Thomas Corwin

Thomas Corwin (July 29, 1794 – December 18, 1865), also known as Tom Corwin, The Wagon Boy, and Black Tom was a politician from the state of Ohio. He represented Ohio in both houses of Congress and served as the 15th Governor of Ohio and the 20th Secretary of the Treasury. After affiliating with the Whig Party, he joined the Republican Party in the 1850s. Corwin is best known for his sponsorship of the proposed Corwin Amendment, which was presented in an unsuccessful attempt to avoid the oncoming American Civil War.

Corwin was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky, but he grew up in Lebanon, Ohio. After serving as a wagon boy in the War of 1812, he established a legal practice in Lebanon. He became a prosecuting attorney and won election to the Ohio House of Representatives. He served in the United States House of Representatives from 1830 to 1840, resigning from Congress to take office as Ohio's governor. He was defeated for re-election in 1842 but was elected by the state legislature to the United States Senate in 1844. As a Senator, he became a prominent opponent of the Mexican–American War. He resigned from the Senate to become Secretary of the Treasury under President Millard Fillmore.

Corwin returned to the United States House of Representatives in 1859. He led the House of Representatives's effort to end the secessionist crisis that arose following the 1860 elections. Corwin sponsored a constitutional amendment which would have forbidden the federal government from outlawing slavery, even through further constitutional amendments. Though several states ratified the amendment, it did not prevent the outbreak of the civil war. Corwin resigned from Congress in March 1861 to become the United States Ambassador to Mexico. He held that position until 1864 and died the following year.

Thomas Corwin
United States Minister to Mexico
In office
May 21, 1861 – April 27, 1864
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byJohn B. Weller
Succeeded byRobert Shufelt
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 7th district
In office
March 4, 1859 – March 12, 1861
Preceded byAaron Harlan
Succeeded byRichard A. Harrison
20th United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
July 23, 1850 – March 6, 1853
PresidentMillard Fillmore
Franklin Pierce
Preceded byWilliam M. Meredith
Succeeded byJames Guthrie
United States Senator
from Ohio
In office
March 4, 1845 – July 20, 1850
Preceded byBenjamin Tappan
Succeeded byThomas Ewing
15th Governor of Ohio
In office
December 16, 1840 – December 14, 1842
Preceded byWilson Shannon
Succeeded byWilson Shannon
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1833 – May 30, 1840
Preceded byJoseph Vance
Succeeded byJeremiah Morrow
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1831 – March 3, 1833
Preceded byJames Shields
Succeeded byTaylor Webster
Member of the Ohio House of Representatives
from the Warren County district
In office
Preceded byBenjamin Baldwin
James McEwen
Succeeded byJacoby Halleck
Joseph Whitehill
In office
Preceded byJohn Bigger
William Schenck
Succeeded byJohn Houston
David Sutton
Personal details
BornJuly 29, 1794
Bourbon County, Kentucky, U.S.
DiedDecember 18, 1865 (aged 71)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political partyWhig (Before 1858)
Republican (1858–1865)
Spouse(s)Sarah Ross
Thomas Corwin's signature

Early life

Corwin, son of Matthias Corwin (1761-1829) and Patience Halleck, was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky on July 29, 1794.[1] Corwin was of Armenian-Hungarian descent.[2] Corwin's father served eleven times in the Ohio Legislature. Corwin's cousin Moses Bledso Corwin was a United States Congressman from Ohio, and his nephew Franklin Corwin was a United States Congressman from Illinois.

Corwin moved with his parents to Lebanon, Ohio, in 1798.[3] During the War of 1812, he served as a wagon boy in General William Henry Harrison's Army. In 1815, he began study of law in the offices of Joshua Collett,[4] He was admitted to the bar in 1817, commencing practice in Lebanon; he was prosecuting attorney of Warren County from 1818 to 1828.[5] On November 13, 1822, he married Sarah Ross, sister of Thomas R. Ross, then a member of Congress, at Lebanon.[6] As a Freemason, he served the Grand Lodge of Ohio as Grand Orator in 1821 and 1826, Deputy Grand Master in 1823 and 1827 and Grand Master in 1828.[7]

Political career

From 1822 to 1823, and in 1829, Corwin was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives, where he made a spirited speech against the introduction of the whipping post into Ohio.[8] In 1830 he was elected as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives and served from March 4, 1831, until his resignation, effective May 30, 1840, having become a candidate for the office of Governor of Ohio. Known for his sharp wit, debating skills and endless campaigning, he was elected Governor in 1840, defeating incumbent Wilson Shannon. Shannon defeated Corwin in a rematch two years later.

