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Fundamental Documents of Ohio








In 1836 Robert Lucas was succeeded as governor of Ohio by Joseph Vance, who became the state's thirteenth executive. Vance was born in Catfish, now Washington, Pennsylvania, on March 21, 1786. His father, Joseph C. Vance, a Virginian whose Scotch-Irish forebears had emigrated to Virginia long before the Revolutionary War, had fought during the war under General Daniel Morgan, married in 1781, and not long after started West, dwelling for a time at several places along the way. About 1801 he moved into Ohio from May's Lick, Kentucky, finally settling on a farm two and a half miles north of Urbana.

Under pioneer conditions the son Joseph had very little opportunity for an education, a lack which he felt keenly throughout his career. As a boy of fifteen he proved his resourcefulness and courage by saving money from his wages as a wood cutter at the May's Lick salt works, buying a team of oxen, and peddling salt to the wilderness settlements. In 1805 he moved to Urbana with his father, who laid out the town that year, and two years later married Miss Mary Lemen of Urbana. After his father's death in 1809 he took possession of the family farm, which became his home for the rest of his life.

Vance's first public office was that of secretary of the board of county commissioners, which paid a salary of forty dollars a year. At the age of twenty-three he organized an independent rifle company and was elected its captain. During the War of 1812 his company became part of the state militia, and thereafter Vance rose progressively from captain, major, and colonel to brigadier general.

Vance's qualities for leadership were soon evident to the voters of Champaign County, and in 1812 they elected him to the lower house of the eleventh general assembly. He was reelected to the twelfth, fourteenth, and eighteenth assemblies (1813-14, 1815-16, and 1819-20). In his first term he voted regularly for measures in support of the war. In the crucial bank question he supported the United States Bank against the state of Ohio.

In the fall of 1820 Vance was elected for the first of seven con- secutive terms in the lower house of congress (1821-35). His chief interest in his legislative career was that of internal improvements in the West. He actively supported bills for the extension and repair of the Cumberland Road, for a road from the lower rapids of the Maumee to the western border of the Western Reserve, and for numerous canal projects. In 1824 he won his third term by an overwhelming vote of 4,342 to 16 for his opponent. From then on into the thirties he rarely had an opposing candidate in his district.

In his third term he was made chairman of the committee on military affairs and chairman of the board of visitors of the Military Academy at West Point. He also was instrumental in securing the passage of bills for granting subsidies to the Ohio and the Miami canals. Active in the antislavery movement in these years, Vance allied himself with John Quincy Adams in opposing the so-called Gag Resolution and in advocating the right of petition. He was defeated for reelection in 1834 in a close race with Samuel Mason.

In 1836 Vance accepted the nomination for governor and was elected in the first Whig victory in the state. As governor, Vance gave substanial support to the public school system, advocating that federal surplus funds be used for the schools, and he urged the completion of the canals then under construction. He favored the recharter of the United States Bank, and he urged the abolition of capital punishment. Governor Vance was a forceful and capable executive, but he lost his popularity with the antislavery people of the state by the extradition of John B. Mahan, wanted in Kentucky for aiding the escape of two slaves. This action probably contributed more than any other one cause to his defeat for reelection in 1838, when he lost to the Democratic candidate, Wilson Shannon.

During Vance's administration there occurred an abortive rebellion in Canada in which a number of Ohioans, gathered in so-called Hunters', or Patriots', Lodges, attempted to take part. Though severely critical of their actions, Vance did not believe that he had any authority to interfere, though he promised the secretary of state and the army commander at Detroit to do all in his power to prevent the removal of arms belonging to the state militia.

Vance refused to be a candidate for governor in 1840, but his plans for retirement were upset by his reelection to the state senate from the tenth district for the 1839-41 sessions. Here he headed the committee on banking and currency. Two laws close to Vance's heart, providing increased support for schools and additional funds for canal construction, were passed during these sessions.

In 1842 the former governor was nominated on the Whig ticket for congressman from the tenth district and won over Samuel Mason, by whom he had been defeated eight years previously. He remained in Washington for two terms (1843-47) and was one of the most active members of the house of representatives. For three years chairman of the committee on claims, he was a strong advocate of governmental economy. He objected to the annexation of Texas and bitterly opposed the Mexican War as a war of aggression.

At the end of his second term he retired to his farm. Although he did not hold regular office again, he served as a delegate to the national Whig convention in Philadelphia in 1848 and as a representative of his district to the Ohio Constitutional Convention of 1850-51. He took a leading part in the debates and was chairman of the committee on public institutions. On his way home from attending sessions of the convention in Cincinnati in December 1850, he suffered a stroke of paralysis and was forced to give up his duties. He died at his home near Urbana on August 24, 1852. The Ohio Historical Society


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