About Charles Nathaniel Haskell
Charles Nathaniel Haskell (March 13, 1860 – July 5, 1933) was an American lawyer, oilman, and statesman who served as the first Governor of Oklahoma. Haskell played a crucial role in drafting the Oklahoma Constitution as well as Oklahoma's statehood and admission into the United States as the 46th state in 1907. Haskell is also remembered as a prominent resident of Muskogee, Oklahoma and helped to bring the city to prominence throughout Oklahoma.
Early life and education
Born in West Leipsic, Ohio on March 13, 1860, Charles Haskell was the son of George R. Haskell, a cooper who died when the boy was three years old. His mother, Jane H. Reeves Haskell, worked for the local Methodist church as a bell ringer and custodian to support the six children. He learned to work hard to gain what he wanted. At the age of 10, he started working as a farm boy for a farmer named Miller in Putnam County, Ohio, where he lived and worked for eight years as he grew into adulthood. Miller was a school teacher, but as the young Haskell had to work, he had little time to attend school. Mrs. Miller taught him at home and Haskell earned a teaching certificate at age 17.
Haskell became a school teacher at age 18 and taught for three years in Putnam County. He "read the law" and on December 6, 1880, he passed the bar exam.
He became a practicing attorney at age 20 without having academic training in the field. In his work as an attorney, Haskell became one of the most successful lawyers in Ottawa, the county seat, as well as one of the most prominent members of the Democratic Party in northwestern Ohio. In 1888, Haskell started work as a general contractor; for the next 16 years, his business career gave him an understanding of American industrialism. During this time, he lived in New York City for short periods and in San Antonio, Texas.
Marriage and family
Haskell married Lucie Pomeroy, daughter of a prominent Ottawa family, on October 11, 1881. After they had three children together, she died in March 1888. Their children were Norman, who became a Muskogee lawyer; Murray, a bank cashier; and Lucie.
Haskell remarried in 1889, to Lillie Elizabeth Gallup. They also had three children together: Frances, Joe and Jane.
Move to Muskogee
With the Land Run of 1889 and the passage of the Organic Act in 1890, Oklahoma Territory was quickly coming onto the national scene. Seeing a chance to make it big, Haskell moved his family to Muskogee, the capital of the Creek Nation, in March 1901. When he arrived, Haskell found Muskogee a dry, sleepy village of some 4,500 people. However immediately on his arrival, the town took new life, and business blocks were constructed, with Haskell building the first five-story business block in Oklahoma Territory.
Using his knowledge as a contractor, Haskell began building railroads and has the honor of having organized and built all the railroads running into that city with the exception of but a small few. It is said that he built and owned 14 brick buildings in the city. Through his influence, Muskogee grew to be a center of business and industry with a population of more than 20,000 inhabitants. Haskell often told others that he hoped Muskogee would become the “Queen City of the Southwest.”
His success brought him much political clout in the politics of Indian Territory and the attention of the Creek Nation. During this time, the Native American nations in Indian Territory were talking of creating a state and joining the Union under the name of the State of Sequoyah. Haskell was selected as the official representative of the Creeks to the conventions, in the position of vice-president for the Five Civilized Tribes, held in Eufaula, Oklahoma in 1902 and Muskogee in 1905. Of the six delegates at the Muskogee convention, all were of Native American descent, save two: Haskell and William H. Murray. Even though the attempt to create the state was blocked by US President Theodore Roosevelt, Haskell wrote a large portion of the proposed state’s constitution. Though publicly, Haskell worked for a separate state for Indian Territory, privately, he was thrilled to see the Sequoyah state defeated. Haskell believed it would force the Indian leaders to join in statehood with Oklahoma Territory.
The United States Congress and President Roosevelt agreed that Oklahoma and Indian Territories could only enter the Union as one state, the State of Oklahoma. In response to Congress’s passage of the Enabling Act in 1906, Haskell was elected as the delegate from the seventy-sixth district (including Muskogee) by the largest majority of any delegate in the entire new state. Traveling to Guthrie and the Oklahoma Constitutional convention on November 20, 1906, Haskell would meet William H. Murray from the Muskogee convention and Robert L. Williams. Because of their meetings at both conventions, Haskell would gain a friendship with Murray that would last until the end of his life.
With many of the men at the Guthrie convention having served at the earlier Muskogee convention, many of the ideas proposed for the new constitution were based upon the Sequoyah constitution. Haskell owned the New State Tribune, and through its editorial columns advocated certain specific propositions for the new constitution, most of which he eventually saw, in substance if not in form, incorporated into the document. While William H. Murray served as the convention's President, all recognized Haskell’s power within the body. A local newspaper during the time, the Guthrie Report, called Haskell “the power behind the throne.”
