REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
JOHN B. WELLER
BY THE EDITOR.
This gentleman, for many years a prominent public man in California, and the forth Governor of the State, was born on the 22d day of February, 1812. His parents were of German descent, and natives of the State of New York. They moved from the county of Orange, in that State, to Ohio, about the year 1810, and settled in Hamilton county, some twelve miles from Cincinnati. There, in the village of Montgomery, John B. Weller was born.
When he was twelve or fourteen years old, his parents removed to Oxford, Butler county, the seat of Miami University. At this institution, John B. was educated. Immediately upon the completion of his studies at college, he became a pupil, in the study of law, of Jesse Corwin, brother of Hon. Tom Corwin, whose name is so familiar to the people of the entire Union. Jesse Corwin’s office and residence were at Hamilton, the county-seat of Butler county. In that town, John prosecuted his legal studies until his friend and preceptor considered him qualified to enter upon the practice of law, when he was admitted to the bar and before he had attained his majority.
He had been practicing his profession but a short time, when the Democratic County Convention of Butler county nominated him for Prosecuting Attorney. His opponent, the Whig candidate, was his old tutor, Jesse Corwin, whom he defeated by a large majority. About his time, he was married to Miss Ryan, a daughter of the leading merchant of Hamilton.
In 1838, he was elected by the Democracy of his district to the lower house of Congress, representing the counties of Butler, Preble, and Darke—these counties constituting what was then the second Congressional District of Ohio. His readiness in debate, and his oratorical powers, which were considerable, immediately gave him prominence on the floor of Congress. He was conspicuous in nearly every important partizan struggle witnessed in the House of Representatives during his service as a member. His bearing, while the celebrated New Jersey contested election case was convulsing the House, attracted to him as one of the most effective champions of Democratic principles. When he addressed the House, attentive auditors from both parties were always eager to give due consideration to his earnest yet sober utterances. He was twice reëlected to the House of Representatives, on both occasions having for his competitor the Whig candidate, Hon. Lewis D. Campbell, who, in later years, represented the same district in Congress.
Having lost his first wife a few years after his marriage, Mr. Weller, during his first term in the House of Representatives, married Miss Bryan, daughter of John A. Bryan, then Auditor of the State of Ohio. This lady was a sister of Hon. Charles H. Bryan, formerly Judge of the Supreme Court of California, by appointment of Gov. Bigler. Two years had barely elapsed, when Mr. Weller suffered a new affliction in the death of his second wife. Near the close of his third term in Congress, (1845) he married Miss Susan McDowell Taylor, daughter of Hon. William Taylor, then a congressman from Virginia, and a niece of Col. Thomas H. Benton.
Mr. Weller, when his third term as a representative had expired, determined to resume the practice of law. His party desired to continue him in Congress, and tendered him the nomination again, but he declined, and devoted himself to his profession, until the war broke out between this county and Mexico. Then he left his business to others, and volunteered as a private. He was chosen captain of his company, which became a part of the First Ohio regiment, and afterwards he was elected lieutenant colonel of this regiment—O. M. Mitchell being colonel. He distinguished himself for his gallantry at Monterey, and when Colonel Mitchell was wounded and disabled, Col. Weller commanded his regiment in the hottest part of the fight.
At the termination of the war, he returned to his home in Ohio, and resumed the practice of law. He was not long allowed the comforts of private life. In 1848, he was nominated by his party as their candidate for Governor. The Whig candidate was Seabury Ford. The memorable struggle between these two men was the most bitter and animated political contest that ever disturbed the public mind in the Buckeye State. Colonel Weller, then in the very prime of life, possessed of a robust constitution and excellent, untiring speaking abilities, opened the campaign at an early day, and throughout its continuance bent his whole strength to the attainment of success. The great, main purpose of the Democracy was to secure the vote of the State for Gen. Cass at the approaching presidential election. If Col. Weller should be elected Governor, it would follow as almost beyond doubt that Ohio would cast her vote for Gen. Cass in the fall election. Col. Weller fully appreciated the importance of the position he occupied, and the great responsibilities resting upon him. The office for which he was nominated was not a desirable one, so far as its emoluments were concerned, twelve hundred dollars ($1200) per annum being the salary attached to it. The candidate was fighting for his party, and looking to a national victory. He made speeches in seventy-eight counties of Ohio. He, at no time, relaxed his exertions, nor faltered in his great work until the campaign closed. He took the hold stand, everywhere, that if he were elected by votes of those who endorsed the principles of the new Abolition organization, and the fact could be determined, he would not accept the office. The prejudice at that time against Abolitionists was general among conservative men who acknowledged allegiance to no political organization, and pervaded the entire Democratic party.
The campaign ended amid intense excitement, which extended not only throughout Ohio but the whole country, which awaited the issue anxiously. For weeks after the election, the result continued in doubt; the race was so closely contested that the official count was required to definitely settle the question of who was the people’s choice for Governor. In an aggregate vote of nearly three hundred thousand, Seabury Ford was declared elected by a majority of three hundred and forty-five. In one county, however, more than four hundred votes had been cast for John Weller before the people; and the Democratic committee of that county having omitted the middle initial of their candidate’s name in the making up the ticket for the voters of that county, Col. Weller lost the office for which, not only on his own account, but for the interests of his party, he had made so determined and gallant a fight. The great end was nevertheless attained. At the presidential election which followed, the electoral vote of Ohio was cast for Gen. Cass.
