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Provisional and Territorial Records Guide

Governor

Prior to the formation of the Provisional Government, executive authority was exercised by the chief factor of the Hudson's Bay Company and the superintendent of the Oregon Methodist Mission. An attempt to establish a provisional government in 1841 led to the creation of an executive committee, but the attempt was abandoned as premature on the advice of John McLoughlin and Charles Wilkes. It is interesting to note that this committee's proposal for government organization included a single executive governor.

The provisional government was established on July 5, 1843, after three months of public meetings. Executive power was vested in a three person committee elected by popular vote. The executive committee had the power to grant pardons and reprieves, to call out the militia, and to recommend legislation to the legislative assembly. David Hill, Alanson Beers, and Joseph Gale formed the first executive committee and served until May, 1844. The second committee of P. G. Stewart, Russell Osborne, and W. J. Bailey served until July 1845.

The Organic Act of 1845 replaced the executive committee with an elected "Executive of Oregon," informally known as the governor. The governor was popularly elected and served a two year term. The governor was commander in chief of the militia, commissioned all public officers, appointed persons to fill vacancies in public offices, granted pardons and reprieves, insured that laws were "faithfully executed," recommended legislation to the legislative assembly, and signed legislative bills into law. The first governor, George Abernethy, took office on July 14, 1845 and served until March 3, 1849, when the territorial government was organized.

Oregon became a US territory by act of Congress on August 14, 1848. This act made several changes in the governor's office. The territorial governor was appointed by the President and served a term of four years, unless removed by the President. Five governors served seven separate terms during the ten years Oregon Territory existed. Only two of the terms lasted longer than fourteen months.

The territorial governor also served as superintendent of Indian affairs until a separate office was established in June, 1850. The governor could call special sessions of the legislative assembly. In addition, the governor could grant reprieves for violations of territorial and federal laws, but could only pardon territorial offenses. Laws passed by the 1853-1854 legislative assembly authorized the governor to appoint coroners, notaries public, the militia brigadier general, and to commission militia officers. The laws also established procedures for the governor to extradite criminals.

The Oregon Constitution was ratified in 1857 and provided for an elected governor. The governor's term was set at four years and no governor could serve more than eight out of any twelve consecutive years. The duties of the territorial governor were retained in the constitution. The first state governor, John Whiteaker, was elected June 7, 1858, nearly nine months before he took office on March 3, 1859.

Series Descriptions for the Office of Governor

Account Ledger
Executive Committee Minutes
Governor's Correspondence
Invoices
Messages
Petitions
US Comptroller's Correspondence

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268. Account Ledger (GOV0000001)

1853-1855
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents executive office expenditures and receipts. Ledger entries show date of transaction, expenditure or receipt amount, transaction description, account balance, and certification. Series is arranged chronologically by ledger entry.

 

269. Executive Committee Minutes (GOV0000003)

1843-1844
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents the meetings of the executive committee and its decisions. Minutes show date, motions, actions taken, and members present. Items discussed include the payment of bounties for killing dangerous animals, the formation of a volunteer militia, and the appointment of government officers. Series is not arranged.

 

270. Governor's Correspondence (GOV0000002)

1844-1859
.25 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm 

Series documents communications between the governor and other federal, territorial, and local agencies. Correspondence shows date, correspondents' names, and text of communication. In addition to correspondence from US agencies, this series includes correspondence from Hudson's Bay Company officials. This series includes correspondence of the Provisional Government. Series is not arranged.

 

271. Invoices (GOV0000004)

1856-1858
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents the purchase of supplies and services by the governor's office. Invoices show date, vendor's name, items purchased, invoices amount, and governor's certification. Series is not arranged.

 

272. Messages (GOV0000005)

1844-1857
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents annual communication from the governor to the legislative assembly about the condition of the territory. Messages discuss government, relations with the United States, Indian wars and treaties, social conditions in Oregon, and national and international trends. Series is not arranged.

 

273. Petitions (GOV0000006)

1846-1858
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents formal citizen requests presented to the governor for executive action. Petitions show date, text of petition, and signatures of petitioners. Most of the petitions request executive pardons and paroles for convicts and extraditions. Series is not arranged.

 

274. US Comptroller's Correspondence (GOV0000007)

1849-1858
.1 cubic feet
Calendar Microfilm

Series documents communications between the governor and the US Comptroller. Correspondence shows date, correspondents' names, and text of communication. Most of the correspondence relates to the financial transactions of the territory and the federal government. Series is not arranged.

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Oregon Secretary of State • 136 State Capitol • Salem, OR 97310-0722
Phone: (503) 986-1523 • Fax: (503) 986-1616 • oregon.sos@state.or.us

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