Corwin was a Presidential elector in 1844 for the Whig Party ticket of Henry Clay and Theodore Frelinghuysen.[9]

Corwin was also a member of the United States Senate, having been elected by the Ohio General Assembly as a Whig and served from March 4, 1845, to July 20, 1850. As a legislator he spoke seldom, but always with great ability, his most famous speech being one given on February 11, 1847, opposing the Mexican–American War.[10]

Thomas Corwin, as quoted by Canadian humorist Stephen Leacock --

The world has a contempt for the man who amuses it. You must be solemn, solemn as an ass. All the great monuments on earth have been erected over the graves of solemn asses.

CORWIN, Thomas-Treasury (BEP engraved portrait)
BEP portrait of Corwin as Secretary of the Treasury

He resigned from the Senate to become President Millard Fillmore's Secretary of the Treasury shortly after the death of President Zachary Taylor. Like his immediate predecessor, William M. Meredith, Corwin believed in a protective tariff, but he did not want to make sudden or drastic changes in the free-trade tariff law of 1846. He objected to that law's provisions, which taxed some imported raw materials at a higher rate than the imported manufactured goods made from those materials, stating in a report to Congress that "such provisions certainly take from the manufacturer and artisan that encouragement which the present law was intended to afford." As a longtime Whig, however, Corwin was unsuccessful in passing any tariff legislation in a Congress controlled by Democrats. He retired as Secretary shortly after the end of Filmore's administration.

In 1857, former Ohio Governor William Bebb shot a man and was tried in 1858 for manslaughter in Winnebago County, Illinois, where he lived. Corwin and co-council Judge William Johnston obtained an acquittal with an argument of self-defense.[11]

He was again elected to the House of Representatives in 1858, this time as a Republican and a member of the 36th Congress. In 1860, he was chairman of the House "Committee of Thirty-three," consisting of one member from each state, and appointed to consider the condition of the nation and, if possible, to devise some scheme for reconciling the North and the South in the secessionist crisis following the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency.[10] To that end, he sponsored a proposed Constitutional Amendment, which later became known as the Corwin Amendment, which forbade the Federal Government from outlawing slavery. It read:

No amendment shall be made to the Constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State.[12]

Corwin's amendment restated what most Americans already believed, that under the Constitution the Congress had no power to interfere with slavery in the states where it existed.

This doctrine is known as the Federal Consensus, and it was subscribed to by everyone from proslavery radicals like John C. Calhoun and abolitionist radicals like William Lloyd Garrison. Abraham Lincoln, like most Republicans, agreed that in peacetime the federal government could not abolish slavery in a state. The 1860 Republican Party platform restated the familiar doctrine. Prohibited by the Constitution from abolishing slavery in the southern states, antislavery politicians instead aimed at weakening slavery by other means—banning slavery in the territories, denying admission to new slave states, inhibiting the rendition of fugitive slaves in the North, suppressing slavery on the high seas, and abolishing slavery in Washington, D.C. For this reason, southerners had long discounted repeated northern promises not to abolish slavery in a state, and they were unimpressed when Corwin introduced his proposed amendment.

The Corwin amendment passed the Senate on March 2. However, only five states ratified it,[13] and war began anyway. Thus, the initiative failed in its goal of preventing the outbreak of the American Civil War.

Corwin was reelected to the House of Representatives in 1860 but resigned on March 12, 1861, after being appointed by the newly inaugurated President Lincoln to become Minister to Mexico, where he served until 1864. Corwin, well regarded among the Mexican public for his opposition to the Mexican–American War while in the Senate, helped keep relations with the Mexicans friendly throughout the course of the Civil War, despite Confederate efforts to sway their allegiances.

Death and legacy

After resigning from his post as Minister, Corwin settled in Washington, D.C. in 1864, and practiced law until his death on December 18, 1865, at age 71.

He is interred in Lebanon Cemetery, Lebanon, Ohio.[14]

Corwin is remembered chiefly as an orator.[10] His speeches both on the stump and in debate were examples of remarkable eloquence.[15]

He acquired the nickname Black Tom not because he was African-American in ancestry, but because of his dark, swarthy complexion.

