MICHIGAN TRAILS
GENEALOGY and HISTORY
 

Kinsley S. Bingham
Governor (1855 - 1859)

 Kinsley S. Bingham, Governor of Michigan from 1855 to 1859, and United States Senator, was born in Camillus, Onondaga County, N.Y., Dec. 16, 1808. His father was a farmer, and his own early life was consequently devoted to agricultural pursuits, but notwithstanding the disadvantages related to the acquisition of knowledge in the life of a farmer he managed to secure a good academic education in his native State and studied law in the office of Gen. James R. Lawrence, now of Syracuse, N.Y. In the spring of 1833, he married an estimable lady who has recently arrived from Scotland, and obeying the impulse of a naturally enterprising disposition, he emigrated to Michigan and purchased a new farm in company with his brother-in-law. Mr. Robert Worden, in Green Oak. Livingston County. Here on the border of civilization, buried in the primeval forest, our late student commenced the arduous task of preparing a future home, clearing and fencing, putting up buildings, etc., at such a rate that the land chosen was soon reduced to a high state of cultuvation.

Becoming deservedly prominent, Mr. Bingham was elected to the office of Justice of the Peace and Postmaster under the Territorial government, and was the first Probate Judge in the county. In the year 1836, when Michigan became a State, he was elected to the first Legislature. He was four times re-elected, and Speaker of the House of Representatives three years.  In 1846 he was elected on the Democratic ticket, Representative to Congress, and was the only practical farmer in that body. He was never forgetful of the interest of agriculture, and was in particular opposed to the introduction of "Wood's Patent Cast Iron Plow" which he completely prevented. He was re-elected to Congress in 1848, during which time he strongly opposed the extension of slavery in the territory of the United States and was committed to and voted for the Wilmot Proviso.

In 1854, at the first organization of the Republican party, in consequence of the record in Congress as a Free Soil Democrat, Mr. Bingham was nominated and elected Governor of the State, and re-elected in 1856. Still faithful to the memory of his own former occupation, he did not forget the farmers during his administration, and among other profits of his zeal in their behalf, he became mainly instrumental in the establishment of the Agricultural College at Lansing.

IN 1549, Governor Bingham was elected Senator in Congress and took an active part in the stormy campaign in the election of Abraham Lincoln. He witnessed the commencement of the civil war while a member of the United States Senate. After a comparatively short life of remarkable promise and public activity he was attacked with appoplexy and died suddenly at his residence, in Green Oak, Oct. 5, 1861.

The most noticeable event in Governor Bingham's first term was the completion of the ship canal, at the Falls of St. Mary. In 1852, August 26, an act of Congress was approved to the State of Michigan seven hundred and fifty thousand acres of land for the purpose of constructing a ship canal between lake Huron and Superior. In 1853, the Legislature accepted the grand and provided for the appointment of commissioners to select the donated lands, and to arrange for building the canal. A company of enterprising men was formed, and a contract was entered into by which it was arranged that the canal should be finished in two years., and the work was pushed rapidly forward. Every article of consumption, machinery, working implements and materials, timber for the gates, stones for the locks, as well as men and supplies, had to be transported to the site of the canal from Detroit, Cleveland, and other lake ports.  The rapids which had to be surmounted have a fall of seventeen feet and are about one mile long. The length of the canal is less than one mile, its width one hundred feet, depth twelve feet and it has two locks of solid masonary. In May, 1855, the work was completed, accepted by the commissioners, and formally delivered to the State authorities.

The disbursements on account of the construction of the canal and selecting the lands amounted to one million of dollars; while the lands which were assigned to the company, and selected through the agency at the Sault, as well as certain lands in the Upper and Lower Peninsulas, filled to an acres the Government grant. The opening of the canal was an important event in the history of the improvement of the State. It was a valuable link in the chain of lake commerce, and particularly important to the interests of the Upper Peninsula.

There were several educational, charitable and reformatory institutions inaugurated and opened during Gov. Gingham's administrations. The Michigan Agricultural College owes its establishment to a provision of the State Constitution of 1850. Article 13 says, "The Legislature shall, as soon as practicable, provide for the establishment of an agricultural school." For the purpose of carrying into practice this provision, legislation was commenced in 1855, and the act required that the school should be within ten miles of Lansing, and that not more than $15 an acre should be paid for the farm and college grounds.  The college was opened to students in May, 1857, the first of existing agricultural colleges in the United States. Until the spring of 1861, it was under the control of the State Board of Education; since that time it has been under the management of the State Board of Agriculture, which is created for that purpose.

In its essential features, of combining study and labor, and of uniting general and professional studies in its course, the college has remained virtually unchanged from the first. It has a steady growth in number of students, in means of illustration and efficiency of instruction.

The agricultural College is three miles east of Lansing, comprising several fine buildings; and there are also very beautiful, substantial residences for the professors. There are also an extensive, well-filled green-house, a very large and well-equipped chemical laboratory, one of the most scientific apiaries in the United States, a general museum, a museum of mechanical inventions, another of vegetable products, extensive barns, piggeries, etc., etc., in fine trim for the purpose designed. The farm consists of 676 acres, of which about 300 are under cultivation in a systematic rotation of crops.

Adrian College was established by the Wesleyan Methodists in 1859, now under the control of the Methodist Church. The grounds contain about 20 acres. There are four buildings, capable of accommodating about 225 students. Attendance in 1875 was 179; total number of graduates for previous year, 121; ten professors and teachers are employed. Exclusive of the endowment fund ($80,000), the assets of the institution, including grounds, buildings, furniture, apparatus, musical instruments, outlying lands, etc., amount to more than $137,000.

