About the Project
The 100 Years of Oklahoma Governors website of the Oklahoma State Archives constitutes the early stage of a digital gubernatorial database.
Upon completion, the database will include descriptive, administrative, and archival information such as biographies and histories, state of the state addresses, research topics, links to related websites, and the finding aids for archival records of each governor.
In its final stage, the database will incorporate elements of an online exhibit by including a timeline, portraits, and images of pertinent documents. This database provides an important service to state government and Oklahomans alike.
Oklahoma’s unique history is vividly reflected in the records of each state gubernatorial administration. Before the adoption of the Constitution in 1907, Oklahoma found itself administered by a series of territorial governors. The Oklahoma Organic Act, passed by the United States Congress on May 2, 1890, established the Oklahoma Territory from unassigned lands in the center of Indian Territory. As one of the most important laws from which Oklahoma state government evolved, the act provided for a territorial governor appointed by the President of the United States.
President Benjamin Harrison appointed George Washington Steele of Indiana to the office of governor. Between 1890-1907, the following persons served as Territorial Governors, each playing a crucial role in the formation of state government: George Washington Steele (1890-1891), Robert Martin (1891-1892), Abraham Jefferson Seay (1892-1893), William Cary Renfrow (1893-1897), Cassius McDonald Barnes (1897-1901), William Miller Jenkins (1901), William C. Grimes (1901), Thompson Benton Ferguson (1901-1906) and Frank Frantz (1906-1907).
|Oklahoma Territory's first Governor George Steele|
The Oklahoma Organic Act also called for a territorial Supreme Court, bicameral legislature and delegates to the United States Congress as well as the organization of town and county governments. The act designated Guthrie as the territorial capital. In addition, the territorial government would operate according to the laws of Nebraska until its own code could be adopted.
Not only did the Organic Act establish state government, but it provided for the growth of Oklahoma Territory as well. Between 1890-1906, the area was enlarged by the addition of certain lands previously included in Indian Territory as well as the settlement of No Man’s Land. Under the terms of the Oklahoma Enabling Act, approved June 16, 1906, the Oklahoma and Indian Territories were joined to form the state of Oklahoma. A convention of 112 delegates met at Guthrie to draft a constitution for the nation’s forty-sixth state. A people’s election held on September 17, 1907, approved the Constitution and on November 16, 1907, Oklahoma was admitted to the Union by Presidential proclamation. Oklahoma’s first governor, Charles N. Haskell, took the oath of office that same November day.
The Governor of Oklahoma is the chief executive officer of the state. Today, many of the duties, responsibilities and privileges of the governor remain the same as established by the Oklahoma Constitution. However, the role of governor has also expanded from generation to generation, adapting to the changing needs of the state and Oklahomans.
The Oklahoma Constitution outlines the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, a system of checks and balances, veto and impeachment powers, a bill of rights, and other reforms. The constitution requires officials of the executive branch to be elected on a statewide basis, therefore, reducing the appointive power of the governor. In addition, gubernatorial elections are held in off years, eliminating the possibility of a candidate riding to office on the coat tails of a popular United States presidential candidate. Initially, according to the constitution, the governor was elected for a four-year term and could not succeed himself, reducing a governor’s personal power through long tenure and control of state government. Now, according to constitutional amendment and state statute, Oklahoma governors can be re-elected for a second term in succession.
Each governor’s term begins the second Monday of January. Principal powers and responsibilities are outlined by the state constitution and by statute and include certain appointive powers, the authority to veto or approve bills passed by the legislature, to grant pardons and paroles, to summon special sessions of the Legislature, and to call out of the militia. The governor conducts all business and affairs with other states and opens every joint legislative session with the state of state address. Moreover, the governor is directly responsible for the preparation of the state budget, serves as an ex officio member of several boards and commissions, receives reports from various state officers and agencies, and is charged with the duty of seeing that all laws are faithfully executed in the state.
Housed in the Oklahoma State Archives, the records of the Office of the Governor, known as Record Group 8, contains the official papers relating to the principal and appointive powers and responsibilities of the Governor of Oklahoma. Each record group is further divided by series and subseries, followed by box and folder. The records include administrative files, legislative files, pardon and parole records, various correspondence, appointment files, governors’ addresses, state finance reports, reports from state agencies and institutions, records pertaining to membership on various boards and commissions, press releases, photographs, newspaper clippings, etc. The records are inclusive of each gubernatorial administration beginning with the state’s first governor Charles N. Haskell (1907-1911) to Francis A. Keating (1995-2003).
The records of Oklahoma’s governors are a tremendous research collection because of the unique perspective they provide. Researchers can gain insight into each governor’s thoughts, writing style, and priorities. The records of each governor’s administration reflect numerous political, social, economic and global issues. With that in mind, the governor is not only the chief executive officer of the state, but also a representative of Oklahoma’s history.
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