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Oliver Perry Morton


OLIVER PERRY MORTON was born in Wayne county, Indiana, on the 4th of August, 1823, and, becoming an orphan while yet very young, was placed under the care of his grandmother and two aunts, living in Hamilton county, Ohio. In early youth he served for awhile with a brother in the hatter's trade, but, in 1839, was placed at school in his native county, under the tuition of Professor S.K. Hoshour, then principal of the Wayne county seminary, and now a professor in the Northwestern Conference university, at Indianapolis. His honored instructor says of him, at this period of his life, "If some knowing genius had then suggested to me that the future governor, par excellence, of Indiana, was then in the group around me, I would probably have sought him in a more bustling form, with brighter eyes and a more marked head than Oliver's. But time has shown that in him was the mens sana in corpore sano, which the college, the acquisition of jurisprudence, legal gymnastics at the bar, the political crisis of the past, and the present exigencies of the nation, have fully developed, and now present him the man for the most responsible position in the gift of a free people." After leaving the seminary, young Morton entered Miami university, at Oxford, Ohio, where he appears under a more favorable guise, as the star member of the Beta Theta Pi society, and the best debater in the college. Leaving the university without graduating, he went to Centreville, Indiana, and began the study of law with the Hon. John S. Newman, bending all his energies to the the rough acquisition of his profession. In 1845, he married Miss Lucinda M. Burbank, of Centreville, a lady of rare intelligence and refinement, whose untiring and benevolent efforts, during the recent war of the civil rebellion, for the relief of the Indiana volunteers, have honored both herself and her husband. 

Admitted to the bar in 1846, Mr. Morton soon took a front rank as a jurist and advocate, commanding, by his natural and acquired abilities, a large and lucrative practice. In the spring of 1852, he was elected circuit judge, acquiring among his fellow-members of the bar, as well as in the public estimation, a high reputation for thoroughness and fairness. When, in the spring of 1854, the Democratic party, of which he had always been a member, repealed the Missouri compromise and passed the Kansas-Nebraska bill, he promptly seceded from the party, and thenceforth co-operated with the Republican party in its efforts to stay the spread of slavery and slave territory. Yet on the subject of free trade, internal improvements, etc., he, remained essentially in harmony with this old party, nor did he repudiate these principles in his departure from the Democracy, or in his acceptance of the nomination for the, governorship of Indiana, which was tendered to him, in 1856, by acclamation.   Having consented to head the Republican State ticket, he accompanied his Democratic competitor—Ashbel P. Willard—in a vigorous and thorough canvass of the entire State, doing noble work, wherever he went, for the cause of Republicanism.

Yet, although he was defeated, the large vote which he received, considering the many difficulties under which he labored, and the youth of his party in the State, was justly to be considered a victory. From this time forward, Morton's character seemed to develop into new strength and harmony, and the superiority of his mental organization became more generally acknowledged. From the end of this campaign, however, to the commencement of that of 1860, he asked no honors of his party, but was content to labor, energetically and constantly, for the promotion of its success. His sound judgment and eminently practical mind gave him new influence in political councils, where he was acknowledged as the best of engineers and an authority as a framer of policy. The Republican party in Indiana, from its inception to 1860, owes its advancement largely to his untiring zeal, wise counsels, and personal influence.

