Thomas Swann, Governor

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Thomas Swann

Birthdate: (74)
Birthplace: Alexandria, Virginia, USA
Death: July 24, 1883 (74)
Leesburg, Virginia, USA
Immediate Family:

Son of Thomas Swann and Jane Byrd Page
Husband of Elizabeth Swann
Father of Louisa Latrobe; Elizabeth Gilmor Whipple and Mary Mercer Carter

Occupation: American politician
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Thomas Swann, Governor

Thomas Swann (February 3, 1809–July 24, 1883) was an American politician. Initially a Know-Nothing, and later a Democrat, he served as mayor of Baltimore (1856–1860), as the 33rd Governor of Maryland (1866–1869), and as U.S. Representative from Maryland's 3rd congressional district and then 4th congressional district (1869–1879).

Early life and career

Swann was born in Alexandria, Virginia, and attended Columbian College (now George Washington University) in Washington, D.C., and the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. He studied law, and was appointed by President Andrew Jackson as secretary of the United States Commission to Naples. He moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1834, and became director and president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, serving in that position from 1847 until his resignation in 1853, to serve as president of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad.

Mayor of Baltimore

1856 election

Main article:

Swann was first elected Mayor of Baltimore in 1856 as a member of the Know Nothing (American Party) in one of the bloodiest elections in state history. He defeated Democratic challenger Robert Clinton Wright by over a thousand votes.

During the mid-1850s public order in Baltimore had been threatened by the election of candidates of the Know Nothing party. In October 1856 the Know Nothing Mayor Samuel Hinks was pressed by Baltimorians to order the state militia in readiness to maintain order during the mayoral elections, as violence was anticipated. Hinks duly gave Militia general George H. Steuart the order, but he soon rescinded it. As a result, violence broke out on polling day, with shots exchanged by competing mobs. In the 2nd and 8th wards several citizens were killed, and many wounded. In the 6th ward artillery was used, and a pitched battle fought on Orleans St between Know Nothings and rival Democrats, raging for several hours. The result of the election, in which voter fraud was widespread, was a victory for Swann by around 9,000 votes.

1857 election

In 1857, fearing similar violence at the upcoming elections, Governor Thomas W. Ligon ordered General Steuart to hold the First Light Division, Maryland Volunteers in readiness. However, Mayor Swann, this time running for re-election, successfully argued for a compromise measure involving special police forces to prevent disorder, and Steuart's militia were stood down. This time, although there was less violence than in 1856, the results of the vote were again compromised, and the Know-Nothings took many state offices in a heavily disputed ballot.

1858 election

He was re-elected in 1858, again with widespread violence prevalent, and won by over 19,000 votes due to a large amount of voter intimidation.

There were a great deal of internal improvements during Swann's tenure as mayor. The Baltimore volunteer firefighters were replaced with paid firefighters, and were given steam-powered fire engines and a better emergency telegraph system. His office also oversaw the creation of the streetcar system in Baltimore, the creation of Druid Hill Park, and the beginnings of two water-sewage construction projects at Jones Falls and at the Lake Roland Reservoir. The Baltimore Inner Harbor was dredged at 20 feet during his term as governor, and several new schools were added to the city. The Police and Water departments were also reorganized, and, to provide better street lighting, the offices of Superindendents of Lamps was created.

Violence was prevalent during Swann's term as mayor. Governor Thomas W. Ligon sought Swann's assistance to try to avoid riots during the 1856 Presidential elections, but little was resolved during the meeting, and riots ensued during the night of the election wounding and killing many. Ligon criticized Swann for not taking the necessary precautions, recalling the event as partisans "engaged; arms of all kinds were employed; and bloodshed, wounds, and death, stained the record of the day, and added another page of dishonor to the annals of the distracted city". Ligon did not cooperate with Swann during the state elections of 1857, and immediately imposed martial law upon Baltimore before election day had begun. Swann was angered, and insisted this was not necessary, but, recalling the events one year earlier, Ligon refused to lift the martial law status.

Governor of Maryland

In 1860, Swann left the American Party and joined the Union Party, since the party had dissolved. In 1864, he was unanimously nominated to be Governor during the nomination convention, and won election with lieutenant-governor running mate Christopher C. Cox by over 9,000 votes. He took the oath of office on January 11, 1865, but did not become Governor de facto until one year later. In his inaugural address, he encouraged union in the state following the American Civil War, and voiced his opposition to slavery, deeming it a "a stumbling block in the way of [our] advancement".

Swann met opposition as Governor with the Radical Republicans of Maryland, since he supported the reconstruction policies of Andrew Johnson, and refused to follow with other policies of theirs. He eventually completely parted with the Republicans by joining the Democratic party during his term as Governor, mostly due to the much disliked loyalty oath and registration laws the Radical Republicans pushed for citizens of the state.

In 1867, the Maryland General Assembly nominated Swann to succeed John A. J. Creswell in the United States Senate. However, Radical Republicans had gained control of the government in 1867, and refused to allow Swan admittance into the Senate. Additionally, there were fears that the lieutenant governor, a Radical Republican, would place Maryland under martial law and Reconstruction government and disenfranchise all those whites who had served in the Confederacy as well as undermine reforms made by Swann with other voting rights. Rather than fight the Radicals in Congress, Swann was convinced by Democrats to remain as Governor and turn down the senate seat.

Internal improvements to state infrastructure were important to Swann, and he is credited with greatly improving the facilities at the Baltimore Harbor. He also encouraged immigration, and the immediate emancipation of the slaves following the War.

U.S. Congressional career and final years

He was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1866, but as mentioned in the preceding did not serve. However, he was again elected to Congress, this time as a Representative. Although the Radicals were still supreme, the martial law acts passed by them had expired, and Swann's political backers to powerful for them to oppose his seat. Consequently Swan served as Senator from March 4, 1869 until March 3, 1879 in the Forty-first and to the four succeeding Congresses. In Congress, Swann was chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs (Forty-fourth and Forty-fifth Congresses). In 1878, he married Josephine Ward Thomson, daughter of Congressman Aaron Ward and widow of U.S. Senator John Renshaw Thomson.

Swann died on his estate, Morven Park, near Leesburg, Virginia, and is interred in Greenmount Cemetery of Baltimore. In eulogy, the Baltimore Sun criticized his early political errors, but nevertheless credited him as "a great mayor, conferring inestimable benefits on the city he governed; not only was he a wise and beneficient governor to the oppressed portion of the citizens of the State, but he was one of the most useful and influential Congressmen this State or city ever had."

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Thomas Swann, Governor's Timeline

February 3, 1809
Alexandria, Virginia, USA
June 17, 1838
Age 29
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
May 24, 1843
Age 34
Baltimore, Maryland, United States
May 15, 1845
Age 36
Baltimore, Baltimore County, Maryland, United States
July 24, 1883
Age 74
Leesburg, Virginia, USA