11. George H. Pendleton and the Resurrection of the Democratic Party
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11 N JANUARY 11, 1865, as the U.S. House of Representatives debated a constitutional amendment to prohibit slavery throughout the nation, George Hunt Pendleton, a four-term Democratic Congressman from Cincinnati, rose from his chair to speak against the proposal. He argued that an amendment to the Constitution on an issue of supreme importance to southerners could not be adopted in their absence. Aware that some could interpret his position as disloyal to the United States, Pendleton felt compelled to defend his patriotism. “I love my whole country, South as well as North,” he declared, “and it is because I love it that no action of mine shall retard the restoration of peace or the reconstruction of that Union which made it all my country. I am a northern man; I have their prejudices; I love my section; I love its people; I love its institutions ; I am jealous of its honor; and no act of mine shall stain the luster of the fame of its good faith.” Pendleton’s apparent defensiveness reflected the status of the Democratic Party throughout the Union and in Ohio. By 1865, it had suffered a serious decline due to its ambivalence and even outright opposition to the Union war effort. If the Republican/Union Party could claim to be the party of reunion and victory, the Democrats were stuck with the label of party of secession and disunion. Yet, remarkably, within three years of his comments, Pendleton had led a Democratic resurgence in Ohio. Exploiting voter frustration with Republican Reconstruction and postwar economic policies and relying heavily on racist appeals, Ohio Democrats in 1867 captured the state legislature and nearly elected a governor. Pendleton played a key 137 George H. Pendleton and the Resurrection of the Democratic Party O ROBERT SAWREY  vantne_3rd_chap11.qxd 11/10/2003 3:30 PM Page 137 138 BUILDERS OF OHIO role in these developments and emerged as the party’s leader in Ohio and much of the Old Northwest. George Hunt Pendleton was born in Cincinnati in 1825, and young George did not have anything quite like the typical early Ohio upbringing. His grandfather, Nathaniel Pendleton, had served as an officer in the Revolutionary War, became a close associate and supporter of Alexander Hamilton, and served as the latter’s second in his deadly duel with Aaron Burr. His father, Nathaniel Greene Pendleton , moved from New York to Cincinnati in 1818 and quickly established himself as a successful and influential member of the community . By the 1830s, he had risen high enough in the Whig Party to earn three nominations for a seat in Congress, losing twice before winning in 1840. Nathaniel Greene Pendleton had married and started a family that ultimately included ten children, who benefited from their father’s wealth and prominence. Young George, for example, graduated in 1841 from Cincinnati College, received further training in classical studies, and then in 1844 embarked on a two-year tour of Europe. FIG. 7 George H. Pendleton. Courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society. vantne_3rd_chap11.qxd 11/10/2003 3:30 PM Page 138 139 GEORGE H. PENDLETON While abroad, he traveled extensively and occasionally studied, including a term at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. In 1846, at the age of twenty-one he returned to Cincinnati to study law and was accepted to the bar in 1848. Thus, George Pendleton emerged as a young lawyer with extraordinary education and experiences. Pendleton entered a law partnership in Cincinnati with George Pugh, a school classmate and future U.S. senator, but he clearly sought a career in politics. In 1853, at the age of twenty-eight, he was elected the youngest member of the Ohio Senate as a hard money, states’ rights, nationalistic Jacksonian Democrat. The reasons Pendleton deviated from the political allegiance of his father remain fuzzy, but the son certainly held dearly to his positions at considerable personal cost throughout his political career. Pendleton served in the Ohio Senate with enough distinction to earn in 1854 his party’s nomination for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from the First District (Cincinnati). The turbulent events in the Kansas and Nebraska Territories dominated political campaigns that year and provided much of the impetus for the newly formed Republican Party’s victories in many northern states, including Ohio, where Pendleton and many other Democrats lost. Two years later, however, he was renominated for Congress and won a seat he would hold for eight years, 1857–1865...


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