Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

John Lee Carroll (1830-1911)
MSA SC 3520-1468

Governor of Maryland, 1876-1880

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 189-193.

"JOHN LEE CARROLL, who had to settle one of the most serious labor disputes the State had ever faced, was born at 'Homewood,' the Carroll estate in Baltimore, on September 30, 1830, the son of Colonel Charles and Mary Digges (Lee) Carroll. A product of distinguished ancestry, he was a grandson of Charles Carroll of Carrollton and a great-grandson of Thomas Sim Lee, Maryland’s second governor. When he was very young, his father moved to 'Doughoregan Manor,' the family’s ancestral estate in Howard County, where the future governor made his home for most of his life.

"John Lee Carroll received his early education at home until 1837, when his father sent him to Mount Saint Mary’s College at Emmittsburg. He studied there for the next two years, after which he entered Georgetown College. Later, he attended St. Mary’s College in Baltimore, and after he had completed his course there, Carroll entered Harvard Law School, where he was a student for the next two years. Returning to Baltimore, he entered the law office of Brown and Brune and was admitted to the Maryland Bar in 1851. Before he opened his office, he toured Europe extensively. Following his return to Maryland in 1854, the Democratic Party nominated him for the General Assembly, but he was defeated by the 'Know-Nothing' Party candidate. Shortly afterwards, Carroll made a visit to New York, where he met Anita Phelps, the daughter of the merchant Royal Phelps, and married her on April 24, 1856. They had three sons and three daughters. They returned to Baltimore to live, but in 1858 they moved back to New York, where Carroll intended to practice law. He accepted a position as Deputy Clerk and United States Commissioner in the Office of the Clerk of the United States District Court, where he remained for the next three years.

"Colonel Carroll’s failing health and the secession crisis of 1861 caused John Carroll to return home in 1861. At 'Doughoregan Manor,' he became the manager of the plantation and its many slaves, and when his father died in 1862, John Lee Carroll was his executor. He required over three years to settle the estate. Colonel Carroll, however, had willed it to Charles, John’s brother, but in 1867, John Lee Carroll purchased the property and made his home there for the rest of his life.

[p. 190] " In 1867, Carroll resumed his public service career by accepting the nomination as State Senator from Howard County. He was easily elected, and in 1871 he was re-elected.

"Anita Carroll died in 1873. Shortly after her death he prepared to go to France to place his children in school. He remained in Maryland, however, until the close of the legislative session of 1874, in which he served as the President of the Senate. He then went to France, but he returned home early in 1875.

"Several months after his return, the Democrats nominated him for Governor of Maryland following one of the most bitter convention fights ever held in the State. 'The State campaign of 1875, which followed Whyte’s election to the United States Senate, was beyond all question the hottest, the most bitter and the most memorable in the political history of the State,' commented Frank Kent. 'It marked the formation of that class of voters who have since been known as independent Democrats and who have in increasingly large numbers, voted the Republican ticket almost regularly ever since.'1

"The Republicans nominated J. Morrison Harris, who in his early life had been an active member of the 'Know-Nothing' Party. Following the Democratic Convention, party dissidents combined with the Republicans to conduct a memorable campaign, hurling charges and counter-charges back and forth. The Democrats, in spite of the agitation for reform and the bitterness engendered by the campaign, just barely managed to win. Carroll defeated Harris by a majority of about 13,000 out of the nearly 150,000 votes cast. 'It was an epoch-making battle and it taught the Democratic leaders a lesson, the gist of which was notwithstanding their victory and their big normal majority in the State, they could not ride roughshod over the better element and there is a limit to what people will stand,' noted Kent.2

"Shortly after the election, Harris filed charges of intimidation and fraud and contested Carroll’s election. Harris, however, failed to substantiate his charges, so these were dropped, following which the General Assembly declared Carroll to be the victor. He was inaugurated on January 12, 1876.

"The Baltimore and Ohio Railroad strike, the most exciting event in the Carroll administration, began on July 11, 1877. Growing out of the movement for retrenchment and economy, the company issued a notice stating that wages of all men who received more than one dollar a day would be reduced by ten per cent. In making its announcement, the company’s president called attention to the depression and the necessity of managing the company more economically. He 'hoped and believed that all persons in the service of the company will appreciate the necessity of and concur cordially in this action,' but the brakemen and firemen refused to do so, and on July 16, the day for the reduction to go into [p. 191] effect, the strike began.3 The company then replaced the strikers with new employees which so enraged those dismissed that violence soon erupted.

"On July 20, Carroll decided to send militia units to Cumberland, where property damage was extensive. His announcement caused even more excitement in Baltimore, where a large mob milled around Camden Station to oppose the departure of the militia. Carroll had to request federal troops to assist in restoring order, but before these arrived, Baltimore police and the militia succeeded in curbing the riot, but not before the mob had caused much property damage.

