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SEABURY FORD

1849- 1850

Seabury Ford, the twentieth governor of Ohio, was born in Cheshire, New Haven County, Connecticut, on October 15, 1801. He was descended, in the sixth generation, from Timothy Ford, who had emigrated from Devonshire in England to Charlestown, Massachusetts, in 1637, and who afterwards became one of the original proprietors of the New Haven Colony. Seabury Ford was the fifth of seven children born to John and Esther Cook Ford.

John Ford acquired a large holding on the Western Reserve in 1804, and in 1807 he moved his family to Burton in Geauga County. Seabury Ford prepared for college at the Burton Academy, and returned to New Haven in 1821 to enter Yale. After graduation in 1825, he went back to Ohio to study law in the office of his uncle, Peter Hitchcock, and in 1827 was admitted to the bar. The next year he married his cousin, Harriet Cook. Five sons were born to them. While practicing law in Burton, Ford interested himself in the military affairs of Ohio, and he became a major general in the state militia. Ford joined the new Whig party when it was organized in 1834, and the next year he was elected to the lower house of the thirty-fourth general assembly. Thereafter Ford was elected, either as a senator or a representative, to every general assembly through the forty-fifth, with the exception of the forty-second. He was speaker of the house in the thirty-ninth general assembly, and speaker of the senate in the forty- fourth.

In an age of oratory Ford was hampered by a distaste for public speaking, and once confessed to a friend that "nothing but the force of circumstances could drive me to it." In the Ohio legislature he became an expert upon tax and banking legislation. Perhaps Ford's most notable achievement as a legislator came in the repeal of the Loan Law of 1837.

The Loan Law was popularly known as the "Plunder Act," due to facilities it offered for raiding the state treasury. The law permitted the state of Ohio to loan money to railroads, and to subscribe to the stock of canal and turnpike companies. Ford pushed the repeal through the general assembly in 1840. A modern student has noted that the repeal of the Loan Law marked the beginning of a "general trend away from State ownership of, or participation in, internal improvements" as well as the start of a movement "towards laissez faire" in the relations between the state of Ohio and business organizations.

Like all the Whigs of the Western Reserve, Ford was strongly opposed to slavery, but fear of civil war prevented him from becoming a radical abolitionist. In 1838 he was defeated by Joshua R. Giddings in a very close contest for the Whig nomination for congress. Ford was an admirer of Henry Clay, and campaigned vigorously for the Kentuckian in the presidential election of 1844.

In January 1848 the Whigs nominated Ford for governor. The Mexican War, which the Whigs had opposed, had not yet concluded, and the Democrats nominated John B. Weller, who had served as a lieutenant colonel in Mexico. As a member of congress Weller had voted for the gag rule, and he was thought to be a southern sympathizer. The Ohio Whigs demanded that the Mexican War be ended, opposed any forcible annexation of Mexican territory, and insisted that if any territory was acquired otherwise, slavery should be excluded therefrom. "John B. Weller and war-Seabury Ford and peace!" became a Whig slogan.

The Whig campaign in Ohio was sadly embarrassed when, in June, the national party nominated for president General Zachary Taylor, a southern slave owner. Salmon P. Chase at once issued his call for the Free Soil convention. The Free Soil secession had a disastrous effect on the antislavery voters of the Western Reserve, which had long been an impregnable Whig stronghold. Ford was desperately anxious to hold his party together, and he decided that he could best accomplish this by ignoring Taylor's candidacy. This naturally exposed him to the taunts of the Democrats, but in the outcome Ford was elected governor and Taylor was beaten in Ohio. During the campaign Ford vigorously urged the repeal of the Black Laws.

The election was the closest in the history of Ohio, and the only one which had to be decided by the legislature. The general assembly elected in 1848 was evenly divided between Whigs and Democrats, with the Free Soilers holding the balance of power. The forty-seventh general assembly convened on December 4, 1848, and its sessions were among the most turbulent on record. Ford was to have been inaugurated in December, but the event was delayed six weeks while the legislature struggled to organize itself. Ultimately, and after prolonged examination of the returns, the general assembly on January 22, 1849, decided that Ford had received 148,756 votes to 148,445 for Weller, a margin of victory of only 311 votes. Moved by the violence of the legislative sessions, Ford spoke feelingly in his inaugural address on the preservation of the Union and the fatal consequences which would follow its dis- solution.

With the legislature so badly divided, little could be accomplished. However, the Black Laws, which discriminated against Negroes, were repealed. The question of a constitutional convention was submitted to the voters, and approved by them in the fall election of 1849. The forty-eighth general assembly then passed the necessary legislation and the convention met in the house of representatives on May 6, 1850. The constitution there adopted is still the basic law of Ohio. When Thomas Corwin resigned from the United States Senate to enter Fill- more's cabinet in July 1850, Ford appointed Thomas Ewing to succeed him.

Cholera struck Columbus in 1849, producing a panic in the city. Ford remained at the capital, and was confronted with a serious crisis at the Ohio Penitentiary, where the epidemic had created a chaotic situation. Ford granted pardons to the deserving, and restored order in the prison by a personal appeal in which he promised additional pardons to those who would keep their heads and aid in nursing the sick until the epidemic had run its course.

Ford's term as governor ended on December 12, 1850. On the first Sunday after his return to his home in Burton he suffered a paralytic stroke, from which he made only a partial recovery. The left side of his body was paralyzed, and he died in Burton, at the age of fifty-three, on May 8, 1855.

Ford was the last Whig governor of Ohio. He believed that the party of compromise alone was capable of achieving a peaceful solution of the slavery controversy, and almost to the end he appears to have cherished the hope that the Whigs could somehow be reunited and return to power. Toledo Blade

HARVEY S. FORD

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