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Fundamental Documents of Ohio








Upon the resignation of Governor Shannon the Democratic speaker of the senate, Thomas Welles Bartley, became acting governor of Ohio on April 15, 1844, and served until the close of the term in December of the same year. At that time he was succeeded as governor by his father, Mordecai Bartley, a succession which is unique in Ohio and at least rare in the history of state governments.

In 1809 Mordecai Bartley came from Fayette County, Pennsylvania, to Jefferson County, Ohio, where Thomas was born on February 11, 1812. At the close of the War of 1812 Bartley settled his family near Mansfield on a small farm which he bought and cleared. Here Thomas spent his boyhood helping on the farm, attending school, and imbibing politics, for when he was twelve his father began the first of four consecutive terms in congress.

At seventeen Thomas was graduated from Jefferson College, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, and four years later, after having studied law at Mansfield and Washington, D. C., he was admitted to the Ohio bar and began practice at Mansfield. A few years later he was elected prosecuting attorney for Richland County and served two terms. This was the beginning of his rapid rise in a legal and political career. In 1839 he was elected for the first of two terms in the Ohio House of Representatives (1839-41). His service in the house was followed by two consecutive two-year terms (1841-45) in the state senate. During his legislative career he was a member of the important standing committee on the judiciary in both houses.

In 1843 he was elected speaker of the senate and thus came into the office of acting governor from April 15 to December 3, 1844. The general assembly had adjourned a month before Shannon's resignation, so that Bartley had little opportunity to function as governor. He did, however, present an annual message to the assembly on the same day that his father was inducted into office. A strong Van Buren man and a leader of the antibank Democrats, the younger Bartley had lost the nomination for governor at the Democratic state convention to David Tod by a single vote, and thus narrowly escaped opposing his father, the Whig candidate for the office of governor, in the campaign of 1844. He did not participate actively in the campaign, and the cordial relation- ship between father and son was not disrupted by their divergence in politics.

After his tour of duty in the senate Bartley served during President Polk's administration (1845-49) as United States District Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, an appointment secured through the influence of Senator William Allen. Elected one of the first judges of the state supreme court under the new constitution, he served on the bench from February 1852 to February 1859, being chief justice for three years. His colleagues included such eminent jurists as Rufus P. Ranney, Jacob R. Swan, Allen G. Thurman, and Jacob Brinkerhoff.

After his retirement from the bench he practiced law in Mansfield, Cincinnati, and Washington, D. C., until his death on June 20, 1885. He was buried in Washington beside his second wife, Susan Sherman, a sister of Senator John Sherman and General William Tecumseh Sherman. He was survived by his third wife and a number of children.

A man of decided convictions vigorously defended, Bartley made many antagonists. In 1869 he wrote a would-be biographer that because of the "malevolence of the political & personal enemies" which he had made, he did not think justice could be done him while he lived. His most distinguished service to Ohio was that of judge of the supreme court. He wrote the opinion in the Toledo Bank case and concurred in the majority opinion in the Piqua Bank case, both of which involved the right of the state to tax chartered institutions. When the latter opinion was reversed by the United States Supreme Court, Bartley wrote a dissenting opinion on the mandate of the higher court, in which he denied that court the right of appellate jurisdiction over the state courts. In spite of his patriotism and ability he failed to see that such a policy could lead to disunion. The Ohio Historical Society


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