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Fundamental Documents of Ohio







1818- 1822

Ohio's seventh governor, Ethan Allen Brown, was born at Green- wich, Connecticut, on Long Island Sound, on July 4, 1776. His father, Roger Brown, was a prosperous farmer and Revolutionary patriot. The youngest of seven children, Ethan in his early years helped out on the farm and studied under the supervision of an Irish tutor employed by his father. He was an apt pupil, becoming especially proficient in French, Latin, and Greek. At the age of twenty-one he went to New York, where he spent five years in Alexander Hamilton's law office.

After he passed the bar examination in 1802, Brown and a cousin rode horseback through Pennsylvania, then purchased two flatboats loaded with flour, which they floated down to New Orleans. Finding no market there, they took passage to Liverpool, England, where they sold the flour and returned to the United States. The following year Brown undertook another western journey, this time to select a tract of land in which his father wished to invest. He chose an attractive spot on the west bank of the Ohio River some thirty-five miles below Cincinnati and purchased several thousand acres. A decade later the town of Rising Sun, Indiana, was laid out just south of the Brown estate, which came to be known as "Parterre."

In 1804 Brown moved to Cincinnati, where he was befriended by the noted pioneer Judge John Cleves Symmes. A man of varied talents, he performed in amateur theatricals and won respect as an orator. In addition, his professional activities led him into the field of politics. Though a native of Connecticut and one-time student of the nation's leading exponent of Federalism, he affiliated himself with the Republican party and soon rose to local prominence. Except for a term as prosecuting attorney of Hamilton County, the first position Brown held was a seat on the Ohio Supreme Court.

A bitter struggle between the proponents of legislative and judicial supremacy had resulted in a Pyrrhic victory for the latter. The legisla- ture retaliated by passing the notorious "Sweeping Resolution," by which all of the supreme court posts as well a number of other state offices were declared vacant. The triumphant general assembly proceeded to appoint three judges, of whom Brown was one. His record as a jurist vindicated the choice, if not the events preceding it. While on the bench his character and conduct were unassailable, and he was rewarded with reelection in 1817.

In the previous year, although he had not declared himself a candidate for governor, Brown received more than 1,600 unsolicited votes in the election won by the incumbent, Thomas Worthington. In 1818, with the latter out of contention, Brown was elected governor by an overwhelming margin over James Dunlap of Chillicothe. He took the helm at the beginning of a period fraught with tragic overtones and set a course for the state which ultimately brought it again to comparatively placid waters. Ohio was engulfed in the economic de- pression of 1819, a year that saw many farms and businesses lost to their owners. Many westerners were convinced that the real villain was the United States Bank, especially after that institution announced that it would no longer accept state bank notes.

The scarcity of specie--gold and silver-spelled financial ruin for large numbers of Ohioans. The Ohio legislature responded by au- thorizing an annual tax of $50,000 on each of the bank's two branches in the state. With Governor Brown in complete accord, agents of the auditor invaded the Chillicothe branch in September 1819, and extorted from the protesting officials a sum in excess of $100,000 (the balance was later refunded). By this action Ohio defied a recent decision of the United States Supreme Court in which John Marshall denied the right of a state to tax an agency chartered by congress. The governor and most other prominent Ohioans felt the step justified on economic grounds, and this position was adopted by several other states. Legal steps taken by the bank finally brought the case before the supreme court at Washington in 1824. The attorneys included some of the ablest men of the day, among them Charles Hammond and John C. Wright for the defense, Henry Clay, William Wirt, and Daniel Webster for the bank. Ohio lost the case, and it is to her credit that the verdict was accepted gracefully.

Meanwhile, Governor Brown was bending his every effort toward lifting the state from the financial doldrums. From each county auditor he sought information concerning that county's manufactures, agri- cultural output, imports, and the like. Realizing that a full measure of prosperity could be attained only by rendering markets more accessible, he repeatedly advocated internal improvements, especially canals. He supplied the stimulus needed to induce the legislature to move in that direction. After several false starts, that body finally provided for exploratory surveys and named a canal commission, whose seven members included Brown, Worthington, and Alfred Kelley. The last-named, because of his vital role, has long vied with Brown for the title "Father of the Ohio Canals."

In 1820 Brown, opposed by Jeremiah Morrow and William Henry Harrison, was reelected in a convincing display of confidence. Midway through his second term he was the legislature's choice to succeed the deceased William Trimble in the United States Senate. There he con- tinued to work for internal improvements in the capacity of chairman of the committee on roads and canals. His term expired in 1825, at which time Harrison captured his seat. Brown returned to Ohio and for the next five years served as one of three commissioners of the canal fund. He was primarily responsible for the negotiation of eastern loans with which the canals were financed. In this work his intimate friendship with Governor DeWitt Clinton, the guiding genius of New York's canal system, stood him in good stead.

Brown's active support of Andrew Jackson brought him in 1830 an appointment as charge d'affaires to Brazil. His tour of duty lasted nearly four years at a critical period in Brazilian history, during which the reigning emperor was forced to abdicate. A less prudent man could have caused the United States much embarrassment, but Brown fulfilled his mission in a satisfactory manner. He returned from Brazil in 1834. In July of the following year he was appointed commissioner of the general land office at Washington, a post he occupied until October 1836, when, at the age of sixty, he retired to Rising Sun.

Here he busied himself with managing the family estate and caring for an elder brother and sister. His interest in politics did not slacken, however, and he served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1841 to 1843. His life ended on February 24, 1852, while he was acting as vice president of the Democratic state convention at Indianapolis. He was buried at Rising Sun in the same plot with his father and six brothers and sisters. An appropriate tribute marks his grave.

Brown as an individual was cultured and intelligent; his wide circle of personal friends included Clinton, Jackson, Martin Van Buren, Lewis Cass, and others of the nation's great. Although he seems to have had ample opportunity to marry, and although Governor Clinton was determined to match him with a charming New York widow, Brown remained a bachelor throughout his seventy-six years. The Ohio Historical Society


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