© 2024
Prairie Public NewsRoom
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Governor William Jayne


Following the creation of Dakota Territory in 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed his personal physician and political friend William A. Jayne as the first Territorial Governor. He was inaugurated on this day, May 27, 1861. Ten months later, Governor Jayne delivered his first annual address to the Dakota Territorial Legislature in Yankton.

“Gentleman of the Council and House of Representatives;” he began, “…you have been chosen, by the voters of Dakota, to compose the first Legislative Assembly….It is well for you to remember that you are not legislating alone for to-day, but, also, for an indefinite future—not for the few thousands now resident in the Territory, but for the tens of thousands who will soon be attracted within our limits.”

Governor Jayne proceeded to describe the territory: a climate “conducive to health and longevity,” the facility for cheap water transportation, land “rich beyond conception in mineral resources of coal, copper, iron and gold” and perhaps most importantly, millions of acres of rich and productive land. Drawing on the scholarship of contemporary climatologists, Jayne assured his audience that the territory was perfectly suited for “raising immense herds of cattle,” as well as corn, rye, barley and potatoes. “I venture to predict,” he continued, ‘that the wheat granary of this continent will yet be found in the valley of the Red river…”

These advantages created no doubt in his mind that within a generation, more than a million people would be living in the valley of the Missouri alone.

Therefore, according to the first governor of Dakota Territory, the duty of the legislative assembly was “to invite and encourage emigration, to stimulate settlement in our midst, and to attract within the limits of our Territory thousands of our people who each year leave their homes in the older States to seek new homes…”

To do so, he encouraged the legislators to deny the institution of slavery a foothold in the “free air of Dakota.” Instead, they should heartily support education, a militia, and the construction of territorial roads while working to keep the taxes levied on the citizens as light as possible. Jayne also urged the legislators to memorialize Congress on the subject of a Pacific Railroad, arguing that the “only route to the Pacific, along the line of which the country is capable of sustaining a continuous and prosperous settlement, is through this Territory.”

In closing his 1862 address, Governor William Jayne assured the men of the first territorial legislature that he would cooperate with them “to advance the honor and greatness and glory of Dakota.”

Written by Christina Sunwall


Annual Message of Governor William Jayne, Delivered at Yankton, Dakota Territory, March 19, 1862.

"North Dakota Governors", State Historical Society of North Dakota http://www.nd.gov/hist/tgov.htm (accessed 2008).

Tegeder, Vincent G. "Lincoln and the Territorial Patronage: The Ascendancy of the Radicals in the West." The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 35, no. 1 (1948): 77-90.