Each of the four presidents who served during Minnesota's territorial period, March 1849 to May 1858, implemented a system of appointments known as "rotation in office." Under rotation, a newly-elected president replaced incumbents, placed there by his predecessor, with his own appointees, who were members of his political party. The result was a high turnover among federal officeholders.
This article examines the political and personal influences on Presidents Taylor, Fillmore, Pierce and Buchanan as they made appointments to and removals from Minnesota's territorial supreme court. It shows how aspirants lobbied each new administration for judicial assignments. The scheming of Henry Rice, the territorial delegate to Congress, to persuade the Buchanan administration to appoint his slate of judges is revealed; and the importance of recommendations by U. S. Supreme Justices Robert Grier and Samuel Nelson to the President's decision to appoint Rensselaer R. Nelson to the territorial court is explored. One of the themes of this article is that political leaders in the territory gained more influence over the selection process as statehood neared.
Article 6, §3, of the constitution Minnesota voters adopted in October 1857, required judges to be elected by the people. This requirement was the consequence of many forces, not the least of which was a reaction by the voters against the practice of rotation in office.
WARNING TO VIEWERS: Because of the length of this article, it may take several minutes for it to appear on your screen.