In 1876 the United States Revenue Cutter Service commissioned a cutter named USRC Thomas Corwin.


  1. ^ Morrow, p. 5.
  2. ^ Cox, Samuel Sullivan (1887). "Chapter XVI - Characteristics Of Races and Classes in Turkey". Diversions of a Diplomat in Turkey. New York: C.L. Webster &. p. 182.
  3. ^ "Thomas Corwin". Ohio Historical Society. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  4. ^ Corwin Speeches: 15
  5. ^ "Ohio Governor Thomas Corwin". National Governors Association. Retrieved July 12, 2012.
  6. ^ Corwin Speeches: 19
  7. ^ "Past Grand Masters - 1828 Thomas Corwin". Grand Lodge of Ohio. Retrieved 2012-12-21.
  8. ^ Alexander K. McClure, ed. (1902). Famous American Statesmen & Orators. VI. New York: F. F. Lovell Publishing Company. p. 43.
  9. ^ Taylor 1899: 255
  10. ^ a b c Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Corwin, Thomas" . Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  11. ^ Johnston, William (1887). Arguments to courts and juries, 1846-1874. Cincinnati: Robert Clarke and Company. pp. 114–115.
  12. ^ A proposed Thirteenth Amendment to prevent secession, 1861 The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History. Retrieved April 23, 2016.
  13. ^ Crofts, Daniel W. (2016). Lincoln and the Politics of Slavery: The Other Thirteenth Amendment and the Struggle to Save the Union. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. p. 15. ISBN 9781469627328.
  14. ^ "Corwin, Thomas". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved 27 October 2017.
  15. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Corwin, Thomas" . New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.


External links

Addison Peale Russell

Addison Peale Russell (September 8, 1826 – July 24, 1912) was an American author of the later nineteenth century. He is remembered mainly for his Sub-Coelum — "his best book...a Utopian protest against materialistic socialism."Russell was born in Ohio; his formal education ended with grammar school. At the age of sixteen he took a job as a printer for a newspaper; by nineteen he had worked his way up to editor and publisher of the Hillsboro, Ohio News. He pursued a journalism career until he switched to politics and public service. He was made clerk of the Ohio Senate in 1850; he later represented Clinton County, Ohio in the Ohio House of Representatives in the 52nd General Assembly (1856–57) as a Republican, and was Ohio Secretary of State (1858–62). He was appointed Financial Agent for Ohio during the American Civil War, stationed in New York City. He retired from public office in 1868 to pursue literature. He wrote seven books:

Half Tints (1867)

Library Notes (1875)

Thomas Corwin (1882)

Characteristics (1884)

A Club of One (1887)

In a Club Corner (1890)

Sub-Coelum (1893).Apart from his biographical survey of Thomas Corwin, an Ohio governor, Russell's books generally fall into the category of belles-lettres.

Corwin Amendment

The Corwin Amendment is a proposed amendment to the United States Constitution that would shield "domestic institutions" of the states from the constitutional amendment process and from abolition or interference by Congress. Although the Corwin Amendment does not explicitly mention slavery, it was designed specifically to protect slavery from federal power. Congress proposed the Corwin Amendment on March 2, 1861, shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War, but it was not ratified by the requisite number of states.

In the period after the 1860 presidential election, several Southern states announced their secession and eventually formed the Confederate States of America. During this period, several legislative measures, including the Corwin Amendment, were proposed in the hope of either reconciling the sections of the United States, or avoiding the secession of the border states. Senator William H. Seward and Representative Thomas Corwin introduced the Corwin Amendment, which was endorsed by President James Buchanan. The amendment had been ratified by just five states by June 1863, far short of the number required for ratification, with the amendment falling out of favor during the Civil War.

Franklin Corwin

Franklin Corwin (January 12, 1818 – June 15, 1879) was a United States Representative from Illinois.

Born in Lebanon, Ohio, he attended private schools, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1839, practicing in Wilmington, Ohio. He served in both houses of the Ohio General Assembly. He moved to Peru, Illinois in 1857, and later became a member of the Illinois House of Representatives, serving as speaker.

He was elected as a Republican to the Forty-third Congress, serving from March 4, 1873 to March 3, 1875.

He ran unsuccessfully for reelection in 1874, and resumed the practice of law in Peru. He died there in June 1879, aged 61.

Corwin was the nephew of U.S. Representatives Moses Bledso Corwin and Thomas Corwin.

