Benjamin Gratz Brown
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.
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.
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 :
EXECUTIVE OFFICE, JEFFERSON CITY, May 31, 1872.
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.
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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