Ohio's Governor William Bebb

From THE GOVERNORS OF OHIO, published by The Ohio Historical Society, Columbus Ohio 1954 and 1969

William Bebb 1846-1849

Ohio's nineteenth governor was William Bebb of Butler County, the third native Ohioan to be elected to the office. His father, Edward, who emigrated to America from Wales in 1795, was the first settler in the Welsh settlement of paddy's Run, the present town of Shandon. Having built a two-story log cabin on land purchased on the Dry Fork of the Whitewater in 1801, he went east to Philadelphia and returned with his bride, a widow, the former Margaret Roberts Owens. William, the first of their three children, who was born on December 8, 1802, is said to have been the first white child born in Butler County west of the Great Miami river.

Before he was old enough to attend school, William received instruction in both English and Welsh from his mother. Probably from the age of seven or eight he received several months' schooling each year in the district school. One of his later teachers was David Lloyd, a well educated Welshman. When about twenty young Bebb began teaching. Accounts differ as to his first school, but they agree that he taught for a time at North Bend, the home of William Henry Harrison. At all events, he was married in 1824 to Sarah Shuck, who was also a teacher there.

In 1826 the Paddy's Run school was organized under the new state law, a new building was erected, and William Bebb was employed as the first teacher. Two years later Bebb and his wife opened a boarding school in a frame building erected for the purpose on the farm of Edward Bebb. The "Sycamore Grove School" was successful from the start, having from thirty to fourty boys between ten and fourteen years old from Cincinnati and the South and a few local day pupils. One writer claims that Bebb's methods were similar to modern educational procedures. A number of his pupils became prominent. They included a later governor, William Dennison, and several eminent attorneys.

While conducting the school Bebb also studied law and in December 1831 passed the state bar examination. The following year he closed his school and began the practice of law in Hamilton, first in the office of his mentor, John Woods. From 1834 to 1840 he was the junior partner of John M. Millikin.

As a young lawyer Bebb became an active Whig politician. His first major effort was in the "hard cider" campaign of 1840 when he stumped the state for Harrison and Tyler. Four years later he was a delegate to the Baltimore convention which niminate Henry Clay for the presidency. Bebb was nominated for goernor by the Whig party in 1846. The questions of banking and currency and taxation were again major issues, with Bebb favoring the continuation of the kelly laws with only slight amendments. The campaign slogan was "Wm. Bebb and a Home Currency against David Tod and Pot Metal."

In his campaign over the state Bebb advocated also the testimony clause of the Black Laws (and in the Western Reserve, the repeal of all these laws). The Democrats made capital of his favoring "Negro equality," especially in central and southern Ohio, indicating a growing sectionalism in Ohio politics. The Whigs won the contest, with Bebb receiving 118869 votes to 116484 for David Tod, the Democratic candidate. The Liberty party polled 10797 for Samuel Lewis. The Whigs elected a majority of eight in the house of representatives, but the parties were tied in the senate.

Governor Bebb was inaugurated on December 12, 1846. The Mexican War was in progress and the Whigs in the general assembly passed a resolution condemning the war and President Polk. The governor was ardently opposed to the war, but like his predecessor honored the president's call for Ohio troops. Although his party had only a slight majority Governor Bebb stated in his message to the general assembly at the close of his administration (January 5, 1849) that all but one of his principal recommendations had been adopted. The currency and revenue laws had been maintained with only minor revisions, the support of schools and colleges continued and the state debt greatly reduced by strict economy and the increased sale of canal lands; monopolies had been curbed, conditions in the penitentiary had been ameliorated, and the construction of the new statehouse had progressed rapidly. The one exception was the repeal of the Black Laws, which he again strongly urged.

He took the occasion to express his views on numerous state national problems. He recommended the calling of a constitutional convention and a revision of the constitution to provide for the election of all executive, legislative, and judicial officals directly by the people; to place a constitutional limitation on the state debt; to provide for biennial insted of annual sessions of the general assembly in order to reduce government expenditures; and to make improvements in the judicial system. On the national level he advocated the extension of the antislavery article of the Ordinance of 1787 to new mexico and California and other territories which might be acquired.

Governor bebb's term expired in December 1848, but his administration was continued until January 22, 1849, because of a delay in organizing the two houses of the assembly and in qualifying his successor. He had not been a candidate for reelection and did not again hold an elective office. He retained his interest in politics, however, and subsequently served as elector-at-large from Illinois on the Scott ticket. During Lincoln's administration he was appointed an examiner in the pension office at Washington and later (1868) declined an appointment as consul at Tangier, Morocco.

After retiring from the governorship, Bebb and his family moved to a farm of five thousand acres which he had purchased in a beautiful location on the Rocky River near Rockford, Illinois. Here occurred a tragic incident in which Bebb shot and killed one of a group of rowdies who came to serenade the home on the occasion of the marriage of one of his sons. He was tried in the Rockford County court for manslaughter but was acquitted. His attourneys were assisted by Thomas Corwin and W. T. Johnson, his friends from Ohio.

During the middle 1850's Governor Bebb visited Europe and Wales. While in Wales he encouraged a colony of Welsh to locate in eastern Tennessee. In 1860 he took his family to reside at Knoxville so that he could superintend the affairs of the settlement. The threat of war scattered the settlers and Bebb was warned not to return to Tennessee from Illinois, where he was speaking for Lincoln. His last years were spent at Rockford, where he died on October 23, 1873. His wife and three children survided. A son Michael was a noted botanist.

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