Jeremiah Morrow

Jeremiah Morrow (October 6, 1771 – March 22, 1852) was a Democratic-Republican Party politician from Ohio. He served as the ninth Governor of Ohio, and the last Democratic-Republican to do so.

Joseph Vance

Joseph Vance (March 21, 1786 – August 24, 1852) was a Whig politician from Ohio. He was the 13th Governor of Ohio and the first Whig to hold the position.

Mendenhall Order

The Mendenhall Order marked a decision to change the fundamental standards of length and mass of the United States from the customary standards based on those of England to metric standards (Mendenhall 1922). It was issued on April 5, 1893, by Thomas Corwin Mendenhall, superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, with the approval of the United States Secretary of the Treasury, John Griffin Carlisle. The order was issued as the Survey's Bulletin No. 26 - Fundamental Standards of Length and Mass.

Mendenhall River

The Mendenhall River is an Alaskan river north of Juneau in the Mendenhall Valley. The river begins at the Mendenhall Lake, at the base of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Valley, Juneau

The Mendenhall Valley (historically Mendenhall, colloquially The Valley) is the drainage area of the Mendenhall River in the U.S. state of Alaska. The valley contains a series of neighborhoods, comprising the largest populated place within the corporate limits of the City and Borough of Juneau, Alaska's capital.

The valley was formed by Mendenhall Glacier over the course of roughly three thousand years. It was named for physicist and meteorologist Thomas Corwin Mendenhall.

The Mendenhall Valley begins ten miles from the downtown area, at the intersection of Egan Drive and Glacier Highway, and ends ten miles farther west at the intersection of Glacier Highway and Mendenhall Loop Road at Auke Bay. The Valley comprises an area stretching from the wetlands along Fritz Cove and Auke Bay back to the Mendenhall Glacier as well as Mendenhall Lake and the Mendenhall River, which for the most part drains the Valley.

The Valley forms the core of Alaska's 34th election (or state House) district, which is represented in the Alaska House of Representatives by Justin Redbeard Parish, a Democrat. Along with the rest of Juneau and adjoining communities, it is part of Senate District Q, represented in the Alaska Senate by Dennis Egan, a Democrat.

There are four elementary schools (Auke Bay, Glacier Valley, Mendenhall River, and Riverbend), one middle school (Floyd Dryden), and one high school (Thunder Mountain) located in Mendenhall Valley. Most of Juneau's churches are located in the Valley.

Moses Bledso Corwin

Moses Bledso Corwin (January 5, 1790 – April 7, 1872) was a United States Representative from Ohio.

Portage Glacier

Portage Glacier is a glacier on the Kenai Peninsula of the U.S. state of Alaska

and is included within the Chugach National Forest. It is located south of Portage Lake and 6 km (4 mi) west of Whittier.

Portage Glacier was a local name first recorded in 1898 by Thomas Corwin Mendenhall of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, so called because it is on a portage route between Prince William Sound and Turnagain Arm. Hundreds of years ago the glacier filled the entire Portage Valley, a distance of 14 miles (23 km), and was connected to what are now five separate glaciers.The Begich/Boggs Visitor Center (located here 60°47′05″N 148°50′29″W) was built by the U.S. Forest Service in 1986. However, the glacier can no longer be viewed from there. A boat ride across the lake is required to view the glacier. Commercial boat tours are available.

Thomas C. Mendenhall (historian)

Thomas Corwin Mendenhall II (July 10, 1910 in Madison, Wisconsin – July 18, 1998 on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts) was a professor of history at Yale University, the sixth President of Smith College, and the leading authority on the history of collegiate rowing in the United States.

Thomas Corwin House

For the Corwin House in Salem, Massachusetts see The Witch House.

The Corwin House is a historic home located in Lebanon, Ohio, that was once inhabited by former Ohio Governor and United States Treasury Secretary Thomas Corwin. It is a 16-room frame house built in 1818 by Phineas Ross.

Thomas Corwin Mendenhall

Thomas Corwin Mendenhall (October 4, 1841 – March 23, 1924) was an American autodidact physicist and meteorologist. He was the first professor hired at The Ohio State University in 1873 and the superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1889 to 1894. Alongside his work, he was also an advocate for the adoption of the metric system by the United States.

Thomas Ewing

Thomas Ewing Sr. (December 28, 1789 – October 26, 1871) was a National Republican and Whig politician from Ohio. He served in the U.S. Senate as well as serving as the Secretary of the Treasury and the first Secretary of the Interior. He is also known as the foster father (and subsequently father-in-law) of famous American Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman.

