Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Enoch Louis Lowe
MSA SC 3520-1460
Governor of Maryland, 1851-1854


The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 141-144.

"ENOCH LOUIS LOWE, one of the youngest men ever to have been elected Governor of Maryland, as well as the last to be elected under the amended Constitution of 1776, was born in Frederick County on August 10, 1820, the son of Lieutenant Bradley S.A. and Adelaide (Vincendiere) Lowe. Because of his parents’ separation and divorce, Enoch spent his early years at his maternal grandmother’s estate 'The Hermitage,' a tract of 1,000 acres in Frederick County on the Monocacy River.1 He attended St. John’s School in Frederick, but when he was thirteen, he was sent to Ireland to complete his education, where he enrolled at Clongowas Wood College near Dublin. He subsequently transferred to the Jesuit College at Stonyhurst, remaining at that school for three years. Following the completion of his education in 1839, he made an extensive tour of Europe, and after he had returned to America he traveled around the country for a year before he began the study of law in Frederick. He entered Judge Lynch’s law office there and in 1842, at the age of twenty-one he was admitted to the bar, after which he formed a law partnership with John W. Baughman and soon became engaged in politics in Frederick County.

"On May 29, 1844, he married Esther Winder Polk, daughter of Colonel James Polk of Princess Anne. They had eleven children, seven of whom survived Lowe.

"In 1845, he was a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates from Frederick County, and his campaign resulted in his election and the beginning of his reputation as an effective public speaker. Lowe achieved prominence as an advocate of constitutional reform in Maryland, because of which his fame had spread so far by 1850 that when the Democratic State Convention met, he was chosen upon a 'reform' platform as the standard-bearer of his party. The Whigs nominated William B. Clarke of Washington County, since the Western Maryland gubernatorial district had the opportunity to choose the governor in 1850. The two held several public debates during the campaign, but Lowe’s personal popularity in Baltimore and his public speaking ability won the election for him. His [p. 142] majority throughout the state was just 1,492 votes, but Baltimore, which had given the Whig candidate for mayor, J.H.T. Jerome, a majority of 777 votes, gave Lowe a majority of 2,759 votes.

"Lowe was only twenty-nine years old when he was nominated for Governor, although he satisfied the constitutional requirement by reaching the age of thirty before election day. He was inaugurated on January 6, 1851, shortly after the Constitutional Convention had assembled, giving the State dynamic executive leadership for the next three years. His term was not affected as the result of the adoption of the Constitution of 1851, so he continued in office for the full time, until he was succeeded by Thomas Watkins Ligon on January 11, 1854.

"Governor Lowe’s administration was significant on several counts. First of all, the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad was completed to the Ohio River, which was the first western terminal of the line. Lowe announced this news proudly to the Legislature in 1853 by stating that 'no more important announcement than this has been made to the people of Maryland, for the last half century.'2 Second, the establishment of the office of Comptroller of the Treasury fulfilled a long-felt need. Third, his support of constitutional reform resulted in the ratification of the Constitution of 1851, although it was a sectional compromise. 'The political condition of the State' afforded him great pleasure, he commented. 'A great, yet peaceful revolution, the result of a long and bitter contest, has finally been accomplished. To those, who can look back to the exciting agitations of 1836, the present organization of the Body Politic wears a marvellous aspect.' Referring to the 'Glorious Nineteen Electors' he noted that 'the measures, once denounced as revolutionary, agrarian, and destructive' had now gone quietly into operation 'in the resolute defiance of old and uncompromising prejudices.'3

Lowe’s administration was also significant because of his interest in reform measures. One of these was the abolition of imprisonment for debt, and the granting of greater pardoning and reprieve power. 'Let credit be given more upon personal character. . . . The man who trusts his goods or money upon any other principle generally leans upon the slender reed of speculation.'4 He recommended the replacement of the Great Seal which he did not think appropriate. 'It should, in my judgment, consist of the Arms of the State, and not of a device which has no significant relation to its local history.'5 He also advocated revision of the election laws and modifications to the criminal code, so that his administration reflected the national spirit of optimism and liberal legislative measures.

