The Legislative War
It was a tense moment when Gov. Lewelling was inaugurated governor on January 9, 1893. At a mass meeting of the Populists the night of the inauguration, a resolve was adopted reading: "We are here by the voice of the people and we will disperse only at the point of the bayonet." The newly elected legislature consisted of 65 Republicans, 58 Populists and 2 Democrats. The Senate organized in an orderly manner. But there was a fight in the House. The Populists accused the Republicans, who had a majority, of having obtained 18 seats by fraud. Both parties organized in the House. The Republicans elected George L. Douglas speaker and the Populists elected J.M. Dunsmore speaker. Both Douglas and Dunsmore occupied the same desk, slept on the same floor under the same blanket, each with a gavel in his hand.
On the third day, Lewelling recognized the Dunsmore House as the legal body. On the fourth day the Senate took the same action, the Republican Senators protesting. On January 17, Governor Lewelling, a member of the Populist Party, sent his message to the Senate, where it was read, and to the Dunsmore House, which ordered it printed.
The arrest of L.C. Gunn by a sergeant-at-arms of the Douglas House, on charge of failing to obey a mandate of that body, brought an issue before the Supreme Court. Mr. Gunn asked to be discharged on the ground that the Douglas House was not the lawful and constitutional House of Representatives and had no authority to order his arrest.
On February 14, 1893, an attempt was made by two deputy sergeant-at-arms of the Douglas House to arrest Ben C. Rich, chief clerk of the Dunsmore House. After a sharp scuffle, he was rescued by his friends. Lewelling directed the Adjutant General to call out a company of militia if necessary. On the night of February 14, the officers of the Dunsmore House Barricaded the doors of the House. On the morning of February 15, the members of the Douglas House, headed by their Speaker, appeared, thrust aside the outer guards, smashed in the doors with a sledgehammer, and entered and took possession. The Populists fled to a basement room where they used improvised benches.
Gov. Lewelling called out several companies (including Co. F, 3rd Inf.) of state militia with guns brought out of the state arsenal. Col. J.W.F. Hughes was placed in command. The Governor issued to Hughes two orders; one directing him to remove from the House all Republicans not recognized by the Populist Speaker, J.F. Dunsmore; and the other directing him to clear the corridors of all persons except troops, to station a small detachment in the east and west wings of the Capitol, and then proceed with the remainder of his forces (some less than 500 men) to Representative Hall and to eject those persons named in the first order.
The situation was resolved through negotiations and Court orders. That this "Legislative War" ended without bloodshed and the loss of life was due to the intelligence, far-sightedness, vision and great courage of Colonel Hughes. Incidentally, he had issued no ammunition to his troops.