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Politics & Government

Wyoming Becomes a State: The Constitutional Convention and Statehood Debates of 1889 and 1890 and Their Aftermath

Delegates to Wyoming’s Constitutional Convention had to work quickly in 1889 to get a constitution adopted while Congress was still in session. Still, they managed to adopt some innovative ideas, especially in water law. The biggest stumbling block to statehood, in Congressional debate the following year turned out to be whether Wyoming had enough people. It was a close call.

Francis E. Warren: A Massachusetts Farm Boy Who Changed Wyoming

Businessman, family man, territorial and state governor, U.S. Senator: Francis E. Warren succeeded in all of these roles, but he is best known for long service in the U.S. Senate on behalf of Wyoming. A Massachusetts native, Warren arrived in Cheyenne in 1868, when the city was still a mass of tents and other temporary structures, and quickly became involved in its business and politics. By around 1900 he was Wyoming’s most powerful Republican, and ran his party’s so-called Warren Machine for decades by patronage and pork-barrel politics.

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920: The law that changed Wyoming's economic destiny

The Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 established the modern system by which oil and coal companies may lease federal land. This system has proven enormously beneficial to Wyoming’s state coffers since it was first enacted nearly 100 years ago. How this all came about is a story of early oil producers looking for a way around a presidential order and a highly contentious Supreme Court case, all with lucrative results for the state of Wyoming—and a stabilizing result for the industry.

A Brief History of Heart Mountain Relocation Center

From 1942 through most of 1945, about 10,000 Japanese-Americans from the West Coast of United States lived behind barbed wire in tarpaper barracks at the Heart Mountain Relocation Center between Cody and Powell, Wyo. in Park County—one of ten such camps around the nation during World War II. The center was briefly Wyoming’s third-largest town. When hundreds of young men in the camp were drafted into the U.S. military, 63 resisted, feeling they had been denied their constitutional rights. They and seven more leaders of the group were sentenced to federal prison. In the 1980s, Congress passed a law granting an apology and $20,000 to every survivor of the camps.

History of Guernsey Dam

Guernsey Dam on the North Platte River lies between historic Fort Laramie and Laramie peak and just a few miles from some deep, sandstone ruts on the historic Oregon Trail. The dam was completed in 1927, for hydropower and flood control. In 1934, crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps located camps near the reservoir. With design help from the National Park Service, they built the handsome stone-and-timber shelters and buildings at Guernsey State Park, in what became a showplace of state park design.

History of Glendo Dam

Before Glendo Dam could be built on the North Platte River in Platte County, Wyoming, complicated water-rights disputes had to be settled among Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado and the settlement approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. The process took more than a decade, and shows the difficulties of allocating water in the arid West. The earthfill dam, nearly 2,100 feet long and 190 feet high, was completed in the fall of 1957. It stores water for irrigation and recreation, controls floods, reduces sedimentation in the Guernsey reservoir downstream and produces hydropower.

Flaming Gorge Dam and Reservoir

In 1869, explorer John Wesley Powell named the red-walled canyon on the Green River in Wyoming Territory “Flaming Gorge.” The Flaming Gorge Dam, completed in 1964, helps regulate water flows and its power plant generates electricity. The dam is located in Utah, but the reservoir stretches north into Wyoming near the town of Green River. In 1968, the U.S. Congress created the Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, which is located in the states of Utah and Wyoming and draws visitors from around the world.

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Encyclopedia | Cheyenne schoolteacher Harriett Elizabeth “Liz” Byrd, Wyoming’s first black woman legislator, served in the Wyoming House and Senate from 1981-92. She concentrated on social justice issues, and nine times sponsored a bill to make Martin Luther King day a state holiday before it was finally adopted in 1990.
Encyclopedia | In 1913, members of the Wyoming House of Representatives—almost equally split between Democrats and Republicans—came to blows during a 45-minute fracas on the House floor over who should serve as speaker.
Encyclopedia | Wyoming’s mineral taxes make a story of personalities. Democrat Ernest Wilkerson reintroduced mineral severance taxes to Wyoming politics when he ran for governor in 1966. Republican Stan Hathaway defeated Wilkerson, but eventually presided over enactment of a severance tax and a permanent minerals fund, vastly stabilizing Wyoming’s financial future.
Encyclopedia | John Campbell took office as the first governor of Wyoming Territory in 1869. A Republican appointed by President U.S. Grant, Campbell found the job plagued by partisan conflict with Democrats, an overbearing Union Pacific Railroad and by factionalism within his own party—but he left sturdy political structures behind him. 
Encyclopedia | In January 1949, a massive blizzard rocketed through central and southeastern Wyoming and nearby states killing 76 people and tens of thousands of animals and leaving memories in its wake that are still vivid more than 65 years later. 
Encyclopedia | 1970s amendments to the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920 boosted the share of federal mineral royalties flowing to Wyoming and other oil-rich states while preserving the original act’s aim to balance production incentives with conservation—thanks in part to some shrewd maneuvering by Wyoming’s congressman, Teno Roncalio.
Encyclopedia | Shoshone Cavern National Monument near Cody was established in 1909 but delisted after 53 years, turned over to the City of Cody and renamed Spirit Mountain Caverns. Maintaining the site proved too difficult for local concessionaires, however. In 1977, the spot was returned to federal ownership and is now managed by the BLM.
Encyclopedia | The brilliant lawyer Willis Van Devanter of Cheyenne made a name for himself in the 1890s as a loyal Republican and protector of the interests of the powerful. He was rewarded with a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court in 1910, where he served as a staunch conservative for 27 years.

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