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A political manuever in the family

Well, sort of in the family. More accurately, the following bit of political history occurred to someone in the family tree, but not a blood relation. My grandfather, Hiram M. Femrite, ran for Auditor in Lac Qui Parle County one year, but that’s not the reference in the title.

Campaign card for Hiram Femrite

Now and then I review areas of the family tree to see if I’ve missed important relationships or find people whose record is mostly blank. The other day I was reminded that my grandfather’s mother, Gunhild Holtan Hanson, had been married once before she met my great-grandfather John M. Femrite. The marriage only lasted a couple of years. I didn’t have a picture of her first husband nor did I know anything about him or even where they lived during the marriage.

AlI I knew about Gunhild’s first husband was his name, A. J. Daley. Often, when a name pops up in my family tree and there aren’t any more leads to follow, I leave the name as a placeholder and move on. In trying to understand more about Gunhild’s life, I needed to find out who A. J. Daley was.

Andrew John Daley

I knew that Mr. Daley and my great-grandmother were married in 1881 in Red Wing, Minnesota. That made perfect sense as Gunhild was born in Goodhue County and Red Wing was the county seat. She was 21 and he was 24.

New online searches this month revealed a short biography of Mr. Daley and a very intriguing political tale that I can’t resist sharing. He was been born in Wisconsin, but moved to Minnesota when he was 21. After he and Gunhild split up, Daley moved to Rock County in southwestern Minnesota, settling first in Beaver Creek and later in Luverne. There he met his second wife, Nellie Gurine Knudtson.

In the November election of 1890, Daley ran for Rock County Court Commissioner. He ran on the Republican ticket opposite a candidate from the newly formed Alliance Party, Gust Nelson. He won the election 717-651. However, after the election he learned that he had a new problem that might keep him from taking office. He wasn’t legally qualified to be a judge. In fact, he didn’t even possess a license to practice law!

This is where the story takes a bizarre turn. Daley learned that in the elections of 1868 and 1977, two men were admitted as court commissioners who didn’t meet the age requirement of 21. The state legislature passed special acts that removed the age criteria for a temporary period, long enough for them to be sworn in to their respective offices.

Daley decided to pursue a similar course. He had friends in the 27th Minnesota Legislature introduce a bill in March of 1891 that would only apply to a court commissioner in the 13th Judicial District who applied for admission to the bar within 60 days of the bill’s passage. The bill eliminated the requirement that an applicant prove that he had read law, in other words, that he was a bona fide lawyer. The exact language of that provision was quite clear, “Provided further, That no proof shall be necessary as the time and the manner of reading law by such applicant.”

The only requirement the law made of Mr. Daley was that he apply ” . . . to a judge of the supreme court or any district court . . . ” to ” . . . show that he had been duly elected . . . and shall submit to such examination as to his learning and ability as such judge may direct . . .” One week later, on the last day of the term of the District Court, he was examined by Judge Martin J. Severance who promptly ordered him admitted to the bar. That ruling qualified Daley to take his seat as a Court Commissioner.

He left public service just a little over a year later, but he had a private practice as an attorney for the rest of his life.

Daley was apparently something of a trendsetter as similar special legislative acts granting eligibility to people who wanted an easy entry the legal profession were enacted dozens of times in Minnesota over the next several decades. The practice was halted by the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1929. (Thanks to the Minnesota Legal History Project for a wonderful report on A. J. Daley and this topic.)

I don’t know if Gunhild knew of A. J. Daley’s second marriage or the fact that his very successful career as a lawyer began in this dubious manner. Fifteen years after the dissolution of her first marriage she married John Femrite in Faribault, Minnesota. Life with John was no less tumultuous than life with Andrew Daley might have been as I’ve documented several times. However, their first-born child was my grandfather and for that I’m grateful!

Gunhild’s father, Hans Hanson Holtan, was a Minnesota legislator in the previous generation. I’ve written about his experiences in an earlier post titled “Hans H. Hanson walked to St. Paul in 1858.” I wonder what he would have thought about the outcome of the 1890 election for A. J. Daley?

Gunhild and Hiram Femrite 1898

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