Return to Ohio ALHN
Return to Index
THE FIRST SESSION OF THE FIRST TERRITORIAL LEGISLATURE.
IN the year 1798, Governor St. Clair, having by personal visits to the several settlements, become satisfied of the presence of the necessary five thousand white male inhabitants in the territory, issued his proclamation to the people calling for the election of representatives to a general assembly to be convened at Cincinnati on the fourth day of February, 1799. This general assembly, under the ordinance of 1787, must consist of a House of Representatives, together with a Legislative Council of five members to be appointed by the President of the United States, from a list of ten names to be submitted to him by the House of Representatives when so elected. The representatives were chosen in accordance with the proclamation of the Governor, and on assembling at Cincinnati on the day named in the proclamation, February 4, nominated the members of council, and adjourned to meet in Cincinnati on the sixteenth of the following September, in order that the President would have an opportunity to act. Of the ten names submitted for his, inspection and approval, the President nominated to the United States Senate as members of the Territorial Council (or upper house) : Jacob Burnet and James Findlay of Cincinnati ; Henry Vanderburgh, of Vincennes ; Robert Oliver, of Marietta, and David Vance, of Vanceville.
These nominations were promptly confirmed by the Senate and transmitted to Cincinnati, where they were announced to the people by proclamation of the Governor.
On the sixteenth day of September, 1799, the First Territorial Legislature met in Cincinnati, the two houses being composed of the following gentlemen :
IN THE COUNCIL (APPOINTED).
Jacob Burnett, of Cincinnati.
James Findlay, of Cincinnati.
Henry Vanderburgh, of Vincennes.
Robert Oliver, of Marietta.
David Vance, of Vanceville.
Mr. Vanderburgh was elected President of the Council.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES (ELECTED).
Benham, Robert, of Hamilton County (Cincinnati).
Bond, Shadrack, of St. Clair County.
Chobert de Joncaire, Charles F., of Wayne County (Detroit).
Caldwell, Aaron, of Hamilton County (Cincinnati)
Darlington, Joseph, of Adams County.
Edgar, John, of Randolph County.
Fearing, Paul, of Washington County (Marietta).
Findlay, Samuel, of Ross County (Chillicothe).
Goforth, William, of Hamilton County (Cincinnati).
Ludlow, John, of Hamilton County (Cincinnati).
Langham, Elias, of Ross County (Chillicothe).
McMillan, William, of Hamilton County (Cincinnati).
Martin, Isaac, of Hamilton County (Cincinnati).
Massie, Nathaniel, of Ross County (Chillicothe).
Meigs, Return Jonathan, Jr., of Washington County (Marietta).
Pritchard, James, of Jefferson County.
Sibley, Solomon, of Wayne County (Detroit).
Small, John, of Knox County (Vincennes).
Smith, John, of Hamilton County (Cincinnati).
Tiffin, Edward, of Ross County (Chillicothe).
Viscar, Jacob, of Wayne County (Detroit).
Worthington, Thomas, of Ross County (Chillicothe).
The two houses having met and organized by the election of their officers, on the sixteenth of September; on the following day Governor St. Clair addressed the legislature in eloquent terms, congratulating the body and the Territory on the new form of legislative government in which the people now had a direct voice in the conduct of affairs. Jacob Burnet, a member of the council, writing after the lapse of a half century, says in his "Notes on the Northwest Territory" (Cincinnati, 1847) :
"He laid before them a full and faithful view of the condition and the wants of the Territory, and recommended to their attention such measures as he believed were proper to advance the prosperity and happiness of the people" (p. 300).
Governor St. Clair had been in active discharge of the duties of the chief executive of the Territory continuously since he had supervised the dispatch of the first settlers to the then unsettled west in 1788; he had joined the first colony at Marietta within three months of its arrival ( July, 1788), and had been one of the legislators for the colonies up to the time of the meeting of this first territorial assembly; out of the experience of over eleven pioneer years, the governor spoke to the legislators of the work before them, as no better equipped man could speak, for there was no man of better equipment for the duty. Of Governor St. Clair's influence at this time Mr. Burnet says (p. 378) : "And it may be said with great truth, that at the time he addressed the First Territorial Legislature in 1799, he possessed as great, if not a greater share of the confidence and respect of the people of the Territory than any other individual residing in it."
This being the first session of any representative legislative body in the Territory, the transition from the first to the second grade of government involved a general revision of the laws in force ; new laws to meet the changed conditions ; new officers and new duties for those already established; and a plan must be conceived by which to meet the increased expenditures of a semi-independent government. Many of the members being inexperienced in legislative matters, the active work of the session fell on a few of the men who had been most closely identified with the previous history of the settlements.
On the third of October the two houses in joint session elected William Henry Harrison as delegate from the Territory in the Congress of the United States, his election being contested by Arthur St. Clair, Jr., who was beaten by one vote. Captain Harrison was secretary of the Territory at the time of his election, Mr. St. Clair, son of the Governor, being its attorney. Mr. Harrison resigned his position as secretary and at once proceeded to his duties in the Congress.
