Written by John Carey
Washoe County Republican Party 2nd Vice Chairman
Part 1 in a series which provides factual history on the founding of Nevada and the roll the Republican party played in the founding.
Nevada became part of the United States with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed with Mexico in 1848. Mexico never established any control over Nevada, but American mountain men were already in Washoe (the early name for Nevada) as early as 1827. A permanent American presence began in 1851 when the Mormons set up weigh stations en-route to the California goldfields. In the absence of any government authority, some 50 Mormons and non-Mormon prospectors, and cattle ranchers drew up the “Washoe code” to deal with land claims; its coverage eventually covered other government issues. There was no federal presence in the area and religious tensions escalated. Petitions of complaint went to Washington DC. Non-Mormons sought annexation to California. Utah Territory countered this by incorporating the area as a county. When Federal troops were sent to Utah in 1857, the Mormons left Washoe. The non-Mormons took over and launched a move for separate territorial status.
The early 1860s saw the end of an Indian war, the great Comstock mining boom of 1859 in Virginia City, and the coming of the Civil War. The provisional territorial government led to the creation of the Nevada Territory by Congress in 1861. The pragmatic attempts to establish workable frontier institutions had failed and the paternalistic territorial system was welcomed.
Orion Clemens, Mark Twain’s older brother, had stumped for the presidential ticket of Abraham Lincoln in northern Missouri during the election of 1860 alongside St. Louis lawyer Edward Bates (whose law offices Orion had worked in during the 1840s). Lincoln made Bates his attorney general, and Bates recommended Orion to Secretary of State William H. Seward for a political appointment. This suggestion was accepted, and Orion was nominated by Lincoln to be secretary of the Nevada Territory on March 23, 1861 and was confirmed by the Senate on March 27, 1861. Despite a generous salary, no funds to relocate to Nevada were provided, and without the means to move, Orion struck a deal with Samuel that if he paid for their journey Samuel could serve as Orion’s private secretary, however, the job could not maintain Samuel’s interest. He felt that there was not enough writing in the job to keep both his brother and him busy. He also bristled at being underneath Orion’s authority referring to him in his letters as “his majesty the Secretary”. Samuel quit and moved from Carson City to Virginia City, where Samuel Clemens, aka, Mark Twain, got his start with the Virginia City Daily Territorial Enterprise.
Nevada became the 36th state on October 31, 1864, after telegraphing the Constitution of Nevada to Congress days before the November 8 presidential election (the largest and costliest transmission ever by telegraph). Statehood was rushed to help ensure three electoral votes for Abraham Lincoln‘s reelection, and add to the Republican congressional majorities.