Wednesday, March 22, 2017

It's All About the Money

It takes a lot of poking around on the last few pages of Google search hits to unearth any mentions of the day-to-day legislative involvement of a minor player in Territorial politics. But that is part of the life story of my third great grandfather, and I decided I wanted to know more about him. I'm not satisfied with the mere label of "farmer" in a census record for my genealogical research.

Granted, if it weren't for the digitizing of such obscure volumes as the 1842 Journal of the Proceedings of the Senate of the Territory of Florida, I wouldn't have found printed verification of some of the disputes going on behind the scenes which might explain why Florida's first constitution was drawn up in 1838, but didn't gain the territory access as a full-fledged state until 1845. Perhaps the contention surrounding that original constitution might also explain why the original version of the document has never since been found.

Thankfully, in the process of this search, I've managed to unearth verification that, indeed, my third great grandfather's name was included in list of "ayes" which passed both the preamble and resolution on one particular contentious issue in that 1838-1839 gathering.

The problem, however, was that the wording of those documents included phrases considered by some to be rather impolitic, and thus, were brought up in votes to suppress the document before its intended journey to Washington, D.C., where it would be part of required procedures for admission to the union of the United States.

Talk about incendiary language. During the Florida Territory's legislative council meeting on Friday, January 14, 1842, a certain representative introduced a preamble and resolution "expunging certain proceedings...from the Journals." The material referenced a resolution regarding "the Banks and other Corporations in this Territory" fingering certain banks, railroads, insurance entities and
other grants of powers highly objectionable, which have already produced serious injuries, & are calculated to embarrass the government of the State in its future operations, and also to produce further great loss, detriment and injury to the people.

The goal behind these accusations was apparently to petition the Congress of the United States to  
remedy and correct the injury for the future, and relieve the people from their embarrassment in this respect.

The petition didn't just stop at these generalities. Of course, the request went on to ask for Congress to pass a law
to remedy as far as practicable, the evils that have already resulted from the improvident and injudicious acts of the Territorial Legislature, and to prevent the disastrous consequences which it is apprehended may ensue from the same cause [that would] affect injuriously the character and honor of the people of Florida.

As you can imagine, a proposal like this didn't sit well with some of the Territory's elected officials. The January 14, 1842, session was actually a continuation of business from the preceding days' debate, which mainly was concerned with the indebtedness incurred by votes regarding various bonds and other money issues involving specific incorporations. Entered into the day's record was not only the full preamble and resolution from which the above excerpts were drawn, but also the list of all names voting both for and against the 1838 preamble and resolution.

Firmly ensconced in the midst of those names voting for the offending proposal was none other than my third great grandfather, George E. McClellan.

As rebuttal to the supposed overreach of the state's Constitutional Convention, a counter-resolution had been offered the following month, basically accusing the original body of meddling in affairs it ought not to have tackled—"travelled beyond the pale of their duties," as the document emphatically put it. Not just that, but it was "impolitic, unjust, and inexpedient, and calculated to impair their credit and usefulness."

Them's fightin' words.

The upshot? The resolution called—but not until January of 1842—for the original constitution's section on banks and other corporations to be "regarded only as the expression of individual sentiment" and that "our Delegate in Congress" resist any changes to the charters of the "aforesaid incorporated institutions" of the Territory of Florida.

Well, you know that had to come to a vote, as well. When all was said and done, the decision was to "expunge" from the Journals the "said above recited resolutions and proceedings of this House." That was duly noted, instructions were sent to the Florida delegate in Congress, and presumably, all progressed from that point toward statehood for Florida. Previous charters of incorporation were preserved—whatever the original problem had been was now disregarded.

Makes me want to go back in time and ask George McClellan what all the fuss was about, anyhow. Someone must have been concerned about following the money. Between banks, insurance companies, railroads, and other entities, even before the place had achieved statehood, Florida was already big business.



  1. I hope your research time was fruitful! :)

    1. Thanks, Far Side, so far it is. Looks like there is more to go, too.


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