Whiteaker, John

From Lane Co Oregon

John Whiteaker (May 4, 1820-October 2, 1902) was an American politician, a Democrat, and served as the first state Governor of Oregon from 1859 until 1862.

Born in Dearborn County, Indiana to farmers, Whiteaker only spent six months of formal schooling, and as a result, was almost entirely self-educated. Before moving west, he had performed odd jobs, carpentry, and volunteered for military service during the Mexican War, although his unit was never called into battle. In 1849, he joined the California Gold Rush, earning enough to move his family to a farm in Lane County. Once in Oregon he became active in Democratic Party activities, Elected to office first as Judge of the Probate Court for Lane County (1856), then as a legislator in the Territorial Legislature in 1857.


[edit] Governorship

Oregon was preparing for statehood in 1857, as voters had just approved a state constitution. Whiteaker was selected as a Democratic faction's nominee in the first state gubernatorial election, held in June 1858. Whiteaker won by a margin of 1,138, and was inaugurated July 8, 1858. He did not assume office until word that Congress had passed Oregon's statehood bill on February 14, 1859. Technically, Oregon had two governors in the interim, as Territorial Governor George Law Curry, was legally in charge until the state government-in-waiting was legally empowered to take control.

Once in office, the new governor set out to untangle the large amounts of land claims and counter claims on public lands. He also promoted economic policies favoring home industries, products that Oregonians could make self-sufficiently. Although nicknamed "Honest John", this did not deflect his controversial stands on issues of national importance. Whiteaker held pro-slavery views which did not sit well with a population mostly in the abolitionist camp. Opponents often used this to attack him as a traitor as the United States descended into the Civil War.

Whiteaker was not nominated again by the Democrats in the 1862 election, and thus left office. He did stay in local politics, winning three terms as a state representative (1866-1870), and election to the State Senate in 1870.

[edit] Election to Congress and "Whiteaker's Ride"

Whiteaker was elected to Congress in 1878, as Oregon's Representative-at large. The Democrats had been weakened in the House, and needed one vote to prevail in their nominee for Speaker of the House. The vote was needed by March 18, 1879. Whiteaker, already on his way to Washington, received word of this urgency while on a steamer between Portland and San Francisco, California. Upon docking in San Francisco on March 12th, he was met by a railroad agent, and rushed to a special Central Pacific Railroad express train at Oakland. The regular transcontinental train was 25 hours out of Oakland, but Whiteaker's train managed to catch up with it. He arrived in Washington on the morning of March 18th, in enough time to be promptly seated by Congress and cast his vote.

The trip cost $1500 at the time, an expense widely criticized by the Democrat's political opposition and the media. Many referred to it as "Whiteaker's ride".

Whiteaker served in Congress until 1881, retiring to his farm near Eugene.

[edit] Later life

John Whiteaker would be called back into politics one more time, in 1885 when President Grover Cleveland appointed him as Oregon's Collector of Revenues at the U.S. Customs House in Portland. After 1890, moved back to Eugene, purchasing 10 city blocks in the central city. The plat, Whiteaker's Addition, is commonly known as the Whiteaker neighborhood.[1] He stayed in Eugene until his death in 1902.

[edit] Sources

[edit] External links

The former Governor of the State of Oregon, was born in Dearborn county, Indiana, May 4, 1820, and was brought up a farmer. When the mighty shibboleth of gold was wafted from the Pacific shores to those of the Atlantic the echoes thereof found our subject in the midst of his agricultural pursuits. He at once set to work to cross the plains to the new Dorado and became one of that vast band of "forty-niners" who found their way into the ravines and gorges of the Sierra Nevada in the search for gold. but his horoscope had been already cast and the fiat had gone forth that Oregon should be the scene of his triumphs. In 1852 he came to that state and in the spring of 1853 took up his residence in Lane County; here he has engaged in agricultural and pastoral pursuits, and it was while attending to his flocks and herds that he was called by his fellow-citizens to assume the highest executive gift that it was in their power to bestow upon any one at home. The governor's record speaks for itself, it is written on the pages of fame and inscribed on the hearts of his admirers. He is now a hale and hearty man with many years of usefulness yet before him. He married in Putnam county, Missouri, August 22, 1847, Miss N. J. Hargrave, a native of Adams county, Illinois, and has had the following sons and daughters: Francis (who died on the plains), John C., Nancy A., Mary E., Ben and James H.

["Illustrated History of Lane County, Oregon." Portland, Oregon: A. G. Walling, publisher, 1884. pg. 490.]

[edit] Other

John Whiteaker (1820-1902) was Oregon's first governor. He originally came west to California as one of the Fortyniners searching for gold. With his earnings from there he returned east, then brought his family over the Oregon Trail in 1852 and settled in Lane County. Soon active in the Democratic party, he was elected to the Territorial Legislature in 1857, and then governor when Oregon was admitted to the Union in 1859. His nickname was "Honest John."

In May, 1861, little more than a month after the firing on Fort Sumter, Governor Whiteaker, whose southern sentiments were well-known, advised the people of Oregon not to become involved in the war, which he characterized as a "domestic disorder? Although settlers had come from both North and South, he maintained that peace and tranquility existed in Oregon. He said Union party meetings being held throughout the state were creating disorder, and maintained that those opposed to the war were not disloyal. Predicting that the war would easily be won by the North without any help from Oregon, he said Oregonians should concentrate on protecting the frontier from Indian attacks. Whiteaker said further that the North would never be able to re-establish friendly relations with the South, and that the freeing of the slaves, like the freeing of the slaves in the Roman Empire, would sow the seeds of its own destruction. He warned the North to protect its institutions, saying, "Have a care that in freeing the Negro you do not enslave the white man?

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Whiteaker's pro-slavery position alienated him from a number of Oregonians, and he was not nominated for a second term. But he didn't retire from politics. He went on to serve in the Oregon Legislature and Senate, and in 1878 was elected to the U.S. Congress. A year later, he captured nationwide attention with what would come to be known as "John Whiteaker's Ride."

On the night of March 7, 1879, Whiteaker was awakened in his Eugene home by an urgent message from Democratic congressional leaders in the nation's capital. He was needed immediately in Washington, they said, for his vote to assure election of their nominee for Speaker of the House. He took a train to Portland, a steamship to San Francisco, and then a special train from Oakland to Washington, D.C. He crossed the country in five days - the fastest train trip recorded to that date. Ironically, it turned out his vote was not essential, as the Speaker had already been elected in a caucus the night before. "The country was safe," said the New York Times a short time later. "And everything went on just as though he had not spanned the continent in five days, five hours, and eleven minutes." But irony was not unfamiliar to Honest John, according to Lane County pioneer son Cal Young, who related this anecdote of 1860s Oregon politics:

When the Legislature adjourned, the senators and representatives would carry away from the building nearly every piece of furniture that wasn't bolted down. One time, a senator came into a room to find the governor sitting very close to the heating stove. He asked why the governor was sitting there and why he didn't go home. "You gentlemen have carried away almost everything from the State House," the governor replied. "And I am waiting for this stove to cool off so I can take it home with me."

Personal tools