Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)
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Frank Brown (1846-1920)
MSA SC 3520-1473

Governor of Maryland, 1892-1896

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 215-218.

"FRANK BROWN, characterized by Matthew Page Andrews as 'the last of the unbroken line of Democratic post-belIum executives,' was born on August 8, 1846 at 'Brown’s inheritance,' his ancestral estate in Carroll County.1 His father, Stephen T. Cockey Brown, a farmer, was a grandson of Abel Brown, who had emigrated from Dumfries, Scotland, to Maryland in the early half of the eighteenth century. His mother was Susan A. Bennett, the daughter of a Carroll County farmer.

"Brown was educated in various schools in the vicinity of his home until he was about sixteen years old. With the emancipation of the slaves in 1864, he left school and returned to the farm to take charge of it. Very shortly, however, he went to Baltimore where he was employed by a firm which dealt in agricultural implements. In 1870 he was appointed to a clerkship in one of the State tobacco warehouses, and he remained there for the next five years.

"In 1875, Brown made his first attempt to be elected to office. In that year, he successfully ran for a seat in the House of Delegates from Carroll County. He was re-elected in 1877, but he did not seek re-election in 1879 since he had to remain home to manage the family estate because the deaths of his father and his uncle threw the burdens of settling their estates on him.

"In 1879, Frank Brown married his childhood sweetheart Mary Ridgely. She had, previous to that date, married Horatio Preston, a wealthy Boston merchant. Preston had died shortly after their marriage, so after a suitable interval, Mrs. Preston married Brown, and they had one son and one daughter.

"In 1880, Brown accepted the presidency of the Maryland State Agricultural and Mechanical Society. It was not too long before he displayed his remarkable ability as an organizer and as an executive. He put new spirit into the State Fairs held under the Society’s auspices, and few public movements were started thereafter which did not enlist his hearty support. He continued in that office until he became governor.

[p. 216] "Within a short time, because of his association with the Agricultural Society, Brown became a prominent figure in the political affairs of the State. He was particularly active in Grover Cleveland’s first presidential campaign, in 1885, he served as the campaign treasurer of the Democratic State Central Committee. In 1886, when the Postmaster of Baltimore resigned, Brown replaced him.  His administration of the post office continued for almost four years which were marked by progressive innovations, among which were the creation of sub-stations to the post office, establishment of a system of postal parcel and newspaper boxes and the inauguration of mail collection by carts.

"In 1887, while he was serving as Postmaster, Brown announced his intention of becoming a candidate for governor in the fall elections. In all, four other candidates contested the nomination, but Brown was unsuccessful. Following his defeat, Brown immediately announced that he would be a candidate again in 1891, whether the Democratic Party organization desired it or not. For the next four years, he worked diligently, systematically and persistently to advance his candidacy. As a part of his program to secure his party’s nomination, he gave a series of dinners at his Baltimore home, to which he invited members of the General Assembly. Because of this prior planning, Brown captured the nomination without opposition at the Convention held in July 1891, managing his own campaign and decisively defeating the political leaders, Arthur P. Gorman and John K. Cowan.
He waged a spectacular campaign as 'Farmer Brown' and the 'Farmer’s Friend.' Thomas F. McNulty of Baltimore, a singer of popular songs, campaigned all over the State with Brown, 'singing the ‘Farmer Brown’ songs and arousing enthusiasm. Brown as a campaigner in those days had few equals and the people went wild over him,' commented Frank Kent.2 In the general election of November 3, 1891, he defeated his Republican opponent, William J. Vannort of Chestertown by over 30,000 votes, the largest plurality any gubernatorial candidate had received since the Civil War. 'He was the first man for a good many years who nominated himself and did not owe his office directly to the bosses,' continued Kent.3

"Governor Brown gave the State a businesslike administration 'and without frills.'4 The World’s Columbian Exposition was held in Chicago in 1893, one of the largest expositions ever held up to that time, and Governor Brown served as the President of its Board of Managers in Maryland. The exposition’s purpose was not only to display Maryland’s resources, production and industrial development, but also to display to the world the State’s progress in the arts, industries and manufacturing as well as to assist in the celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus. At the conclusion of the exposition, with the cooperation of The Johns Hopkins University, the Board prepared a five-hundred page volume of data on all aspects of  [p. 217] Maryland’s history, physical features, geology, mines and minerals, agriculture, natural history, commerce, manufacturing and political and religious institutions. This volume has remained an authoritative source on Maryland to the present time.