"On the following day, the riot continued with the mob setting Camden Station and other buildings on fire. As the soldiers began to arrive in Baltimore despite the Governor’s plea that the President send them to Cumberland, military commanders stationed their men throughout the city subject to Governor Carroll’s orders. On July 22, the rioters again attacked Camden Station, but at that time the soldiers surrounded the building, captured several hundred persons and arrested them. The action broke the backbone of the disorder and to all intents and purposes serious resistance ended, although some mob action would continue through the following day, but to a limited extent.

"Carroll had no other alternative except to take the action he did, for in 1877, 'the State of Maryland . . . still had a great financial interest in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Whatever questions may be raised by the Governor’s action, it was politically astute,' commented Clifton Yearley. 'He had won time, spared himself grave and perhaps inhumane decisions, and also followed railroad policy. How aware of this he was at the time, however, can never be known.'4 Carroll himself regarded the whole affair in a different light. 'The defiance of the law was a scandal to the State and as the local authorities acknowledged that they were unable to arrest the offenders, it devolved upon the Executive to secure to every citizen the right to use this business channel for purposes of trade,' he informed the Legislature.5 Fortunately for the State, John Lee Carroll was the right man in the right place at the right time, and because of his unflinching action in quelling the disorder, he strengthened the role of the executive just as Frank Brown would do in 1894 when he was confronted with a similar situation.

"The great railroad strike of 1877 almost completely overshadowed all other events in Governor Carroll’s administration. The Centennial Exhibition held in Philadelphia in 1876, which Carroll attended, focused attention on the State and its display. The State adopted a new description of its Great Seal. 'The State of Maryland is the only State in the Union which bears the family arms of its illustrous [sic] founder, and as the motto was changed many years ago, and the crest does not conform to the original, the . . . resolution . . . [restores] the harmony and armorial [p. 192] bearings throughout, and . . . [renews] the ancient seal, which forms a part of the record of our early history.'6 Maryland and Virginia settled a boundary dispute which had plagued them for many years. Between 1876 and 1878, the Old Senate Chamber in the State House was remodelled, an action which more than any other, caused a great furore. The Chamber was not restored to its ancient appearance for over thirty years, or until the rebuilding of the State House in 1904.

"In 1877, Governor Carroll married his second wife, Mary Carter Thompson, the daughter of Judge Lucas Thompson of Staunton, Virginia. She died in 1899, leaving one son by that marriage.

"At the close of his term in January 1880, Governor Carroll returned to his Howard County home. For the rest of his life, he supervised the operation of “Doughoregan Manor,” served as a member of the county school board and was a director of the Patapsco National Bank of Ellicott City for over twenty years. Although he campaigned actively for Grover Cleveland in 1884, he declined to become a candidate for any public office after the end of his term as governor.

"During the Cleveland administration, he attempted unsuccessfully to secure the post as Minister to France, but Governor McLane received the appointment through the influence of Senator Arthur P. Gorman. Carroll attacked the Senator most violently, and from that time on, the two who had previously been close political and personal friends, now became bitter enemies. Many years would elapse before the restoration of their friendship.

"In his later years, Governor Carroll confined his political activity to voting and to making occasional speeches in Howard County. He made the opening speech in the Democratic campaign in 1899, when John Walter Smith was his party’s candidate for governor. He made an address at the Democratic State Convention in 1903 which endorsed Negro disfranchisement. In 1905, after his reconciliation with Senator Gorman he spoke from the same platform in Ellicott City with him. In 1907, when Governor Crothers headed the Democratic Ticket, Carroll made a brief speech in his behalf in Howard County. He appeared on the platform in the Lyric Theatre in Baltimore in 1904, when Alton B. Parker was the Democratic Party candidate for President, and he was selected as the chairman of the committee to arrange for the Democratic jubilee held in Baltimore on January 17, 1911, but he was unable to do so.

"Governor Carroll died at his winter home in Washington, D. C. on February 27, 1911, at the age of eighty. His body was brought to Baltimore, where, after services in the Cathedral, he was taken to Bonnie Brae Cemetery in Howard County for interment.

"The Baltimore American eulogized Governor Carroll as one of the ablest and best-known men in Maryland. His death, continued the paper, also removed “a man who occupied, perhaps, the most unique and distinctive position in the United States. He was the Lord and master of [p. 193] Doughoregan Manor, where he preserved, as far as within his power, the old colonial customs. He exercised a paternal care over all of his tenantry and employees. If there was sickness, he supplied the medical aid needed. If there were differences among families on the manor, he adjusted them. If there was poverty or hunger he extended a helping hand. With his death there will disappear the unique customs which have been handed down from generation to generation.'”7

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