Haskell was present at every roll-call and voted on every proposition during the session. Among the things he advocated were provisions that affected both territories’ labor problems and avocation for representatives of organized labor. Haskell also drafted a report drawing up county boundaries, led the crusade for state prohibition, introduced Jim Crow laws and successfully kept female suffrage out of the Constitution.
Campaign for Governor
At Tulsa on March 26, 1907, during the recess before the final adoption of the constitution by the convention, Haskell held a large Democratic Party banquet at the Brady Hotel, attended by 500–600 of the leading Democrats of the new state. During this banquet, the first campaigns for governor were formally inaugurated. It was during the course of that evening that Haskell was presented by his friends with the honors of the Democratic gubernatorial candidacy. Among the other potential candidates were Thomas Doyle of Perry and Lee Cruce of Ardmore.
Unfortunately for Haskell, the primaries for governor were set for June 8 and Doyle and Cruce had already been campaigning; Haskell had little time. During his campaign, Haskell made 88 speeches in 45 days, and reached nearly every county, while the lieutenants of the respective candidates were vigorously working in the school districts and securing support in every community. Once again Haskell’s hard working nature led him to win the Democratic nomination. Haskell's victory in the primaries was carried by a more than 4,000-vote majority. He immediately confronted a new opponent in the opposite party, the Republican territorial governor, Frank Frantz, who was nominated by the Republican caucus at Tulsa.
Frantz, the current territorial governor, a former Rough Rider, a friend of President Roosevelt, and with the federal prestige and support backing him, was the strongest candidate the Republican party could have presented to face Haskell. Haskell challenged his opponent to joint public discussions throughout the state, and every problem concerned with the administration of the new state came up and was debated during the campaign.
During the course of the campaign, two nationally prominent figures spoke at various locations: Republican presidential nominee William Howard Taft and Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan. Unfortunately for the Republicans, Taft’s disapproval of Oklahoma’s proposed constitution and his advice that the people vote against it caused the voters to react in favor of the Democrats. Haskell won the gubernatorial race by more than thirty thousand votes on September 17, 1907. On the same day, the voted approved the Oklahoma Constitution into law.
After Haskell's election and the approval of the constitution, a Republican approached the governor-elect and is reported to have said, "You have so written the constitution and carried on this fight in a way that the Republicans can't get anything in the state for fifty years." Haskell's eyes had a twinkle in them when he replied, "Well, that's soon enough, isn't it?"
Governor of Oklahoma
On November 16, 1907, five minutes after it was known that Oklahoma had officially become a state, the oath of office was administered to Governor Haskell by Leslie G. Niblack, editor of the Guthrie Leader, who had qualified as a notary public especially for this purpose. The ceremony took place privately in Haskell's hotel apartments in the presence of his immediate family, Robert Latham Owen, United States Senator-elect, and Thomas Owen of Muskogee, Haskell's former political manager. Haskell’s inaugural address at Guthrie, delivered on the south steps of the Carnegie Library, quickly lifted him into national prominence.
Haskell’s old friends William H. Murray and Robert L. Williams also came into power with the state’s founding; with Murray as the state’s first Speaker of the House and Williams appointed, by Haskell, as the first Chief Justice of Oklahoma. Haskell quickly became the idea of executive power through his handling of the Legislative and Judicial branches. Through his powerful personality and keen understanding of the office he had helped to create, Governor Haskell would weld the powers granted to him as Governor in such a manner that he is still remembered as being Oklahoma's greatest chief executive.
During the state’s First Legislature, Governor Haskell delivered a message creating a commission charged with sending a message to the U.S. Congress: amending the Federal Constitution to provide for the election of United States Senators by direct vote of the people. Though after he left office, his efforts, as well as the works of the Progressive-era leaders, provided for the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1912.
Though Guthrie was the official capital of the State, Haskell set up his administration from Oklahoma City. Oklahoma City quickly grew in industry and prominence, with a booming population of 64,000, shadowing the Capitol located just miles from the growing city. Haskell personally led the move to change the capital from Guthrie to Oklahoma City. First, he moved the official home of the Great Seal of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Constitution. Slowly, all government functions moved to the Oklahoma City area.
