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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1878- 1880

At the close of the Mexican War in 1848, Richard Moore Bishop arrived in Cincinnati from Mount Sterling, Kentucky. He was thirty-six years old at the time, having been born November 4, 1812, in Fleming County, Kentucky, of English and German stock. His parents had immigrated to the western country from Virginia in 1800, and Richard grew up with the limited schooling available on the frontier. At the age of seventeen he began his business career as clerk in a country store and became a partner in the store at the end of four years.

During the period 1838 to 1841 he and his brother carried on a pork business in Fleming County, shipping down river to the southern trade. This proved to be an unfortunate enterprise and ended in failure when prices collapsed and banks in Mississippi suspended payment. The brothers, however, soon resumed business and continued their partnership until Richard removed to Cincinnati and established the wholesale grocery firm of Bishop, Wells and Company. Subsequently, in partnership with his three sons under the name of R. M. Bishop and Company, Bishop developed the firm till it boasted a sales volume of five million dollars a year.

Bishop's political career, which eventually was to make him governor of Ohio, began in Cincinnati in 1857. At that time he was elected a member of the city council from the second ward by a large majority, and was thereafter presiding officer of that body. In 1859, during the times of trouble preceding the Civil War, he was elected mayor of Cincinnati and continued in that office until 1861. Bishop's popularity as mayor is attested by the fact that both parties offered him the nomination at the end of his term. He declined the offer and temporarily retired to private life.

Two events of considerable national interest took place in Cincinnati while Bishop was mayor. On Friday, January 27, 1860, a time when threats of secession were in the air, the legislators and other representa- tive citizens of Kentucky, Tennessee, Indiana, and Ohio gathered in the city to promote friendship and unity between the states. At a grand reception at Pike's Opera House, Mayor Bishop welcomed the visitors to the western metropolis, and Judge Bellamy Storer, as principal orator, spoke for the Union.

In February of the following year, on the brink of war, Lincoln passed through Cincinnati on the way to his inauguration, and Mayor Bishop had the distinction of welcoming him to the city.

It is said that the laws were rigidly enforced during Bishop's administration, and that Sabbath desecration in various forms was suppressed in the city. His strict attitude in regard to such offenses reflected his early training and church affiliation. Bishop joined the Baptist Church at the age of sixteen and, like his family, was a follower of Alexander Campbell into the so-called "Campbellite heresy." There- after he joined the Church of the Disciples (the Christian Church), and continued a faithful and prominent member of that denomination, actually succeeding Alexander Campbell as president of the General Christian Missionary Convention.

Both before and after his term as governor of Ohio, Bishop held offices in the world of education, business, and politics. He was a curator of Bethany College, Virginia, president of the board of curators of the University of Kentucky, and a trustee of McMicken University, now the University of Cincinnati. Banking and insurance, in addition to wholesale groceries, were included in his business interests. He was a member of the board of directors of the First National Bank of Cincinnati.

In 1867 Bishop was living on the northeast corner of Eighth and Mound streets, Cincinnati, where he spent "much of his time beautifying the splendid grounds around his house." The West End in the Mound Street area was then the fashionable part of the city; today it is a fit subject for extensive rehabilitation.

At that period in his life Bishop was supposed to have retired from politics according to one source: "His name has been prominent among those from whom the nominee to the gubernatorial chair was to be selected. But he is not a politician, cares not for office, and has never accepted one unless at the urgent request and unanimous wishes of the mercantile community of which he is a representative member. His high-toned ideas of right and truth, and his inflexible honesty will ever prevent his appearance in political circles."

Six years later, however, Bishop was elected one of forty-six Democratic delegates to the Ohio Constitutional Convention, there being in addition fifty Republicans and nine Liberals or Independents. This convention met on May 14, 1873, in Columbus and ended its long deliberations finally at the Spencer House in Cincinnati in May 1874. Thus the reluctant candidate was drawn back into politics, and three years later, in 1877, found himself elected governor of the state over Judge William H. West of Bellefontaine. As a businessman, bank director, and trustee of the Southern Railroad, Bishop, at the age of sixty-five, was relatively conservative and had, therefore, attracted many Republican votes from his outspoken and liberal opponent. With the exception of William Allen he was at that time the only Democrat elected to the governor's office since 1856.

Bishop had campaigned against the Resumption Act of 1875 by which the federal government resumed specie payment on legal tender notes, and he had also favored the remonetization of silver. Under his leadership the general assembly passed joint resolutions condemning the Resumption Act and approving the Bland-Allison Act which provided for the coinage of silver.

During the Bishop administration there was little significant legisla- tion passed. Codification of the laws of the state, started in preceding administrations, was continued. Bribery in elections was made a serious offense, and blackmail was defined and made punishable by a prison term of one to five years and a fine of up to one thousand dollars. The state penal and welfare institutions were reorganized and put in the hands of Democrats.

The general assembly was dubbed the "O'Connor Legislature" during these years. John O'Connor, a Republican representative from Montgomery County, it was found, was a Civil War deserter and former penitentiary convict in Michigan. After investigation, his seat was declared vacant.

Bishop's administration was satisfactory without being impressive for accomplishments. Leaders of the party, however, were disgruntled by the influence one of the governor's sons had exercised in making political appointments. Bishop was shunted aside, therefore, by the state Democratic convention of 1879, which nominated Thomas Ewing, Jr., of Lancaster for governor. The Democrats, weakened by strife within the party, lost the election. At the end of his tenure Bishop retired from public life and resumed his private activities in Cincinnati. He died in Jacksonville, Florida, on March 2, 1893. The Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio


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