REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
By B. P. AVERY.
The name which heads this article was that of one of the most genial and pleasant men who ever devoted themselves earnestly to a good cause. Charles Westmoreland was born in Georgia, in 1829, of good ancestry. He was liberally educated, and possessed qualities which would have made him a popular leader in his native State; but his manhood had hardly begun when, in 1853, he came to California. After a brief trial at the hazards of mining, which every one made in those days, he turned his attention to law, literature, and politics. He was first prominently known as State Senator from Placer county, having been elected to that office on the Know-Nothing ticket in 1855. He was the youngest member of the Senate at that time, except Burton, of Nevada, being only twenty-six years old. His Know-Nothingism was only a temporary cloak for hostility to State-Rights Democracy, and after the dismemberment of the party, he allied himself with the Free-Soil Democracy of California under the leadership of Broderick, to whom he was warmly attached.
During his term in the Senate, he was intimate with the lamented Ferguson, who was killed in a duel with George Pen Johnston in 1859, and eloquently mourned by Col. E. D. Baker. Both were men of brilliant qualities and too social habits, though Westmoreland subsequently led a more prudent life, and had made sure of an honorable career.
Subsequently to his legislative career, Westmoreland tried his profession fortunes in Oregon, where he made the acquaintance of most of the leading men of the day. He had returned to California before the rebellion broke out, and when that event occurred was residing in Shasta. As editor of the Courier, a weekly newspaper in that town, he distinguished himself by the strong Union ground he took, and by the vigor, wit, and sarcasm with which he assailed the Peace Democracy. Although a Southerner born, and with a wife and child behind him in Georgia, he never hesitated in his allegiance to the cause of the Republic, and was restrained by no prejudices born of “the peculiar institution.”
After the election of 1861, when the Union men of the State were divided in rival organizations, he lent his influence to the movement for a consolidation of the loyal vote, and was largely instrumental in carrying the War Democrats of his county into the Union party which was formed in the spring of 1862. When leaders like John Conness seemed inclined to hold aloof from the movement, afraid of losing their personal consequence, he aided it with patriotic enthusiasm.
During the winter of 1862 and spring of 1863, he was associate editor of the Marysville Appeal, a conspicuous and influential Republican daily. After the nomination of the Union State ticket in 1863, he took charge of the San Francisco Republic, a warm campaign paper founded on the ruins of the old Herald.
At the first session of the Legislature which met under the amended constitution, in December, 1863, he was elected by the Union members of the Senate Secretary of their body, in recognition of his services to the Union cause. During the Presidential campaign of 1864 he was Secretary of the Union State Central Committee, in which position he contributed materially to organize the efficient canvass by which California was carried for Lincoln.
After returning from a short trip to Washington, he established himself in the legal profession at Arcata, Humboldt county, continuing to be always an active Union partisan, and using both his voice and pen in defence of the most advanced Republican principles.
He was elected to the Assembly of 1867-8, and was the leader of the Republican minority in that body, defending his party ideas and measures in the face of a triumphant majority, with ready ability and eloquence.
He was a competitor with Chancellor Hartson for the Congressional nomination in the Northern District, in 1868. Failing of that nomination, he accepted a place on the Grant electoral ticket, and stumped his district until the close of the campaign. He was elected messenger to carry the vote of the State to Washington, and left San Francisco upon that honorable errand by the steamship Montana, September 4th, 1868. This was during the height of the memorable small-pox epidemic. He had contracted the disease, which developed itself on the voyage, and carried him to his grave at Panama, on the 25th of December. His friend William B. Carr carried the electoral vote to Washington by his appointment. Mr. Westmoreland was apparently in the best health when he left San Francisco. His tall and ample form, his rosy cheeks and fair complexion, his genial smile and gay conversation, seemed to be the indices of a satisfied mind, looking forward to an honorable career. He expected to meet a motherless son for the first time in many years, after a separation painfully prolonged by the war at the South. But it was not to be. That boy is now the ward of his father’s friend, George C. Gorham, Secretary of the United Senate. Congress passed a resolution appropriating for the orphan the money his father would have received as messenger. Westmoreland was possessed of a pleasing eloquence, both as speaker and writer. He was witty and genial companion, a man of strong opinions and original expressions, and an enthusiastic idealist on the subject of equal rights and human progress. His untimely death was widely regretted. His former neighbors in Northern California have made arrangements to erect a monument over his remains in their distant place of rest.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 361-363.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.