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Four months after Eben E. Corliss arrived in Otter Tail County in July 1870, he was elected county attorney. There was no government at that time, although the county had been created by the legislature twelve years earlier. In January 1871, newly-elected county officials began establishing townships and school districts. While "roads and schools" consumed their attention, the very existence of the county itself faced threats in the legislature. In November 1871, Corliss was elected to the state house. In the Fourteenth Legislature, Corliss, with the support and encouragement of allies, not only saved but expanded the county. He authored ingenious if slightly duplicitous bills that stripped a section of land from adjacent Wilkin County, attached it to Otter Tail, while relocating the county seat to Fergus Falls, where a railroad terminal was planned--all subject to the approval by the voters of Otter Tail County. In a November 1872, plebiscite, the measures passed.
Otter Tail County's ordeal was typical of many battles waged in the legislature and submitted to the voters over the existence and contours of certain counties--and the location of county seats--in the nineteenth century. These disputes constitute an important chapter in the legal history of the state.
They are at the center of a short memoir Corliss wrote for a county history published in 1916. Though he looked backward on these accomplishments, he was also somewhat of a visionary, albeit nostalgic, for he saw his county to be a "melting pot" for settlers such as himself from the East Coast, immigrants from many European countries, even a small group of Mormons. He emerges as a remarkably tolerant individual.
When his "Reminiscences" were published, Corliss had ceased practicing law in Fergus Falls, and had taken the position of capitol custodian. He died on July 21, 1917, in St. Paul, age seventy-five. The following week, the Fergus Falls Daily Journal published a lengthy tribute to him.
James Manahan (1866-1932) was a prominent lawyer in Minnesota during the Progressive Era and beyond--from 1906 through the early 1920s. He died in 1932 at the age of sixty-six, and his autobiography, "Trials of a Lawyer," was published by his daughter Kathryn the following year.
Manahan graduated from the Law Department of the University of Minnesota in 1889. He claimed he was its "first graduate" and in an alphabetical sense he was correct. Today, his photograph hangs on the first floor of the library of the Law School. A photo of his daughter, a member of the class of 1925, hangs a few yards away on the same wall.
Manahan wrote at an uncommonly high level. Through his eyes, we see the 1906 rate hearings that spawned "Ex Parte Young" (1908) and the "Minnesota Rate Case" (1913), but also led to his "disbarment," the "Express Rate Case" (1912-13), one of the Interstate Commerce Commission's most influential rulings, the hysteria during World War I, culminating for him in his flight from a mob in Lakeville in February 1918, and his experiences in organizing Mid West farmers to gain economic power. We read his lengthy speech on judicial recall at the 1911 Minnesota State Bar Association meeting, relive his successful campaign for Congress in 1912, and feel his discomfort at being prosecuted in early 1918 for inciting a riot during a street car strike in St. Paul.
For those interested in the legal history of Minnesota, "Trials of a Lawyer" is an indispensable primary source.
This is the first of a series of articles on James Manahan that will be posted on the Minnesota Legal History Project.
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