Thomas Holliday Hicks (1798-1865)
MSA SC 3520-1462
Governor of Maryland, 1858-1862
"THOMAS HOLLIDAY HICKS probably had to face more serious problems than any of Maryland’s governors in preventing the State’s secession at the outbreak of the Civil War. Born on September 2, 1798, near East New Market in Dorchester County, he was the eldest son of Henry C. and Mary (Sewell) Hicks. As a youth he attended a local school, but because of the poor financial condition of his family, he had to assist his father on the farm, so his education was extremely limited. When he was only twenty-one years old, he was elected town constable. It is not known how long he served in that capacity, but in 1824, when he was twenty-five years old, Hicks was elected Sheriff of his County, and from that time on, he was an almost constant office-holder. Several years later, he purchased a farm on the Choptank River and moved to the southern part of the county, becoming a merchant in Vienna. In the meantime, however, he had been elected to the House of Delegates from Dorchester County, serving during the session of 1830. He was re-elected to his second term in the House of Delegates in 1836.
"Hicks continued his career in 1836 by being chosen a member of the senatorial electoral college. As one of the twenty-one Whig members of that body, he participated in the deliberations leading to the constitutional reforms accomplished during that year. In the following year, the Legislature elected him a member of the Governor’s Council, the last to be chosen before that body was abolished. In 1838, he was appointed Register of Wills for Dorchester County, serving continuously in that post until 1857, when under the Constitution of 1851, that office then became elective instead of appointive. He continued in that office until he was elected governor.
"As in the cases of his predecessor, Joseph Kent, and his successor, Thomas Swann, Hicks belonged to several different political parties. He had begun his career as a Democrat, had participated in the reform movement of 1836 as a Whig, but in 1857, he again changed his political affiliation by becoming a member of the American or the 'Know-Nothing Party.' As the standard-bearer of that party, he defeated his Democratic opponent John C. Groome, the father of Governor James Black Groome, by nearly 8,700 votes in an election which was marked by fraud, open intimidation of the voters, and unprecedented violence.
[p. 154] "Hicks became governor on January 13, 1858, one of the oldest men ever installed in that office. In his inaugural address, he reflected the national American Party beliefs. He enunciated his opposition to the increasing number of foreign immigrants who were coming to our shores, by stating that immigration 'now threatens to deluge and efface the ancient landmarks of the republic: to change the national character and to originate methods of government inconsistent with the perpetuation of our free institutions.'1 He proposed additional safeguards on the right to vote, and once more declared his hatred of religious schools. He promised that he would not call out or enroll a military force on the eve of an election 'when political animosities are agitating the minds of my fellow citizens, and when a display of such kind near the places of voting, forbidden by the laws could only provoke violence and bloodshed.'2 He advocated checks being placed upon our currency and gave his support to 'the favorite Maryland policy of colonization . . . [as] the means of assistance [to the free colored population].'3
"Hicks declared his unalterable opposition to the abolitionists and those who were opposed to the rights of citizens in slaveholding States. 'The attacks of fanatical and misguided persons against property in slaves . . . were formerly confined to a few who were forced to content themselves with refusing assistance to, or placing obstacles in the way of our citizens, who proceeded to those states under the guarantees of the Constitution to recover their property.' Now, he charged, 'no grosser outrage, no more complete and disgraceful violation, not only of good faith, but of solemn compact, and sworn duty under it, can be imagined.'4 Though his governorship was perhaps the worst in Maryland history because of its flagrant abuses of the people’s rights, it was generally uneventful for its first two years.
"Hicks was a staunch Unionist. The final two years of his term are best characterized by the growing schism between the sections, which eventually resulted in the outbreak of hostilities. In Maryland, he is remembered for his efforts to prevent the State from leaving the Union, but other than the events leading up to the secession crisis, the final years of his administration can be recalled only insofar as national events had their impact upon Maryland affairs. Thomas Hicks so violently resisted the efforts of those who attempted to influence him to take Maryland out of the Union that he abhorred any action which would hasten the conflict. On December 8, 1860, he wrote a letter to a Captain Contee of Prince George’s County in which he said: 'If the Union must be dissolved let it be done calmly, deliberately and after full reflection on the part of the united south . . . . After allowing a reasonable time for action on the part of the northern states, if they shall neglect or refuse to observe the plain requirements of the constitution, then, in my judgment, we shall be fully [p.155] warranted in demanding a division of the country.' Hicks went on to deprecate the attempts of 'reckless and designing men to precipitate a dissolution of the Union before the people shall have had time for the reflection so imperatively demanded by the vast interest involved in the threatened separation, whether the separation be peaceful or bloody.'5
"Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers on April 15, 1861 caused Maryland to abandon its previously neutral position. In the meantime, Hicks went to Baltimore where excitement was growing stronger, because of the city’s opposition to the request for troops and the return of the seceded states to attempt to calm the populace. While he was there, the Massachusetts troops were fired upon during their march through the city on April 19, and after a day of much violence and bloodshed, Mayor George William Brown, Marshal George P. Kane, and former Governor Enoch Louis Lowe requested that Hicks have the railroad bridges leading to Baltimore burned to prevent the further passage of troops through the State. Evidence is contradictory about what happened at the midnight conference, but there is little doubt that Hicks gave some form of approval to this proposal.
