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Benjamin Harrison 1890 Autograph Note Signed as President – Important Oklahoma Document

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THE REPUBLICAN PRESIDENT TELEGRAPHS AUTHORIZATION TO OKLAHOMA’S REPUBLICAN TERRITORIAL GOVERNOR TO CALL A SPECIAL LEGISLATIVE SESSION TO HELP STARVING OKLAHOMANS, IMPLYING THE NEW DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS WILL NOT HELP.

23rd President.¬† Autograph note signed “Benj Harrison” AS PRESIDENT, in pencil, 7.25×8.25, December 16, 1890 (date in another hand).¬† The President writes a telegram to Governor Steele in Guthrie, Oklahoma, in full:

You have power to call an extra session to pass necessary laws. Do not think you can expect relief by Congressional legislation.

Harrison adds “Govt Rate” at lower left to indicate how he wished the telegram to be sent.

The Territory of Oklahoma was established by Congress on May 2, 1890, with Guthrie as its capital. President  Harrison appointed George W. Steele as the first territorial Governor. Steele had served with Harrison in the Civil War in the Indiana Volunteer Infantry and was a Republican Congressman from Indiana (1881-1889) while Republican Harrison represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate (1881-1887). Because of widespread crop failure across the territory, 30,000 of the 40,000 people who lived in Oklahoma were in need of food and clothing. Governor Steele had been able to get $40,000 for provisions from the federal government from left-over money Congress had authorized for Mississippi River flood victims.

It was reported in the December 6, 1890, issue of the “The New York Times” that W.F. Blaker, a prominent citizen of Guthrie, had said that the $40,000 had been a Republican scheme for winning votes and that the “distribution of the provisions which were bought with the money was put in the hands of a Republican distributing committee. When a settler called for assistance, he was given provisions, [and] the applicant both before and after he was given his provisions [was also advised] to vote Republican ticket if he wanted any further help.” In the November 4, 1890 elections, the Delegate to the U.S. Congress from the Territory of Oklahoma, Republican David A. Harvey, was reelected but, nationwide, the Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives. Therefore, President Harrison advises Steele not to expect further help from Congress (soon to be controlled by the Democrats), telling him that he has the power to call for an extra session of the territorial legislature.

The President’s sense of urgency in this matter is evidenced by him sending his message by telegraph rather than by mail. The Oklahoma legislature had spent 110 days arguing about the relocation of the territorial capital. The December 26, 1890 issue of “The New York Times” relates that the legislature “until repeatedly reprimanded by Gov. Steele, and bringing forth a mild censure from the President of the United States, has enacted a number of laws at the eleventh hour, and how defective they are will be shown hereafter as they are applied….”.

From Steele’s receipt of the President’s telegram of December 16, 1890 to December 25, 1890, marathon sessions of the territorial legislature were held in an effort to enact legislation to help Oklahomans survive.

Light stains at lower right and left blank areas, upper right corner and edge missing. Lower right corner creased, else fine.