Monday, February 24, 2014

Geography Makes Idaho Territory Ungovernable, Should be Split

On February 24, 1864, newspapers all over the East carried “bullets” of information on what happened that day in Congress. The item from the New York Tribune was typical: “Mr. Grimes (Un., Iowa), presented a petition from the citizens of Idaho praying for a division of that territory, one portion being inaccessible to the other, which was referred to the Committee on Territories.”

It’s not clear why James W. Grimes, the Union (Republican) Senator from Iowa, presented the “petition” from Idaho. Born in New Hampshire, Grimes graduated from Hampton Academy in that state, and then studied at Dartmouth College. He moved to Iowa in 1836, when he was just twenty years old. Two years later, he served the first of two terms in the House of Representatives for Iowa Territory. During this period, he studied law and was admitted to the bar.

After Iowa became a state in 1846, Grimes served in its House of Representative, and then as governor (1854-1858). Elected to the U. S. Senate in 1859, he served there for ten years.
Senator Grimes. Library of Congress.

At least two possible connections between Grimes and Idaho Territory exist. First, James Tufts, Speaker of the Idaho Territorial Council, was from New Hampshire, like Grimes, and became a lawyer in Iowa. Before moving on to Nebraska, he would have overlapped with the term of Governor Grimes.

Second, Granville Stuart, a pioneer destined to be known as “Mr. Montana,” had lived in Iowa from 1838 to around 1852, and his family still lived there.

In any case, the Journal of the Senate provided further details on what Grimes submitted. The memorial requested “a division of the Territory of Idaho, by formation of a new Territory embracing the headwaters of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers, with the Rocky Mountains as the dividing line.”

Meanwhile, lobbyists from the east side of Idaho Territory had already been at work. One of them was Idaho Chief Justice Sidney Edgerton, who had been hired to push the idea of a split with his influential contacts in Congress. Edgerton, of course, knew Lincoln personally. Also, being from Ohio himself, he was a friend of Ohio Congressman James M. Ashley, who happened to be chairman of the House Committee on Territories.

These future Montanans had plans that differed a bit from those of the Idaho legislature.

References: Michael P. Malone, Richard B. Roeder, and William L. Lang, Montana: A History of Two Centuries, Revised Edition, University of Washington Press, Seattle (1991).