John B. Weller: Gold Rush Era Politician

John B. Weller (Image from www.house.gov)

John B. Weller (Image from http://www.house.gov)

While searching for “California Gold Rush” news articles, I ran across and transcribed the following article, assuming John B. Weller was was of the many “49’ers” who hailed from Ohio. However, after a little research, I realized he went to California for a different reason. As it turns out, he was an Ohio politician, who seemed to be in the midst of a scandal, which might have been the push needed to go elsewhere. Fortunately for him, the scandal didn’t follow him, and he eventually became the fifth governor of California.

First, some background on John B. Weller:

In this Ohio government biography, it states he was married four times! His wives seemed to just keep dying, although that was NOT the scandal I mentioned. I just thought it was interesting. This is a pretty good biography, although it seems to be written with a rather positive slant.

From the “Governors of California” bio, which is quite short, I quote the following interesting tidbits (emphasis mine):

He was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, served in the Mexican War, and was U.S. Commissioner of International Boundaries. …[Later, after a scandal] he was removed from the commission by President Taylor. Somehow recovering from the scandal, Weller entered politics in California first serving as State Senator. As Governor, he intended to make California an independent republic if the North and South divided over slavery, and he personally led an assault on San Quentin Prison to take back possession of it from a commercial contractor.

This Journal News article (1990) gives a good time line of his life, including the following:

In two of his three House elections, Weller defeated Lewis D. Campbell, who had been his roommate when both first came to Hamilton. Weller declined to seek a fourth term and returned to his law practice in Hamilton.

When the Mexican War started in May 1846, Weller enlisted as a private, helped raise troops in Butler County and rose to colonel and commander of the Second Ohio Regiment when its colonel was killed in the Battle of Monterey Sept. 24, 1846.

After the war, he was the Democratic candidate for governor in 1848, but lost to Seabury Ford, a Whig, during a questionable vote count. One tally gave Weller a 259-vote victory. But the version accepted by the Ohio General Assembly Jan. 22, 1849, made Ford the winner by 311 votes.

While the election was in doubt, Weller’s third wife, Susan, died in Hamilton Dec. 22, 1848, and was the second person buried in the new Greenwood Cemetery. (His first wife, Ann, also was reburied there.)

**The one above about his wife dying, is particularly of interest, given the mean-spirited poem written about the Weller family that you will find posted further down.

In January 1849, two months before the end of his term, President James K. Polk, a Democrat, appointed Weller chairman of the commission to determine the boundary line between the United States (California) and Mexico under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

Political changes in Washington led to Weller’s recall in 1850 by the new president, Zachary Taylor, a Whig.

In 1851, the California legislature elected him to the U. S. Senate as a Union Democrat to succeed John C. Fremont. In the Senate from Jan. 30, 1852, until March 3, 1857, Weller supported building a Pacific railroad and homestead bills and was regarded as a pro-slavery Democrat.

In 1867 he moved to New Orleans to practice law. He died there of smallpox Aug. 17, 1875. The body of the former Hamilton lawyer was returned to San Francisco for burial.

Finally, from the National Governors’ Association comes this:

Weller also dealt with an ongoing feud between opposing factions in the Democratic Party, which was led by U.S. Senator David C. Broderick and U.S. Senator William M. Gwin. The feud culminated in September 1859 when David S. Terry, a former judge of the California Supreme Court, killed U.S. Senator Broderick in a duel.

Now, on to the newspaper articles, this first one being the one I mentioned at the beginning of the post:

From California.

We give the following extract from a letter dated San Francisco, Sept. 15th, 1850.

We have had a hard time of it here in the money market, during the past month, and many large houses have failed. The credit system is creeping into the profession, and although business is plenty, it is more difficult to collect. I have now three cases on hand, where success in either would give me as much as I want.

This city is improving more rapidly than any city in the world — the most extensive improvements have been made in every direction since you left. The city is fast running out into the Bay, and large and extensive business houses erected 500 yards from the shore on a line with the principal streets. And yet while all this is going on, money commands 10 and 12 per cent per month.

The miners are not so successful this year as last. Upon some of the rivers nothing is found. I doubt very much whether the average will be $2 per day — this may perhaps have a salutary effect upon the State, as it will drive the mechanics to their trades, and the farmers to agriculture. Thousands are leaving the mines and seeking employment in the cities.

