About Noah Noble
Noah Noble (January 15, 1794 - February 8, 1844) was the fifth Governor of the U.S. state of Indiana from 1831 to 1837. His two terms focused largely on internal improvements, culminating in the passage of the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act, which was viewed at the time as his crowning achievement. His taxing recommendations to pay for the improvements were not fully enacted, and the project ultimately led the state to negotiate a partial bankruptcy only a four years later. The debacle led to a gradual collapse of the state Whig party, which never regained control of the government and led to a period of Democrat control that lasted until the middle of the American Civil War. After his term as governor he was appointed to the Board of Internal Improvement where he unsuccessfully advocated a reorganization of the projects in an attempt to gain some benefit from them.
Family and background
Noah Noble was born in Berryville, Virginia on January 15, 1794, the son of Dr. Thomas Noble and Elizabeth Clair Sedgwick Noble, one of fourteen children. Around 1800, his family moved to the frontier where his father opened a medical practice in Campbell County, Kentucky. In 1807, the family moved again to Boone County where his father acquired a 300 acres (120 ha) plantation which was operated by slave labor. Noble moved to Brookville, Indiana around 1811 at age seventeen, following his brother James Noble who had moved there some time earlier. James was a prominent lawyer and later United States Senator.
In Indiana he made several business ventures with his partner Enoch D. John. Together they operated a hotel in Brookville, became heavily involved in land speculation, and opened a water powered weaving mill with a wool carding machine. Noble also opened a trading company he name N. Noble & Company. The company purchased produce from area farmers, and shipped them to New Orleans to be sold. In 1819 a boating accident destroyed one of his shipments and leaving him with a large debt that took several years to repay. Later that year he married his cousin, Catherin Stull van Swearingen. The two shared the same great-grandfather, and had three children, two died as infants, but one survived into adulthood.
Entry into politics
Noble entered politics in 1820, winning an election to become Franklin County's sheriff. In his 1822 reelection bid he had become very popular in the county he won election 1,186 to 9 votes. He was commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the 7th Regiment, Indiana militia, in 1817 and a colonel in 1820. When his term as sheriff expired, he ran to represent the county in the Indiana House of Representatives, winning overwhelmingly. He was reelected again the following year but resigned following the death of his brother Lazarus. Lazarus had been the Receiver of Public Moneys of the Indianapolis Land Office, and his death left a vacancy. His brother, Senator James Noble used him influence to secure the post for Noble who remained in the position until 1829. The job took him to Indianapolis where he was responsible for collecting revenue for the federal government. The position brought him into contact with many of the leading men in the state whom he was quick create good relationships with. Following the election of President Andrew Jackson and the employment of the spoils system, Noble was removed from the position.
Finding himself without a job, Noble attempted launched another business venture. Before he could open the new business, his friends in the Indiana General Assembly appointed him to a commission that laid out the Michigan Road. He remained on the commission until 1831 when he announced his candidacy for governor of Indiana as a Whig candidate, and secured the Whig nomination.
During the campaign, he accused his Democrat opponent James G. Read of being ineligible to run because he was a Federal Receiver. The state constitution forbade state officials from holding both federal and state positions simultaneously. His opponent made a similar charge against Noble, who still held his position as a federal commissioner working on the Michigan Road. Noble campaigned heavily on the internal improvement platform and won the election by plurality of 23,518 votes to Read's 21,002, with independent Milton Stapp taking 6,894.
After becoming governor he purchased several lots on the eastern edge of the capitol, planting an orchard and vineyard and building a large brick home. He brought some of his father's emancipated slaves with him to work in his household, one of which was supposedly the model for Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom, she visited Noble's home on more than one occasion.
Indiana was continuing to experience a period of prosperity as a large influx of settlers was providing large income to the government by purchasing land. Noble's predecessor had begun the framework for starting the large scale internal improvements that were to come, but had significantly delayed the start of the canal projects. Noble set to work to immediately complete the job, and within a few months he completed surveying the route of the Wabash and Erie Canal and made several recommendations regarding its construction. Noble was opposed to the railroads, which he viewed as monopolies since only the rail company could transport goods on the line, whereas canals were open to anyone had a boat. Construction on the canal began in earnest in 1832.
Construction on state roads was progressing slowly because of a lack of funding, and Noble proposed the state borrow a sum of money to speed the construction process, but the legislature rejected his proposal. He also recommended the creation of an Internal Improvement Board to coordinate the projects and possibly reduce costs through better organization and by purchasing supplies in bulk, but again the General Assembly rejected the proposal, and instead kept the projects operating under several different project boards. His first term passed with little advancement on the internal improvement front because the representatives from southern part of the state blocked any large-scale plans because such projects would have little value for their constituents, since most of the projects would be in the central part of the state.