"Somewhat later, Governor Hicks attempted to clear himself of the charges that he authorized the burning of the bridges, by denying the testimony of those who had met with him. He pointed out that he was a good and unconditional Union man, but yet he left doubt of his advocacy of secession. On April 22, 1861 he wrote Lincoln: 'I feel it my duty most respectfully to advise you that no more troops be ordered or allowed to pass through Maryland, and that the troops now off Annapolis be sent elsewhere; and I most respectfully urge that a truce be offered by you so that the effusion of blood may be prevented. I respectfully suggest that Lord Lyons be requested to act as mediator between the contending parties of our Country.'6 In his message to the General Assembly when it met in Frederick he declared that a portion of the people of Maryland were opposed to the Government’s policy of sending troops across the State. 'I have done all in my power' he declared, 'to protect the citizens of Maryland and to preserve peace within our borders.'7
"Maryland’s position, he insisted, lay in its adoption of a neutral position between the North and South. He delineated the position of a border State perfectly by saying, 'we have violated no rights of either section. We have been loyal to the Union. The unhappy contest between the two sections has not been tormented or encouraged by us, although we have suffered from it in the past. The impending war has not come by any act or wish of ours. We have done all we could to avert it. We have hoped that Maryland . . . might have acted as mediator between the extremes of both sections and thus have prevented the terrible evils of a prolonged civil war.'8
[p. 156] "In the several weeks which followed the Baltimore riot, prominent men throughout the State increased their efforts to force Governor Hicks to call the General Assembly into special session so that it might go on record as being opposed to secession. Yet these same men expressed their great dissatisfaction over the northern attitude toward the southern states. Yielding to this pressure on April 22 Hicks did call a special session for April 26 which was to meet in Annapolis in view of the 'extraordinary condition of affairs.' Before it met, however, Hicks changed the meeting place of that body to Frederick, partly to secure the 'safety and comfort of the members,' and partly because Frederick was a Unionist-stronghold. George Radcliffe, Hicks’ biographer, says that Hicks’ actions in these instances strengthened the impression that Hicks was more of a Southern sympathizer than he was a proponent of the Union cause.9
"In an address to the people of Maryland, the Legislature meeting at Frederick, declared: 'We cannot but know that a large proportion of the citizens of Maryland have been induced to believe that there is a probability that our deliberations may result in the passage of some measure committing this state to secession. It it therefore, our duty to declare that all such fears are without just foundation. We know that we have no constitutional authority to take such action. You need not fear that there is a possibility that we will do so.'10 This address was unanimously adopted, probably because most of the Southern sympathizers had been arrested. Nevertheless, Simon Cameron, Lincoln’s Secretary of War, wrote on September 11, 1861, that 'the passage of any act of secession by the Legislature of Maryland must be prevented. If necessary, all or any part of the members must be arrested.'11
"The administration of Governor Hicks ended on January 8, 1862. Although many of his contemporaries questioned his motives, he had at all times the best interests of the State in mind. In spite of his evident inconsistent position, he succeeded rather well, because Maryland remained in the Union even though the State spent the war years as a virtual conquered province. In December of that year, his successor Governor Bradford appointed him to the United States Senate to fill the unexpired term of James Alfred Pearce, and he was subsequently elected for the term which would expire in March of 1867.
"Hicks was unable to perform his duties in the Senate because of his ill health. In a speech shortly after his appointment, he announced his support of President Lincoln in his re-election campaign. He also opposed attempts to establish the Freedmen’s Bureau and efforts to place the freed-man on a plane with his former owner. In the fall of 1864, petitions were presented to Lincoln urging him to appoint Hicks the Collector of Customs at Baltimore, but he suffered a paralytic attack and died at the Metropolitan Hotel in Washington, D. C., on February 13, 1865.
[p. 157] "Hicks’ funeral was attended in the Senate Chamber by many public officials, including President Lincoln and his cabinet, the Diplomatic Corps, members of Congress and the Supreme Court, Governor Bradford, Lieutenant Governor Christopher C. Cox, members of the General Assembly, Mayor John Lee Chapman of Baltimore and others. At his death, he was eulogized by his colleague Reverdy Johnson as one who 'was true to his duty. Throughout his term of office he devoted himself with untiring industry, and an ever watchful patriotism, by every legal means to crush out the spirit of secession, and to retain the State in her allegiance to the Union. And he succeeded . . . . It is not going too far to declare that this result is in a great measure to be referred to the conduct of Governor Hicks. Had he listened to those who counselled a different policy--had he lent the power of his office to accomplish this object--had he even failed to devote it entirely to their prostration, Maryland might this day have been a desert, and her name dishonored in the estimation of all good and wise men.'12
"Hicks had been married three times. His first wife was Ann Thompson of Dorchester County, whom he married in 1827. His second wife was Leah Raleigh, also of Dorchester County. The third Mrs. Hicks who survived her husband, had been Mrs. Mary Wilcox, the widow of Hicks’ cousin. By all three marriages, Hicks had 'a number of children.'l3
"Hicks was originally buried at the old Hicks farm in Dorchester County, but his body was later removed to Cambridge Cemetery, where the State erected a monument over his grave in 1868."
Return to biographical profile
© Copyright Maryland State Archives