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Porter, William F.

William F. Porter (1863-1945), a Populist-era Nebraska legislator and secretary of state, was described at the time of his death in 1945 as "one of the most colorful legislators of his time." (Lincoln Star, February 17, 1945) Porter launched his political career while farming in Merrick County. After serving as a Populist speaker, he was elected in 1890 to the Nebraska Legislature and reelected in 1892.

The Star noted in his obituary, "Pioneers and old-time citizens of Nebraska will recall that Mr. Porter was a member of the historic session of 1891 when it was necessary for a [Nebraska] Supreme Court officer to break down the doors of the house in order to compel the populist speaker [Samuel M. Elder of Clay County] to open the returns of the 1890 election. The populists had filed notice of contest of all state officers. In the hot debate that grew out of these events, Mr. Porter became one of the leaders of the populist protestants."

Related to this situation was the contest between incumbent governor John M. Thayer, a Republican, and governor-elect James E. Boyd, a Democrat. The dispute over the governorship was finally settled in Boyd's favor only after a Nebraska Supreme Court decision that Boyd was not a U.S. citizen (and therefore ineligible) was reversed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

During his first term in the Nebraska Legislature, Porter introduced the bill authorizing the Australian ballot for Nebraska; was chairman of the railroad committee; and was the author of the maximum rate law. In 1896 Porter was elected Nebraska secretary of state and reelected in 1898. As secretary of state he was an ex-officio member of the railway commission, and in 1910 was a candidate for railway commissioner for Nebraska.

Porter never forgot the heady days of the Populist revolt. He was among the many public figures memorialized in verse by Nebraska State Journal columnist and poet A. L. Bixby, whose "Daily Drift" columns are still some of the best observations on the Populist era in Nebraska. Porter died in 1945 in Lincoln, his home for the last forty-five years of his life.

(March 2001)



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