It is hard to present the history of this session of the legislature in the limits allowed in a publication of this nature. The existing laws were a poor apology for a code ; the Ordinance of 1787 formed a broad and liberal basis for the government which has since grown up under its provisions, but there was much legislation needed to supplement and make practical its several declarations. The governor and the judges 'had selected or made laws, from time to time, neglecting many important interests, and imperfectly providing for others which were touched upon ; one of the statutes of Virginia had been adopted which put in operation the English common law and certain English statutes of a date prior to the fourth year of the reign of James I ; statutes from the original states had been called upon to supply, in whole or in part, contributions to the code of statute law in the Territory, and there fell upon the legislature at this first session the duty of "repealing, amending, enacting and supplementing," in such manner as appealed to the best judgment of the pioneers who composed the body, until on their adjournment on the nineteenth day of December, 1799, there had been laid the foundation for much of the subsequent public law in the Territory and in those states which have been carved out of it.
Following is a summary of the acts of this assembly :
ACTS OF THE FIRST SESSION OF THE FIRST TERRITORIAL LEGISLATURE (1799).
1. An act to confirm and give force to certain laws enacted by the Governor and Judges of the Territory. (Their validity having been called in question on divers occasions.) October 28, 1799.
2. An act regulating the admission and practice of attorneys and councillors at law. October 29, 1799.
3. An act regulating enclosures. October 29, 1799.
4. An act providing for the service and return of process in certain cases. (Repealed February 14, 1805.) October 29, 1799.
5. An act regulating the interest of money, fixing the same at. six per cent, and for preventing usury. (Repealed February 14, 1805.)
November 15, 1799•
6. An act authorizing and regulating arbitrations. (Repealed Feb-
ruary 14, 1805.) November 15, 1799.
7. An act to establish and regulate ferries. November 15, 1799.
S. An act making promissory notes and inland bills of exchange-negotiable. (Repealed February 21, 1805.) November 15, 1799.
9. An act to prevent trespass by cutting of timber. November
10. An act supplementary to above. December 19, 1799. (Both
acts repealed January 11, 1805.)
11. An act regulating grist-mills and millers. December 2. 1799.
12. An act to regulate the disposition of water-crafts of certain description found gone or gone adrift, and of estray animals. December 2, 1799.
13. An act for the prevention of vice and immorality. December 2, 1799. (Repealed February 14, 1805.)
14. An act to create the offices of a territorial treasurer, and of an auditor of public accounts. December 2, 1799.
15. An act establishing courts for the trial of small causes. December 2, 1799. (Repealed February 15, 1804.)
16. An act providing for the appointment of constables. December 2, 1799.
17. An act to ascertain the number of free male inhabitants of the
age of twenty-one, in the territory of the United States northwest of the River Ohio, and to regulate the election of representatives for the same. December 6, 1799.
18. An act to prevent the introduction of spiritous liquors into cer-
tain Indian towns. December 6, 1799.
19. An act regulating the firing of woods, prairies and other lands.
December6, 1799. (Repealed February it, 1805.)
20. An act establishing and regulating the militia. December 13, 1799.
21. An act defining and regulating privileges in certain cases. December 6, 1799.
22. An act allowing compensation for the session of February, 1799,
called to put in nomination the members of the legislative council. December 13, 1799.
23. An act for the relief of poor persons imprisoned for debt. December 13, 1799. (Repealed February 2, 1805.)
24. An act for opening and regulating public roads and highways. December 13, 1799. (Amended January 20, 1802 ; repealed February
25. An act levying a territorial tax on land. December, 19, 1799.
26. An act to regulate county levies. December 19, 1799.
27. An act for the appointment of county treasurers. December 19, 1799.
28. An act allowing compensation to the members of the territorial legislature. December 19, 1799.
29. An act to regulate the enclosing and cultivation of common.
fields. December 19, 1799.
30. An act regulating the fees of the constables in the several counties within this territory. December 19, 1799. (Repealed February
31. An act to encourage the killing of wolves. December 19, 1799. (,Repealed January 9, 1802.)
32. An act for the punishment of arson. December 19, 1799. 33• An act to alter the boundary line between the counties of Jefferson and Washington. December 19, 1799.
34. An act allowing the compensation to the attorney-general of the Territory, and to the persons prosecuting pleas in behalf of the Territory in the several counties. December 19, 1799.
35. An act to authorize the freeholders of Marietta township to levy a certain tax for religious purposes. December 19, 1799.
36. An act supplementary to the act entitled "an act for the relief of the poor." (Paupers when and how to be farmed out.) December 19, 1799. (Repealed February 22, 1805.)
37. An act appropriating monies and making appropriations for the ensuing year. December 19, 1799.
38. An act repealing certain laws and parts of laws. December 19, 1799.
The above was taken from the printed laws of the territorial legislature, as printed by Carpenter & Findlay at Cincinnati. 1800. The book is now in possession of the Supreme Court Library in Columbus. The clerk of the House certifies in this book that Solomon Sibley was appointed a committee to superintend the printing of the laws of the session. on December 5. Mr. Sibley certifies, May 7 followmg. that he has carefully compared the printed laws with the original enrolled
and finds them to agree. The act bears the signatures of Edward Tiffin, Speaker of the House of Representatives, H. Vanderburgh, President of the Council, and are approved by Ar. St. Clair, Governor.
Barbara's Bordered Backgrounds