REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
HENRY HUNTLY HAIGHT
HENRY HUNTLY HAIGHT was born at Rochester, in the State of New York, May 20th, A. D. 1825. His ancestors were English on the paternal side, the first one who emigrated to America, Jonathan Teal Haight, having come to New York from England under the old Dutch régime. On the maternal side, he is descended from the old Scottish family or clan of Cameron, his great grandfather, Ewen Cameron—a cousin of the celebrated Lochiel—having come to New York from Scotland in 1790, and settled in the western part of the State. His Father, the late Fletcher M. Haight, a lawyer of eminence and distinguished ability, and who was at the time of his death, Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California, was also a resident of western New York, where, with the exception of a few years in St. Louis, he lived until he removed to California in 1854.
Mr. Haight was the eldest son of a large family of children. He entered Yale College at the age of fifteen years, from whence he graduated in 1844; and having decided to adopt as a profession one that had been hereditary in his family for several generations—that of the law— entered at once upon its study in the law office of his father. In 1846, his father removing to St. Louis, Mr. Haight accompanied him, and was shortly afterwards admitted to the bar by the Supreme Court of Missouri. He immediately commenced the practice of law in St. Louis, in connection with his father, and remained there until late in 1849, when he turned his steps towards the newly acquired territory on the Pacific. He arrived in San Francisco on the 20th of January, 1850, then a small town, its dwellings consisting principally of tents and rough board shanties; and although its population was already large, yet by far the greater portion consisted of persons who were making it but a temporary stopping-place on their way to the mines. Among those, however, whose faith was strong in the future greatness and prosperity of San Francisco was Mr. Haight, and he decided at once to make it his home. He immediately commenced practicing law, first in connection with the late Gen. J. A. McDougall, and later with his father, who had followed him to California. His abilities were soon acknowledged; and young as he was, he soon occupied an eminent position in the front rank of the bar of California, and which he has ever maintained.
From the time of his arrival in San Francisco until the spring of 1867, he removed his residence to Alameda county, continuing, however, his law practice in San Francisco, until called by the people, in the fall of that year, to assume the office of Chief Magistrate of the State.
He had never been, with but one exception up to the time of his nomination for Governor in 1867, actively engaged in any political struggle. Occupying the prominent position he always has during his long residence in San Francisco, he had often been pressed by his friends to accept nominations for judicial and other honorable offices, but had invariably declined. Although taking a zealous interest in the affairs of the country and the course of events, he had never, beyond an occasional article from his pen, entered publicly into the discussion of the political questions of the day, until the Presidential campaign of 1864, in which he took part with the conservative party in the support of Geo. B. McClellan.
It would not be proper here to enter into an examination of the political questions that then agitated the people, and we have but mentioned the subject to show that the course pursued by Mr. Haight and the constitutional principles announced by him in that memorable campaign, were remembered and approved of by the people of California when they elected him Governor of the State three years afterwards by the large majority of nine thousand and five hundred.
He was nominated for that position by the Democratic State Convention that met in San Francisco in June, 1867. He had at first steadily declined to allow his name to be used before the convention, but at last, yielding to the pressing solicitations of his friends, he consented. His name was presented to the convention by the Hon. J. B. Crockett, who prefaced the nomination by the following remarks, to the truthfulness of which any one who has personally known Mr. Haight for any length of time, will cordially assent:
I rise to perform an agreeable duty in presenting for the high office of Governor of the State of California, a gentleman whom I have known from his boyhood. I have known him twenty years; and I can say, truthfully say, that I have never known a truer, better, more honest, or more upright man than he whose name I will present to the convention; a man distinguished for his integrity and perfect uprightness of character in all the walks of life; a man against whom not a word of reproach has been or is likely to be uttered; a man in whose keeping of the honor and welfare of the State will be perfectly safe; a man who will be a party to no scheme, who will not yield to any corrupt influences, and who will administer the government of the State with ability, in the spirit of the constitution and the laws; and who will do honor to the office and to the party which elects him. And I do now nominate for the office of Governor of California, Henry H. Haight.
The remarks of Judge Crockett were received with great applause, and Mr. Haight was immediately nominated by acclamation. His principal opponent in the campaign was George C. Gorham, the nominee of the Republican party. The contest was a most spirited and exciting one, probably more so than any previous gubernatorial election that ever took place in the State, not even excepting the memorable struggle of September, 1859. The election resulted in the triumph of the entire Democratic State ticket, Mr. Haight's majority over Mr. Gorham being as already stated.
There is probably no better or surer method of ascertaining the position occupied by a man in the opinion of his fellow-citizens, and the character he bears among them, than for him to become a candidate for some prominent office, especially at a time when party feeling runs high. Every act of his life, and every word that he has ever spoken that can by any known mode of conclusion or misconstruction be made to bear upon the question at issue and turned against him are immediately blazoned forth in the public journals. Not only is his public life subjected to the scrutiny of his political opponents, but his private life and affairs, and the motives that may have influenced him in any particular matter, are dragged forth and commented upon with perfect freedom. To a reasonable extent, it is right enough that such should be the case, but party zeal often oversteps its legitimate boundary, and engages in systematic defamation and abuse. The man who successfully passes through such an ordeal and escapes therefrom with untarnished reputation, is to be considered something more than fortunate; and no better proof can be adduced of the high moral standard of Mr. Haight than to say, that during the entire gubernatorial contest just alluded to, bitter as it was, no attempt was made to attack his private character.
Gov. Haight was inaugurated December 5th, 1867, and since then has administered the State government with general acceptance. His official term as Governor expires in December, 1871.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 663-666.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.