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About Henry Gardner, Governor
Henry Joseph Gardner (June 14, 1818 – July 21, 1892) was the 23rd Governor of Massachusetts from 1855–1858. Gardner was the candidate of the Know-Nothing movement, and was elected governor as part of the sweeping victory of Know-Nothing candidates in the Massachusetts elections of 1854.
Henry Gardner was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts (then a community separate from Boston) on June 14, 1819, to Henry Gardner and Clarissa Holbrook Gardner. He was educated in private schools in the Boston area, and then attended Phillips Exeter Academy. After graduating in 1831, he studied at Bowdoin College, where he graduated in 1838. He then embarked on a career as a dry goods merchant, acting as a principal partner for many years. In 1844 he married Helen Cobb of Portland, Maine.
In 1850 Gardner, politically a Whig, was elected to the Boston City Council, serving until 1853. He then became involved with the Know Nothing movement, winning election as governor of Massachusetts by a wide margin. In line with the nativist and anti-Catholic politics of the movement, Gardner proposed an amendment to the Massachusetts state constitution banning appropriations of tax funds to Catholic schools, which was passed by the state legislature and ratified after it was approved by referendum.
Before Gardner's election, on May 24, 1854 Anthony Burns was arrested in Boston under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. Edward G. Loring, a Suffolk County probate judge who also as served U.S. commissioner of the Circuit Court in Massachusetts, ordered that Burns be forced back into slavery in Virginia, outraging abolitionists and the increasingly antislavery public in Massachusetts. Under the pressure of a public petition campaign spearheaded by William Lloyd Garrison, the legislature passed two Bills of Address calling for Judge Loring to be removed from his state office, in 1855 and 1856, but in both cases Gardner declined to remove Loring. (A third Bill of Address to remove Loring from office was later approved by Gardner's Republican successor, Nathaniel Prentice Banks.) The Know-Nothing legislature also passed, over Gardner's veto, one of the most stringent personal liberty laws, designed to make enforcement of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 as difficult for slave claimants as possible. Gardner claimed that the law would exacerbate relations between North and South, and called for its repeal. Minority parties in the legislature sought to weaken the bill, but its major provisions, including rights of habeas corpus, jury trial, and state-funded defense, survived.
Gardner continued in his dry goods business until 1876, and became an insurance agent in 1887. He died in Milton, Massachusetts on July 21, 1892. In the 1850s he was recognized by Harvard University with honorary degrees, and he was made a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company in 1855.