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Benjamin Gratz Brown


NO one of the western States, certainly no western or southwestern slave State, has reared so many men of eminent ability in our national affairs as Kentucky. Whether this pre-eminence is due to her genial climate, her fertile soil, her bold and beautiful scenery, or to the stock from which her sons have come, is a legitimate subject of inquiry; but the fact remains that among her people, even those without much education, there is an intelligence and thoughtfulness in regard to public affairs which is not found to anything like the same extent in other States. They may be in error, a majority of them were grievously so during the late war, but you will hardly find a Kentuckian so ignorant or stupid that he has not made out, to his own satisfaction at least, the reasons which justify his political action. The educated class in the State, whatever their political views, are among the best specimens of the thoroughbred gentleman in our country. Highly intelligent, and holding clear and decided views on all State and national questions, they are frank, courteous, and manly, somewhat impetuous, as is natural from their Virginian ancestry and their early training; but they are men to be loved and trusted.

It is from one of the best families of Kentucky that the subject of our sketch is sprung.  The Hon. John Brown, his grandfather, was born in Rockbridge, Va., in 1757; was chosen a Representative in Congress from a western district of Virginia, and remained in that capacity from 1789 to 1793, being the con temporary and esteemed friend of the founders of the Republic. He subsequently removed to Kentucky, and settled at Frankfort. Here his abilities and honesty were soon appreciated, and when Kentucky was admitted into the Union he was one of her first senators, and during the first session of the VIIIth Congress was President pro tem. of the Senate. He was a warm supporter and life-long personal friend of President Jefferson. He died at Frankfort, Kentucky, in 1837, at the venerable age of 80 years. His son, Judge Mason Brown (father of Governor Brown), was eminent as a jurist, and an upright, enlightened magistrate. He was for some years one of the judges of the Court of Appeals of Kentucky. Governor Brown's ancestry on the maternal side was no less distinguished. 

His mother's father, the Hon. Jesse Bledsoe, was a distinguished advocate and jurist of Kentucky, and represented that State in the Senate of the United States. He was a Professor of Law in the University of Transylvania, and Chief-Justice of the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

BENJAMIN GRATZ BROWN was born in Lexington, Ky., May 28, 1826. From early childhood he was a fearless, manly boy, not simply physically braveóthat were but an ordinary merit in his native Stateóbut possessing that higher moral courage which made him ready to take the unpopular side, if he believed it to be right. He was carefully and very thoroughly educated under his father's eye, taking the full course of the Transylvania University at Lexington, and then entering Yale College as a junior, from whence he graduated with high honors in 1847. He had already developed an antagonism to slavery at the time of his graduation, and though he pursued his legal studies in his father's office, and was very thoroughly qualified to enter the profession in Kentucky, he preferred to fight his way to reputation as a reformer in a wider field. He removed to St. Louis in 1849, and there commenced the practice of his profession. His extensive legal attainments, the carefulness with which he prepared his cases, and his eloquence as a pleader, remarkable even in that city of orators, soon won him business and fame. In 1852, before he had completed his twenty-sixth year, he was elected a member of the State Legislature, and being repeatedly re-elected, served for six years in that body. But he was eager to enter more fully upon the work to which he felt that he was called, and in 1854, having assisted in founding the Missouri Democrat (which has been for the past fifteen or sixteen years the leading political paper of St. Louis on the side of Reform and Progress), he became its editor-in-chief the same year, and continued in that position until 1859. From its start it advocated the Free Soil doctrines, and attacked slavery with an earnestness and vehemence which insured opposition. When the Republican party was organized, Mr. Brown and his journal rallied under its flag. He labored zealously for Fremont in the campaign of 1856, and in 1857 delivered a speech in the legislature, which, by its logical power, its caustic denunciation, and its vehement eloquence, roused the people against the aggressions of the slave power, and led the way to the fiercest political contests.

The moral courage and daring which had been so conspicuous a trait in his boy-life came into fuller and grander play as he and his Free Soil associates preached the gospel of freedom throughout Missouri, in the legislature, in the Missouri Democrat, in public assemblies, and everywhere, with the earnestness and eloquence which resulted from thorough conviction of the truth of what they were urging. They were for years in the minority, out they were undismayed. Failing to subdue the fearless journalist by political proscription, he was often menaced with personal violence. On one occasion he received a shot through the knee, and was so severely injured that he still suffers from the effects of the wound. The zeal, energy, and sagacity of the emancipationists triumphed ; and in 1857 the Free Soil candidate for governor came within less than 500 votes of being elected. But this partial defeat was compensated by the strong Union sentiment which was engrafted in the community, and which rendered Missouri proof against the blandishments of secession.

