John H. Clifford, Governor

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John Henry Clifford

Birthplace: Providence, Providence, RI
Death: Died
Immediate Family:

Son of Benjamin Clifford and Achsah Wade
Husband of Sarah Parker Clifford
Father of Ruth Clifford; Mary CLIFFORD; Robert Winthrop CLIFFORD; Edward Everett CLIFFORD; Charles Warren Clifford and 3 others
Brother of Joseph Peck Clifford and Benjamin Clifford

Managed by: Private User
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About John H. Clifford, Governor

John Henry Clifford (January 16, 1809 – January 2, 1876), U.S. political figure, was the 21st Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for a single term, from 1853 to 1854. He was the first governor not born in the state. As attorney general he lead the prosecution in one of the most sensational trials of the 19th century, the Parkman–Webster murder case.

Early years

John Clifford was born to Benjamin and Achsah (Wade) Clifford in Providence, Rhode Island on January 16, 1809. He graduated from Brown University in 1827, read law with Timothy Coffin in New Bedford, Massachusetts and Theron Metcalf in Dedham, Massachusetts, and then opened a law practice in New Bedford. He maintained that practice, sometimes with partners, for the rest of his life. Clifford married Sarah Parker Allen on January 16, 1832.

In 1835, Clifford was elected to the Massachusetts legislature, where he sat on a committee that revised the state's statutes. In 1836 he served as an aide to Governor Edward Everett, a position he held until Everett lost the 1839 election. Everett rewarded Clifford for his service by naming him district attorney for the southern district of the state in 1839, a post he held for ten years. He was concurrently elected state senator representing Bristol County in 1845. In 1849 he was appointed state attorney general by Governor George N. Briggs.

Attorney general and governor

The first major case that Clifford prosecuted was for the murder of Boston Brahmin George Parkman, and it was one of the most sensational of the 19th century. Parkman had disappeared in November 1849 and Harvard professor John White Webster had been arrested for his murder. The length of time it took to find Parkman's remains (which were not complete), the gruesome method of their disposal, the fact that it was a capital crime, and the high status of both victim and accused ensured a great deal of public interest in the case, and the courtroom was packed. Clifford's case was complicated by the fact that there was no actual body. He resorted instead to dental forensics and strong circumstantial evidence to build the case against Webster. The jury returned a guilty verdict after two and one half hours of deliberation. There was much controversy afterward concerning the jury instructions given by Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw, but Webster was eventually hanged. The case has continued to interest researchers, in part over allegations that the prosecution may have overlooked potentially exculpatory evidence.

In 1852 the state Whig Party parlayed his popularity in the Parkman case into a nomination for the governorship, which Clifford reluctantly accepted. In a three way race against Henry W. Bishop (Democrat) and Horace Mann (Free Soil), he received 45% of the vote. A majority requirement still in effect, he was elected by the state senate 29–4 over Bishop. After his single term as governor he refused to stand for reelection, preferring to work as a lawyer. His successor, Governor Emory Washburn, reappointed him to be attorney general, an office he held from 1854 to 1858. In 1862, he was again elected to the state senate, where he served as its president. In 1868 he was chosen a presidential elector, casting his vote for Ulysses S. Grant.

Later years

In 1867 he retired from the legal profession and became president of the Boston and Providence Railroad. During his tenure the railroad constructed a new terminal station in Boston at Park Square. He received the degree of LL.D. from Brown in 1849, Amherst in 1853, and Harvard in 1853. For several years he was president of the Harvard Board of Overseers. Clifford died on January 2, 1876 at his home in New Bedford.

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John H. Clifford, Governor's Timeline

January 16, 1809
Providence, Providence, RI
September 23, 1833
Age 24
March 15, 1836
Age 27
April 13, 1842
Age 33
November 28, 1842
Age 33
August 19, 1844
Age 35
May 3, 1846
Age 37
August 11, 1849
Age 40
April 7, 1852
Age 43