Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

James Black Groome (1838-1893)
MSA SC 3520-1467

Governor of Maryland 1874-1876

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 185-187.

"JAMES BLACK GROOME, highly regarded during his lifetime for his amiability, generous impulses, and outstanding achievements, was born on April 4, 1838 at Elkton, the son of Col. John Groome, a man of considerable wealth, social prominence and the defeated candidate for the governorship in 1857. His mother Elizabeth (Black) Groome was a native of New Castle, Delaware. When he was an infant, Groome was injured so severely that for the rest of his life he had to fight ill health. When he was a youth, he entered Tennent School at Hartsville, Pennsylvania, to prepare for Princeton, but his eyesight failed and he was forced to abandon his college preparatory course and undergo medical treatment. He then returned home and commenced the study of law under his father, and was admitted to the bar in Cecil County in 1861.

"Groome, because of his ill health, was unable to serve in the Civil War. After the War, he was an active leader among those who supported the call in 1867 for a constitutional convention and was a delegate from Cecil County to it. He began his political career as a successful candidate for the House of Delegates, serving as a member of that body during the Session of 1872, in which he demonstrated his popularity among the Eastern Shore members especially when the General Assembly met to elect a United States Senator. Although he was not elected at that time, the fact that he was even considered was proof of the high regard in which he was held. In the election of 1872, he was a presidential elector for Horace Greeley during the latter’s unsuccessful campaign for the presidency against Ulysses S. Grant.

"Groome was again elected to the House of Delegates in 1873. Early in the session of 1874, the General Assembly elected Governor William Pinkney Whyte to a seat in the United States Senate. While the term for which he was chosen did not begin until 1875, Whyte immediately resigned in order that the Legislature while still in session might elect his successor. Of the many candidates, Groome had the most support, so he was elected to fill the unexpired term, receiving sixty-two out of the seventy votes cast. When Whyte relinquished the governorship on March 4, 1874, Groome [p. 186] assumed the duties and served as governor until January 12, 1876, when his successor John Lee Carroll was inaugurated.

"When Groome became governor, he was just thirty-five years of age, another of the youngest men to serve in that capacity. Since no legislative session was held during his short term, Groome had no appointments to make as his predecessor had made them all. Groome complained that he had nothing to do during the brief remainder of his term except attend banquets and deliver diplomas and addresses.'1 Groome, commented John Lambert, 'obtained the governorship but not the control of the party. The latter was entrusted to Gorman.'2

"Groome was a candidate for the nomination in 1875, but when he saw that he would be unable to obtain it because of a bitter pre-convention party fight, he withdrew and supported John Lee Carroll, who was subsequently nominated and elected. It is thought that he made a deal with Senator Gorman to withdraw from the race in return for support for the Senate seat to be vacated in 1878. 'Groome’s withdrawal made it possible for Mr. Gorman to land the nomination for Carroll, and that Groome, as the price of his withdrawal, exacted of Gorman a promise to make him Senator,' noted Frank R. Kent.3

"His administration, especially at its close, witnessed much bitter feeling in Maryland, part of which found expression in the contested election of 1875. S. Teackle Wallis, the unsuccessful candidate for Attorney-General, asked Groome not to issue a certificate of election to his opponent Charles J. M. Gwinn because Wallis insisted that the vote in Baltimore was characterized by fraud, intimidation and violence. Even though Gwinn was the successful candidate, Wailis had every opportunity to prove his claim. Groome went so far as to choose his own representative in the case[.] Wallis’ attorney, explaining afterwards that he 'knew that this selection of counsel would be misunderstood by many and would bring upon me their temporary censure, but I knew, under the peculiar circumstances, that it was eminently the proper one to make, and I made it.'4 Groome announced in this instance, that he had made his decision strictly upon the basis of the election returns and not because of any other facts.

"When the Legislature convened in 1876, Groome made several recommendations to it. He advocated a general valuation and assessment of the property of the State. He advocated the division of Baltimore City into twenty wards and the use of glass ballot boxes to eliminate fraud in voting. Finally, even though the Legislature had adopted a new Great Seal, he did not carry the resolution into effect as 'shortly after the General Assembly adjourned, I was assured by the gentlemen who were instrumental in procuring the passage of that resolution, and who are [p. 187] well versed in heraldic lore, that the arms of Lord Baltimore are not accurately represented.'5

"Groome had been a bachelor during his term of office. Some six weeks after his term expired, he married Alice L. Edmondson of Talbot County. They spent the first two years of their married life in Elkton. They then spent six years in Washington, while he was a member of the United States Senate. After the close of his term, they purchased a house in Baltimore, where they spent the rest of their lives. They had one daughter.

"The Legislature which met in 1878 had to elect a United States Senator and although Groome was opposed by such men as ex-Governor Philip Francis Thomas, Montgomery Blair, Lincoln’s Postmaster General and future Governor Robert M. McLane, Groome defeated them all for the term beginning in March 1879. Groome’s senatorial colleagues were William Pinkney Whyte until 1881, and Arthur Pue Gorman, until 1883, both of whom were more outstanding men than he.

"Groome’s term expired on March 3, 1885, and in February of the next year, President Cleveland appointed him Collector of Customs at the Port of Baltimore. He filled this position, the last public office he held, for the next four years. He spent most of his last years in his Baltimore home where he died on October 4, 1893, survived by his wife and daughter. He was interred in the Presbyterian Cemetery at Elkton. Governor Groome could ask for no more fitting eulogy than that contained in the concluding paragraph of his message to the General Assembly on January 21, 1876:
'I cannot but recall with pleasure, not unmixed with pride, the fact that all times during my term in office . . . I have freely granted a hearing to every resident of Maryland, however humble, who had a petition to present, a grievance to be redressed or a suggestion in regard to any public matter to make. As to all matters of public interest, I desire the whole people of the state to consider themselves my counsellors. If, then, the state has been the loser by the fact that any portion of her citizens did not aid me by their advice in reaching a correct conclusion upon any important matter, the fault was with those citizens, and not with me. But, while in season and out of season, all who desired it, have had free access to me, none has been permitted to obtain a controlling influence. The whole responsibility for the mistakes of my administration, whatever they may be, must rest, therefore, upon me, for all my official acts had the approval of my own judgment.'6

“'Few men, commented The Sun editorial at his death, 'have compassed so much in so short a time and without arousing animosities.'7 Groome, according to an editorial in his local paper 'was everybody’s friend. . . . The humblest could approach him without a sense of restraint, but none were so mighty as to feel disposed to trifle with him.'”8

Notes on sources

Return to James Black Groome's introductory page

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