Noble had a census conducted and recommended the legislature reapportion representation to grant more seats to the central counties. The legislature approved of the plan, and expanded the senate and house to their present size, fifty and one-hundred seats respectively. The change gave the central and northern part of the state more representatives than the south for the first time, despite the fact that the south was still significantly more populous. Noble made several recommendations for the reform of public schools. Most of the measures were not accepted, but the expansion of the Indiana College was approved, and township schools were granted considerably more power over their own operations.
The Second Bank of the United States was closed during Noble's first term, leaving the state without a bank to hold government deposits or to supply paper money. There had been no banks operating in Indiana for a decade, so with no alternative to the situation the General Assembly created the Bank of Indiana. Noble didn't take a position on the bank, but did sign it into law. The bank turned out to be very profitable and one of the most important acts of his time in office. Noble also oversaw the creation of plans to build Indiana's third statehouse in 1831. The building was completed in 1835, and he also oversaw the move of the government's offices.
Noble was re-elected in 1834, campaigning against James G. Read for a second time. During the campaign, Noble sold a Kentucky slave that belonged to his father. The account was widely published, and turned the anti-slavery elements in the state against him, demonstrating by him on receiving 28 votes from the Quaker dominated eastern counties of the state. He ultimately won the election though, 27,767 to 19,994 votes. Noble called out the militia in parts of the state when it was threatened during the Black Hawk War, a Native American uprising to the west of Indiana. 150 men were sent to Illinois where they skirmished with the native uprising. The scare was only brief, and the focus soon returned to the internal improvements.
With the legislature closely divided on the issue, additional projects were proposed for the southern portion of the state to gain the support of their representatives. All the projects were bundled into one bill and passed as the Mammoth Internal Improvement Act in 1836. The act caused a great deal of celebration in the state and Noble considered the act his greatest achievement at the time. To pay for the act which was projected to cost $10 million, Noble had also recommended a 50% increase in all state taxes. The legislature had failed to pass the measure though.
The Panic of 1837 hit the following year, causing a sharp decrease in tax revenues, which was already in a large deficit because of the interest for the debt. Property taxes was the state's primary regular income, and to increase its revenue Noble proposed the tax be levied ad valorem. The change would save the state a significant amount in administrative and collection costs, and make more land subject to taxation. The tax was approved and led to a 25% increase in revenue the following year, but still not enough to cover the deficit. Noble proposed the projects be prioritized, and work halted on the lesser important ones to conserve funds, but the plan was rejected. By the time Noble left office, the states financial situation was bleak, but it was not fully apparent that far more had been burrowed than could be paid back. Despite the dire situation, Noble left office as a popular political figure and was able to use his prestige to help elect, David Wallace, his Lieutenant Governor as Governor.
In both 1834 and 1836, Noble had his named entered as a candidate for the United States Senate, but in both years, the legislature decided to send someone else to Congress, much to Noble's disappointment. His term ended in 1837, and he left office.
After leaving office he became a member of the Board of Internal Improvements which was tasked with overseeing the ongoing internal improvements in the state. In 1840, the state ended all funding for the projects. By early 1841 it was clear that the state would not be able to even pay the interest on the their debt, and paying it off was out of the question. The board approved of sending James Lanier to negotiate a bankruptcy with the state's creditors and all of the internal improvement projects, except the separately funded Wabash and Erie Canal, were turned over to the creditors in exchange for a 50% reduction in the state's debt.
Death and legacy
Before Noble had left office, many of his opponents began to blame him for the state's financial situation. He argued that he had proposed tax increases to fund the project, and it was the fault of the General Assembly for not enacting them. Although the short term situation was devastating to the state and the projects ended in a total disaster, the groundwork the project laid led to a rapid development once the financial situation was resolved. In the meantime though, the debacle became apparent to the public in his successors term and led to the gradual collapse of the state's Whig party, which never recovered, and never regained power in Indiana. In the immediate years the Democrats came to power and disposed of all of the projects. The situation led to the prohibition of the state in assuming debt in the 1851 constitution.
Noble returned to private life following the dissolution of the Internal Improvement Board in 1841. The situation was too dire, and opinion to against the Whigs for Noble to seriously have a chance at winning public office again. He died two years later in Indianapolis, Indiana on February 8, 1844, aged 50, and buried next to his wife, the former Catherine Stull Van Swearingen, in Greenlawn Cemetery. His body was moved to the Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1979. Noble County, Indiana is named in his honor.