In the Legislature’s first session, under Haskell’s leadership, Oklahoma adopted laws regulating banking in the state, reformed the old territorial prison system, and protected the public from exploitative railroads, public utilities, trusts and monopolies. Haskell also initiated a law insuring deposits in case of a bank failure, a landmark piece of legislation in the nation. Haskell also rigidly enforced prohibition through the Alcohol Control Act. Though following progressive dogma at every turn, such as the introduction of child labor laws, factory inspection codes, safety codes for mines, health and sanitary laws, and employer’s liability for workers, Haskell’s legislative schedule also included Jim Crow laws for Oklahoma. Haskell's other significant contributions while governor included establishing the Oklahoma Geological Survey, the Oklahoma School for the Blind, the Oklahoma College for Women and the Oklahoma State Department of Health. In addition, he helped to create the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals in 1908.
Before Oklahoma became a state, all prisoners were imprisoned by Kansas officials. The Oklahoma Commissioner of Charities and Corrections Kate Barnard, Oklahoma's first female state official, visited the Kansas prisons and reported to Governor Haskell on the horrible conditions. In response, in 1908, Haskell pushed through the Legislature a bill that transferred 50 Oklahoma prisoners detained in the Kansas penitentiary at Lansing to McAlester, Oklahoma. When the Oklahoma state militia marched the prisoners down to McAlester, they found no prison. Under military supervision, the prisoners built Oklahoma State Peniteniary, the state's first correctional facility (which is still in use today). The militia housed the prisoners in a tent city and were authorized by Haskell to use lethal force against any prisoner that tried to escape.
A grandfather clause was also enacted in the Legislature’s second session by the state’s Democratic leaders, effectively excluding all blacks from voting. Haskell would spend the remainder of his term enforcing prohibition, regulation of railroads and other trusts, and the moving of the state capital to Oklahoma City. Haskell’s dream came true on June 11, 1910, when Oklahoma City became the State’s official capital.
Throughout his term as Governor, Haskell remained free from corruption. Though he was the leader in the deliberations of the committee on county lines and county seats, when hundreds of towns had committees attending the sessions with heavy purses, he left these deliberations lean and poor, and by the time he retired from the Governor's office he had become utterly impoverished. In debate he ignored the graces of oratory and instead marshaled facts, arrayed statistics and piled up figures, using his cutting wit and grim humor to carry his point.
He possessed a deep insight into human psychology based on a reverence for public duty which is best demonstrated in his selection of the first judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals. He declared that, though he deemed knowledge of the law of vast importance in a court dealing with the liberties of the citizens, rising above and far beyond this was the requirement that the court should be composed of men of the noblest human impulses and a rich and abiding sympathy of heart.
At the end of his term as Governor in 1911, Haskell stepped down from the Governorship, happy to see his 1907 Democratic primary challenger Lee Cruce inaugurated as the second Governor of Oklahoma. In 1912, Haskell unsuccessfully challenged his fellow Democrat Robert Latham Owen in a hard-fought primary for Owen's Senate seat.
Not only a powerful figure in Oklahoma politics, Haskell’s progressive roots and populist nature granted him considerable national clout. In 1908 Haskell headed the Oklahoma delegation to the National Democratic Convention at Denver and for a few months was Treasurer of the Democratic Campaign Committee. He was the spokesman for William Jennings Bryan in writing the platform of that Convention. In 1920 he again headed the Oklahoma delegation at the National Convention, which in that year met at San Francisco, and was committed to and faithfully labored for Oklahoma's United States Senator, Robert Latham Owen, for the nomination for President. Haskell would serve in this post two more times: a third in 1928 to the National Democratic Convention at Houston, and a fourth time in 1932 to the National Democratic Convention at Chicago.
At each convention and in his speeches and in numerous articles appearing in the public press he disclosed an intimate understanding of the big money masters of America and ruthlessly exposed many of their venal practices and their corrupt usage of the public funds in their own interest to the detriment of the people.
Later life and death
Haskell entered the oil business following his exit from the Governorship, a profession he would stay in until the end of his life and would earn him a considerable fortune. In 1933, Haskell suffered a major stroke, from which he would never recover. Three months later Haskell would die from pneumonia. Haskell lost consciousness on July 4, and died the next day, in the Skirvin Hotel in Oklahoma City at the age of 73. He was buried in Muskogee.
Throughout his administration as Governor, Haskell’s practical mind, intuitive knowledge of the law and his insight into what the law should be enabled him to discern the underlying principles of any issue. Though firmly a Democrat, Haskell found the middle ground and usually brought the belligerent partisan forces and rival interests into friendly agreement.
Arguably, Haskell's most significant achievement as governor was moving the state capital from Guthrie to Oklahoma City.
Charles Haskell Elementary in Edmond, Oklahoma, and Charles N. Haskell Middle School in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma are named in honor his honor. Haskell County, Oklahoma and the city of Haskell, Oklahoma were also named for him.
In 2007, Oklahoma celebrated 100 years of statehood. Many descendants of Charles Nathaniel Haskell were in attendance.