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Dakotas First Election


After Abraham Lincoln took office, one of his first acts was to appoint territorial leaders in the newly-created Dakota Territory ... most importantly, the governorship. General John Blair Smith Todd was an obvious candidate. After a long military career, Todd had played a crucial role in the creation of Dakota Territory as well as the selection of Yankton as the territorial capital. And he had a personal stake in the future of Dakota Territory as a businessman and landowner. But perhaps most significantly, Todd was the cousin of the President's wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

But Todd had several marks against him. Not only was he a Democrat, but as the president's cousin-in-law, his appointment would have been open to charges of nepotism. Further complicating matters was Daniel Marsh Frost, Todd's former business partner in the territory. Frost had joined the Confederate cause, and in the spring of 1861, took part in a scheme to capture the US arsenal at St. Louis! So instead of Todd, President Lincoln chose his personal physician, friend and fellow Republican, Dr. William Jayne of Springfield, Illinois as the territory's first governor.

But Todd was not easily discouraged. In September of 1861, the first territorial election would be held to select a delegate to the US Congress and the members of the territorial legislature. The congressional delegate was not a voting member of Congress, but as the territory's sole elected representative, he would serve as the clearing house for most of the territorial business in Washington.

The Union Party nominated A. J. Bell while another independent convention nominated Charles P. Booge, a trader at the Yankton Agency. John Todd put himself forward as a candidate, but without a party nomination. Although a Democrat, Todd had many Republican supporters so he deemed it best not to antagonize either party.

Todd was certain he was the most qualified for the job. He was a West Point graduate with Washington connections and a proven interest in Dakota Territory. In support of Todd, the Yankton newspaper, the ‘Weekly Dakotan' reminded readers of Todd's relationship to President Lincoln, while pointing out that until recently, Todd's opponent, A. J. Bell, had been a citizen of Minnesota.

The people of Dakota Territory clearly agreed with the Yankton paper's assessment. In September of 1861, Todd won nearly 400 of the almost 600 ballots cast while Booge won 110 and Bell took only 78.

On this date in 1861, John "B. S." Todd took his seat in Washington as the congressional delegate for Dakota Territory. But the fight still wasn't over. Less than nine months later, the congressional seat would be up for election again, this time pitting President Lincoln's cousin-in-law, John Todd, against Lincoln's former physician, and the Governor of Dakota Territory, William Jayne. Tune in next month to hear the outcome of that contest.

Written by Christina Sunwall


Kingsbury, George W. History of Dakota Territory. Vol. 1 South Dakota: Its History and Its People, ed. George Martin Smith. Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1915.

Lamar, Howard Roberts. "mms://" Dakota Territory, 1861-1889: A Study of Frontier Politics. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1956.

Schell, Herbert. Dakota Territory During the Eighteen Sixties. Vermillion: Governmental Research Bureau, University of South Dakota, 1954, 30.

Thirty-Seventh Congress. Washington DC: GPO Access, US Government Printing Office.

Wilson, Wesley C. "General John B.S. Todd. First Delegate, Dakota Territory." North Dakota History 31, no. 3 (1964): 189-194.Wikipedia, citing:

? This article incorporates text from the public domain Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography.

? John Blair Smith Todd at the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress Retrieved on 2008-02-12

? John Blair Smith Todd at Find A Grave Retrieved on 2008-02-12