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Provisional and Territorial Records Guide

Legislative Assembly

The first attempt to establish a civil government in Oregon was made in 1841, when American settlers met to determine how to probate the estate of wealthy entrepreneur Ewing Young. An executive committee and a committee to draft a code of laws were formed. This attempt at government failed because of pressure from British interests and cautions from Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, of the US. Exploration Expedition, that the attempt was premature.

Two years later, Oregon's residents formed a provisional government at public meetings held at Champoeg in May and July, 1843. At the May 2 meeting, a nine member legislative committee was created to draft a code of laws for the provisional government. On May 16, the committee created sub committees for ways and means, military affairs, private land claims, and the division of counties. The committee also established operating rules.

The Organic Act ratified at the public meeting of July 5, 1843, was based on the Iowa state law code and also included a bill of rights and a land law. It established a unicameral legislature which consisted of nine elected members apportioned to the counties by population. The legislature, known as the legislative committee, was required to meet twice a year, in June and in December. The legislative committee created four counties, instituted a voluntary subscription method for government funding, established a judicial system, set up a militia, and devised the method for claiming land.

The first provisional legislative session was held in Oregon City during June, 1844. A sub committee on roads was added to the existing standing sub committees. The committee next met for a special session in December, 1844. The second regular session of the legislative committee was held in June, 1845. The number of legislators had been increased to twelve. Three new standing subcommittees were created at this session: claims, elections, and Indian affairs.

The Organic Act of 1845 defined the legislature, renamed the house of representatives. The house was to consist of at least thirteen members and no more than sixty one members. Members were popularly elected and vacancies were filled by special election. The house was given the power to impeach all civil officers with a three fourths majority vote. The legislature had the power to create counties, apportion legislators, levy taxes, require licenses, regulate Indian white trade, establish post offices, declare war, organize the militia, call out the militia, regulate liquor manufacture and sales, regulate currency, regulate the internal police, create lower courts, and pass laws for the general welfare of the people of Oregon. The house was required to meet on the first Tuesday in December.

From 1845 until 1848, the number of legislators increased from thirteen to twenty. In the 1848 session, twenty three members were apportioned, but only nine met; the rest were digging gold in California. New members were appointed and eighteen members convened the session on December 5, 1848.

The act of Congress of August 14, 1848, which created Oregon Territory, significantly revised the legislative branch of government. The territorial legislature, known as the legislative assembly, was made a bicameral body. It consisted of a nine member council and an eighteen member house of representatives. The house could be increased in size, but could not exceed thirty members. Legislators were popularly elected and vacancies were filled by special election. Legislative sessions were limited to sixty days. The legislative assembly was prohibited from passing laws interfering with land claims and with passing laws which taxed non residents at a higher rate than residents. The legislative assembly was also prohibited from incorporating banks and financial institutions and from acquiring debts in the name of the territory.

Laws passed by the legislative assembly were to deal with one subject only, named in the title, and had to be approved by Congress. Without both of these conditions, laws passed were considered null and void. The act of Congress affirmed all laws passed by the provisional house of representatives which were not in conflict with its provisions and required the legislative assembly to locate the territorial capital at its first session.

The first session of the territorial legislative assembly convened in Oregon City in July, 1849. A special session was held in May, 1850, to set a time to convene a regular legislative session, and the first Monday in December was chosen. The second regular session convened December 2, 1850. The legislative assembly passed legislation making Salem the territorial capital. This law became the central issue in a political controversy. Two supreme court justices refused to recognize the legality of the act relocating the capital and held a December, 1851, supreme court session in Oregon City. One supreme court justice and the legislative assembly convened in Salem. It wasn't until May, 1852, when Congress legalized the capital's move to Salem, that the territorial government functioned normally.

Governor John P. Gaines called a special session of the legislative assembly in July, 1852. To spite the Whig governor, the Democratic legislature convened on July 26 and adjourned on July 29, refusing to conclude any business. The 1852 regular session convened December 6 and passed legislation creating new counties north of the Columbia River, transferring the right to grant divorces from the legislative assembly to the court system, and chartering Willamette University.

The sixth regular session convened on December 4, 1854. On January 13, 1855, it passed legislation making Corvallis the territorial capital. The seventh session was held in Corvallis. The territorial governor and treasurer remained in Salem after the US Treasury Department ruled the move illegal. The legislature convened in Corvallis on December 3. It passed only one act moving the capital back to Salem before it adjourned. The legislative assembly reconvened in Salem on December 18. On December 30, the newly built capitol building burned. The session was concluded in the Rector Building in downtown Salem.

The Oregon Constitutional Convention was held in Salem from August 17 to September 18, 1857. After some disagreement over slavery, free blacks, education, and state boundaries, the Oregon Constitution was put to a vote of the people on November 9, 1857. It was approved by a vote of 7,195 to 3,215.