JOHN. B. WELLER

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Nov 19, 1850

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Some further research turned up the following articles that give some political background, although it should be noted some are written by the opposing political party newspapers. In contrast, the article from the Mountain Democrat is from a “friendly” paper.

The Youth of Weller.

When a man by the aid of his genius, the lustre of his acts, or the force of circumstances, is ushered very prominently into the public view, his personal history becomes a topic of interest from his youth up, and a host of literary gossips are sent down to search out all the leading events of his babyhood.

As Mr. WELLER has been taken up by the Locofoco party of this State, for the purpose of making him a very great man, in short a Governor, it is proper to investigate his biography a little, in order that we may understand how his past achievements, are to coincide with his future honors.

We clip the following “incident” from a file of ’44 campaign papers, which was first published in the Richmond Palladium, of course sometime before Mr. WELLER was thought of in either of his military characters, as the Hero of Monterey or Generalissimo of the Revolutionary Forces in Ohio. We add to it another chapter, which is going the rounds of the press, and we presume that other chapters will come to light, until by the time that their interesting subject is comfortably seated in the gubernatorial chair, we shall receive from the hands of some publisher, an elegant edition of “The Youth of Weller,” complete in one volume, which will fit, in all our public libraries, cozily and decorously beside “The Youth of Shakespeare.”

AN INCIDENT. — Some ten or twelve years ago, a young man dressed in the tip top of the fashion of that day, with his ruffles floating at his breast, his fingers engemed with rings, his hat cap-a-pie, and the airs of the dandy pervading the whole of the thing called a man, appeared in the town of Centerville, as our hero no doubt thought, much to the astonishment of the natyves. He soon found his way to the Courthouse, which was then occupied by the circuit Court. He pompously entered within the bar, and seated himself among the lawyers. After a while a case was called, wherein Mr. A. of the State of Ohio, had sued Mr. B. of this county on a plain note of hand. Our hero, the dandy, appeared as Counsel of the plaintiff, and stated to the Court that he presumed there would be no difficulty in the case, it being a plain and simple obligation to pay money. —

One of the Whoosier lawyers, having a little fun in connection with his other qualifications, concluded to contest the case, and put in various pleas containing several foolish and untenable positions. Our hero, arose in surprise, and stated that he was not prepared to meet the case nor form the issue, as he had not anticipated any opposition, and concluded by asking a continuance of the case. It was continued by our hero paying the cost. At the next term of the Court, our county was again honored with the presence of the Ohio dandy. His case was again called, and he was about to proceed with it, when the impudent Whoosier asked permission to file some additional pleas, equally foolish with the first, saying that certain facts had come to his knowledge since the last term, which it might be important to have brought forward in his case; he was permitted to file them. Our hero, being thus nonplused again, asked for a continuance of the case until the next term. The next and third term of the court arrived, and with it, our effeminate, and astonishingly fine dressed hero. He was this time accompanied by his client, a plain and highly respectable man. The case was again called, but our fun loving Whoosier lawyer again rose to file more pleas. The client of our hero, fearing that his attorney would again be foiled, applied to one of the lawyers then residing in Centreville, to attend to the case, saying that he was under the impression that his attorney was not acquainted with the practice in this State. The lawyer thus applied to after pocketing a pretty fair fee, went into Court, and asked that the case might be brought up. —

The lawyer who had been putting in pleas, immediately rose and said that he confessed judgement! So ended the case; and our chop-fallen, peacock hero, dropped his feathers, and skulked out of town, and did not for some years show his face in the town of Centreville, and in conclusion we are compelled to say that our coxcomb hero, was a Mr. WELLER.

WHO IS JOHN B. WELLER? A writer in the Cleveland Times attempts to tell the public the answer to this mighty question. And the Telegraph, in its simplicity copies the article for the enlightenment of the people in this region who have been endeavoring for the last fifteen years to find out who is John B. Weller.

The writer tells us that Col. W. was born in Hamilton county, and has his home there; and then he tells us how the said Weller has been often elected in Butler county; that he was elected Prosecutor in 1835 by an overwhelming majority, over a very popular opponent, and re-elected the next term by acclamation, “no one being found willing to run against an individual so endeared to the people!!!” —

The people here recollect something like this:

–Mr. Weller was a very forward young man who studied law with Jesse Corwin, and was a Whig, and was Secretary of a Clay meeting as soon as old enough; but on entering business he turned Loco, and run for the office of Prosecutor, against his benefactor, Mr. Corwin, and in a county giving some 1500 majority, he was elected by the overwhelming majority of seventy-five!!! If the people did not remember this they might ask, who is John B. Weller?

