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My name sake who might have become the first Governor of Minnesota

by William McGaughey


My name is William McGaughey. The man who was nominated by President Zachary Taylor to become the first territorial governor of Minnesota in 1849 was named Edward McGaughey. He is not better known because the U.S. Senate failed to confirm the nomination.

Edward W. McGaughey was a two-term Congressman from Indiana whose career, for a time, paralleled that of Abraham Lincoln. McGaughey, the only Whig in Indiana’s ten-man Congressional delegation, served in the 29th and 31st Congresses. Lincoln, the only Whig in Illinois’ seven-man delegation, served in the 30th Congress.

The two men were also candidates for appointment to become territorial governor when a Whig, Zachary Taylor, was elected President of the United States. McGaughey was President Taylor’s choice for territorial governor of Minnesota. The U.S. Senate failed to confirm the nomination because McGaughey had voted against a bill authorizing supplies for the Mexican war. Lincoln was President Taylor’s choice to become territorial governor of Oregon. Lincoln turned the appointment down because his wife, Mary, did not want to live so far away from civilization.

Curiously, Zachary Taylor was the only U.S President actually to live in Minnesota. He was the commandant at Fort Snelling between May 1828 and July 1829. Taylor, depressed much of the time because of personal losses, characterized Minnesota as “a most miserable and uninteresting place” which was in an “out of the way part of the world.”

Lincoln wanted President Taylor to appoint him commissioner of the General Land Office but the position was not offered. Lincoln wrote to his law partner, Joshua Speed: “I believe that, so far as the whigs in congress, are concerned, I could have the Genl. Land Office almost by common consent; but then Sweet, and Don: Morrison, and Browning, and Cyrus Edwards all want it. And what is worse, while I think I could easily take it myself, I fear I shall have trouble to get it for any other man in Illinois. The reason is, that McGaughey, an Indiana ex-member of congress is here after it; and being personally known, he will be hard to beat by anyone who is not.”

I am interested in Edward McGaughey also because he grew up and lived in my mother’s home town of Greencastle, Indiana, just west of Indianapolis, which has a population of around 10,000. The seat of Putnam County, it is home to Depauw University. Both my parents graduated from that college.

We have not heard more of Edward W. McGaughey because he died not long after his prospective gubernatorial appointment was rejected. McGaughey decided to move to California during the 1849 gold rush. While passing through the Isthmus of Panama, he contracted a fever. McGaughey died in San Francisco on August 6, 1852. He was first buried at the Yerba Buena cemetery near San Francisco, which no longer exists, and then at the Golden Gate cemetery, which also does not exist, and finally at an unknown location.

Lincoln, on the other hand, did have a distinguished career after failing to receive an appointment from the Taylor administration. He was elected President of the United States in 1860, and reelected in 1864, during the U.S. Civil War. You can see his picture on the five-dollar bill.

President Zachary Taylor died in office on July 9, 1850, of gastroenteritis - some think he was poisoned - and was succeeded by Millard Fillmore. Then came Franklin Pierce, James Buchanan, and finally Abraham Lincoln.

Today, you will only find two persons with the name of McGaughey in the St. Paul telephone directory. After Edward McGaughey’s nomination was rejected, President Taylor first appointed the Speaker of the House, William Pennington, to become territorial governor of Minnesota but Pennington declined the appointment. Taylor’s third choice was a Congressman from Pennsylvania, Alexander Ramsey, who did accept the appointment and receive Senate confirmation. Ramsey County is named after him.

Having never been to Minnesota before, I arrived in St. Paul in January 1965, looking for work and a place to live. Now residing just west of downtown Minneapolis, I have spent more than fifty years in this state. I doubt if my distinguished name sake ever saw the place.

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