Nevada territorial Supreme Court Justice John Wesley North played an important role in the pivotal single ledge case. Born in Sand Lake, New York in 1815, North began teaching school at age fifteen. In 1833, he became a licensed lay preacher. While continuing to teach, he attended the Cazenovia Theological Seminary in New York. In 1838, North entered Wesleyan University and began lecturing against slavery.
In 1845, after a course of study, North was admitted to the New York bar, began practicing in Syracuse, and married Emma Bacon, who died in 1847. A year later, he married Ann Hendrix Loomis, sixteen years his junior. The Norths moved to Minnesota Territory in 1849. In 1851, North served as a member of the second session of the Minnesota territorial legislature.
North founded the town of Northfield and helped found a University of Minnesota campus at St. Anthony. Defeated in his 1851 bid for reelection, North engaged in land speculation, railroad planning, and the temperance movement. In 1855, he and his friends organized the Republican Party in Minnesota. At the first meeting, North presented resolutions supporting abolition, the repeal of the fugitive slave law, the prohibition of alcohol, free land for settlers, and a reduction of postal rates. Two years later, he served as president of the Minnesota constitutional convention.
In 1860, North led the Minnesota delegation to the Republican national convention in Chicago, which nominated Lincoln for president. After campaigning for Lincoln, North unsuccessfully sought the position of Superintendent of Indian Affairs.
In the spring of 1861, Lincoln named North as surveyor general of the new Territory of Nevada. North arrived in Carson City on June 22, 1861 and was soon admitted to the Nevada bar. He became superintendent of Washoe County schools in December 1861. He formed a law partnership in 1862 with James F. Lewis, later also a justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. In July of that year, North's federal surveyor position terminated with the consolidation of the Nevada and California offices.
When it was clear Justice Gordon Mott planned to resign from the Supreme Court, Judge Horatio M. Jones recommended North for the vacancy. On August 20, 1863, North received a temporary presidential appointment to the Nevada's highest court. Initially, the new justice, who sat principally in Virginia City, won praise for his decisions and for eradicating the case backlog. He was elected president of the 1863 constitutional convention in Carson City, where he favored taxing mines.
William Stewart, a powerful attorney, opposed North's position on taxation. Their mutual animosity increased over the Justice's position on the single ledge case, the outcome of which would determine the ownership of Comstock mines. North ruled in favor of claimants who maintained the Comstock was composed of many separate ore bodies (or ledges), a position supported by the average miner who saw it as a chance for anyone to strike it rich. Stewart argued the idea that the Comstock was a vast, single ore body.
North began a four-year term on the Nevada territorial Supreme Court on January 20, 1864, but by then, the North-Stewart controversy had reached a crisis. Stewart accused North of accepting a bribe for ruling against his client in the single ledge case. By May 1864, public opinion had shifted in favor of the single ledge argument and popular outrage over the alleged chicanery on the Supreme Court increased, leading to demands for resignations. North adjourned his court and finally resigned on August 22, 1864. In December 1864, North instituted a defamation suit against Stewart and the Territorial Enterprise. The Supreme Court referred the action to three referees in September 1865. They found North blameless, although in two instances probably guilty of bad judgment.
By then, North had sold his property, moved his family to Santa Clara, California, and departed for Tennessee to start a colony promoting industry and education, an effort that failed. In 1870, North founded the town of Riverside in southern California, while promoting the raising of silkworms. In 1879, he moved to San Francisco and joined a law firm, which included John Lewis, his former Nevada associate. That year, North failed to win the Republican nomination to the California Supreme Court. He emerged in 1880 as the general agent for the Washington Irrigated Colony, near Fresno, California. He opened a law office in Fresno, built a house in nearby Oleander, and started a farm. His wife, Ann, sensed failure and refused to accompany him.
In 1883, North was invited to Minneapolis, where he visited the university campus he helped found. He then attended a reunion of abolitionists in New York. North died on February 22, 1890 in Fresno.
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