Nebraska’s first territorial legislature, convened in 1855 in Omaha, was a reflection of the restless and impermanent population then in the sparsely settled territory. Some of those elected had never been residents, and most of the rest were transient. Hiram P. Bennet, a member of the first territorial legislative assembly, recalled in an 1896 letter to the Nebraska State Historical Society, what happened when Territorial Secretary Thomas B. Cuming attempted to administer the oath of office:
“We all stood up and he proceeded to swear us to support the constitution of the United States and the organic act of Nebraska, and was proceeding to swear us that we were all citizens of Nebraska and over twenty years of age, when I dropped into my seat, pulling Lafe [Lafayette] Nuckolls, the ‘member from Cass,’ down with me, thereby declining the oath. This I did because of doubts as to my own or Lafe Nuckolls’ residence in the territory, and for the further reason that I knew Lafe was not yet twenty. . .
“Afterwards Judge Ferguson came in and administered to us the proper oath, omitting the matter of age and residence. Lafe was a bright and ready fellow. Some one, pending the arrival of Judge F. to swear us in, asked him his age. Lafe answered at once: ‘Ask my constituents, as Henry Clay once said.’”
Read more about H. P. Bennet and Nebraska’s first territorial legislature in Timeline columns on the Nebraska State Historical Society website.– Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications