|Oliver Morton Birthplace - Centerville, Indiana|
|Exploring Indiana's Historic Sites,|
Markers & Museums -
East Central Edition
Oliver P. Morton (August 4, 1823 – November 1, 1877)
The son of James Throck and Sarah Miller Morton, Oliver is a native of Salisbury, Indiana. His mother died when he was three year old, so he went to Ohio to live with his aunts. He returned to Indiana and attended school for about a year. He took a job as an apothecary's clerk, but quit and apprenticed himself to a hat maker. Dissatisfied with that, he returned to Ohio to attend Miami University in Oxford. After two years of college, he entered Cincinnati College to study law. In 1845, he returned to Centerville, Indiana and opened a law practice. In that same year, he married Lucinda Burbank, with whom he had five children. Only two survived to adulthood.
Morton's first elected office was as a circuit court judge in 1852. He resigned after a year to return to his preferred law career. Morton, an anti-slavery Democrat, joined with several other anti-slavery political factions to form the People's Party. This p
arty later renamed itself the Republican Party. He served as a delegate to 1856 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. The Republican Party nominated him as a candidate for governor in 1856. Democratic Senator Ashbel P. Willard defeated him by 6,000 votes. He ran again as lieutenant governor in 1860 with Henry S. Lane as governor. The ticket won. The Republican Party had agreed that if the ticket won, the Legislature would appoint Lane, as Senator and Morton would take over as governor. The party reasoned that the more anti-slavery Morton could not carry the pro-south southern portion of the state. The strategy worked, as the Republicans took over the Assembly and promptly nominated Lane as Senator. Morton became the Governor of Indiana.
Civil War Governor
Morton's tenure as governor during the Civil War proved tumultuous. A strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln, he raised twice as many men as Lincoln requested. A strong advocate of volunteerism, he raised over 150,000 men. He resisted implementing the draft, an effort made easier by his strong recruitment drive and freeing the slaves in the south. He relented on this position after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Many of his measures exceeded his Constitutional authority, especially after he lost his Republican majority in 1863. To prevent legislative action against his usurpations, he urged the Republican legislators not to attend the legislative sessions. With no quorum, the Legislature could not act against him. The Democrats attempted to cut off his funds, but again he exceeded his powers to keep the state running by unauthorized private loans. In 1864, the voters returned the Republicans to power and Morton suffered no political repercussions for his unlawful actions. The Democrats attempted to keep him from running for reelection. Under the Indiana Constitution, they charged he could not serve more than four years in an eight-year period. He countered, saying he had been elected Lieutenant Governor and thus was eligible for reelection. He won that fight and was reelected in 1864. A year after his reelection he suffered a stroke. Lieutenant Governor Conrad Baker served as acting governor for most of his second term.
Despite the paralysis caused by his stroke, Republican legislators elected him to the United States Senate in 1867. He resigned the governorship and went to the Senate where he quickly rose to a leadership position. He served two terms in the Senate, becoming one of President Ulysses S. Grant's most effective leaders. The Republicans considered him for a Presidential run in 1876, but his failing health caused them to drop his name from consideration. Morton suffered another stroke in 1877 while in Oregon leading a panel investigating bribery charges against another Senator. He returned home to recover, but died on November 1, 1877. Dignitaries from across the United States attended his wake at the Indiana State House and funeral. His remains are interred at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.