leading up to this historic case are well documented, even if they are
not widely known. I must begin by giving credit where it is due and note
that I owe a great deal of the history I am able to share with you today
to Mr. J. Birney Tuttle who memorialized much of this moment of our
state's history in his article, "The Period of Peaceful Anarchy,"
published by the New Haven County Bar Association in its 1933 annual
bulletin, as well as to newspaper reports from the Hartford Times and
the Hartford Courant.
The story begins with the election laws
that governed the gubernatorial election of 1890. Prior to 1901, the
Connecticut Constitution required that to be elected, a candidate for
Governor must receive a majority of all votes cast. If no candidate
received a majority, then the job of selecting the Governor fell to the
General Assembly by virtue of a vote of both the House and the Senate.
In the election year of 1890, Governor Bulkeley decided not to seek
reelection. Two principal candidates emerged. The Republican candidate
was General Samuel E. Merwin and the Democrat Luzon B. Morris.
Significantly, both men were universally respected, and they both had
die hard supporters. In 1890, the ballots were not printed or supplied
by the Secretary of the State. Rather, the political parties in each
town provided their own ballots that had to comply with the
specifications set forth by statute. A section of the statute, that was
key to events that subsequently occurred, provided that ballots should
not have any “distinguishing marks."
On November 4th of that year,
the voters of Connecticut went to the polls to elect a new Governor. The
Democrat, Morris, attained a majority by a mere 26 votes. However, this
vote count excluded ballots that local Democratic election moderators
had rejected because they deemed them to be non-compliant with the law.
In Bridgeport alone, 126
ballots cast for the Republican, Merwin, were discarded because a fly
speck created during the printing process appeared on the face of the
ballot. This fly speck was determined to be a distinguishing mark, thus,
leading the moderator to discard the ballot and to not count the vote.
State election law at that
time required the General Assembly on the first day of the session to
examine the election returns and on the second day to declare the winner
of the election. On January 7, 1891, the Democratic Senate passed a
resolution declaring Morris the winner of the election and the new
Governor. The Republican House refused to adopt it. The House agreed
only with the Senate's declaration that Nicholas Staub, a Democrat from
New Milford, had properly been elected as Comptroller.
Many of the more partisan and
passionate Morris supporters threatened to install him as Governor by
force and, as was reported in the newspapers, "threatened the peace of
the land of 'steady habits’." A courageous Democrat, Senator Cleveland,
stood out amidst this stalemate as the lone voice of reason and tried to
quell hot tempers. Cleveland reminded his Senate colleagues that one
branch of the General Assembly was not enough to install Morris as the
Governor; the Constitution required a declaration by the entire General
Assembly - which meant both houses. Cleveland was known for boasting
that during his life he had done many things to impair his own
constitution but never would he do anything to impair the Constitution
of the State of Connecticut.
Despite Cleveland's sound
argument, events escalated. On a night in early January, the leaders
that Cleveland had thwarted in the Senate chamber convinced Staub, the
official custodian of the Capitol Building, to change the locks on the
executive chambers, as soon as Governor Bulkeley had left for the night.
Thus, having physically evicted Bulkeley, these stalwart politicians
planned to install Morris in the Governor's chambers the next morning.
Morris, who played no part in concocting this plan, was described by
Tuttle as a "gentle and non-aggressive" man with a "profound regard for
law and order." Upon arriving to work early the next morning and
discovering that he had been locked out, Bulkeley - ever the showman -
demanded a crowbar and proceeded to force open the doors to the
executive chambers and reclaim them as his own. Thus, earning him a
nickname for all time - the "Crowbar" Governor.
As with many tense moments,
that in hindsight we may find amusing, we must remember that at the time
they were occurring, their ultimate peaceful resolution remained
uncertain. After the Democrats' "locksmith" stunt, the dangers and
threats inherent in the unsettled election of 1890 continued to grow.
The efforts to install Morris
did not abate. The Senate, again by resolution, declared Morris Governor
and received the vote of every Democratic member, except Senator
Cleveland. In preparation for administering the oath of office to Judge
Morris, "the Senate appointed a Committee to wait on Governor Bulkeley
and invite him to witness Morris' swearing-in." Senator Seymour headed
this Committee and, after returning from the mission, reported
"As near as I can remember,"
Seymour recalled, "Mr. Bulkeley said: 'Gentlemen, I thank you for
calling. Report to the Senate that I consider their actions
revolutionary and shall recognize no illegal officials'."
