From the April 2003 Idaho Observer:

Better Days?

by Hari Heath

As our former republic-turned-corporate-administrative-dictatorship heads off to war -- for oil -- for Israel -- for some other as yet unseen purpose;

As our good fighting men and women are deployed in a distant desert, at the beginning of a long hot summer, completely surrounded by all the Arab enemies that decades of a flawed U.S. foreign policy could muster;

As our U.S. dictatorship unleashes the shocking awe of its weapons of mass destruction under the guise of preventing another dictatorship from possessing weapons of mass destruction -- which he might use on us;

As the collateral damage mounts in this undeclared, immoral and unconstitutional war of aggression and the fuse is lit on the Middle Eastern powder keg;

As the filing date approaches for the tax we do not owe, according to the questions our government refuses to answer;

As an American woman whose husband was stolen for non-compliance went on a hunger strike to compell the government to answer one question: what law requires her husband to file?

As the SARS virus spreads from China to Toronto and elsewhere, providing the excuse to forcibly quarantine any citizen who might have the symptoms of this possibly man-made disease;

As the last vestiges of our Constitution and Bill of Rights are about to be destroyed by Patriot Act II, and the final wave of the Homeland Gestapo spreads across our land...

...wouldn't it be nice to return to better days -- days like the tranquil times of America's golden age, when Idaho was forming into a territory and then a state?

The Idaho State Historical Society published bIdaho: An Illustrated History in 1976 which gives us a glimpse of better days when life was simple and uncomplicated. First, a look into the creation of Idaho Territory:

“In 1859, the land that became Idaho formed most of the eastern part of Washington territory. Except for a few settlers around The Dalles and Walla Walla, Oregon and Washington consisted entirely of communities west of the Cascades. Except for a missionary or two in the Coeur d'Alene country, and about one mountain man in the upper Snake valley, Idaho had been given back to the Indians. Mormons in the Cache valley expanded north across the Utah boundary into Washington to found Franklin (later to become Idaho's oldest town), April 14, 1860. Then, after mineral discoveries at Pierce in 1860, the Idaho gold rush changed the situation entirely. Shoshone county was created by the Washington [territorial] legislature, January 9, 1861, in anticipation of the gold rush. In the Washington congressional election of July, 1861, the new mining county cast the largest vote in the territory.

“Aware that political control of Washington would shift from Puget Sound to the farm and mining counties east of the Cascades, publicity in support of a new territory for the Idaho mines began to emanate from Olympia, not from the mining counties. Olympia interest in the project arose from fears that Washington's territorial capital soon would be moved to Walla Walla unless the territory was divided. In 1862, a majority of Washington's population resided in the mining counties. Except for a brief time when Florence held top position, Walla Walla had become the largest city in Washington. Legislative reapportionment soon would deliver control of the territory to Walla Walla and the mining counties.

“Walla Walla, aspiring to become capital of Washington, opposed a new territory. Lewiston, located closer to the mines, hoped for a new territory east of the Cascades that would include Walla Walla as well as the mines. Such an arrangement would give Lewiston a central location and an advantage in the competition to become a territorial capital. In the Washington territorial elections of July 14, 1862, the mining counties elected candidates who supported Walla Walla's preference, and opposed the Lewiston and Olympia plans to set aside a new mining territory.

“Encouraged by the Idaho gold rush, which expanded into the Boise basin by the fall of 1862, Walla Walla hoped to be capital of a new state of Washington. Olympia had to move quickly, for such a disaster seemed all too likely. Olympia wanted an eastern Washington boundary that would retain Walla Walla and the adjacent farming country in Washington, and put all the mines, but not potential farms, in a new territorial jurisdiction.

“Lewiston's suggestion for a new territorial boundary collided with Olympia's plan. But in Congress, Olympia won. Over the opposition of the legislative delegation from the Idaho mines, which preferred to keep Washington intact, Washington's congressional delegate managed to overcome Walla Walla's plan to make Washington a new mining state. John Mullan, in the national capital reporting on construction of his military road in eastern Washington and western Dakota, got the House of Representatives to approve the Walla Walla plan, February 12, 1863. William H. Wallace, Washington's Congressional delegate, upheld Olympia's preference and quietly got the Senate to put the rest of the Idaho mines in the new territory right at the end of the session. Over the opposition of the chairmen of both congressional committees on territories, he got the boundary amendment approved in the House of Representatives as well. Another last-minute amendment restored the name 'Idaho' to the new mining territory. President Lincoln approved the measure on the morning of March 4, 1863, and Idaho became a territory of the United States shortly before Congress adjourned.

“Wallace, who had little or no hope of getting reelected to Congress from Washington, had an opportunity to come out to Idaho as governor. He selected the original slate of Idaho's territorial officials. His new territory -- the last of the vast oversize western territories -- exceeded Texas in area. All of later Montana and practically all of later Wyoming were included.”