"Governor Brown’s administration was characterized by several notable events, in all of which he played a conspicuous part. The first of these was his role in the Frostburg coal strike of 1894. The labor trouble between the soft coal owners and the miners was but a small part of the general dissatisfaction among the bituminous coal miners in the eastern states, so the governor had anticipated a strike, and for some time prior to its outbreak, he had had the disturbed mining section under surveillance. Late in the morning of June 5, 1894, he received a telegram from the Sheriff of Allegany County stating that the strike had so far advanced around Frostburg that he was helpless to guard property further. The Governor’s plans had been so well made, that by late afternoon of the same day, the Fourth and Fifth Regiments were on their way to Frostburg by special trains. By daylight on June 6, the militia had been transported to the scene of the disturbance. Instead of issuing his proclamation to the strikers to disperse first and then waiting to see whether or not they would obey, Governor Brown had the militia follow upon the heels of the agents whom he had deputized to post copies of his proclamation. When the people of Frostburg awoke that morning, they found the town not only posted with the Governor’s order for the strikers to disperse and to refrain from violence, but they also found the streets of the town occupied by the soldiers whose mission was to see that the Governor’s orders were obeyed. Governor Brown then went personally to Frostburg where he conferred with the strike leaders, with the result that there was no violence, no conflict between the strikers and the troops, and no destruction of property. By this action, more than any others, he was severely censured by the labor elements and was burned in effigy on the streets of Frostburg.

"The second of these instances was his commutation of the sentences of four Negro youths who had been scheduled to hang for the murder of Dr. Hill of Chestertown. Feeling ran high against the accused men. Brown had to exercise great secrecy in his investigation, so that his intervention in the case might not result in further violence. Governor Brown not only visited the boys in person, but he also examined the evidence exhaustively. Then he sent a State oyster boat secretly at night to Chestertown to take the four prisoners aboard and bring them to Baltimore. Finally, he commuted their sentences. For a time residents of the Eastern Shore were bitter against the Governor for his interference and threatened to lynch the four Negroes. Better judgment, however, prevailed, and the four men responsible for the crime were later apprehended and hanged.

"During 1894, Brown had to deal with Coxey’s Army, which, after its ejection from Washington, camped for a time in Maryland, becoming a nuisance. Forming a plan in which he secured evidence of the Army’s vagrancy, he persuaded the men to leave the State by instituting legal proceedings. This closed the incident.

[p. 218] "His non-partisan 'Tax Convention' resulted from his opposition to an assessment bill which he felt threatened the people with double taxation. The Legislature, nevertheless, passed the bill during the Session of 1892, but it was not enacted into law because Governor Brown withheld his signature from it. It was proposed again during the Session of 1894, but it met with defeat in the House of Delegates. At this time, Governor Brown called together the leading men of the State to attend his somewhat unique non-partisan 'Tax Convention' at which the subject of taxation was thoroughly discussed, to the general enlightenment of the public.

"Brown’s term ended early in 1896, following a State-wide revolt against the Democrats, with a consequent sweep of nearly all offices by the Republicans. Brown's friends insisted 'that had he been renominated, the Democratic debacle of 1895 might never have occurred,' according to Andrews.5

"After he left office, Brown was elected President of the Baltimore Traction Company. During the two years he held this position, he made great improvements in the financial and operating departments of the company. During the city election of 1899, when he selected Thomas G. Hayes as the most available candidate for mayor on the Democratic ticket, Brown managed his campaign and elected the ticket. In the next four years, he was inactive politically, when his suport elected Robert McLane as Hayes' successor. his greatest post-gubernatorial achievement, however, was his management of  J. Barry Mahool’s successful mayoral campaign. After Mahool became Mayor, he appointed Brown City Collector, the last public office he was to hold.

"Brown announced that he would be a candidate for governor again in 1907, but he was never able to realize this ambition. When he saw that he was not to be nominated, he threw his support to Austin L. Crothers who was subsequently nominated and elected.

"After Mrs. Brown's death in 1895, Brown sold his Springfield estate and moved to an apartment in Baltimore where he made his home for the rest of his life. Brown had purchased this estate, the present site of Springfield State Hospital, about 1880, and had combined it with 'Brown’s Inheritance.' Hardly a day passed, however, without his looking after his business interests and in riding horseback in the city parks when the weather permitted.

"Frank Brown died at his Baltimore home on February 3, 1920, after a long illness, he was buried in Greenmount Cemetery after funeral services in the First Presbyterian Church. Commenting upon his death, the Baltimore American noted that 'Mr. Brown wielded a political bludgeon that was feared by his foes. Always ready and able to state his case and to defend himself, and never subservient to any man, he was a man with whom the Democratic organization was compelled to reckon even when it was least disposed to do so.'”

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