In January, 1849, President Polk tendered Col. Weller the appointment of Commissioner, under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, to run the boundary line between the United States and Mexico. He accepted the appointment. Having, a month previous, for the third time laid in the grave the chosen and beloved companion who had augmented his pleasures and lessened his anxieties, his mental condition was such as to render new scenes and a change of pursuit particularly inviting. With a force of thirty men, he left New Orleans, a month after his appointment, and came to the Pacific coast by way of the Isthmus of Panama, arriving at San Diego in June. He proceeded at once, with the Mexican Commissioner, to fix the initial point. He had barely completed this portion of the work when he was recalled by the new administration. Gen. Taylor, very soon after his inauguration, (March 4th, 1849) appointed John C. Fremont to supersede Col. Weller. The new appointee, however, did not enter upon his duties, being engaged in pressing his claims to an election to the United States Senate, in which he was successful. Major Emory, the topographical engineer of the commission, prosecuted the work until the arrival of Mr. Bartlett, Gen. Taylor’s second appointee.
By way of excuse for removing Col. Weller, he was accused of being a defaulter, before he had any opportunity to settle his accounts. The charge, started by the then Secretary of the Interior, Thomas Ewing, was repeated in the United States Senate by Truman Smith, of Connecticut. Afterwards, from his seat as a senator from California, Col. Weller had the gratifying opportunity of vindicating himself and demonstrating the utter falsity of the accusation. Scarcely two months had passed since this charge was so boldly made, when a settlement with the government showed a balance of several thousands of dollars in favor of Col. Weller, which was paid him upon his arrival at Washington to take his place in the United States Senate.
The Legislature of 1851-2 elected Col. Weller to the United States Senate, to succeed John C. Fremont. He took his seat early in 1852. In the following session, he was made Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs, and served as such during the remainder of his term.
The Legislature of California which convened in January, 1857, was called upon to elect two United States senators, one for the term of four years, to succeed Dr. Gwin, and one for the full period of six years, to succeed Col. Weller, whose term of office expired on the 4th of March following. The latter gentleman was a candidate for reëlection, but instead of returning home to prosecute his claims, remained at his post at Washington—preferring the consciousness of duty faithfully performed to success at the price of neglect of public trust. The result was his defeat by David C. Broderick, who received a small majority of votes in the Democratic caucus—Dr. Gwin being afterwards chosen as his own successor.
Upon the arrival of Mr. Broderick, Col. Weller returned to California. Arriving at San Francisco, he was met at the wharf by the leading members of the Democratic party, who desired his continuance in public life. He wished to withdraw from the field of politics, and at first refused to become a candidate for Governor. The unanimity with which his party demanded his nomination for that office attested his great popularity throughout the State, and induced him to accept. His nomination was tendered almost unanimously, and he was elected by an unusually large majority over Edward Stanly, Republican, and G. W. Bowie, American, or Know-Nothing. He was inaugurated in the first week in January, 1858, and held office for the term of two years, when he was succeeded by Milton S. Latham.
Gov. Weller, upon leaving the office of Governor, retired to his country seat in Alameda county, with his family, having in 1854 married his fourth wife. He wished and expected to enjoy in his quiet and beautiful retreat the sweets of private life and agricultural pursuits the remainder of his days. In less then six months, however, he was on his way to the city of Mexico, as Minister Plenipotentiary to the Mexican Republic, by appointment of President Buchanan. He was recalled in the first month of Mr. Lincoln’s administration, Hon. Tom Corwin succeeding him. He then returned to his farm, and devoted himself to its proper cultivation and adornment for a few years. At the height of the excitement consequent upon the discovery of rich silver deposits at Reese river, Nevada, he was tempted to visit the new mines, in the effort to better his condition pecuniarily. He remained there only a few months, and met with no success worthy of mention. He had, however, although advanced in life, become imbued with a love of mining and the adventures and excitements attending life in the mines.
Returning home, and making proper disposition of his family, he prepared himself for an extended ‘prospecting’ tour. He proceeded to Oregon, thence to Idaho, and afterwards through Idaho and Utah Territories to Great Salt Lake city. In the “City of Spirits,” he practiced law for several months. Becoming employed in a murder case which compelled him to prosecute and denounce certain of the Mormons who were implicated in the murder, his course excited the open hatred of the “Saints,” who marked him as one of the future victims of the “Destroying Angel.” He concluded, very sensibly, to resume his travels. He returned to the Eastern States, and sojourned for a while in Washington city.
In the spring of 1867, he visited New Orleans; and falling in love with the climate, pleased with the business prospects, and having faith in the future of that beautiful city, he determined to make it his home. He is now actively engaged at that place in the practice of his profession.
During his long public career, Col. Weller had ever maintained his popularity with his constituents, and his reputation for fidelity and honesty. Although he has always led a life of frugality, he has never accumulated wealth. As a senator of the United States from California, and as Governor of the State, his conduct was distinguished by unflagging devotion to the interests of the Pacific coast. He is yet in the full possession of his powers, and his old constituents wish him many years of happiness as the reward of his public labors.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 515-521.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
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