Elections were held in June, 1858, to elect legislators in compliance with the newly ratified constitution. Two full sets of legislators were elected, one territorial and the other state. The legislative assembly met according to the constitution on July 5, 1858 to chose US Senators and inaugurate the state governor, secretary of state, and treasurer. Congress delayed action on Oregon's statehood, so no state legislative session was held in 1858. The territorial legislative assembly convened on December 6, 1858 and adjourned January 22, 1859 without accomplishing much. Oregon became a state on February 14, 1859 and the state's first legislative session, a special session, was held in May, 1859.

Series Descriptions for the Legislative Assembly

Annual Reports
California Cattle Association Articles of Agreement
Committee Reports
Constitutional Convention Records
Invoices
Legislative Commission Records
Legislative Correspondence
Original Measure Records
Petitions
Session Journals

QUICK LINK to the records inventories!

 

275. Annual Reports (LEGASS011)

1846-1859
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm 

Series documents reports made to the legislative assembly by territorial institutions and officers. Reports show date of report, reporting officer or institution, and text of report. Reports in this series were submitted by Columbia College, Pacific University, prosecuting attorneys, the territorial marshal, the territorial librarian, and Umpqua Academy. Series is not arranged.

 

276. California Cattle Association Articles of Agreement (LEGASS0008)

1838
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm 

Series documents the formation of the California Cattle Association. This company was formed to purchase and transport cattle from California to the Willamette Valley, Oregon. The agreement shows date, terms of agreement, and signatures of parties to the agreement. Series is not arranged.

 

277. Committee Reports (LEGASS0002)

1843-1859
.25 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm 

Series documents formal legislative assembly committee communications about measures under consideration. Reports show date, committee name, and action(s) taken by the committee. Series also includes reports exhibits such as depositions, certificates, committee rosters, and lists of committees. Committees include standing, interim, and ad hoc committees of the provisional and territorial legislative assemblies. Series is not arranged.

 

278. Constitutional Convention Records (LEGASS0010)

1857
.25 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents the proceedings of the Oregon Constitutional Convention, held from August 17 to September 18, 1857. Records include amendments, committee lists, committee reports, contested delegate election records, delegate election certificates, correspondence, convention minutes, resolutions, and the vote record for the adoption of the constitution. Series is not arranged.

 

279. Invoices (LEGASS0005)

1845-1858
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm 

Series documents supplies and services ordered by the legislative assembly. Invoices show date ordered, vendor's name, items or services ordered, amount paid, and date paid. Items ordered include furniture, heating fuel, stationery, and office supplies. Services include clerical help, cleaning, and printing. Series is not arranged.

 

280. Legislative Commission Records (LEGASS0009)

1848-1859
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents the activities of legislatively created commissions. Records include account statements, invoices, reports, road surveys, road maps, claims, and drafts for Lafayette Grover's "Oregon Archives." Commissions include the Columbia Port Commission, the Grover Commission, the Public Buildings Commission, the S. R.Thurston Reburial Commission, the State House Commission, and numerous territorial road commissions. Series is not arranged.

 

281. Legislative Correspondence (LEGASS0004)

1843-1859
.75 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents communications between the house, council, and legislative committees and communications between the legislative assembly and government agencies or private citizens. Records include letters, transmittals, notes to the house speaker or council president, and memorandums.

Most internal communications deal with the status of measures under consideration. External communications discuss relations with Indians, the suppression of government records, support for legislation, and legislators' duties and privileges. Series is not arranged.

 

282. Original Measure Records (LEGASS0007)

1843-1859
4.5 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm 

Series documents legislation proposed, adopted, and amended by the provisional and territorial legislative assemblies. Records include acts, engrossed and enrolled bills, resolutions, memorials, exhibits, amendments, and procedural documents. Information includes date introduced, committee referred to, sponsors' names, dates of floor readings, date tabled or adopted, and modifications made to the text of the measure.

In addition to the territorial and provisional legislative sessions, this series includes records of the first state legislative session, held in July and September, 1858. Series is not arranged.

 

283. Petitions (LEGASS0003)

1843-1859
.75 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm 

Series documents formal requests made to the legislative assembly which require the enactment of or amendment of legislation. Petitions show date, nature of request, and petitioners' signatures. Petition subjects range from the granting of suffrage to Indians to the protection of citizens from feral swine. The most common subjects, however, were the location of roads, the granting of divorces, and the suppression of liquor.

Series also includes petition exhibits such as affidavits, depositions, contracts, and testimony transcripts. Series is not arranged.

 

284. Session Journals (LEGASS0001)

1841-1858
5 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents the activities of the provisional and territorial assemblies during session meetings. Series includes Journals of the Mission Meetings (February, 1841), the Wolf Meetings (February March 1843), the legislative committee formed during the public meetings at Champoeg (May July 1843), the Provisional House of Representatives (1844-1849), and the House and Council of the Territorial Legislative Assembly (1849-1859). Journals show session date, meeting date, members present, legislation discussed, amendments, motions, and voting records. Series is not arranged.

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