Hillsdale College was established in 1855 by the Free Baptists. The Michigan Central College, at Spring Arbor, was incorporated in 1845. It was kept in operation until it was merged into the present Hillsdale College. The site comprises 25 acres, beautifully situated on an eminence in the western part of the city of Hillsdale. The large and imposing building first erected was nearly. They are of brick, three stories with basement, arranged on three sides of a quadrangle. The size is respectively, 80 by 80, 48 by 72, 48 by 72, 80 by 60, 52 by 72, and they contain one-half more room than the original building.

The State Reform School. This was established at Landing in 1855, in the northeastern portion of the city, as the House of Correction for Juvenile Offenders, having about it many of the features of a prison. In 1859 the name was changed to the State Reform School. The government and discipline, have undergone many and radical changes, until all the prison features have been removed except those that remain in the walls of the original structure, and which remain only as monuments of instructive history. No bolts, bars or guards are employed. The inmates are necessarily kept under surveillance of officers, but the attempts at escape are much fewer than under the more rigid regime of former days.

Portrait and Biographical Album of Prominent and Representative Citizens of the County, Together with Portraits and Biogrphies of all the Governors of Michigan and the Presidents of the United States. 1884

DEATH OF KINSLEY S. BINGHAM.

The telegraph on Saturday night at a late hour announced the sad news that the Hon. Kinsley S. Bingham, one of the Senators in Congress from this State, died at his residence at Green Oak, on that day.  His unexpected and sudden decease is reported to be by apoplexy. We cannot doubt the fact of his death, and in common with the large circle of his friends, we cannot but deplore the loss of one so true to duty in all the relations of neighborhood and domestic life, of so excellent an example as father, husband and friend, so eminent in his patriotism and devotion to the interests of the State and the Nation. At such a crisis as the present, the loss of such a man from the public councils is especially to be deplored. No one has been more constant and persevering than he in resisting, for long years past, the downward tendency of the Federal Government under the pressure of teh slave power and the dangerous doctrine of secession; and few have surpassed him in talent and eloquence in the efforts to arouse the free States to a sense of the impending danger. Indeed, a patriot has departed; a wise and  useful public servant has been taken from us at a moment when we most need his counsel and his labors. But the ways of Providence are inscrutable, and those who knew him and loved him, those who looked with hope and confidence to his high talents and wisdom as public man and a private friend must acquiesce in the decree.

Mr. Bingham was of revolutionary parentage. His ancestors, it is said, served in that immortal band of heroes who, under Stark at Bennington, achieved the first victory of the Revolution. HIs father emigrated to Onondaga county, N.Y., where he was born, in 1803. His early education was such only as could be obtained at the district school and village academy, in a comparatively new country, but he was diligent in study and stored his mind with the knowledge that was necessary to fit him for business and industrial pursuits. He also spent some time as a student at law, but never entered upon the profession. In 1834 or 1835 he removed to Michigan, and, we believe, settled on the tract of land where his homestead now is, and followed farming for a living. His general intelligence and popularity among his neighbors soon induced them to elect him to the Legislature of the State, in which he served some four or five years with great credit to himself and satisfaction to his constituents. He was elected Speaker of the House and served as such for two sessions; and, though party politics then ran high, gave, as we are informed by his political opponents, the most perfect satisfaction by the correctness of his deportment, his aptness in business, and his impartiality. As a presiding officer, no successor has surpassed him. In 1846, Mr. Bingham was elected to Congress form the Northern District and served through the 29th Congress, He wa again elected in 1848, and served through the 30th Congress, by which the famous compromise measures of 1850 were passed. In consequence of his voting against the fugitive slave act of that year, and evincing a very decided repugnance to the extension of slavery into the territories, and he was instructed to do by his democratic constituents, he was ruthlessly proscribed by the then leaders of his party, and another nominated and elected in his stead. But this rebuke from his Democratic friends, or rather their voluntary desertion of him and the principles they had instructed him to act upon, did not for a moment cause him to relax his exertions in favor of the freedom of teh territories and against slave-holding despotism. He had fallen a victim to the influence of that despotism, and his defeat only impelled him to make a still firmer stand against it.

In the spring of 1854 he was put in nomination for governor by the free soil democratic convention of the State, then representing a party highly respectable by its numbers, patriotism and talents; but on the organization of the Republican party by the Jackson convention of July 6th, 1854, the former party united with the republicans, and both parties put him in nomination for governor. He was elected that fall by a majority of some 5,000 votes; and served as governor during 1855 and 1856. IN 1856 he was re-elected governor and served as such during 1857 and 1858, and as the senatorial term of Hon. Chas. E. Stuart of Kalamazoo was about to expire, Mr. Bingham was elected to the United States Senate at the session of 1859, for six years from the 4th of March, 1859.

During his brief senatorial career, in the midst of appealing public events, he did not fail to exhibit the same steadfast attachment to his principles that had ever distinguished him; and his ardor in promoting every measure to put down the present pro-slavery rebellion has been conspicuous both in and out of Congress. One of his sons he sent as a volunteer at the first call of the President to defend the capital; and had he supposed that he himself could have better served the cause of the Union, the cause of liberty and good government, by going to the wars, his heroic feelings would have impelled him to "mount the breach." The blood of the brave Martin Scott ran in his veins, and he seemed to partake of the dauntless spirit of his relative.

But he has gone. No friend of the Union and freedom who shall visit the pleasant but unostentatious spot which was the home of Bingham, will fail to drop a tear over his grave.

 Published in The Cass County Republican (Dowagiac, Michigan) 10 Oct 1861

 

For more information about Kinsley Bingham's life in Livingston County, click HERE.

 

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