He then run for Congress, says the narrator and was elected by a large majority, and in 1840, re-elected by a large majority. This majority, was just 57!! where two years before he received 800! But the people in this district were beginning to know “who is John B. Weller?”

In the late history of the Lieutenant Colonel his biographer seems better informed, and he tells how the Colonel volunteered as a private and was elected Captain, then Lieutenant, and went to Mexico; to which he adds much of the glorifying usually claimed for him here. —

But some how or other he has either forgotten or never heard all about the Colonel in Mexico. He never tells anything about the way he domineered over the men, and assumed airs of consequence, and rendered himself ridiculous generally — nor does he mention the great prudence of the Colonel in choice of positions, and a variety of other things that must yet be told in answer to the question, “who is John B. Weller?”

As material for another writer, it might be said that Lieutenant Colonel Weller has never run up with his party, in any instance when he was a candidate — that he is reserved and haughty in his demeanor, and anything but a favorite with the people — a demagogue of the most unmitigated character. But he is known here and may be known pretty well over the State this year. After the knowledge is attained, we trow no Locofocos will enquire “who is John B. Weller?” (Hamilton Intelligencer.)

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) May 9, 1848

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A Locofoco Jewel.

“Consistency is a jewel,” and so is the Sandusky City Mirror. When the Baltimore nominations were received, it sturdily refused to support Gen. Cass, because he was a doughface, or Gen. Butler, because he was a slave-holder. We notice that it has just unfurled the Barnburner flag, for VanBuren and Dodge; but it is patched with a most unseemly accompaniment —

After a conscientious delay of several moons’ duration, it has at last put up the name of Col. Weller. as its candidate for Governor; a man who has been the most abject slave of the slaveocracy that ever shamed the halls of Congress!

The fact has raised a difficult issue in our mind, which we will leave out to a baker’s jury of one dozen — which is the greatest doughface, Lewis Cass, John B. Weller, or the Editor of the Mirror?

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Jul 4, 1848

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COL. WELLER’S DEFENSE. — The Commissioners of Butler county filed their bill in Chancery against John B. Weller, charging him, as one of the commissioners of the Surplus Revenue Fund, with being indebted to that fund in the sum of eleven thousand dollars and interest, which he does not pay, &c. &c.

To this Col. Weller comes and defends. And in what does that defence consist? Why, Col. Weller does not deny that he has the money. He does not traverse the facts set forth in the bill. But he says that he ought not to be called upon to answer the charges and allegations of the complainant’s bill, because, he says the said suit was commenced by and in the name of the commissioners of the county of Butler, whereas in fact said suit ought to have been commenced by and in the name of the Procecuting Attorney of said county.

He stands up to the fight at law, just about as well as he did in the wars.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Aug 1, 1848

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Colonel Weller
Has been into Clermont county, and he made a speech there which did not very much “astonish the natives.” The Courier thus sums it up:
The positions assumed, and the sum total of the speech, were as follows:
1. Abuse of the Whigs generally.
2. Abuse of General Taylor.
3. Abuse of Seabury Ford.
4. Polk did not annex Texas.
5. The war was brought on by Mexico.
6. Abuse of Senator Corwin.
7. Laudation of John B. Weller.
9. The “mouse in liquor,” like Weller at Montery.)
10. The dying soldier’s request — tears &c.

THINGS NOT ATTENDED TO.
1. The Eleven Thousand Dollars Defalcation! Forgot that entirely!
2. The Ohio Banks, and the Hard Money issue.
3. The Tax Law.
4. The Dorrite proceedings of the 10th of May, for which he took strong ground at the opening of the campaign, urging his friends to be prepared to march to Columbus next winter, and, if need be, drive the Whigs out of the State House “at the point of the bayonet!”
5. Cass’ Federalism.
6. Cass’ extra pay.
7. Cass’ bill reducing the allowance of the volunteers from $3,50 to $1,91 per month.
8. The much talked of “principles” of the party.

Not one of these subjects was deemed worthy of notice by Col. Weller, in his speech to the “democracy of Clermont.”

The Zanesville Courier (Zanesville, Ohio) Sep 8, 1848

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Keep it before the People,
That John B. Weller declared that the Apportionment Bill, passed at the last session of the Legislature, should be modified, if it had to be done at the point of the bayonet!

