REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
BY FRANK F. TAYLOR.
Illinois can claim the honor of having been more prolific of distinguished men during the last decade than any other State of the Union. Certainly, from no other State have as many men, conspicuous for signal ability and great talent, emigrated, and become the adopted sons of California.
THOMPSON CAMPBELL was one of those whose fame was established in Illinois before California attracted the attention of the American people. This gentleman was born in Pennsylvania, in the year 1812. In that State he grew up to manhood, received a good education and studied law. Shortly after his admission to the bar, he removed to Galena, in Jo. Daviess County, Illinois, where, in a few years, he became famous for his oratorical powers, and where he acquired great distinction as a criminal lawyer. From 1838 to 1853 he practiced at a bar which numbered among its members many able men—Hon. E. B. Washburne, present Minister to France, Hon. Thos. Drummond, present U. S. Circuit Judge of Illinois, and others (who have since become noted in California) prominent among whom are Hons. J. P. Hoge, O. C. Pratt, and S. M. Wilson.
In 1840, Mr. Campbell was appointed by Gov. Ford of Illinois, Secretary of State, and acted in that capacity for one term. In 1846, he was elected a delegate to the convention called to amend the Constitution of his State. He took a leading part in the deliberations of that body. In 1850, he was elected a member of the National House of Representatives, to succeed Hon. E. D. Baker. At the expiration of his term, in the spring of 1853, he was appointed by President Pierce U. S. Land Commissioner for the State of California, and immediately thereafter removed with his family to San Francisco. He did not long discharge the duties of this position, but resigned in order to practice his profession in the new and inviting field which San Francisco then presented.
He achieved marked success in the practice of law, and maintained the high reputation he had won in Illinois. He returned to the latter State in 1859, and resided in Chicago for about two years. He was warmly welcomed on his return to Illinois by numerous personal friends; and the Democracy, then about to divide into two hostile factions, watched his course with anxious interest. He was not long in deciding under which standard he would march, but espousing the cause of the weaker branch, threw the great weight of his name and influence against the “Little Giant.”
In the campaign of 1860 he was one of the Breckenridge Presidential electors. Soon after the result of that contest was known, Mr. Campbell made a tour through Europe, after which he returned to San Francisco, and resumed legal practice. A man of his temperament and patriotism could not be silent while the war of the rebellion was raging. At the outbreak of that struggle he promptly and enthusiastically gave his support to the Union cause, and throughout its continuance he advocated, on every proper occasion, the principles of the Union party, and labored for their vindication with unabated zeal. Mr. Campbell had been a life-long Democrat; and suddenly to sever his connection with his party must have cost him much painful effort; but, possessed of a bold, comprehensive mind; of patriotic impulses, which made him disregard the ungenerous and sometimes severe criticisms of his old partisan friends, he was undaunted, and strode like a giant into the conflict with those who advocated the cause of disunion.
In 1863, he delivered a speech on the condition of public affairs, which was a meritorious and masterly effort, and caused many hearty congratulations throughout the State, that the Union cause had in California so fearless, earnest, and eloquent a champion. So widely did his fame as an orator and a thinker extend, and so eagerly were his counsels sought, that in July, 1863, the proprietors of the Sacramento Union proposed to him that, if he would visit Sacramento and there deliver a speech on the state of the country, they would, at their own expense have it reported stenographically, and printed in full in the columns of their popular journal. This offer was accepted, and in the month named, Mr. Campbell made one of his ablest and most convincing speeches, in the Assembly chamber of the Capitol. Although he possessed the rare and happy faculty of readily extemporizing as well, yet this particular effort was evidently the result of careful and thorough preparation. The gubernatorial canvass was then progressing with great animation: Hon. F. F. Low being the Union, and Hon. J. G. Downey the Democratic candidate. On the occasion just referred to, Mr. Campbell, owing to a misapprehension as to time, commenced his speech at 8:45 o’clock, P. M., and closed at 12:30, A. M., consuming three and three-quarters hours of time. Being then in bad health, it was a subject of common surprise that he could speak, with voice clear and unbroken, for so long a time. His speech was printed in full in the Union, occupying nearly nine columns of that paper. The State Central Committee ordered 10,000 copies to be printed in pamphlet form, but soon raised the number to 50,000, for general circulation. It was widely circulated and received as a text-book of the party, and as the most able, instructive and exhaustive argument that had been or could be made on the subject upon which it treated. It was generally agreed that the decisive victory soon afterwards achieved by the Union party in California, was owing as much to the efforts of Mr. Campbell as to those of any other leader of the party in the State.
A few weeks after the delivery of the speech of which mention has just been made, Mr. Campbell was nominated as a candidate for the Assembly by his party in San Francisco. He was elected; and when the Legislature convened in December, 1863, he was made chairman of the Judiciary Committee of the lower house. His influence in that committee and in the Assembly chamber was remarkable, and equaled, if it did not surpass, that of any man who has ever held a seat in the California Legislature.
