Need of Local Self Government and the Organic Act in Oklahoma Territory

Need of Local Self-Government and The Organic Act

When the settlers recovered from the excitement of the race for claims and the erection of tents and shanties, they began to realize that conditions were far from satisfactory. The law under which the country had been opened to settlement had not made any provisions for the organization or development of a system of local self-government. A company of troops from the United States army at each of the larger towns and the presence of numerous deputy United States marshals were the only agencies for the preservation of order. The people, as a rule, were orderly and law-abiding, so that comparatively little trouble was experienced. However, there were no courts, so it was impossible to settle disputes and misunderstandings concerning business matters except by arbitration.

The absence of organized government was keenly felt and soon there were movements for the organization of provisional local or municipal governments in several of the larger towns. So elections were held and then there were mayors and chiefs of police and city councils. While these officials lacked the sanction and authority of statute law, they helped to preserve order and to prevent a state of lawlessness.

During the first summer a movement was started at Guthrie (which was the largest town in the Oklahoma country, at the time) for the purpose of organizing a provisional territorial government. This was opposed in other parts of the newly settled country. However, a convention was called to meet at Guthrie, July 17, 1889, to plan the organization of a territorial government. Delegates were elected by both factions and when the convention met, it wrangled for three days and then adjourned to meet again a month later. A majority of the delegates in attendance at both sessions was favorable to the proposed territorial government but a stron minority was opposed to it. As the success of the movement was hopeless unless it commanded the support of a large majority of the people, the convention at its adjourned session contented itself by adopting a memorial to Congress, petitioning for early relief in the form of an organic act for the Territory. However, Congress did not reconvene until December following and, even then, it seemed to be in no haste to grant the petition. Indeed, it was not until five months later that the Organic Act was finally passed and approved.

The Organic Act was similar to the laws under which all other organized territories of the United States had been formed and governed until such time as they were ready for admission into the Union as states. Many of its provisions were similar to those of the various state constitutions. It provided for the division of the powers of government into three branches, namely, executive, legislative and judicial. the chief executive of the Territory was to be a governor, who was to be appointed by the President of the United States. The President was also to appoint the secretary of the Territory and the three members of the Territorial Supreme Court, each of whom was also to serve as a judge of the district court. The legielative body was to consist of a Council of thirteen members and a House of Representatives of twenty-six members, all of whom were to be chosen by popular vote to serve for a term of two years. The statute laws of Nebraska were adopted as the laws of Oklahoma Territory until the same should be modified, amended or superseded by act of the Territorial Legislative Assembly. It was under these laws of Nebraska that the various county, city and township organizations were effected.

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Ann Maloney, Bartlesville, OK.
Copyright © 1998 Ann Maloney all rights reserved.