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CHARLES FOSTER

1880 - 1884

Charles Foster (April 12, 1828-January 9, 1904) was a businessman and the son of a businessman, Charles W. Foster. As chief executive of Ohio, 1880-84, he was a businessman governor. His years as secretary of the treasury, 1891-93, under President Benjamin Harrison fitted into the same pattern.

Foster learned his business ways with his father, a pioneer land- owner in Seneca County, who in 1832 in Rome set up his double log cabin which combined home and store. This store became one of the chief mercantile and credit institutions of this area of Ohio. Periodically the "Foster wagon train," loaded with farmers' grain, crossed the Black Swamp to Perrysburg where it picked up the merchandise used to stock the Foster store. When Rome and adjacent Risdon combined in 1854, it was a tribute to the influence of the Foster store that the new town was called Fostoria.

Six years before that date, young Foster, aged eighteen, had become his father's partner. At the age of nineteen the young man assumed full charge. And in 1853 he added to his responsibilities by marrying Ann M. Olmsted, by whom he had two daughters. It was not surprising, therefore, that, when the Civil War came along, it was essential for him to remain in business. During the conflict he aided in recruiting and followed the policy of giving extended credit to needy families of soldiers. After the war, political opponents dubbed him "Calico Charlie" because of his preference for a mercantile career over a military one. He and his friends, however, transformed this into a term of endearment rather than one of opprobrium.

During these years Charles Foster established a wide reputation in northwestern Ohio for probity and enterprise. This helps to account for his elevation to public life, which began in 1870 with the first of four consecutive elections to congress as a Republican. In congress his constructive and conservative participation in legislation gained him further renown. As a member of the ways and means committee he took a determined part in exposing frauds in the treasury department growing out of the policy of farming out uncollected taxes at fifty percent commission to J. D. Sanborn, a political henchman of Ben Butler of Massachusetts. Foster was strong in curbing radical Republican interests in southern reconstruction. In the Louisiana contested election of 1874 he voted against the Radical Republicans, and in the contested national election of 1876 he was a spokesman for his friend and neighbor, Rutherford B. Hayes, in assuring southerners that Hayes' election to the presidency would lead to the withdrawal of federal troops from the South.

The way was prepared for his entry into state politics in Ohio by his defeat for reelection to congress in 1878, presumably brought about by a Democratic gerrymander. Sound money was the issue in the state election of 1879, and Foster supported the policy of gold redemption of the paper money currency called greenbacks. He had been firm in the support of this policy in congress. Running for governor on the sound-money platform, he was elected and in his two terms in this office did much to inject business methods into state financial affairs. Among his contributions were the establishment of bi-partisan boards to manage public institutions, the promotion of effective mine inspection, the introduction of adequate forest protection measures, and the revision of the tax system. He became involved in the temperance issue by favoring rather high taxation of liquor, a stand which contributed to his defeat for reelection in 1883.

This defeat damaged his prestige as a leader in the Republican party, though he did remain influential in party councils. His ability to analyze voting records and his accuracy in predicting election results won him the title of "Old Figgers, Jr." In 1891 Foster returned to a position of leadership in the Republican party when President Harrison made him secretary of the treasury. In this office he became involved in the question of the free coinage of silver by the federal government. This he considered too inflationary, although he supported the partial coinage of new silver as provided in the Sherman Silver Purchase Act of 1890. He remained loyal, however, to the principles of sound money by administering the coinage so as to maintain the parity of gold and silver. He was in favor of greater issues of silver (bimetallism) only if handled on an international basis.

Meanwhile, Foster had continued to develop his business interests. He invested in railroads, oil, mining, rubber, and other corporate ventures. In the late 1880's he was president of the Northwestern Ohio Natural Gas Company, a Standard Oil subsidiary, which came into conflict with the city of Toledo's efforts to set up a publicly-owned natural gas enterprise. He became deeply interested in the State Hospital for the Insane at Toledo of which he was board president for many years. Under his influence the "cottage system" was first inaugurated and later strengthened. This institution became widely known for its progressive methods of treatment of mental illness. The Historical Society of Northwestern Ohio

RANDOLPH C. DOWNES

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