KEEP IT BEFORE THE PEOPLE,
That John B. Weller is in favor of abolishing every Bank in the State, and of Hard Money Currency.

KEEP IT BEFORE THE PEOPLE,
That John B. Weller was one of the Fund Commissioners of Butler county, and that he is now a defaulter to the amount of eleven thousand dollars!

KEEP IT BEFORE THE PEOPLE,
That John B. Weller compared all men who are in favor of Free Soil to “Ragged and Scurvy Sheep.” and said that he would not thank them for their votes!

KEEP IT BEFORE THE PEOPLE,
That John B. Weller, while a member of Congress, voted against the right of petition! Can the people of Ohio vote for such a miserable doughface? —Tusc Advocate

The Zanesville Courier (Zanesville, Ohio) Sep 11, 1848

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**This is the poem I mentioned earlier in the post:

From the Zanesville Courier.
THE WELLERS.
BY. J. GREINER.
AIR — Governor Tod.

Colonel Weller ran home in a hurry,
The Locos were shouting like fun;
Said he, Mrs. Weller, don’t worry,
I’m Governor! sure as a gun.

The cannons were booming like thunder,
The rockets went off in a whiz;
Said she, My Dear Colonel, I wonder
If me you aint trying to quiz?

Oh no! said the Colonel; keep shady —
I pledge you my honor upon it —
Now, since you’re the Governor’s lady,
My Dear, you must have a new bonnet.

And you must be dressed in the fashion,
In silks and in satins so fine;
A shawl you must have of Circassian —
The Governor’s Lady must shine.

But spoke Mrs. Weller, contending,
Our children must have some new clothes;
Their trowers I’m tired of mending,
Their shoes are all out at the toes.

The Colonel was highly excited
When each little dirty nosed Weller
Came running — their Papa, delighted,
Wiped each little Governor’s smeller.

Come, hold up your heads, little “fellers,”
And play with your neighbors no more;
These children of Governor Weller’s
“Must slide on their own cellar door.”

Be still, boys, don’t make such a racket,
And you shall be dressed in new suits;
Long tails shall be put to your jackets,
High heels shall be tapped on your boots.

We’ll start for Columbus soon — “may be;”
So children, look very sedate;
Your “Ma” is a Governor’s Lady,
And I’m the big man of the State.

A shout — a Whig shout — comes astounding,
Great “noise and confusion” was heard
High o’er the hill-tops resounding,
Hurra for Old Cheesebury Ford.

Colonel Weller he heard it, astonished;
Mrs. Weller she said with a tear,
Naughty fellow, you ought to be punished,
“Such castles to build in the air.”

So, smoothing her apron so tidy,
At the Colonel she looked with a leer —
“I have a queer sort of an idea,
You’re not yet a Gov’ner, my dear.”

The Colonel was left in great trouble —
The little young Wellers looked sad,
For they all got spanked with a shovel,
And squalling they ran off to bed.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Nov 21, 1848

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The California fever is raging here to a considerable extent, three companies are forming to start on the 1st of April next, and some of the best citizens of Columbus are of the number; they all take the overland route.
*****
Colonel Weller starts from Cincinnati next Wednesday and proceeds to New Orleans, where he will make the final arrangements for his expedition. He goes first to Santiago on the Pacific, I believe, and takes with him a company of 36 Engineers, Surveyors, Clerks &c., among the number is H.H. Robinson, of the Eagle, who goes as Secretary. I wonder if that nice Silk Hat won’t go without brushing — that near setting coat won’t get a little rumpled, that fine satin vest, and snowy shirt bosom won’t get a little soiled, those tight pants won’t want another pair of straps on, and if his boots won’t want heel tapping before he gets back; I think, myself, quite likely they will.

The Zanesville Courier (Zanesville, Ohio) Feb 10, 1849

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Colonel Weller, with his surveying party, left Cincinnati on Saturday morning on the “Daniel Webster,” for New Orleans. The Nonpareil says he proceeds direct to San Diego, to meet a similar party from the Mexican government, and from thence they run the boundary line between the two countries.

The Zanesville Courier (Zanesville, Ohio) Feb 27, 1849

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We learn from the Cincinnati Enquirer that Colonel Weller and suite left that city on Saturday last, on board the steamer Daniel Webster, for Mexico. — Ohio Statesman

We suppose, of course, this is the same suit that has been so long pending against the Colonel in Butler county for those $11,000, and that since his defeat for Governor, he has concluded to “change the venue.” — Dayton Journal.

