MICHIGAN TRAILS
GENEALOGY and HISTORY
 

Alpheus Felch
Governor (1846 - 1847)

 Hon. Alpheus Felch Ex-Governor of Michigan, Ann Arbor, was born in Limerick, York County, Maine, September 28, 1806. He grandfather, Abijah Felch, was a soldier in the Revolution; and, when a young man, having, with others, obtained a grant of land between the Great and Little Ossipee rivers, in Maine, moved to that region when it was yet a wilderness. Mr. Felch's father, the youngest of several children, was brought up on the farm; but, soon  after attaining his majority, entered upon a mercantile life at Limerick. He was the first person to engage in that business in that section of the country, and continued it until his death, at the age of thirty-five. HIs family consisted of six children, Alpheus Felch being the only son. The death of the father, followed in a year by that of the mother, left the orphans in the care of the family relatives. The subject of the present sketch, then only three years of age, found a home with his paternal grandfather, with whom he remained until  the latter's death. He enjoyed the usual advantages of early education in the district school, and afterwards in the neighboring academy. In 1821 he became a student at Phillip Exeter Academy; and, subsequently, entering Bowdoin College, graduated with the class of 1827.  Immediately after graduation, he commenced the study of lay; and, in the autumn of 1830, was admitted to the bar at Bangor, Maine. In the same year, he engaged in the practice of his profession at Houlton, Maine, a new and sparsely settled portion of the State, where he continued until 1833. In the meantime, the severity of the climate had so impaired his constitution, never very robust, that he found it necessary to seek a residence in a warmer climate. In the spring of 1833, he disposed of his library and departed to seek a new home.

His intention was to join his friend, Sargent S. Prentiss, then living at Vicksburg, Mississippi; but, on his arrival at Cincinnati, Mr. Felch was attacked by the cholera, and, after recovering sufficiently to resume his journey, found that the danger from that disease was too great to permit a voyage down the river. He therefore determined to return to the North, and came to Michigan. In this Sate he first commenced the practice of his profession at Monroe, and continued there until 1843, at which time he removed to Ann Arbor. He was elected a member of the State Legislature, from Monroe County, in 1835, and continued a member of that body during the years 1836 and 1837. While he held this office, the general banking law of the State was enacted, and went into operation. After mature deliberation, he became convinced that the proposed system of banking could not prove beneficial to the public interests; and that, instead of relieving the people from the pecuniary difficulties under which they were laboring, it would result in still further embarrassment. He, therefore, opposed the bill and pointed out to the House the disasters which, in his opinion, were sure to follow its passage. The public mind, however, was favorably impressed by the measure that no other member, in either branch of the Legislature, raised a dissenting voice, but two voted with him in opposition to the bill. Early in 1838, he was appointed one of the Bank Commissioners of the State, and held that office for more than a year. During this time, the new banking law had given birth to that numerous progeny known as "wild-cat" banks. Almost every village had its bank.  The country was flooded with depressed "wild-cat" money. The examination of the Bank Commissioners brought to light frauds at every point, which were fearlessly reported to the Legislature, and were followed by criminal prosecutions of the guilty parties, and the closing of many of the institutuions.

The duties of the office were most laborious; and, in 1839, Mr. Felch resigned. The chartered right of almost every bank had, in the meantime, been declared forfeited and the law repealed. It was subsequently decided to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of the State. In 1842, Mr. Felch was appointed Auditor-General of the State; but, after holding the office only a few weeks, was commissioned, by he Governor, as one of the Judges of the Supreme Court, to fill a vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Judge Fletcher. At the session of the Legislature held in January, 1843. Mr. Felch was nominated, by the Governor, to the Senate, and was confirmed by that body, both for the unexpired term of his predecessor and for the next ensuing full term of six years. In 1845 he was elected Governor of the State, and entered on the duties of the office at the commencement of the following year. At the session of the Legislature held in 1847, he was elected a Senator in Congress for six years; and at once retired from the office of Governor, but resignation, which took affect on the 4th of March, 1847, when his Senatorial term commenced. While a member of the Senate, he acted on the Committee on Public Lands; and during four years, was its chairman.  At the close of his Senatorial term, in March, 1853, he was appointed, by President Pierce, one of the Commissioners to adjust and settle the Spanish and Mexican land claims in California, under the treaty of Gaudalupe Hidalgo, and an act of Congress passed for that purpose. He went to California in May, 1853, and was made President of the Commission. The duties of this office were of the most important and delicate character. The interest in the new State, and the fortunes of many of its citizens, both the native Mexican population and the recent American immigration; the right of the Pueblos to their common lands, and of the Catholic Church to the lands of the Missions, -- the most valuable of the State, -- were involved in the adjudications of this Commission.

In March, 1856, their labors were brought to a close by the final disposition of all the claims which were presented. The record of their proceedings, -- the testimony which was given in each case, and the decision of the Commissioners thereon, -- consisting of some forty large volumes, was deposited in the Department of the Interior at Washington. In June, 1856, Mr. Felch returned to his home in Ann Arbor, where he has been engaged principally in the legal profession. Since that time, he has been once nominated for Governor, once for the office of United States Senator, twice for that of Judge of the Supreme Court of the State; but, the Democratic party, to which he has always been attached, being in the minority, he failed of an election. In 1873 he withdrew from the active practice of law, and, with the exception of a tour in Europe, in 1875, has since led a life of retirement at his home in Ann Arbor. In 1877 the University of Michigan conferred upon him the degree of LL. D. Mr. Felch is the oldest surviving member of the Legislature from Monroe County; the oldest and only surviving Bank Commissioner of the State; the oldest surviving Auditor-General of the State; the oldest surviving Governor of the State; the oldest surviving Judge of the Supreme Court of Michigan; and the oldest surviving United States Senator from Michigan.

American Biographical History of Eminent and Self-Made Men with Portrait Illustrations on Steel, Vol. I-II 1878

EX-GOVERNOR FELCH IS DEAD
MICHIGAN LOSES A CITIZEN WHO WAS A CONTEMPORARYH OF WEBSTER AND CLAY.

Ann Arbor, June 15.  -- Ex-Governor Alpheus Felch died at 2:15 o'clock Saturday afternoon. He had been in an unconscious state since Wednesday, and his extreme age and feebleness prevented a rally. Alpheus was 92 years of age and a native of Maine. His public career was one of the most notable of any resident of Michigan. After entering law practice he came to Ann Arbor and had lived here ever since.

He served with great credit as member of the legislature, auditor general, justice of the state supreme court, United States senator, governor, and was again chosen United States senator while serving as governor. He was in teh senate during the times of Webster, Clay and Calhoun, and served as chairman of the land committee at a period when territorial expansions were questions of the day.

published in The True Northerner (Paw Paw, Michigan) 17 Jun 1896, p 7

 

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