James Whitcomb

James Whitcomb

Infobox Politician
name =James Whitcomb

order =Eighth
lieutenant = Jesse D. Bright, Paris C. Dunning
office =Governor of Indiana
predecessor = Samuel Bigger
successor = Paris C. Dunning
term_start =December 6, 1843
term_end =December 26, 1848
birth_date= December 1, 1795
birth_place= Windsor County, Vermont
death_date= October 4, 1852
death_place= New York City, New York
party = Democrat
religion = Methodist
spouse = Martha Ann Hurst
children = Martha Renick Whitcomb
office2 =Indiana State Senate
term_start2 =December 5 1830
term_end2 =December 4 1831
term_start3 =December 5 1832
term_end3 =December 4 1836
office4 =United States Senate
term_start4 =March 3 1849
term_end4 =October 4, 1852

James Whitcomb (December 1, 1795–October 4, 1852) was a Democrat United States Senator and Governor of Indiana. For his acts in helping the state avoid bankruptcy, Whitcomb is usually credited as being one of the greatest of Indiana's governors. He died of a chronic disease in 1852.


Early life

James Whitcomb was born in Windsor County, Vermont on December 1, 1795. While still a boy his family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio where they farmed land. Whitcomb loved to read books and many times his father would discourage him from reading hoping he we become a farmer. Instead young Whitcomb moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 1824, [Woollen, p. 80] where he attended Transylvania University and studied law. After gradating he moved to Fayette County, Kentucky where he was admitted to the bar and began to practice law in March 1822. After a short time there he moved to Bloomington, Indiana where he continued to practice law. In Bloomington he quickly became respected in the community.Woollen, p. 82] Whitcomb loved music, and was able to play many different instruments, but his favorite was the violin. He was known to dance, sing, and play regularly throughout his life, and often for friends. [Woollen, p. 91]

Public life

Whitcomb was appointed as prosecuting attorney for Monroe County, Indiana bye Governor James B. Ray and served from 1826 to 1829 and went on to serve as a member of the Indiana Senate from the same county from 1830 to 1831 and again in 1832 until 1836. In the Senate Whitcomb was the most outspoken of the anti-internal improvement men. He was one of the only nine men to vote against the bill, his cohorts being Dennis Pennington, Calvin Flethcer and John Durmont. Despite his protests the bill passed leading to the rapid decline in the state's finances.

Whitcomb was appointed by President Andrew Jackson to serve as the Commissioner of the General Land Office in Washington D.C. from 1836 until 1841. While in office he undertook the study of French and Spanish to be able to read the land treaties, and became fluent in both languages. Upon resigning from the Land Office in 1841, Whitcomb moved to Terre Haute, where he eventually launched his campaign as the Democratic gubernatorial candidate.

In 1843 he authored a pamphlet entitled "Facts for the People" in which he made a case against the federal government adopting protective tariffs. The pamphlet was popular and widely read in the state. That year he was nominated to be the Democrat candidate for governor. The Whigs, who had been the primary backers of the internal improvements, had came under increasing criticism in the term of Samuel Bigger. The program had completely broken down in 1841 and most of the state's investment in the projects where lost. The state narrowly avoided bankruptcy by negotiating the transfer of the project to the states creditors in exchange for a reduction in the state's debt. Whitcomb ran on the issue and overcame the Whigs who received most of the public blame for the debacle. He defeated incumbent Governor Samuel Bigger in a close election, winning by 2,013 votes.Woollen, p. 83]


Upon his election he found the government coffers nearly empty as the state had exhausted itself in the in an attempt to recover from overspending on internal improvements in the 1830s. During his term the government began the recovery from the losses of the internal improvements. The Bigger administration had oversaw a large reduction in the state's debt, but the government was still unable to make headway on the five-million dollar debt they still held. To remedy this, Whitcomb supported the Butler Bill, in which the state sold the Wabash and Erie Canal, the only public work they still owned after Bigger's negotiations—and the only profitable one—in exchange for another 50% of the state's debts. The act restored the state's credit and they government was able to issue bonds to cover the remaining portion of the debt. The plan was a success and the state debt was steadily lowered and financial stability returned to the government.

