Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

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Augustus W. Bradford (1806-1881)
MSA SC 3520-1463

Governor of Maryland 1862-1866

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 159-163.

"AUGUSTUS WILLIAMSON BRADFORD, the Civil War governor who paid a heavy price for his devotion to the Union, was born in Bel Air on January 9, 1806, the son of Samuel and Jane (Bond) Bradford.  After he had received his elementary training under the Rev. Reuben H. Davis in Bel Air Academy, he went to Baltimore where he entered St. Maryís College from which he was graduated in 1824 when he was only eighteen years of age. He then returned to his home, where he began to study law under Otho Scott, and in 1826 he was admitted to the Maryland Bar. After he had practiced in Bel Air for several years, he moved to Baltimore, since he felt the City would offer him more opportunities. He lived there for the rest of his life.

"After he had established his residence in Baltimore, he married Elizabeth Kell on November 10, 1835. They had twelve children, of whom seven survived their father.

"Bradford became an active member of the Whig Party. In 1814, he supported the presidential candidacy of Henry Clay by being a Clay elector, but the latterís defeat in that year by James K. Polk was such a bitter blow to Bradford that he withdrew almost completely from politics for many years. He made no speeches and refused to attend any political meetings during this period of political inactivity, but instead, he devoted himself to his law practice. In 1845, Governor Pratt appointed Bradford the Clerk of the Baltimore County Court, a post he occupied until 1851. From that date until the outbreak of the Civil War, he took little part in public affairs.

"In February of 1861, Governor Hicks appointed Bradford one of Marylandís delegates to the Washington Peace Conference. Here he made a speech supporting the Union, demonstrating great oratorical powers. In this speech, he said, 'Where I reside, the universal cry is, ĎFor Godís sake, settle these questions!í1

"In the summer of 1861, the Union Party after its formation named Bradford as its candidate for governor. To oppose him, the Democrats nominated General Benjamin C. Howard. In the fall election, Bradford [p. 160] defeated Howard by approximately 30,000 votes, undoubtedly because of voter intimidation as well as the unlawful use of troops.

"Bradford took office on January 8, 1862. In his inaugural address, he described his oath-taking as 'one of those occasions, periodically occurring in our political career, that usually excites a lively interest, an interest that may be chiefly ascribed to the fact that every such spectacle seems to call to mind the value and success of republican institutions, in recognizing as it were, the power of the people peacefully to select and inaugurate their political rulers, by the simple expression of the voice of the majority.'2 Bradford wholeheartedly pledged his support to the prosecution of the war. 'To preserve these institutions against the unhallowed efforts of those now engaged in the attempt to subvert them, is the purpose to which the people of Maryland have emphatically pledged themselves ill their recent election,' he said.3 He went on to condemn secession most heartily. 'If there is anything connected with secession more grossly fallacious than its claim to be considered a constitutional right,' he insisted, 'it is, especially so far as Maryland is concerned, its adaptation as a remedy for existing evils.' He went on to comment that Marylandís heavy losses of slave property and its resulting grievances 'never entered into the imagination of any man in Maryland that such evils could be averted by a dissolution of the Union.'4

"Bradford violently opposed the Federal governmentís interference in Marylandís elections. In November 1863, after Major General Robert C. Schenck, military commander in Maryland, issued his order that military officers had to be present at the polls on election day to arrest any suspicious persons, Bradford wrote President Lincoln asking him to prevent such military interference, but the latterís reply was unsatisfactory. On November 2, 1863, Bradford issued a proclamation which stated that Schenck's order No. 53 'has not only been issued without any notice to, or consultation with the constituted authorities of the State, but at a time and under circumstances when the condition of the State, and the character of the Candidates are such as to preclude the idea that the result of that Election can in any way endanger either the safety of the Government, or the peace of the community.' Bradford went on to defend the loyalty of each candidate for office and to term the order without justification both as to the character of the candidates as well as its being 'still more obnoxious by the means appointed for its execution,' and 'equally offensive to the sensibilities of the people themselves.' Brad ford concluded his proclamation that 'it is the ,judgment of the Judges of Election alone, founded upon the provisions of the Constitution and Laws of the State, that must determine the right to vote of any person offering himself for that purpose.'5

"During the war years in spite of the military occupation of Maryland by Union troops, Bradford upheld the dignity of the State government, [p. 161] and defied the harsh and arbitrary military occupation. This military interference resulted in the straining of Bradfordís relations with the military, even though he did not oppose the raising of Marylandís quota of volunteers. In reporting the issues involved to the members of the General Assembly, he told them that 'a part of the Army which a generous people had supplied for a very different purpose, was on that day engaged in stifling the freedom of election in a faithful State, intimidating its sworn officers, violating the Constitutional rights of its loyal citizens, and obstructing the usual channels of communication between them and their Executive.' But he hoped that 'they will never cause you to forget your duty to your country, cool your ardent devotion to the Union, lead you to feel the slightest sympathy with those who have assailed it, or to seek a fellowship with them that do.'6  In spite of the Stateís difficulties, Bradford went to great lengths to keep the State in the Union. At the same time he upheld the Federal government's authority although he differed with its methods.