When that important campaign opened, Mr. Morton's name again appeared on the Republican ticket as nominee for lieutenant-governor, "for reasons which were, at that time, supposed to have some weight, but which have since faded so completely that it seems almost incredible that he was ever thought of for so inferior a position." Again he plunged into the canvass of the State with that vigor of intellect and body which few men possess, in an equal degree, showing a scope of view and a concise, but logical, method of statement and argument which rendered him unanswerable by his Democratic opponents, and which entitled him to the front rank of expounders of the Re-publican doctrines. The Republican ticket in Indiana, as in all the Northern States, was successful, and, on the 14th day of January, 1861, he was duly qualified as lieutenant-governor, and took his seat as president of the Senate. He occupied this position but two days, when, in consequence of the election, by the Legislature, of the governor election. Henry S. Lane--to the Senate for a six-years' term, he became Governor of Indiana, and took the oath of office. Upon assuming the executive chair, Governor Morton found the public interests in a critical condition. Under previous loose, corrupt administrations, the public treasury had been depleted by wanton extravagance and official peculation, the sinking fund had been miserably mismanaged, and a regular system of frauds had been carried on by State and county officers in the disposition of the swamp lands, until the credit of the State abroad was so much impaired that she had become a borrower to pay her debts, and was, literally, "a by-word among her own citizens." The new governor set himself earnestly to work to bring order out of confusion, to renovate the different departments of government, to replenish a depleted treasury and to redeem the credit of the State. He inaugurated a new era of honesty, economy, and good financial management, which saved the State many millions of dollars, and rescued her name from infamy and distrust.

But a new and still more threatening danger was to be averted from his beloved " Hoosier State." The gathering cloud of disunion and civil war hung over the country, and it became evident that Indiana was afflicted with so large a share of disloyalty, that the advocates of secession even confidently counted upon material aid from her, in the shape of men and arms, in their proposed treasonable designs. Governor Morton was determined, however, that this scarce concealed treason should be nipped "in the bud," and to commit his State fully and unequivocally on the side of freedom and loyalty. Early in the spring of 1861, he visited the President at Washington, and assured him, that if he pursued a vigorous policy, he could pledge him at least six thousand Hoosiers for the defence of the Union. When, at length, in April, the attack upon Sumter bad both startled and fired the northern heart, and the President issued his call for seventy-five thousand troops—Indiana's quota being fixed at six regiments, of seven hundred and fifty men each—Governor Morton issued a proclamation, which, in eight days, rallied over twelve thousand men to the defence of the national flag. The first six regiments marched promptly forward to the field, attracting at all points general admiration and surprise at the perfection of their equipment; and Governor Morton's efficiency was held up as an incentive for other State executives to follow in nearly all the northwestern States ; and hardly had these first troops reached the field, before the ever-thoughtful governor sent agents to follow their footsteps, at-tend to their wants, and see that all their little needs were supplied while in health, and that they were properly cared for when sick. With Governor Morton, indeed, may be said to have originated the plan of sending State agents to visit and care for troops in the field; and, throughout the war, his agents uniformly distanced those of all other States. A few days after, the governor tendered an additional six regiments to the President. His message to the Legislature, which he had called in extra session, was full of determined and lofty patriotism. Laying aside all party prejudices, he required only loyalty and capacity as the necessary qualifications for positions of influence; and so great, indeed, was the liberality shown by him to the Democracy, as to arouse the jealousy of the Republicans, who criticised his course with much severity during this special session. 