Thenceforward, for four years, the side of freedom gained strength daily; and men, who had at first scouted the idea of Missouri being a free State, came cautiously to look with more favor on it, and by tens and twenties joined the ranks of the Free Soilers. And this result was owing more largely to the incessant and patriotic labors of B. Gratz Brown than to those of any other man, or, indeed, of all the rest put together.

Then came the war. St. Louis was at first like a house divided against itself. The secession element was strong and bold, and there was for a time great danger of the city's falling into the hands of the rebels, who held control at first of the State government. But the courage of the little band of heroes never faltered. As wise in counsel as he was patriotic in sentiment and daring in action, Mr. Brown, in consultation with the gallant Lyon, advised the attack and capture of Camp Jackson, near St. Louis, in May, 1861, and that measure, successfully carried out, relieved St. Louis from its danger, and secured the State to the Union. On that occasion Mr. Brown commanded a regiment of militia, and aided materially in accomplishing the desired result. Soon after he raised a regiment of volunteers, and in the field, as elsewhere, gave evidence of soldierly ability, and of his earnest devotion to the national cause. He was commissioned brigadier-general, and was foremost in organizing those movements which resulted in the ordinance of freedom in 1861. In 1863 he was elected United States Senator from Missouri to fill out an unexpired term of four years, and taking his seat in the Senate, although one of its youngest members, he soon won the reputation of being an able legislator and statesman. He was placed on the Committees on Military Affairs, Pacific Railroad, Indian Affairs, Public Buildings and Grounds, and Printing, and was chairman of the Committee on Contingent Expenses of the Senate, and for a part of his term of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds. It is very seldom the case that a young senator on first entering the Senate is placed on so many and so important committees.
Retiring from the Senate, Governor Brown engaged in private and professional pursuits, carrying into daily life the love of harmony, tolerance, and equal rights he had so long advocated in public. He was not, however, allowed to remain in retirement. Obeying the call of thousands of his fellow-citizens, he accepted the nomination for Governor of Missouri, and sustained by coalition of the Republicans and Democrats, he was triumphantly elected. The vote was as follows: For Brown, 104,286; for McClurg, 62,369 ; majority, 41,917. The great issue in this campaign was the removal of the proscriptive measures which the angry passions incident to the war had placed in force.

The events of Governor Brown's administration are too recent to need recapitulation. His powerful influence has been exerted in repairing the social disturbances as well as the material ravages of the war; in resisting every tendency toward repudiation, however plausible may be the pretext, and in securing the just rights of all citizens. Under his wise management of her public affairs, Missouri is rapidly developing her immense resources, and bids fair to rival Pennsylvania as the great iron-producing region of the Union. 

Governor Brown has been among the number of those who, though identified with the Republican party by long years of active and earnest labor in its service in the days when it cost to be a Republican, have yet felt dissatisfied with the present administration and its management. So pronounced was this dissatisfaction in Missouri that the leading men of what was known as the bolting party (that which elected him as governor), with Governor Brown at their head, called a convention at Cincinnati on the 3d, 4th, and 5th of May, 1872, to consider the situation, and perhaps propose candidates for the Presidency.

Governor Brown is undoubtedly ambitious, but we think none of those who know him would accuse him of having been prompted by a spirit of self-seeking in this movement. Whether the views they entertained were correct or not, they were unquestionably patriotic and in earnest in putting them before the people. The result of that convention was one unquestionably unexpected by Governor Brown, though so far as the Vice-Presidency is concerned, it is doubtful if a more judicious selection could have been made. His letter of acceptance of the nomination, addressed to the committee who had notified him of the action of the convention, is manly, honorable, and straight-forward; and its manly and generous tone must meet the approval of many who are not disposed to sustain the ticket. It is as follows :


GENTLEMEN : Your letter advising me of the action of the Liberal Republican Convention at Cincinnati has been received, and I return through you my acknowledgment of the honor which has been conferred upon me.

I accept the nomination as a candidate for Vice-President, and indorse most cordially the resolutions setting forth the principles on which the appeal is made to the whole people of the United States.

