The History of Genesee County, MI
Chapter I
Zachariah Chandler

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Clayton



During the war, and in the year immediately preceding, Michigan had in the Senate of the Unite States a man who, of all her sons, can alone dispute rank with Lewis Cass as the greatest figure in her political history--Zachariah Chandler. Chandler was fortunate in the time of his advent on the political stage, succeeding Cass in 1857, when were large questions were before Congress, and the American people. Where Cass had been conservative, chandler was the most radical of radicals; he was an anti-slavery man, with the courage of his convictions.

Zachariah Chandler was born in Bedford, New Hampshire, December 10, 1813. He was educated for business, and in early life taught school. In 1833, he caught "Michigan fever," emigrated to the new territory and settled in Detroit where, under the name of Moore & chandler, he and his brother-in-law opened a general store on Jefferson avenue near Randolph street. Chandler showed his business acumen in giving all the speculative schemes of this period a wide berth, and hence he was in a way to become relatively prosperous notwithstanding the general financial crash of 1837. He was also public-spirited and when, after 1850, he began to give considerable thought to political matters, his wide acquaintance throughout the state due to numerous business trips which had brought him into personal contact with men in every locality prominent and influential in business and public concerns, he was equipped to turn his great talents to the public service. In 1850 he was elected by the Whigs mayor of Detroit, as against John R. Williams, who had held the office for six years and was one of Detroit's most conspicuous and popular citizens. Three years later the Republican party was organized "under the oaks" at Jackson and developed strength enough to elect its candidate for governor. In the Republican campaign of 1856 Mr. Chandler gave full rein to all his wonderful energy. Michigan Republicans gained an overwhelming victory. Fremont, the Republican candidate, carried Michigan by nearly twenty thousand majority. The Republican state ticket was elected, and the Legislature was Republican by a majority on joint ballot of seventy-two. It was this Legislature which chose Mr. chandler United States senator to succeed Lewis Cass.

The Kansas troubles were in the front when Chandler entered the Senate. His plan of action was characteristic of the man; he met the threats of the opposition with open defense. His first speech struck straight from the shoulder. He said, "the old women of the North who have been in the habit of crying out, 'the union is in danger!' have passed off the stage. They are dead. Their places will never be supplied, but in their stead we have a race of men who are devoted tot his Union and devoted to it as Jefferson and the fathers who made it and bequeathed it to us. Any aggression has been submitted to by the race who have gone off the stage. They were ready to compromise any principle, anything. The men of the present day are a different race. They will compromise nothing. They are Union-loving men; they lover all portions of the Union; they will sacrifice anything, but principle to save it. They will, however, make no sacrifice of principle. Never! Never! No more compromises will ever be submitted to save the Union. If it is worth saving, it will be saved. The only way that we shall save it and make it permanent as the everlasting hills will be by restoring it to the original foundations upon which the fathers placed it. I trust in God civil war will never come; but if it should come, upon their heads, and theirs alone, will rest the responsibility for every drop of blood that may flow.' Of the Dred Scott decision he said: "What did General Jackson do when the supreme court declared the United States bank constitutional? Did he bow to it? No! he said he would construe the constitution for himself. I shall do the same thing. I have sworn to support the constitution of the United States, and I have sworn to support it as the fathers made it, and not as the supreme court has altered it." Speaking upon the John Brown raid at Harper's Ferry, he said: "John Brown has been executed as a traitor to the state of Virginia, and I want it to go upon the records of the Senate in the most solemn manner to be held up as a warning to traitors, north, south, east, west. Dare to raise your impious hand against this government, its constitution and its law, and you hang. Threats have been made year after year for the last thirty years, that if certain events happen this Union will be dissolved. It is no small matter to dissolve this Union. It means a bloody revolution or it means a halter."

Senator Chandler bore his part nobly in the exciting issues of the war and reconstruction. Only once, in 1875, when there was a small Republican majority in the state Senate coincident with recalcitrancy of some members, was Chandler defeated for re-election to the United States Senate. But he was timber too valuable to lie idle; Grant called him into his cabinet as secretary of the interior, where he served until the end of Grant's term. In 1879, on the registration of Isaac P. Chriastiancy, Chandler's senatorial opponent in 1875, the Michigan Legislature promptly elected Chandler to fill the vacancy. In February of tht year he took his seat in the Senate, and a few days afterward made what was probably the most memorable speech of his senatorial career--the famous philippic against the participation of Jefferson Davis in the benefits of an act pensioning veterans of the Mexican War. On the evening of the last day of October of that year, after a powerful campaign speech in Chicago, he had retired late to his room in the Grand pacific Hotel; the next morning he was found dead in his bed,. From a stroke of apoplexy which had cut him off without warning. His body was laid to rest in Elmwood cemetery, Detroit, amid the grief of a nation.

While Mr. Chandler was in the Senate of the United States, Michigan has had seven governors, all but on having served two terms. In 1864 Henry H. Crapo, of Genesee county, was elected to succeed Governor Austin Blair. Mr. Crapo's opponent was William M. Fenton, also of Genesee, who went to the front as colonel of the

Eighth Michigan Infantry and served with distinction in several campaigns. Despite the fact that Colonel Fenton's military record and his standing as a citizen were unimpeachable, the strong party, spirit and Republican strength in the state elected Mr. Carpo by a majority of over seventeen thousand.


History of Genesee County, Michigan, Her People, Industries and Institutions
by Edwin O. Wood, LL.D, President Michigan Historical Commission, 1916

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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