Meanwhile, the neighboring State of Kentucky was in a very precarious state. Its governor, Magoffin (at heart a secessionist), was endeavoring not only to play into the hands of the South by preventing Kentucky from joining the hosts of freedom, but to draw Indiana, Ohio, and other northern border States also into their power, by inducing them to hold a position of neutrality, and assume the character of sovereign mediators between Government and the seceded States. Governor Morton, however, was not deceived by this specious plea of neutrality. He firmly rejected all propositions to that effect from Governor Magoffin ; and, desirous of keeping Kentucky " in the Union," he dispatched thither numbers of his own secret agents, by whom he was promptly advised of the plans and operations of the secessionists in every part of that State. On the 16th of September, 1861, Governor Morton received from one of these agents, information of Zollicoffer's advance into Kentucky, to a point some fourteen miles beyond the Tennessee line, and of a corresponding advance by Buckner's rebel force towards Louisville. The governor promptly countermanded an expedition under General Rousseau, which was just starting for St. Louis, and ordered the force to cross the Ohio into Kentucky—at the same time hastening every available man in Indiana, to the defence of Louisville, the safety of which was thus assured beyond a doubt.
Fully convinced, now, that Kentucky's neutrality was at an end, and that her soil was actually invaded by the rebels, Governor Morton withdrew his secret agents, and, appealing to his Hoosiers for help, to redeem the sister State from the enemy, he sent forward regiment after regiment into Kentucky, and before many months had passed, the Federal& held Bowling Green, Zollicoffer was killed, his troops defeated at Mill Spring, and the soil of Kentucky cleared of rebels. This generous conduct endeared the governor to the Unionists of Kentucky, who virtually adopted him as their governor. We cite an incident in point. " Shortly after Kentucky was cleared of rebel troops, a very wealthy lady of Frankfort, the owner of a large number of slaves, visited some friends in Indianapolis, and on the second day of her visit inquired for Governor Morton Upon ascertaining that he was absent, and would not return for several days, she prolonged her visit somewhat beyond the time she had intended to remain. The day for the governor's return having arrived, and he not appearing, the lady extended her visit still several days more, saying she would not leave Indianapolis until she had seen him. A friend inquiring of her the reason why she was so anxious to see the Hoosier governor, she replied, "Because he is our governor, as well as yours, and has been ever since the beginning of the rebellion." And we are reminded, also, of the Indiana soldier, who interposed to stop an angry altercation in the streets of Frankfort, Kentucky, as to whether Magoffin (de facto), or Johnson (provisional), was governor of Kentucky, by the remark—" Hold on, gentlemen, you are all mistaken. I will settle this controversy. Neither of your men is governor of Kentucky, but Governor Morton, of Indiana, is governor of Kentucky, as his soldier-boys, with their blue coats and Enfield rifles, will soon show you."

Despite the discouraging impressions produced upon the public mind, by the reverses to the national arms in the fall of 1861, twenty volunteer regiments were added to the twenty-four Indiana regiments already in the field by the end of the year, a result of the ever-constant fidelity of Governor Morton in following the absent troops, securing their pay, attending to their personal wants, and providing for their families at home. But the same energy and fraternal care which inspired confidence in the volunteers, also excited envy and detraction at home, among a certain class of ambitious politicians and traitors to the national cause. Charges of mismanagement in State military matters, of corruption in official appointments and the awarding of contracts, became so frequent that, finally, in December, 1861, a Congressional Committee of Investigation visited Indianapolis, at the urgent and frequently repeated re-quest of the governor, and instituted a rigid examination of the management of the military affairs of the State.  Their published report not only vindicated Governor Morton from all blame, but developed, in the most incontestable manner, his care to prevent fraud, peculation, and waste. It has been well said of him, at this period, that, "as the war progressed, and the execution of all plans proposed by him resulted success. fully, he rose in the estimation of the President and Cabinet, until it was finally admitted by the knowing ones at Washing. ton, that his influence with the powers at that city was greater than that of any other man, outside of the national executive department, in the country. His thorough knowledge of the people of the northwest, his ready tact in adapting means to ends, his great forecasting and combining powers, and above all his energy and promptness in the performance of all labor assigned him, secured to him a deference which few men in the nation enjoyed; and more than once was his presence requested, and his counsel solicited, in matters of the greatest importance to the Government." 

The depression of the public mind during the winter of 1861-62, seemed only to rouse Governor Morton to still greater resolutions and endeavors; and by his indefatigable exertions six regiments, by the last of February, 1862, were added to the number of those already in the service. About the commencement of the year, a wide-spread and formidable western conspiracy, in aid of the Southern Rebellion, was discovered to exist in most of the loyal States, known, in some places, as the "Star in the West," in others, as the " Self Protecting Brothers," " Sons of Liberty," etc., but most generally, as " The Order of American Knights," in affiliation with the southern society of " Knights of the Golden Circle." The order became quite popular in the southern counties of Indiana, and its members were especially virulent in denunciation of the administration, the "abolition war," and Governor Morton. Against him they especially charged, with a persistence which seemed to be proof against repeated denials, that he was instrumental in procuring the imposition, by Congress, of oppressive taxation; and, also, corruption in the appointment of the first State quartermaster-general; notwithstanding, in relation to the first charge, that he had by good engineering so managed, that Indiana's share of this taxation had been "of set" by the sum due to the State, by the General Government, for advances made by the former in equipping the Indiana volunteers, etc., and in regard to the quartermaster, ignoring the fact, that that able officer, as well as many to whom he had given the best contracts, belonged to the Democratic party. More than this, also, they had the meanness to accuse Governor Morton of appropriating, secretly, to his own use, the county and personal donations made to soldiers in camp ; although, the governor, as was well known, had borrowed on his own responsibility $600,000, with which he had paid bounties to regiments, which had refused to obey marching orders, unless they received the money.