During that session of the Legislature the representatives of the Union party met at Sacramento in State convention, to choose delegates to the national convention at Baltimore, called to nominate candidates for President and Vice President of the United States. Mr. Campbell received the highest number of votes cast for any delegate except Gen. Bidwell. His appearance on the platform, and his speech on that occasion, elicited enthusiastic demonstrations of applause. It will be remembered that the excitement produced by the war then raging was intense. One of the principal subjects of public discussion throughout the State was the declaration contained in the resolutions passed by the Union convention, that the volunteer soldiers were entitled to vote at the general election in California, although they happened to be without the boundaries of the State at the time. Addressing himself to this topic, Mr. Campbell electrified the convention with a speech at once argumentative and eloquent. He seemed to be in his happiest vein. The magnificence of his style, the beauty and finish of his periods, the perfect harmony existing between his own feelings and the general sentiment of his party, the vast and appreciative audience, and the impassioned mood of the speaker, all joined to heighten the effect of this splendid effort. He spoke of the lofty valor, heroism and unfaltering devotion of the Union soldiers, “which would hereafter render their posterity more proud of them than if they had sprung from a race of kings,” and that “we will send the ballot, if necessary, round about the pendant globe, but what it shall reach them.”
Soon afterwards, Mr. Campbell departed for Baltimore, and participated in the proceedings of the convention which renominated Abraham Lincoln for the Presidency.
Returning to San Francisco, in June, 1865, he addressed a public meeting in that city, on the question of Mexican independence, sternly denouncing the unsurpation of Maximilian, and advocating with great zeal, the application of the “Monroe Doctrine” in our relations with that country. He was always earnestly in favor of the introduction of the national currency into California.
His political sagacity was remarkable. In the spring of 1865, on his return from the Atlantic States, he told his party friends plainly and emphatically that the elective franchise must and would be extended to all the negroes in the States which had engaged in the Rebellion, for the simple reason that that class of population could protect themselves in no other way than by the ballot. He astounded many of those to whom he thus spoke, and but few agreed with him until the rapid succession of events attested his foresight.
Mr. Campbell died, after a short illness, in San Francisco, leaving a widow, son and daughter, who have since returned to the East. Owing in a great degree to his disease, he lacked in his later years, that suavity and genial temper which were among the most attractive characteristics of his early manhood.
In former years he had great vivacity and personal magnetism, and delighted his hearers with entertaining conversations and amusing anecdotes. He sought no individual alliances or support; and yet such was his great power, aided by the prestige of his former achievements, that his influence was almost unbounded. Until the last two days of the term, not a bill or law was rejected which was to every measure which he opposed. This is stated not as mere flattery or even eulogy, but as an instance of the extent of the influence which one legislator, noted for his integrity, wisdom, and eloquence could exert over his fellows.
During the year 1867, he several times addressed the people of San Francisco on the interesting subject of what is known as “the outside lands,” in which he became involved in an exciting controversy with Mr. Conness, then a U. S. Senator from California; also, in the gubernational canvass of that year, in which he closed a masterly speech, by saying that, “he should support Mr. Gorham on patriotic grounds, and none other.”
As an orator, in particular, it is most difficult to do justice to Mr. Campbell; only those who have seen him in the various moods of passion and thought, which lit up his classic countenance as with a flame of light; who have heard the sweet, deep-sounding cadences of his voice; and witnessed, in his great earnestness, his grand and magnificent gesticulation, who have listened to his profound arguments, and witnessed the effect of his glowing words, the winged messengers of his enthusiastic soul, can fully comprehend the inadequacy of any description of his character.
Well was he described by a leading political paper of California, in January, 1864, as “That just less than sovereign intelligence Thompson Campbell.”
In the death of Mr. Campbell, an estimable and devoted wife, and an interesting daughter and son, of mature years, lost a loving, tender, and affectionate husband and father, whose fame and public virtues threw around them the protective glory and shield of an honored and great name. California lost a noble son, who had reflected honor upon her escutcheon. His circle of admiring friends lost in him a friend indeed, and the bar and public forum were deprived of one of the most brilliant of geniuses and most profound of intellect.
The following extract from the obituary notice of Mr. Campbell which appeared in the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, on the day after his death, will fitly conclude this brief and imperfect sketch.
Mr. Campbell’s voice has often been heard in the discussion of public affairs, and always on the side of liberal principles. None who ever heard him will forget his pale face, set in a frame of long dark hair, his glowing eyes, his nervous energy of gesture, his half-absorbed yet electrical manner, his compact logic, his faultlessly correct and felicitous language, rising often to a natural eloquence, and his fervid expressions of patriotic sentiment. At the bar he was especially distinguished for closeness of logic and clearness of analysis. These qualities, and his command over the attention of a jury, were remarkably displayed in a late important land case in San Francisco.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 509-514.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.