Jerry Kopel

Colorado's First Legislative Meeting, November 1876


By Jerry Kopel


Nov. 3, 2007



Lafayette Head and Webster D. Anthony.


Do those names mean anything to you? The two men played a role in electing a president of the United States and in convening the first session of the Colorado STATE legislature the first week in November, 131 years ago. 


You won't find many people today naming their son Lafayette, but when born in 1825 to parents who were quite familiar with the American Revolution, that revolutionary hero from France made sense as a first name.


The hero was Marie Joseph Paul, Yves Roch, Gilbert du Morier, Marquis de Lafayette. I bet you didn't know this famous general had a feminine first name.


Head was a Republican and the first lieutenant governor elected by Colorado citizens at the general election held October 3, 1876. He had served in the New Mexico territorial legislature, but his home in the Conejos area became part of the Colorado territory in 1861.


Head was elected a Colorado territorial legislator for the 1873-74 term. You'll find his name in the Colorado Revised Statutes, on page 779 of the state constitution's "schedule" as one of  38 drafters of the constitution. The language " was approved by voters July 1, 1876.


The state Senate contained 26 members, plus Head, the majority being Republicans. As lieutenant governor, Head was established in the state constitution as the presiding officer.


You would expect Webster Anthony to spend his life pointing out Webster was his first name, not his last name. At the age of 22, Anthony came to Colorado in 1860 and resided in Denver.


His life varied as an appointed aide to judicial officials and then being elected to political office in Arapahoe County which then included the city of Denver. He ran for, and was elected to the state House of Representatives as a Republican where his fellow legislators, when they convened Nov. 1, 1876, elected him the first Speaker of the House. The House had 49 members, the majority being Republican.


Anthony spent most of his remaining active life in one or another political post. He died in 1896 and Head died in 1897.


The "schedule" became law when the state constitution was adopted. You'll find the key political words governing the first duty of the state legislature in Section 19 on page 778 of the Colorado Revised Statutes: 

" their first session, immediately after the organization of the two houses...and before proceeding in other business, provide by act or joint resolution for the appointment by said general assembly, of electors in the electoral college


"and such joint resolution or the bill for such enactment may be passed without being printed or referred to any committee, or read on more than one day in either house, and shall take effect immediately after the concurrence of the two houses therein, and the approval of the governor thereto shall not be necessary." 


In general terms, the promoters of statehood for Colorado traded away the right of its citizens to vote in the presidential election of 1876 in return for Colorado becoming a state.


Why did this happen? The Republican Congress was interested in adding three more electoral votes for the coming presidential election, so they were  sympathetic to the prodding of Jerome Chaffee, territorial delegate from Colorado, for passage of an enabling act.


But in the election of 1874, Thomas Patterson, a Democrat, won election from Colorado as the territorial delegate, to take office in early March, 1875.


Chaffee, according to Marshall Sprague in his "Colorado, A History" assured the "frightened Republicans in Washington" that the new state's three electoral votes would definitely go to the Republican candidate for president. Congress then passed an enabling act for Colorado statehood on March 3, 1875 during Chaffee's final week of his term as territorial delegate.


Chaffee, who wanted to and did become a U.S. Senator appointed by the first Colorado General Assembly in 1876, deserves the main credit for getting Congress to pass the enabling act..


So the constitution and the  "schedule" validity were approved by the voters July 1, 1876. President U.S. Grant issued the proclamation of statehood August 1, 1876, and the general election was held Oct. 3, 1876.


The legislature convened Nov. 1, 1876. On Nov. 2d and 3rd the House and Senate passed House Bill 1. It called for the House and Senate to meet in "joint convention" at 10 a.m. Nov. 7th and elect the three presidential electors Colorado was entitled to as a state.


The three electors were Republicans Herman Beckurts, William Hadly, and Otto Mears. A railroad magnate, Mears was responsible for intense lobbying over a 17 year period that produced the golden dome on the state capitol building.


After being chosen, the three electors cast their ballots for Republican Rutherford Hayes for president. The rest of the story has been told many times because of the 2000 presidential election where George Bush (the second) received one more electoral vote than Democrat Al Gore, based on the disputed vote in Florida.


Rutherford Hayes defeated Samuel Tilden (D) by one electoral vote in an election corrupted by immense fraud in several states. If Colorado had not become a state, or if Colorado voters had not given up an opportunity to vote for the electors. Hayes might have lost the election 182 to 187.


I have read the three handwritten pages of HB 1 at the state archives. The paper is in excellent condition and the penmanship is readable although beginning to fade somewhat on pages two and three. The measure is folded twice and "1877" is incorrectly written on an otherwise blank side.


A copy of the document should be made available for all to see.  Using a copy machine would likely be harmful to the print. I would suggest someone take photographs of the pages and  enlarge the photos for easy reading. Hang the framed pages in both the House and Senate.


(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.) 

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