The Zanesville Courier (Zanesville, Ohio) Mar 1, 1849

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From his time in California:

John B. Weller.

We have, for some time past, says the Sierra Citizen, been intending to speak of the services of this retiring Senator in behalf of the State he so ably represented, when the following statements, made by a correspondent of the San Francisco Herald, writing from Washington, met our eye; and embodying, as it does, an undisputed record of the acts and doings of this faithful servant, during his stewardship, we substitute it with pleasure for any remarks we had intended to make of our own. We must, however, be allowed to say, in this connection, that we have known John B. Weller from our boyhood, — we know his faults, but we know his virtues as well, — and to those acquainted with our relative positions, anything we might say in this connection will have doubly the weight that parties not cognizant of our relative positions, in our intercourse in the Atlantic States, will accord it.

We are familiar with the personal and political history of John B. Weller ever since he entered upon his public career, which was as the State’s Attorney in a County in Ohio, where all our own brothers and the greater portion of our own relatives reside. A warm friend, he was ever open and generous, — bitter, it might be, in the advocacy of his party’s interests, and unsparing in political warfare — he was ever generous even to his opponents, and, although possessing faults, no one was more popular in his private relations. Although time, that softens all bitter feelings — that in the end “makes all things even,” — has mellowed down much of his party acerbity, — yet John B. Weller, when the question was vital between his personal and his party’s interests, never hesitated to sacrifice himself upon the altar of his party. Had he, like his opponent of the Gubernatorial Chair of Ohio, in 1848, caught at and pandered to the popular “isms” of the day, he would have made his “calling and election sure,” beyond all doubt or cavil, but he spurned the idea, and, as the standard-bearer of the true in contradistinction to the bastard Democracy, that went astray after false Gods, he preferred an honorable political defeat to a victory won by dishonorable sacrifice.

Now that John B. Weller is a private citizen, all parties unite in according to him that mood of justice which his services deserve. He has signified his intention to resume practice of his profession, and retire for a season, from the political arena, in which he has figured through life. But, if there is anything in the gift of the people of the State of California that he will accept, it is his, beyond all doubt or peradventure. If he prefer, however, to retain that “post of honor,” — a private stations, — it may be said of him, as of the Roman Patriot:

Alone, more proud the great Marcellus feels
Than Caesar with the Roman Senate at his heels

*The article goes on to talk about the money he brought to the state and the bills he tried to get passed, but I didn’t transcribe that part.

Mountain Democrat, The (Placerville, California) May 30, 1857

Ex-Senator Weller Wants to be a Commodore.
{From the Seneca (Ohio) Advertiser.}

While in Washington we heard a good story in regard to Uncle Abe and John B. Weller, “the Mexican killer.”

Weller was at Washington settling his accounts as Minister to Mexico. After their adjustment, he concluded to pay his respects to Mr. Lincoln, with whom he had served in Congress. He called at the Presidential mansion, and was courteously received.

“Mr. President,” said Colonel Weller, “I have called on you to say that I most heartily endorse the conservative position you have assumed, and will stand by you so long as you prosecute the war for the preservation of the Union and the Constitution.”

“Colonel Weller,” said the President, “I am heartily glad to hear you say this.”

“Yes, Mr. President,” said Weller, “I desire an appointment to aid in this work.”

“What do you want, Colonel?” asked Abraham.

“I desire to be appointed Commodore in the Navy,” said Weller.

The president replied:

“Colonel, I did not think you had any experience as a sailor.”

“I never had Mr. President,” said Weller; “but judging from the Brigadier-Generals you have appointed in Ohio, the less experience a man has, the higher position he attains.”

Lincoln turned off, with a hearty laugh, and said — “I owe you one, Colonel.”

Davenport Daily Gazette (Davenport, Iowa) Feb 11, 1862

If you are interested in reading more about David Smith Terry, the politician with a temper, try these links:

The Virtual Museum of San Francisco

Dateline Sunday U.S.A.

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4 Responses to “John B. Weller: Gold Rush Era Politician”

  1. Davis Says:

    those were some wild days

  2. Know your Campaign History: Political Attacks and Other Facts « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] B. Weller – Gold Rush Era Politician After a conscientious delay of several moons’ duration, it has at last put up the name of Col. […]

  3. John Roll Says:

    Interesting stories. My great great grandfather born in 1860 in the County north of Hamilton County in Ohio was named John B. Weller Hole…….I can only assume it was after John B. Weller.

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