THOMAS CAROLUS BIRNEY
While the disposition to do honor to those who have served well their race or their nation is prevalent among all enlightened people and is of great value everywhere and under all forms of government, it is particularly appropriate to, and to be fostered in, this country, where no man is born to public office or to public honor, or comes to either by inheritance, but where all men are equal before the law, where the race for distinction is over the road of public usefulness and is open to everyone who chooses to enter, however humble and obscure he may be, and where the advantageous circumstances of family wealth count, in the vast majority of cases, for but little or nothing. According to a true democratic doctrine they should never for anything at all. Under our system, whose very existence depends upon the virtue of the people themselves, who are not only the source of all political power but on whom also depends the very existence of our free institutions, those who have distinguished themselves in the public service, whether in statesmanship or in arms or in whatever sphere of usefulness, should not fail of recognition. Mr. Birney has long been an active factor in the public life of California and has left the impress of his individuality upon the legislation of the state. His residence in Tuolumne County dates from 1857, and through the intervening years he has ever labored for the welfare of his community and of the entire commonwealth.
A native of Ohio, Thomas Carolus Birney was born in Cuyahoga County on the 17th of March, 1835. His father, Timothy Birney, was a native of County Down, Ireland, and obtained his education in that country. When nineteen years of age he crossed the Atlantic to Canada, but after a short time he removed to Ohio, where he found and married Miss Jane Carroll, a native of Westmeath, Ireland. In 1842 they removed to Livingston County, Michigan, the father purchasing a farm in that locality, upon which he spent his remaining days. He lived to be over eighty years of age, and his wife passed the eighty-fourth milestone in life’s journey. In 1852 he had visited California, making the journey by way of the Isthmus of Panama. He was accompanied by his two sons, Timothy and Charles, and in his mining ventures met with a fair degree of success. After some time he returned to his farm in the east, taking with him gold enough to gain a good start in business. Eight sons and two daughters were born to this marriage, but only three of the number is now living, and Thomas C. Birney is the only representative of the family in California.
As stated Mr. Birney came to California in 1857 and worked in the different mining camps until 1863, meeting with only moderate success. In the fall of that year he was elected district assessor on the Democratic ticket and so capably filled the office that he was re-elected and served for four years. He was then chosen as tax collector of revenue district No. 2 in Tuolumne County, and later, by popular suffrage, was made county assessor, in which position he served with credit to himself and satisfaction to this constituents until the fall of 1875. He was continued in that office altogether for six years, or until, December, 1875, when he resigned, having been elected a member of the state legislature. He represented his county in the general assembly in a creditable manner, devoting his best efforts to the welfare of the community and for the advancement of the social, moral, material and political interests of the state.
For some time Mr. Birney was engaged in the lumber business, and in 1878 he became connected with quartz mining, which industry proved to him a gratifying source of income. He opened the Keltz mine and took out considerable gold, and then sold his interest for three thousand dollars, after which he prospected for a time. In 1881 he was again elected to the legislature and served during the regular session and a special term. He has always been an active member of the Democratic Party, attending its conventions and doing everything in his power to advance its success along legitimate lines. His prominence as a political leader is well merited, for he has a thorough understanding of the issues before the people and his patriotic spirit is well known. With local interests he is actively and deeply interested in securing a successful termination of all movements that are inaugurated. He is now serving as the president of the Tuolumne County Agricultural Association and is devoting much of his time toward the conduct of creditable county fairs. He is also a representative of the mining interests, having been one of the heavy stockholders in the Ham & Birney mine, in which he did considerable development work and then sold the mine for fifteen thousand dollars. He is now a half-owner of the Bald Mountain mine and part owner and lessee of the Tansey mine, both of which he is operating, maintaining his residence at Sawmill Flat in order to be near his mining interests. He also has a good home in Sonora.
In 1869 Mr. Birney was united in marriage to Mrs. Catherine Smith, whose maiden name was Boyle. She is a native of New York and by her former marriage had a son who has been adopted by the subject of this review, and is now known as E. G. Birney, an active businessman of Sonora.
Mr. Birney has been a valued member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows for the past thirty years, representing both the subordinate lodge and the encampment. While undoubtedly he has not been without that honorable ambition which is so powerful and useful as an incentive to activity in public affairs he has ever regarded the pursuits of private life as being in themselves abundantly worthy of his best efforts. He has subordinated public ambition to public good and has sought the benefit of others rather than the aggrandizement of self.
Transcribed by Gerald Iaquinta.
© 2010 Gerald Iaquinta.