Thomas R. Ross

Thomas Randolph Ross (October 26, 1788 – June 28, 1869) was a United States Representative from Ohio.

Born in New Garden Township, Pennsylvania, Ross completed preparatory studies.

He studied law, was admitted to the bar, and began practice in Lebanon, Ohio, in 1810.

Ross was elected as a Republican to the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Congresses and reelected as a Crawford Republican to the Eighteenth Congress (March 4, 1819 – March 3, 1825).

He served as chairman of the Committee on Revisal and Unfinished Business (Seventeenth and Eighteenth Congresses).

He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1824 to the Nineteenth Congress.

He resumed the practice of law in Lebanon. He lost his eyesight in 1866.

He died on his farm near Lebanon, Ohio, June 28, 1869, and was interred in Lebanon Cemetery. His brother-in-law was former Ohio Governor Thomas Corwin, who married Ross' sister Sarah.

USRC Thomas Corwin (1876)

The Thomas Corwin was a United States Revenue Cutter and subsequently a merchant vessel. These two very different roles both centered on Alaska and the Bering Sea. In 1912, Frank Willard Kimball wrote: "The Corwin has probably had a more varied and interesting career than any other vessel which plies the Alaskan waters."The United States Revenue Cutter Thomas Corwin (aka the Corwin) was the first revenue cutter to regularly cruise the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean. Built in the state of Oregon, she was finished and commissioned in San Francisco which remained her home port. In a 23-year federal career, she participated in the search for the USS Jeannette, landed scientific parties on Wrangel and Herald islands, took part in the shelling of the Tlingit village Angoon, interdicted whiskey traffic, rescued shipwrecked whalers, contributed to the exploration of Alaska, and arrested seal poachers. She had at least eight captains during her federal career, but is particularly associated with two: the cool and resolute Calvin L. Hooper and the volatile Michael Healy. She continued operating in the Bering Sea as a merchant and charter vessel after she was sold in 1900.

As a merchant vessel, the SS Corwin started out as a support vessel for minerals exploration, and subsequently was extensively modified to carry passengers. She served coastal ports on Norton and Kotzebue Sounds, the Seward Peninsula, and the Bering Strait during the shipping season, and generally wintered in Puget Sound. She was the first steamer to reach Nome in the spring multiple years, and also frequently the last steamer out in the fall. Her Master through most of her commercial service was Ellsworth Luce West. She attempted to rescue the Karluk survivors from Wrangel Island and participated in the search for four missing Karluk crewmen in 1914.

USS Corwin

Two naval ships of the United States have been named Corwin after Secretary of the Treasury Thomas Corwin.

USS Corwin (1849), was a side wheel gunboat, wooden steamer built at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1849.

USRC Thomas Corwin (1876) was a revenue cutter built at Portland, Oregon, by the Oregon Iron Works in 1876.

United States congressional delegations from Ohio

These are tables of congressional delegations from Ohio to the United States House of Representatives and the United States Senate.

Wilson Shannon

Wilson Shannon (February 24, 1802 – August 30, 1877) was a Democratic politician from Ohio and Kansas. He served as the 14th and 16th Governor of Ohio, and was the first governor of Ohio born in the state. Shannon was the second governor of the Kansas Territory.

Offices and distinctions
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
James Shields
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Taylor Webster
Preceded by
Joseph Vance
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 4th congressional district

Succeeded by
Jeremiah Morrow
Preceded by
Zadok Casey
Chair of the House Public Lands Committee
Succeeded by
Samson Mason
Preceded by
Aaron Harlan
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Ohio's 7th congressional district

Succeeded by
Richard A. Harrison
Preceded by
George Washington Hopkins
Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
John J. Crittenden
Party political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Vance
Whig nominee for Governor of Ohio
1840, 1842
Succeeded by
Mordecai Bartley
Political offices
Preceded by
Wilson Shannon
Governor of Ohio
Succeeded by
Wilson Shannon
Preceded by
William M. Meredith
United States Secretary of the Treasury
Succeeded by
James Guthrie
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Benjamin Tappan
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from Ohio
Served alongside: William Allen, Salmon P. Chase
Succeeded by
Thomas Ewing
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
John B. Weller
United States Minister to Mexico
Succeeded by
Robert Shufelt

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