Indiana, indeed, at the commencement of the year 1863, was in a most precarious condition. Secret enemies had succeeded, by the most unscrupulous means, in securing the election, on what was familiarly known as the "butternut ticket," of a Legislature principally composed of men determinedly opposed to the prosecution of the war, and who had deliberately sought seats in that body for the purpose of thwarting all loyal effort, and encouraging the cause of rebellion. These men, from the first, evinced a fixed determination to insult the executive of the State, deprive him of all power, and seize in their own hands the entire control of every department of the State government. On the second day of the session, the Senate received from the governor the usual biennial message, and ordered it to be printed; but the House refused to receive it, returned it to the governor, and passed a resolution receiving and adopting the message of the Governor of New York. Beginning its legislative career with this deliberate insult to the executive, it continued, during its session of fifty-nine days, to pursue its revolutionary policy with increased violence, and an open disregard of constitutional obligations, and even of ordinary decency. Occupying its time chiefly with the introduction of disloyal resolutions and the utterance of factious and treasonable sentiments, which were calcu lated to incite the people to resistance to Government, all the necessary and legitimate subjects of legislation were disregarded or kept back; and, during the entire session, with a quorum in each House, every appropriation was suppressed until the last day, (when it was known that a quorum could not be had in the House)) except that for their own per diem and mileage, which was passed on the first day of the session.

This dastardly conduct, of course, burdened Governor Morton and the loyal officers of the State government with an immense load of responsibility. The benevolent institutions, the State arsenal, the soldiers in the field and hospital, the soldiers' families at home, the pay due the "Legion " for services at various times in repelling invasion on the border, the corps of special surgeons, military claims, the State debt, and the numerous other important measures and objects requiring prompt and liberal appropriations, were left utterly unattended to—although there was .money enough in the treasury—by a set of men who did not forget to draw their own pay and mileage, and appropriate nearly $20,000 to the State printer.

But the governor was nothing daunted by this disgraceful and perplexing state of affairs. Believing that to close the asylums would be a shame and a disgrace—a crime against humanity itself—and that to call back the Legislature, after their dastardly conduct of the previous session, would be not only useless out perilous to the peace and the best interests of the State, he established a bureau of finance, and so great a degree of success attended his efforts in obtaining money that he was enabled successfully to carry on all the institutions of the State, and keep the machinery of government in motion, until the next regular meeting of the Legislature.

