Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Austin Lane Crothers (1860-1912)
MSA SC 3520-1477

Governor of Maryland 1908-1912

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis: The Hall of Records Commission, 1992), 239-242.

"AUSTIN LANE CROTHERS, whose administration compiled a distinguished record of achievement for its far-reaching and important legislation, was born near Conowingo in Cecil County, the eighth son of Alpheus and Margaret Aurelia (Porter) Crothers. As his father was a farmer, Austin spent nearly his entire early life on the farm. He attended the Cecil County public schools and West Nottingham Academy, and for several years after he had completed his education, he was a clerk in a county store near Conowingo, leaving there to teach in the public schools of Cecil County.

"Crothers turned to the study of law at first reading it in his brother’s office, but later attending the University of Maryland Law School, from which he was graduated in 1890. After his admission to the bar, he practiced law in Elkton until 1891, when he was nominated and elected State’s Attorney for Cecil County, serving in that office between 1891 and 1895. In 1897, he was elected to the State Senate to succeed his brother, Charles C. Crothers. In 1898, Crothers was one of the more outstanding Democratic members of the General Assembly, at a time when the Republicans controlled that body. During the session of 1900, when the Democrats once more gained control over both houses, Crothers was appointed chairman of the Finance Committee, making him his party’s leader in the Senate.

"In 1901, Crothers was renominated for the Senate, but because of a factional dispute in his party, he was defeated by the Republican candidate, Henry M. McCullough. Although he was unsuccessful, Crothers Continued to be his county’s party leader. In 1905. Crothers sought renomination for the Senate once more, hut again he was unsuccessful, being defeated in the general election by the Republican candidate.

"While the Legislature was in session in 1906 Judge Edwin H. Brown died, so Governor Warfield appointed Crothers to succeed him as an associate judge in the Second Judicial Circuit which included Cecil County. Shortly after he took his seat on the bench, Crothers announced that he would not be a candidate for re-election, although he could have had the nomination if he so desired.  His political career up to the time he was [p. 240] chosen as a candidate for governor in 1907 'had been altogether local, and comparatively few people had ever heard of him, and fewer still knew what he looked like when the Gubernatorial nomination was given to him.'1

"During the 1907 primary campaign, the Democrats had no real leadership because of the deaths of party bosses Arthur P. Gorman and I. Freeman Rasin. In the meantime, other candidates announced their availability. Among them was Henry Williams of Baltimore, whom the party leaders at first favored but then deserted just when the nomination was almost within his grasp. Crothers’ selection was made unanimous when The Sun threw its support to him and the leaders indicated their acceptance of his candidacy.

"The campaign which followed was noteworthy. When Crothers was notified of his nomination, he had just arisen from a sick bed to attend the meeting, and shortly thereafter, he was stricken with typhoid fever, which kept him from participating actively in the campaign. He was nominated and elected with little cost to himself, his total expenses being only $4.87 which represented his hotel bill in Baltimore. On November 5, 1907, without lifting a hand, he was elected by a majority of approximately 8,000 votes over George R. Gaither, the Republican candidate. 'Probably no man ever became Governor of Maryland who was as little known generally as was Mr. Crothers when he was nominated in 1907,' commented The Sun. 'Yet at the close of his term as Governor, it is probable that he was more widely known and had a larger personal acquaintance than any other man in the State.'2 He was sworn into office on January 8, 1908. During the session of 1908, the Legislature passed three noteworthy acts. It appropriated $5,000,000 for good roads, which sum was increased by $1,000,000 in the next year. As the result of the creation of the State Roads Commission, Maryland began to develop a system of good roads, so that by the time his term had ended, it had become the first state to adopt a policy of building main arteries of public travel solely at State expense.

"A second act was the Corrupt Practices Act which the Democrats had supported in their 1907 platform. It had been in previous platforms but until that time it had failed passage. At the time, it was hailed as one of the best acts of the sort in the country.

"A third measure passed during the 1908 session was his veto of certain items in the Omnibus Appropriation Bill which resulted in savings of $500,000. In doing this, he did not cripple a single institution. After the session had ended, he became an even stronger advocate of economy. He insisted, for example, that State boards should not spend the State’s money for champagne at their meetings. He dropped several useless employees from the State House payroll and threatened to weed out unnecessary job-holders. These actions, more than anything else, turned [p.241] the party leadership against him, so that during the second term, he lost their support and they fought him bitterly.

"The most important incident in Governor Crothers’ administration was his unsuccessful effort to remove the Baltimore Police Commissioners. In 1910, after an extensive investigation into the conduct of the Baltimore City Police Department, he suspended the board and replaced it with three new members. The members of the old board refused to be ousted, and the Governor threatened to call out the militia, if necessary, to replace them and with his new appointees. The case finally went to the Court of Appeals, which on November 30, 1910, ruled that the Governor had not the power to suspend the three members of the board pending a trial on charges, and that he did not have the right to appoint a provisional board After the decision, the Governor brought charges against the Police Commissioners, but the charges against them were not sustained.

"Shortly afterwards, Crothers assisted by his Attorney General Isaac Lobe Straus, held a preliminary hearing in which he heard many complaints about the department. He followed this hearing with the presentation of formal charges. following which he again suspended the board and appointed a new one. The former commissioners still refused to yield. so the case again went to the courts, when the Attorney General asked for a writ of mandamus asking that the court direct the old board to turn over its records to the new board. It was this writ which the Court of Appeals acted upon adversely ruling that the Governor had not the right to suspend any civil officer pending his trial on charges.

"Governor Crothers was responsible for other legislation. He supported the plan for the direct nomination of all State officials, so that soon after he left office, the people by a constitutional amendment elected United States Senators directly rather than having them chosen by the Legislature. He favored increasing Baltimore City’s representation in Annapolis and for his efforts Democratic leaders in the counties denounced him. The direct primary plank and the city representation, were adopted but not without a considerable fight at the State Convention of 1909.

"In 1910, Crothers vetoed the so-called Digges amendment to the Constitution which would have disfranchised the colored voters of the State. The Legislature would have taken away the Negro’s right to register to vote by means of a suffrage amendment. Had it been passed, it would have knocked down the whole electoral structure by forcing the Supreme Court to decide the matter. Crothers refused to sign the bill on Constitutional grounds. The people, however, overwhelmingly defeated the bill at the next election.

"Crothers organized a cabinet and required State officials to make more periodic reports than had been previously required. He created the Public Service Commission and the office of the State Bank Commissioner, and was instrumental in securing the passage of pure food laws, better care of the indigent insane, the promotion of oyster culture, the doubling of the collateral inheritance tax, and increasing the license tax on automobiles. By the end of his term, the politicians thoroughly disliked and
[p. 242] distrusted him almost to the extent they had opposed Governors Hamilton and Warfield before him Yet, 'he did make a good Governor—one of the best the State has ever had, giving far more time and attention to the office than any man who held it, and developing progressive policies that led to some of the more important laws on the statute books.'3

"In spite of his differences with his party’s leaders, Governor Crothers nevertheless ended his term on better terms with them. In January 1912, when he left Annapolis, he was a sick man. During the spring he went to his nephew’s home in Elkton where on May 25 of that year, he died after an illness of several weeks. Following funeral services, his body was taken to West Nottingham Presbyterian Church graveyard where he was buried in his family lot, next to the body of his brother.

"Crothers was a bachelor, the only one to occupy the governor’s office since the adoption of the Constitution of 1867."

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