|A Year of Indiana History - 2016|
Joseph Albert Wright (April 17, 1810 - May 11, 1867)
Governor Term - December 5, 1849-January 12, 1857
The son of bricklayer John and his wife Rachel Seaman Wright, Joseph was a native of Washington, Pennsylvania. The family moved to Bloomington Indiana in 1820. His father was one of the workers employed to build the new Indiana State Seminary that later became Indiana University. His father died in 1824. Joseph worked at various jobs, including stints of his father's craft of bricklaying to pay for his schooling and to help the family's finances. He attended Indiana State Seminary, mainly because he could live at home, cutting the expenses of a college education. He earned money by selling fruits, nuts and other things he gathered from the forest surrounding Bloomington to his wealthier classmates.
Law, Then Politics
After graduating from the Seminary in 1829, he studied law with Judge Craven Hester, gaining admittance to the bar in 1829. He opened a law practice in Rockville, Indiana. He married Louisa Cook. Together they had one child. Sickness from malaria prevented her from having more children, so the couple adopted other children. He served two terms in the Indiana House of Representatives, prosecuting attorney, and then the Indiana Senate in 1839.
United States Congress
He served one term in the Indiana Senate, and then reopened his law office. He ran for Congress in 1843, winning a narrow election. His bid for re-election in 1845 went down to narrow defeat, as did another bid in 1847.
Wright was a Democrat, but opposed slavery. The Democratic Party chose him as its standard-bearer in the 1849 governor's race. His anti-slavery stance helped him gain election as Governor of Indiana in 1849. During his term, he ushered in Indiana's new Constitution and championed agriculture in the state. He signed legislation creating the State Board of Agriculture and supported the first Indiana State Fair in 1851. The new constitution took effect in 1851. Under the old constitution, a governor could only serve one term. The new constitution forbid serving consecutive terms. Wright decided to run again, a move opposed by his political foes as unconstitutional. However, it was decided that since his first term was under the old Constitution and his second term would be under the new one, he was eligible to serve. He went on to win a "second" term in 1852.
Wright and Senator Jesse D. Bright had been political foes during their political lives. Both Democrats, Wright opposed slavery, while Bright supported it. After Wright completed his second term, he deferred a chance to run for United States Senator in 1857against Bright under a promise that Bright would help Wright secure a cabinet post with new President James Buchanan. Instead, Bright recommended that Buchanan appoint him as envoy to Prussia. During Wright's tenure in Prussia, Bright had Wright removed from the Democratic Party. When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Wright returned to Indiana. Bright had written a letter to Confederate President Jefferson Davis promising support. The letter was intercepted and the United States Senate expelled Bright from the chamber. Indiana Governor Oliver Morton appointed Wright to fill Bright's term. Morton proceeded to confiscate Bright's property in Jeffersonville, Indiana for use as a military hospital. Bright, impoverished, moved to Kentucky where he served in various political posts until his death in 1875. President Lincoln named Wright again as ambassador of Prussia in 1863. He died in that post in 1867. His body is interred in New York City.
A Year of Indiana History - 2016
© Paul Wonning