"Lowe revealed his pro-Southern bias when he described the efforts of [p. 143] Edward Gorsuch to recover his fugitive slaves from Pennsylvania.  Gorsuch had been murdered so Lowe spared no efforts to see justice done. 'Maryland made her appearance at the bar of public justice of the United States, and before a Pennsylvania jury. . . . The result is before us. The peace-loving, the Union-loving, the law abiding State of Maryland had failed to secure justice.' He went on to 'admonish South Carolina against secession, and cheered on Virginia in the ways of loyalty.' The fugitive slave law, to him, was 'a mockery and a delusion.'6

"During Lowe’s administration, the state fully recovered from its financial depression of a few years earlier. Philip Francis Thomas, who had preceded Lowe, had warned against reducing the amount of taxation, and declared that such a reduction, despite the cheerful outlook, would be a dangerous step. Lowe advised against taking Thomas’ counsel, so that in 1853 Maryland’s tax rate was reduced to fifteen cents on each $100 valuation, whereas previously it had been twenty-five cents.

"During his administration, General Thaddeus Kossuth, the Hungarian patriot, visited America and was Lowe’s guest for several days. Although he received sympathy for himself and the cause he represented, Kossuth failed to secure aid either from the State or from Lowe.

"After his term had ended, Lowe for a short period resumed the practice of law in Frederick. At the same time, he assumed a more prominent role in national politics, by becoming an influential member of the Democratic National Convention of 1856 which nominated James Buchanan. After the latter became President, he offered Lowe a diplomatic post in China, which he declined. Lowe actively supported John C. Breckinridge for President in 1860 and was in that year an elector on the Breckinridge ticket.

When the war began, Lowe remained in Maryland long enough to indicate his Southern sympathies, and to advocate Maryland’s secession. When the State failed to leave the Union after the outbreak of hostilities, he moved to Virginia, where the Legislature invited him to occupy one of the privileged seats in its hall.

"In his December 1861 address before the Virginia Legislature, Lowe told that body that he hoped that Maryland would secede, believing that the State would ultimately join the Confederacy. 'God knows,' he declared, 'Marylanders love the Sunny South as dearly as any son of the Palmetto State. They idolize the chivalrous honor, the stern and refined idea of free government, the social dignity and conservatism which characterize the southern brethren who were born where the snow never falls.' He was bitter in his denunciations of Thomas H. Hicks whom he characterized as 'a false-hearted' Governor who 'had purposely left [Maryland] in a defenseless condition, in order that he might without peril to himself deliver her up at the suitable time to be crucified and receive his thirty pieces of silver as the price of his unspeakable treachery.'7

[p. 144]  "Lowe spent the greater part of the war in voluntary exile in the South in Augusta as well as in Milledgeville, Georgia. After the war, he returned only briefly to Maryland, where he lived from November, 1865 until May, 1866. He then moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he saw ample opportunities to practice law.

"Soon after he had moved to New York, Lowe came to be much in demand as a lecturer. Several times he was approached to enter Brooklyn and New York State politics, but he seldom took an active part in any of them. Except for his brief activity in the Hancock-Garfield campaign of 1880, in which he delivered occasional speeches, he remained in comparative political retirement. For a time, he was counsel to the Erie Railroad Company, but upon the death of James Fiske, this relationship was dissolved and he continued to practice law alone.

"A newspaper correspondent, writing from Brooklyn at the time of Lowe’s death, asserted that he had 'lived a very retired life, and outside of the immediate circle of his family friends, was hardly ever seen or heard of. It was often regretted here that Mr. Lowe did not take the public place his abilities and career warranted, but he seemed to care only for the peace and quiet of his family and home, and thus occupied himself out of the sight and bustle of the busy world.'8 Governor Lowe died on August 23, 1892, at St. Mary’s Hospital in Brooklyn, where he had undergone an operation which had proven unsuccessful. His body was removed to Frederick, and was privately interred in the Catholic Cemetery in that city. At his family’s request, no sermon was preached at his funeral. The Sun commented that 'few young men ever had a more brilliant career in this State.' The paper continued that 'he had the advantage of a collegiate training abroad, with which was combined a pleasing address, winning speech and clear-cut, State’s rights, patriotic principles.'9


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