J. Sterling Morton, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

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Julius Sterling Morton

Birthdate: (70)
Death: 1902 (70)
Immediate Family:

Son of Julius Dewey Morton and Emmeline Sterling
Husband of Caroline Joy Morton
Father of Joy Sterling Morton; Paul Morton, U.S. Secretary of the Navy and Mark Morton
Brother of Emma Morton and William D Morton

Managed by: Private User
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About J. Sterling Morton, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture


Julius Sterling Morton (April 22, 1832 – April 27, 1902) was a Nebraska editor who served as President Grover Cleveland's Secretary of Agriculture. He was a prominent Bourbon Democrat, taking the conservative position on political, economic and social issues, and opposing agrarianism. In 1897 he started a weekly magazine entitled The Conservative.


Morton was born in Adams, Jefferson County, New York. He was raised in Detroit and graduated from the University of Michigan. He was a member of Chi Psi Fraternity at Michigan. After receiving his diploma in 1854, he moved with his bride, Caroline Joy French, to Nebraska, which was not yet organized as a territory, and staked a claim in Nebraska City. Soon after arriving there, Morton became the editor of the local newspaper, the Nebraska City News. Morton served briefly in the Nebraska Territorial House of Representatives (1855 - 1856). He was appointed Secretary of Nebraska Territory by President James Buchanan on July 12, 1858, a position he held until 1861. Morton also served as Acting Governor of Nebraska from December 5, 1858, to May 2, 1859.

J. Sterling Morton built a 52-room mansion that is a look-alike of the White House in what is now Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, Nebraska City, Nebraska. On the surrounding estate, Morton indulged his fascination with trees, plating many rare varieties and heirloom apple trees. Respected as an agriculturalist, Morton sought to instruct people in the modern techniques of farming and forestry. Among his most significant achievements was the founding of Arbor Day. He became well known in Nebraska for his political, agricultural, and literary activities and from there was appointed as Secretary of Agriculture by President Cleveland. He is credited with helping change that department into a coordinated service to farmers, and he supported Cleveland in setting up national forest reservations.

In 1897, Morton planned and began to edit the multi-volume Illustrated History of Nebraska. He also began publishing a weekly periodical, The Conservative. Morton died on April 27, 1902 in Lake Forest, Illinois, where he was seeking medical treatment; his wife, Caroline, had died two decades earlier, in June 1881. The Morton home and estate in Nebraska City is now a state park, the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum.

In 1937, the state of Nebraska donated a bronze statue of Morton to the National Statuary Hall Collection at the United States Capitol. Morton is a member of the Nebraska Hall of Fame. The J. Sterling Morton Beltway, a highway near Nebraska City, Nebraska, which is made up from U.S. Route 75 and Nebraska Highway 2, is named for him. J. Sterling Morton Magnet Middle School in Omaha, Nebraska also bears his name, as do Morton College (a community college), Morton East High School, Morton West High School, and the J. Sterling Morton High School District, all located in Cicero, Illinois.

His son Joy Morton was the founder of the Morton Salt Company, Chicago, Illinois. He also crated The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois in 1922. Today, Joy Morton's original 400-acre (1.6 km2) Thornhill Estate, which he acquired in 1910, has been transformed into a 1,700-acre (6.9 km2) living history museum of over 4,000 different types of trees, shrubs and other woody plants. Its the mission is to encourage the planting of trees and to promote nature as a source of inspiration, wonder and joy, especially for children.

Though J. Sterling Morton was a "Bourbon" (i.e. conservative) Democrat, his son Paul Morton served as Secretary of the Navy under President Theodore Roosevelt from 1904 to 1905 as a Progressive Republican. It is worth noting that this shift is paralleled by that of Henry Cantwell Wallace, who served as a Progressive Republican Secretary of Agriculture under Harding and Coolidge, and his son Henry A. Wallace who served in the same office as a Democrat under Roosevelt.

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J. Sterling Morton, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture's Timeline

September 27, 1855
Age 23
Detroit, Wayne, Michigan, United States
May 22, 1857
Age 25
November 22, 1858
Age 26
Omaha, Douglas, Nebraska, United States
Age 70