The drama rose to its climax
when, after administering the oath of office to Morris, a procession
arrived at the executive chambers to demand Governor Bulkeley vacate the
office of Governor. As Tuttle remembers it, the procession arrived with
"threats of revolution, bloodshed and anarchy" and a "strained
atmosphere of apprehension. . . . Governor Bulkeley, fashionably dressed
stood by the Charter Oak chair, his military figure erect, his usually
ruddy face for a moment a pallid white and his usually laughing eyes
shining like polished steel, outwardly calm and cold as ice. The only
person not appearing to be under any strain was the man who had come to
demand the office. Judge Morris, gentle, retiring, and with a
deprecatory smile, approached like a lamb being led to the slaughter."
A Senator in the procession
endeavored to introduce Governor Morris to Governor Bulkeley,
whereupon, Tuttle records the following dialogue between the two
Governor Bulkeley: "Mr.
Morris, I am glad to see you. What can I do for you?”
Judge Morris: "I am here to
say that I have been declared elected Governor and have taken the oath
of office as Governor. I suppose you are willing to retire from the
Governor Bulkeley. "Yes, I am
quite willing to retire as soon as anybody legally qualified and elected
shall appear, but I don't see any such person here as yet."
Judge Morris. "I expected the
Governor Bulkeley shook hands
with Judge Morris and quietly said to him, so that his voice was not
heard except by the nearest two or three persons, "Judge Morris, I shall
always be glad to welcome you here as a private citizen, but as an
illegal claimant to the office of Governor you are not welcome and I
request that you immediately retire."
Judge Morris then set an
extraordinary example to the throng of impassioned spectators and
quietly walked out and no violence erupted.
Following these efforts to
install Morris, Governor Bulkeley issued a public proclamation that
warned: "all persons to desist from any attempt to take possession of or
assume the functions of any of the State offices and that all such
attempts would be resisted by the Constitutional authorities of the
State of which he was the head."
In response to the
proclamation, Senator Fox, on the Senate floor, declared that it was
time the Democrats "resisted arms with arms" and called Bulkeley a
Clearly, all attempts at
compromise between the Republican House and the Democratic Senate had
failed. Gratefully, before tempers flared any further, the parties
decided that the questions of the election should be submitted for
determination to our Supreme Court.
In this tale of Connecticut's
past, like many other conflicts throughout our nation's history, the
ultimate resolution of unanswered questions became the responsibility of
the court. On April 14, 1891, State's Attorney Tilton E. Doolittle of
New Haven County brought a quo warranto proceeding on behalf of
Judge Morris to challenge Governor Bulkeley as the de facto
Governor and to determine all the questions involved in the recent
election. The Supreme Court concluded that Bulkeley was not only the
de facto Governor but also the de jure Governor. The court
reasoned that if no successor had been chosen, or being chosen had not
become duly qualified, then the sitting Governor still holds the office.
Chief Justice Andrews, writing for the court, observed that "The
[General Assembly's] declaration is the only evidence by which the other
departments of the government and the citizenry generally can know whom
to respect as such officer." And the Constitution "has fixed the time
and manner in which the General Assembly shall make that declaration.
Unless the declaration is made in the way so provided, the process of
the election is not complete." In concluding that Bulkeley validly
continued to serve as Governor, the court rightfully emphasized that "[i]t
is therefore the duty of all citizens, of the courts, of all departments
of the state government, and of both houses of the General Assembly, to
respect and obey him accordingly."
The court confirmed that the
view, previously advocated by Senator Cleveland in standing up to his
Senate colleagues, was constitutionally sound. Judge Andrews wrote that:
"The declaration of the result of an election is to be made by the
General Assembly, and must be made by both houses acting jointly
or concurrently. A declaration by one house without the other would have
The wide acceptance of the
court's decision by the legislature, the candidates and the people of
Connecticut is what makes this decision significant. It demonstrates
that the continued respect for our courts of law as the final arbiter of
disputes can and has, as it did in 1890, keep revolution at bay. The
Supreme Court in 1890 faced the unenviable task of resolving a political
war that had threatened the physical peace and well-being of its
citizens. The confidence that the public had in its courts that the
decision would be rendered in accordance with the rule of law, and not
in accordance with personal or political agendas, calmed a tense
situation and is a moment in our Supreme Court history worthy of
Additionally, and in
conclusion, I suggest that these events demonstrate that the influence
of individuals to effect change and to preserve order should not be
underestimated. Governor Bulkeley completed his unelected second term as
Governor. Judge Morris was elected to the office of Governor in 1893 in
his own right. Governor Bulkeley, Governor Morris and Senator Cleveland
all were men who, in a time of crisis, exemplified the responsibility
that we have as citizens, and as actors in our own governance, to know,
respect and adhere to our constitutional principles and processes. I am
confident that the next hundred years of both our state and court's
history will continue to reveal men and women of such giant personality