected the national crises that had led to the Civil War. Organized in 1854 as Nebraska Territory during an uproar over slavery and the subject of polarized political appointees immediately prior to and during the Civil War, Nebraska’s first state constitution and governor could not avoid the national political spotlight. Nebraska was granted statehood on March I, 1867, amidst another bitter controversy, this time over the voting rights of African Americans. Meanwhile, Nebraskans approved a flawed constitution and a corrupt governor, and in both cases they were able to fortunately correct their mistakes.

During the 1850s Nebraska was dominated politically by Democrats. Democrats in Washington had engineered the organization of the territory, and they awarded choice positions in the territorial government to Democrats. Most of the first settlers moved into southeast Nebraska, and they were Democrats, many with southern roots. Reflecting this character, the territorial legislature named Nebraska’s first counties after prominent Democrats, such as Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Lewis Cass of Michigan, Augustus C. Dodge of Iowa, and Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire.

The Civil War brought Democratic control of Nebraska to an end. Deep divisions in the national party cost Democrats the presidential election of 1860, and after taking office Abraham Lincoln filled the territorial offices with Republicans. By the end of the war, more northern settlers had come to Nebraska, and Republicans held a small majority in the territory.

Although Democrats and Republicans often feuded over the spoils

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