Meet Arizona’s Territorial Governors

Arizona Digital Newspaper Program (ADNP) – History at Your Fingertips

-Guest Post from Christopher Sloan of the ADNP 

The Arizona Digital Newspaper Program (ADNP) is endeavoring to bring the colorful and highly informative historic Arizona newspapers and their relationship to Territorial politics to an interactive exhibit in the Arizona Capitol Museum. The exhibit, which opens April 26, 2014, will provide users with the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the resources provided through the ADNP website and get a deeper look at the political lives of some of the Territorial Governors.

Newspapers and politics were nearly inseparable in Territorial Arizona.  If newspapersweren’t out-and-out owned by a political actor, they were often owned by a close associate and had a clear, partisan bent.  They did not just endorse candidates for office; newspapers could be the key to making or breaking a politician’s career.  Despite their sometimes libelous content, they were the only sources for information on the workings of their government that Arizonans had. They carried news on legislation, speeches and proclamations, and the comings and goings of elected officials as they traveled the territory…

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Richard Elihu Sloan, b. June 22, 1857, d. December  14, 1933

Richard Elihu Sloan was the final Territorial Governor of Arizona, relinquishing control to George W.P. Hunt on Valentine’s Day, 1912 – when Arizona was accepted as the 48th State. Sloan was born in Morning Sun Ohio, lived for a period of time in Colorado, and finally moved to Phoenix in 1884, where he practiced law and became an active member of the Republican Party. His legal and political careers took off soon afterwards, serving as the County Attorney for Pinal County, delegate to the Republican National Convention, and member of the Council of the fifteenth Territorial Legislature. By 1890, Sloan had been appointed Associate Justice of the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, serving on the federal bench longer than any other judge in the Territory.

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Sloan was appointed as Territorial Governor in 1909 by President William H. Taft. At this point, statehood was expected and in 1910, no Territorial Legislature was elected. The Enabling Act (enabling Arizona to become a state) was signed by President Taft in June of 1910, and Governor Sloan immediately moved to create an Arizona Constitutional Convention made up of fifty-two elected delegates. Governor Sloan saw the potential problems that the majority-Democratic Constitutional Convention could encounter and warned delegates that they “must exercise extreme caution, especially when it came to initiative and referendum… emphasizing that either could cause Congress or the president to reject Arizona’s state constitution.”[1] The Arizona Constitutional Convention met from October 10 until December 9, 1910 and the Constitution they created was voted up by the people of the Territory on February 9, 1911.

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As Governor Sloan had predicted, Congress and the President refused to ratify Arizona’s new Constitution until a provision allowing for the recall of judges was removed. This unusual delay in statehood caused Sloan to be granted the legislative powers to make appropriations and to levy taxes. The provision was finally removed and the Constitution was approved August 22, 1911.

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Governor Sloan then called a special election, and on February 14, 1912 he left the office to the Governor of the new State of Arizona, George Wylie Paul Hunt – the wildly popular (and populist) Democrat who would be re-elected to six additional terms in office.

Though he was respected enough by a number of elected officials, from Presidents to Governors, he was not popular with all of them. He quarreled famously with Governor Lewis Wolfley over the appointment of one of Wolfley’s enemies to clerk of the court and later ruled against Wolfley’s business interests. Wolfley, in turn, went against popular sentiment and opposed Sloan’s appointment as a circuit judge.

Governor Sloan pursued his legal career after his governorship ended, being nominated by President Taft to be the first U.S. District Court Judge for the State of Arizona and continuing to practice law, and representing Arizona at the Colorado River Compact in 1922. Governor Sloan’s other passion was history and his greatest accomplishment as an amateur historian was as supervisory editor of the four-volume History of Arizona in 1930. Governor Sloan passed away in Phoenix, now capital of the State of Arizona, on December 14, 1933.

Special thanks to the Arizona Memory Project for use of material from the collection of Territorial Governor Portraits by William Besser (http://azmemory.azlibrary.gov/cdm/landingpage/collection/acmterr) For more information about Arizona’s territorial governors and much, much more, please visit: Arizona Digital Newspaper Program (ADNP) http://adnp.azlibrary.gov/

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[1] Hayostek, Cindy. “Douglas Delegates to the 1910 Constitutional Convention and Arizona’s Progressive Heritage”

 The Journal of Arizona History, Vol. 47, No. 4 (winter 2006) p. 352.

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