"During the War, the Confederates invaded Maryland three times. During the last of these, Bradley T. Johnsonís raiders visited Bradfordís home in July of 1864, and during his absence, burned it to the ground together with all his furniture, library, and papers. The raiders left a note with his family that this action was partially in retaliation for Union General David Hunterís burning of the home of Governor Letcher of Virginia, and partially because of Bradfordís 'uncompromising spirit and strong leanings.'7

"Bradfordís administration resulted in accomplishments in other areas besides the conduct of the war. He encouraged immigration into Maryland especially after the abolition of slavery. He supported the appointment of a State Superintendent of Schools and School Commissioners, and the establishment of a system of education. He favored the Stateís acceptance of government script for the encouragement of agriculture and the mechanical arts, and lastly, he was instrumental in reorganizing the militia and in assisting in the movement to acquire a portion of the Gettysburg battlefield for a cemetery for the Union dead.

"Bradford emerged as an outspoken champion of those who opposed slavery in Maryland, both on moral as well as on economic grounds. In 1864, following a discussion of the question of Negro emancipation, Bradford called a Constitutional Convention to meet in Annapolis to replace the Constitution of 1851. The Constitution of 1864 which abolished slavery in the State and disenfranchised those who fought for or aided the Confederacy was only ratified by the vote of the soldiers in spite of Bradfordís efforts to secure its adoption. In this respect, it was an extremely unsatisfactory document and it remained operative for only three years.

"Bradford's views on slavery can best be summed up by this state- [p. 162]  ment from his 1864 message to the Legislature. He felt that 'the products of our State and its natural resources are not such as are adapted to or can be developed by slave labor. I am satisfied that the people of the State in their moments of calm and deliberate reflections long since come to this same conclusion, and their convictions on that subject would have led them thirty years ago to such legislation as would have made us long since a free state, but for the unauthorized and officious interference of those outside the State who undertook to dictate a policy that properly belonged to ourselves alone.'8

"Bradford objected to the federal governmentís policy of enlisting slaves in the Union Army at least until their owners could be compensated. As no such program had been adopted, Bradford based his objections not upon the enlistment of colored troops nor that loyal citizens objected to their services 'for they are ready and willing to see every one, be his color what it may, who is subject to military duty, arrayed against this Rebellion. It is not that they object to the surrender of their property to any extent that may be necessary to strengthen the arm of the Government in the conflict in which it is engaged. They admit, that when a proper emergency exists, if it cannot be otherwise met their property may be impressed for that purpose; but if an emergency does exist they claim not only that they shall be paid for property so seized without unreasonable delay, but that its impressment shall be so guarded as to embrace all alike, and to avoid the wanton or useless removal of it, and that such proceedings shall not be conducted according to the whim of every subaltern who, by carrying off those evidently unfit for service, proves that the augmentation of the Army is frequently the least of his considerations.'9

"At the only election held under the Constitution of 1864, that of November 8, 1.864, Thomas Swann was elected as Bradford's successor. Swann took his oath of office on January 11, 1865, but by a provision of the Constitution, he did not actually become Governor until January 10, 1866, when Bradfordís term expired.

"After his retirement from office, President Andrew Johnson appointed Bradford the Surveyor of the Port of Baltimore. President Grant removed him from office in April 1869, but in 1874 he attempted to appoint Bradford to the office of Appraiser in Baltimoreís Custom House. Bradford, however, declined because he felt he was not qualified for the post.

"Bradford, although a staunch Unionist during the early years of Grantís administration, became a Democrat about 1872. As such, he was elected one of the Greeley presidential electors in that year, his last appearance in public life, for after his retirement in 1869, he had devoted his life to his legal practice as well as to his family.

"He died in Baltimore on March 1, 1881, at the age of seventy-six. Funeral services were held at the Mount Vernon M.E. Church, in which [p. 163] the Grand Army of the Republic participated. he was buried in Greenmount Cemetery. 'What can be said of him personally,' noted The Sun, was that 'he was a man of unblemished integrity, and although set in his opinions, he was conscientious in the discharge of what he believed to be his duty.'"10

Notes on sources

Return to Augustus W. Bradford's introductory page

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