During Whitcomb's term the Indiana Hospital for the Insane, the Indiana Asylum for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, and the Indiana Institute for the Education of the Deaf and Dumb, were founded. Whitcomb was also responsible for meeting the military quotas set forth for Indiana during the Mexican-American War. The state was ill equipped for the war, the militia system had been abandoned since the threat of Indian raids had ceased, and the state arsenal war nearly devoid of weapon. The conflict had been unforeseen and no money was appropriate for the expense. With the state's credit ruined, the prospect of raising money outside of the state to meet the expenses was unlikely. On May 26, Wallace took a personal loan for $10,000 from the Bank of Indiana's Madison branch which he used to purchase arms for the the state's regiments. The same day he sent letters to other branches of the bank requesting equal sums of money, allowing the state to muster the five regiments requested by the Federal Government. For his role as a wartime governor, a bronze statue of Whitcomb would be placed in Monument Circle in Indianapolis. [Woollen, p. 84] [Dunn, p. 429]

Whitcomb's most unpopular act as governor was his refusal to reappoint Indiana Supreme Court Justices Sullivan and Dewey. Whitcomb criticized them for allowing the docket to get backed up, and claimed that younger men were required to catch it back up. His actions would be one of the leading factors in the change to the method of appointing justices in the 1851 constitution. [Dunn, p. 429] He was reelected as governor in 1846, defeating Whig candidate Joseph G. Marshall by 3,958. [Woollen, p. 84] Whitcomb's acts in reducing the state debt led many to credit him was being one of the greatest of Indiana's governors. [Woollen, p. 93]

Speaking of his profession, Whitcomb once said,

"Follow one line of thought and research with your whole mind and soul; take no active part in politics until maturity has brought you settled thought. The life of a politician is not always reputable; it has so many elements of deceit and dishonesty that it is hard to follow it and keep clean one's hands and soul." [Woollen, p. 92]

Whitcomb was only briefly married. He was wed to the widow Martha Ann Hurst. She died 16 days later after giving birth to his daughter Martha Renick Whitcomb on July 17, 1847. He recorded her death in his bible with a single sentence, "How brief our happy sojourn together". Whitcomb was a very active Mason. He was the first man knighted in Indiana. The honor was conferred upon him May 20, 1848. He organized a masonic lodge which for several years met in his home. He was always proud of his relationship with the Masons, and the Raper Commandery was established in his home where it met for several years before building a lodge. Whitcomb became the first person to be knighted in Indiana on may 20, 1848. [Woollen, p. 92] Whitcomb was known to be addicted to snuff and smoking. [Woollen, p. 88]


In 1849, before his second term ended, Whitcomb was elected by the legislature to become a member of the United States Senate. He served in the Senate from 1849 until his death in 1852 and was a staunch opponent of tariffs. While in Washington D.C., he served several years as the Vice-President of the American Bible Society, remaining in the position until his death.Woollen, p. 90] He became chronically diseased and sought medical treatment in New York City. [The disease was "Gravel" according to Woollen, p. 85] He died in New York City on October 4, 1852. His remains where returned to Indianapolis where he was buried in the Greenlawn Cemetery where the state erected a monument over his grave. [Woollen, p. 85] In his will, Whitcomb left his large private library and part of his estate to Ashbury College.

James Whitcomb Riley was named after the popular Governor Whitcomb. Whitcomb's pamphlet on tariffs became popular again after his death and was circulated nationally during the failed reelection campaign of Benjamin Harrison, a proponent of tariffs. [Woollen, p. 88]

ee also

*List of Governors of Indiana



*cite book|title=Indiana and Indianans|author=Dunn, Jacob Piatt|publisher=American Historical Society|year=1919
*cite book|url=http://books.google.com/books?id=PCbZ8rS-84gC|title=Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early Indiana|author=Woollen, William Wesley|publisher=Ayer Publishing|year=1975|isbn=0405068964

External links

* [http://www.statelib.lib.in.us/www/ihb/govportraits/whitcombj.html Biography and Portrait from Indiana State Library]
* [http://bioguide.congress.gov/scripts/biodisplay.pl?index=W000349 Profile from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress]
* [http://visions.indstate.edu/cgi-bin/showfile.exe?CISOROOT=/vchs&CISOPTR=648 Biographical profile written by Mike McCormick for First Financial Bank in Wabash Valley Profiles]

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  • James Whitcomb Riley High School — Infobox School2 name = South Bend Riley High School native name = James Whitcomb Riley High School head name2 = Nickname head2 = Riley established = 1924 old riley/2000 new riley type = High School grades = 9 12 head name = Principal head =… …   Wikipedia

  • James Whitcomb Riley — n. (1849 1916) United States poet …   English contemporary dictionary

  • James Whitcomb Riley — noun United States poet (1849 1916) • Syn: ↑Riley • Instance Hypernyms: ↑poet …   Useful english dictionary

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