A century is closing upon our experience of republican government, and while that lapse of time has witnessed a great expansion of our free institutions, yet it has not been without illustration also of grave dangers to the stability of such a system. Of those successfully encountered it is needless to speak; of those which remain to menace us the most threatening are provided against, as I firmly believe, in the wise and pacific measures proposed by your platform. It has come to be the practice of those elevated to positions of national authority to regard public service but as a means to retain power. This results in substituting a mere party organization for the Government itself, which constitutes a control amenable to no laws or moralities, impairs all independent thought, enables a few to rule the many, and makes personal allegiance the road to favor. It requires little forecast to perceive that this will wreck all liberties unless there be interposed a timely reform of the administration from its highest to its lowest station, which shall not only prevent abuses, but likewise take away the incentive to their practice. Wearied with the contentions that are carried on in avarice of spoils, the country demands repose, and resents the efforts of officials to dragoon it again into partisan hostilities. And I will zealously sustain any movement promising a sure deliverance from the perils which have been connected with the war. It is safe to say that only those are now to be feared which come of an abuse of victory into permanent estrangement. The Union is fortified by more power than ever before, and it remains as an imperative duty to cement our nationality by a perfect reconciliation at the North. A wide-spread sympathy is aroused in behalf of those States of the South which, long after the termination of resistance to the rightful Federal authority, are still plundered under the guise of loyalty and tyrannized over in the name of freedom. Along with this feeling is present, too, the recognition that in complete amnesty alone can be found hope of any return to constitutional government as of old, or any development of a more enduring unity and broader national life in the future. Amnesty, however, to be efficacious must be real, not nominal; genuine, not evasive. It must carry along with it equal rights as well as equal protection to all; for the removal of disabilities as to some, with enforcement as to others, leaves room for suspicion that pardon is measured by political gain. Especially will such professed clemency be futile in the presence of the renewed attempt at prolonging a suspension of the habeas corpus and the persistent result to martial rather than civil law in upholding those agencies used to alienate the races whose concord is most essential, and in preparing another elaborate campaign on a basis of dead issues and arbitrary intervention. All will rightly credit such conduct, as but a mockery of amnesty, and demand an administration which can give a better warrant of honesty in the great work of reconstruction and reform. In the array of sectional interests a Republic so widespread as ours is never entirely safe from serious conflicts. These become still more dangerous when complicated with questions of taxation, where unequal burdens are believed to be imposed on one part at the expense of another part. It was a bold as well as admirable policy in the interest of present as well as future tranquillity to withdraw the decision of industrial and revenue matters from the virtual arbitration of an electoral college, chosen with the single animating Purpose of party ascendancy, and refer them for a more direct popular expression to each Congress district, instead of being muzzled by some evasive declaration. The country is thereby invited to its frankest utterance, and sections which would revolt at being denied a voice out of deference to other sections would be content to acquiesce in a general judgment "honestly elicited." If local government be, as it undoubtedly is, the most vital principle of our institutions, much advance will be made toward establishing it by enabling the people to pass upon questions so nearly affecting their well-being dispassionately through their local representation. The precipitance which would force a controlling declaration on tax or tariff through a presidential candidacy is only a disguised form of centralization, invoking hazardous reaches of Executive influence. A conclusion will be much more impartially determined, and with less disturbance to trade and finance, by appealing to the most truthful and diversified local expression. Industrial issues can be thus likewise emancipated from the power of great monopolies, and each representative held to fidelity toward his immediate constituents. These are the most prominent features of that general concert of action which proposes to replace the present administration by one more in sympathy with the aspirations of the masses of our countrymen. Of course such concert cannot be obtained by thrusting every minor or past difference into the foreground, and it will be for the people therefore to determine whether these objects are of such magnitude in the present urgency as to justify them in deferring their adjustments until the country shall be first restored to a free suffrage, uninfluenced by official dictation; and ours becomes, in fact, a free Republic, released from apprehensions of a central domination.

Without referring in detail to the various other propositions embraced in the resolutions of the Convention, but seeing how they all contemplate a restoration of power to the people, peace to the nation, purity to the Government, that they condemn the attempt to establish an ascendancy of military over civil rule, and affirm with explicitness the maintenance of equal freedom to all citizens, irrespective of race, previous condition, or pending disabilities, I have only to pledge again my sincere co-operation. I have the honor to remain, very respectfully, yours,
B. GRATZ Brown.

In person Governor Brown is of rather less than middle height, slightly built, and of nervous organization. His most noticeable characteristics, next to vigor and directness of thought, are boldness and decision in action, an iron will, indomitable perseverance and courage, and great capacity for long, continued labor. His speeches and public papers evince scholarship, and are always pointed and forcible. His manner in debate is very impressive and attractive, and he ranks among the foremost of western orators.

Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872   

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