George A. Nourse – Republican, Elected

1st Nevada Attorney General

Term:  January 4, 1864 - January 7, 1867  


George Augusta Nourse, born on December 19, 1824, grew up in Hollowell, Kennebec County, Maine.  During his time as a student at Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, health issues forced him to leave, and so he went to Aroostook County in Maine and established a farm.

In 1852, Nourse turned his attention to the study of law and graduated from Harvard University Law School.  He migrated to St. Anthony, Minnesota, where he became the City Attorney and later, me moved to Hennepin County, where he became that county's District Attorney.

Nourse led a varied career as an attorney.  Minnesota voters first elected Nourse on October 13, 1857, as the state's Territorial Attorney General.  Congress admitted Minnesota to the Union on May 11, 1858. Mr. Nourse continued to serve as the Territorial Attorney General until that state's first, state-wide election on November 8, 1859.  In March 1861, President Lincoln appointed Nourse as the United States Attorney for Minnesota.  Nourse gained admittance to the Nevada Territorial Bar on June 2, 1862.[1]  About July 1863, Nourse resigned as the United States Attorney and moved to Carson City in the Territory of Nevada, perhaps attracted by the mining craze on the Comstock Lode, then at its height.  The Nevada State Bar re-admitted Nourse on April 25, 1864.[2]  In its July 6, 1864, edition, the Sacramento Daily Union reported that on July 4, 1864, Nourse represented Washoe and Roop counties at the Nevada state constitutional convention in Carson City, in the Territory of Nevada.

After leaving the Nevada Attorney General's Office, Nourse, in 1868, as in present day, challenged an election result.  In State of Nevada ex rel. George A. Nourse v. Robert M. Clarke , 3 Nev. 566 (Nev. 1868), Nourse, the plaintiff, contended that newly-elected and inaugurated Robert M. Clarke could not become the Attorney General because the Nevada state constitution prohibited a person holding a federal office or position from being elected to a Nevada state political office.[3][4][5], and Clarke still held the office of United States Attorney on Election Day (November 8, 1864).  However, evidence showed that Clarke had submitted a resignation letter to President Andrew Johnson on October 25, 1866, effective November 1, 1866, and another resignation letter on November 5, 1866.  The Nevada Supreme Court had to decide whether Clarke tendered his resignation as United States Attorney for Nevada before his November 6, 1866, election to the office of Nevada Attorney General.  The Court dismissed the case because the question of when then-President Andrew Johnson received the resignation letter could not be determined - the Court ruled that Clarke could be elected and could serve as Nevada Attorney General.

In 1868, Nourse moved to San Francisco, California, where he practiced law before moving to Fresno, California.  In 1886, Nourse unsuccessfully ran as a Republican for Fresno, California, County Superior Court Judge.

Nourse died on June 28, 1901, in Fresno, California.

Election of 1864  

Elected as Nevada's first Attorney General in the state's first state-wide election on November 8, 1864, Nourse (Republican) received 9,798 (60.1%) of the 16,308 votes cast, and W.H. Rhodes (Democrat) received 6,510 (39.9%) votes.[6]  

Office Administration and Duties    

According to Nevada statutes at the time, the Nevada Board of Examiners had to provide an office for the Attorney General and other Nevada constitutional officers to conduct their business, however, the Nevada State Capitol building had not yet been built.  The state rented an office for Nourse's use from Peter Cavanaugh Sr., in Carson City, whom the state hired years later as the general contractor to build the Nevada State Capitol building. 

Nourse had no deputies or other office support staff as evidenced by the Nevada Attorney General's budgets for the 1864-1865, 1865-1866, and 1866-1867 state biennial fiscal periods: 

1864-1865 Budget

   $2,500:   Attorney General's Salary 

1865-1866 Budget

   $2,500:   Attorney General's Salary 

1866-1867 Budget

   $2,500:   Attorney General's Salary    

Beginning in 1864, state statutes designated that the Nevada Attorney General serve as a member of the Board of Examiners.[7]  In 1867, the Nevada State Legislature passed a number of statutes requiring the Attorney General to serve as a member of other boards and commissions:  the Nevada Board of Examiners, Parole Board, Board of State Prison Commissioners, and Board of Directors for the Nevada State Library. Nourse also provided oversight to various, private companies' toll road franchises that the Legislature had granted in the Washoe City, Carson City, Virginia City, Steamboat, and Dayton areas. 

Nourse, in one of his first acts as a member of the Nevada Board of Examiners, approved the appropriation of $3,416.77 to the California State Telegraph Company  for the expense of telegraphing the Nevada State Constitution from Carson City, Nevada, to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.[8]  

Chapt. LXV. - An Act authorizing the Payment of Expense
incurred in Telegraphing State Constitution
[Approved March 3, 1865]

The People of the State of Nevada, represented in Senate and Assembly do enact as follows:    

Section 1.  The sum of three thousand four hundred and sixteen dollars and seventy-seven cents is hereby appropriated from any monies which may come into the public treasury, not otherwise appropriated, in coin, to pay the charge for telegraphing the Constitution of Nevada from Carson City to Philadelphia; the claim therefore having been duly allowed by the Board of Examiners.    


Sec. 2.  The State Controller is hereby authorized and directed to draw his warrant on the State Treasurer, in favor of the "California State Telegraph Company" for the above amount payable as aforesaid, and the State Treasurer is hereby authorized and directed to pay the same out on any monies, not otherwise specially appropriated, which may come into the treasury as aforesaid.     

Controller directed
to draw warrant

Sec. 3.  This act shall take effect, and be in force, from and after its passage.    


[1]  Nevada Historical Quarterly, Vol. XXVI, Winter 1983, Number 4, p. 280.
[2]  Nevada Reports, Number 22, p. 13.
[3]  Article 4, Section 9 of the Constitution, which declares "that no person holding any lucrative office under the government of the United States, or any other power, shall be eligible to any civil office of profit under this state", is not confined to members of the legislature, but is applicable to all officers of the state.
[4]  Article 4, Section 9 of the Constitution:  "providing that no person holding any lucrative office in the government of the United States shall be eligible to any civil office of profit in the state", a person holding the office of United States district attorney is ineligible to the office of attorney general of the state.
[5]  An unconditional resignation, to take effect immediately, becomes effective when deposited in the post office properly directed to the person authorized to receive it.
[6]  Political History of Nevada, 2006, p. 354.
[7]  1864-1865 Statutes of Nevada, Chapter XXXII, p. 135.
[8]  1864-1865 Statutes of Nevada, Chapter LXV, p. 187.


    • George A. Nourse - Nevada Historical Society