The Historical Society's book continues, giving us a further look into the early days of Idaho's territorial government:

“Territorial government began in Idaho four months after Congress established the new mining commonwealth. Governor Wallace decided to organize the new territory in Lewiston, the point in Idaho nearest and most convenient to his Puget Sound home. He faced some major problems. Because Idaho was established on the last day of the congressional session, no money was appropriated for Idaho's government. Worse yet, massive ranges of mountains divided the mining camps of the western part of Idaho into three widely separated sections: the Clearwater-Salmon river mines; the Boise-Owyhee region; and the upper Missouri area that became Montana less than a year later. The eastern half of the new territory -- the great plains of later Montana and Wyoming -- contained a few soldiers at Fort Laramie and a lot of Indians. No matter what Wallace had done to try and start a government for such an area, at least half the population would have been dissatisfied. But with his base of operations, in the now mostly depopulated original Idaho mining area, he alienated five-sixths of the people. Governor Wallace got away from these problems by getting himself elected delegate to Congress that fall before the legislature met in Lewiston that winter. He left Idaho in the hands of territorial secretary W. B. Daniels, who was regarded in Lewiston as unsuited for the job 'for want of a sufficiently strong and cultivated intellect.'

“After Wallace left, Idaho's experience with territorial government for the next six years was uniformly unsatisfactory. Daniels and the legislature could not even manage to chose a site for a territorial capital. The code of laws they adopted in February 1864, were soon regarded as defective and repealed that December.

“Caleb Lyon of Lyonsdale, the new governor, proved to be a colorful, eccentric former congressman who delivered great orations but fled clandestinely from the territory at the end of 1864 when the citizens of Lewiston decided to resist the actions of the governor and the second session of the legislature. A Lewiston probate judge decided the legislature was illegal, and there was no supreme court to hear an appeal.

“For more than two months, Idaho had no government at all. Finally a new territorial secretary and acting governor arrived from the east after spending eight months trying to reach Idaho. Turned back by the Plains Indians in the summer of 1864, he had to start all over and come by way of Panama, San Francisco, and Portland. He too gained the displeasure of the citizens of Lewiston by moving Idaho's government operations to Boise, which had been made territorial capital, effective December 24, 1864. Then the new acting governor, while on a tour of the territory, suddenly expired from the effects of 'a dismal and melancholy disease,' August 19, 1865, at Rocky Bar -- where Idaho's government came to an abrupt end.

“Idaho's government was revived by H. C. Gilson, 'a small gambling bar tender' of 'doubtful Moral antecedent' whom the deceased governor had picked up in San Francisco. Gilson's main contribution to Idaho's progress was to steal the entire territorial treasury, which amounted to $41,062. After absconding to Hong Kong and Paris, he was eventually caught. But no action could be brought against him because the grand jury had forgotten to indict him.

“Meanwhile, Governor Lyon returned to Boise to try again; he succeeded in getting into trouble with about everyone but the Indians. Dismissed from office because he opposed massacring the Indians, he slipped out of Boise in the spring of 1866 with all of Idaho's Indian funds (a total of $46,418.40) which he administered as superintendent of Indian affairs. Once again, Idaho was left with no government.

“By the time Lyon's successor, Governor D. W. Ballard, reached Boise, June 14, 1866, the Idaho supreme court finally managed to organize and decide that the legislature was legal after all. From then on, Idaho at least had a government. For some years, though, no one except the territorial secretary knew what most of the laws were, because the published volumes were held in San Francisco awaiting payment of the printing bill. This could not be paid because Gilson had disappeared with the territorial treasury.

“Governor Ballard reached Idaho at a time when a legacy of bitter antagonism divided the nation after the Civil War. A large influx of Confederate refugees from Missouri, reinforced by sympathizers from the Pacific coast, made Idaho a strongly southern territory. From 1864-1880, Idaho's Confederate Democrats dominated the territorial elections. Naturally, the Republican governors and other territorial officials appointed by the president of the United States clashed with the legislature. During the excitement of the national debate over Radical Reconstruction of the South during 1866-1867, Governor Ballard got into such a violent war with his overwhelmingly Confederate legislature that he called out United States Army troops at Fort Boise for protection from the legislature. In its 'satanic' fourth session, Idaho's legislature got about as ferocious as any good southerner could have asked. A long continued drive to remove Ballard as governor grew out of his fight with the legislature. Ballard's enemies managed to get his pay stopped, but after more than a year, some Oregon senators got Ballard restored to the payroll. In the meantime, he had to support himself with his Boise medical practice. By the end of 1868, Ballard managed to develop harmonious relations with the legislature in spite of overwhelming political differences. Then early in 1869, Idaho's unhappy government financial disorders were untangled -- and the chaos and excitement of the early gold rush years gradually came to an end.”

Tranquil times? Golden age? The history of human endeavors rarely exemplify anything that can be called honorable conduct. Greed, usurpation, fraud, graft, deception and political shenanigans are the most common punctuation marks of human history. From the frontier times to modern mega-government's war on everything for everything, only the methods and intensity of the political crimes against humanity have changed.

Why? Most people are as spineless as water. We don't “stand” for anything; we gravitate instead to the lowest common denominator -- greed. Satisfying our selfish motivations of getting the most for the least personal effort. This is equally true for the lowly citizen who keeps his head down to just get by and not make waves against the hand that feeds him, and those who grasp at the fist of power. The fist of power -- a beastial government which is sustained by compelling the citizenry to surrender the fruits of their labors. There are no innocent civilians here; you either feed the beast or ride it.

Until humanity learns to walk on higher ground and refuses to contribute to the evils of either a seemingly benevolent government (socialism) or the progressively totalitarian fists of power that ultimately rise from better intentions, we will be doomed to repeat our current fate. And the debacles of the next frontier “territory” will again evolve into yet another fist of power, leaving in its path wretchedness and oppression.

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