On the 20th of July, 1863, Governor Morton, being in Cincinnati, Ohio, received the compliment of a request from the common council of that city, that he would sit for his portrait, to be hung in the City Hall, as a fitting remembrance of the indebtedness felt by the citizens to him for his services during the war. On the 23d of February, 1864, the Union State Convention placed his name at the head of the Union ticket for 1864. It was with the commencement of this campaign "that the great work of Governor Morton's life began; a work more varied and arduous than, perhaps, was ever undertaken by any other State executive." The " Democratic " Legislature of 1863 had, with the aid of the State officers of that period, surrounded him with such embarrassments that the performance of his civil functions was a most difficult and complicated task. Frequent calls for new levies of troops, the organization of regiments, and their preparation for the field, greatly increased his military labors. The wants of the sick and wounded soldiers at the front were daily multiplying, and thousands of dependent families at home had to be supported. The governor's well-known superiority in council, the ability which marked the success which attended his plans and measures, induced frequent demands for his presence at Washington. And yet, not only were these duties—civil and military, official and extra-official—not neglected, but they were performed with a readiness, skill and completeness which marked Governor Morton as one of the most extra-ordinary men of his times, and covered the name of Indiana with glory. In addition to all this, he gave his own personal attention to the campaign, delivering frequent speeches, which were powerful, and productive of incalculable good. Towards the close, also, of the campaign, the atrocious designs of the "Sons of Liberty" seemed about to culminate in open revolt and anarchy. Over eighty thousand members, as was afterwards proved, existed in the State, thoroughly armed, waiting for the signal, to rise at the polls on election day, and Governor Morton's life was especially marked. But he was prepared for the emergency ; his secret detectives were operating in every part of the State, and by their dexterity, the executive was constantly and promptly advised of all the schemes and designs of the conspirators. He possessed the knowledge of their financial re-sources, their military force and plans, their places of rendezvous, their purchases of arms, and, through his agents, was " on hand " at every point, to foil every move, break up every plot, and suppress every incipient outbreak of disloyalty. Yet he wisely deferred any open, complete exposure of the " Sons of Liberty " until after the election, when a military court of inquiry was convened, before which the Indiana ringleaders of treason were tried, convicted and punished. This detective work was the most important of the many signal services rendered to the State by Governor Morton ; and not to the State only, but to the Government of the United States itself.

The Governor was re-elected by a sweeping majority, and under the new draft, the men of Indiana sprung promptly for-ward to the aid of Government. It was no longer—thanks to Governor Morton's labors for the soldiers—a disgrace to belong to an Indiana regiment, and soldiers of other States were frequently heard to say to the "Hoosier boys:" " We wouldn't mind fighting, if we had such a governor as you have."

"During the winter of 1865," says a friend of the governor, " he was the most ubiquitous man in the United States. First at Washington, in council with the President; then at the front, surveying with his own eyes the battle-field; moving in person through the hospitals, ascertaining the wants of the sick and wounded; supervising the operations of his numerous agents; then at home, directing sanitary movements, appointing extra surgeons and sending them to the field, projecting new plans for the relief of dependent women and children, attending personally to all the details of the business of his office." And, when the war came to a glorious termination, he was the first to welcome the returning heroes to the State capital, where they were sumptuously entertained, at the public expense; promptly furnished with their pay, and sent rejoicing to their homes, with no unnecessary delay—feeling that their governor cared for them, as a father doth for his children. And, then, when the rush of business was over—when, for the first time in five years, he felt in some degree relieved from the immense weight of official responsibility and embarrassment, of gigantic difficulties he had been obliged to combat in placing Indiana in the front rank of loyal States ; of his intense and incessant anxiety for the success of the Union cause—then the high strung frame gave way, and in the summer of 1865, he was attacked with paralysis. Accordingly, by the advice of his physicians, he embarked with his family for Italy, followed by the prayers of thousands of loving hearts in Indiana, and by the respect of the nation. After his return to this country, he was elected to the United States Senate, on the Republican ticket, and as the successor of Hon. Henry S. Lane, for the term ending March, 4th, 1873.

In the Senate, though embarrassed and restrained from the active labors he so much desires to perform, by the still feeble condition of his health, the result of those years of overwork, he has yet rendered excellent service to the country he so ardently loves. As a member of the important Committees on Foreign Relations, on Military Affairs, and on Agriculture, his counsels have been of great advantage to the Senate. His speech on reconstruction, delivered in the winter of 1868, was the most profoundly logical and able argument on that subject delivered in the Senate,—and even the enemies of reconstruction acknowledged its power.

The earnest friend of General Grant, and in the remembrance of his brave and successful leadership of our armies during the war, overlooking his errors of administration, Senator Morton has defended the President and his policy against those who were disposed to criticise it, with a zeal and vigor which recall to those who have long known him, the vehement loyalty of his speeches and labors during the war.

But differ as we may with the Indiana Senator in regard to personal preferences, no one can fail to accord to him a lofty patriotism and great purity and integrity of character.

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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