The appointment of a new justice to the Minnesota Supreme Court in the twenty-first century may result in a few newspaper articles, one or two on the retiring jurist and one or two on the new one. This was not the reaction of state newspapers to appointments to the Court in April 1874.
After Chief Justice Christopher G. Ripley resigned in March, St. Paul and Minneapolis newspapers published lengthy articles on potential appointees. They were shocked, to put it mildly, when Governor Cushman K. Davis made two appointments on April 7--Associate Justice Samuel J. R. McMillan as Chief and George B. Young as Associate Justice. The Republican Party press erupted in a paroxysm of invective against the Governor for selecting Young. The Minneapolis Tribune, declaring that it did not have "words suitable to convey the disgust of our people" to Young's appointment, nevertheless called it "an ostentatious insult to Minneapolis...a grave political affront...an enormous blunder." Most newspaper editors were baffled, others outraged, only a few willing to accept the Governor's judgment. This was the reaction of the bar as well.
What upset the Party press and many in the bar was the Governor's failure to appoint their favorite, three-term Attorney General, Frank R. E. Cornell, to the helm of the Court. Instead, by promoting McMillan, the Governor created a vacancy in the associate justice ranks that he filled with thirty-four year old George B. Young, an obscure Minneapolis lawyer who was not politically active and unknown to lawyers and Party members around the state.
Though Young held the office, Cornell decided to seek the nomination of the Republican Party for Associate Justice at its State Convention on September 9, 1874. He quickly marshalled enough support and received the unanimous endorsement of the convention.
The Democrats nominated Ramsey County District Court Judge Wescott Wilkin for Chief Justice and William Lochren, a prominent Minneapolis lawyer, for Associate Justice.
The general election on November 3, 1874 was unusual. It was the first state-wide election in the state's history where only candidates for the Supreme Court were on the ballot. A second would follow in 1882 when Chief Justice Gilfillan ran unopposed for re-election. In all other state-wide elections, candidates for political offices such as governor or president were also listed.
The author of this article speculates on why Governor Davis appointed George Young to the Court and how Frank Cornell, an able, ambitious, politically astute lawyer, successfully challenged him for the Party's nomination..... and won election to the Court.