Henry M. Mathews

Henry M. Mathews
5th Governor of West Virginia
In office
March 4, 1877  March 4, 1881
Preceded by John J. Jacob
Succeeded by Jacob B. Jackson
7th Attorney General of West Virginia
In office
Preceded by Joseph Sprigg
Succeeded by Robert White
Member of the West Virginia Senate
In office
Personal details
Born (1834-03-29)March 29, 1834
Greenbrier County, West Virginia
Died April 28, 1884(1884-04-28) (aged 50)
Lewisburg, West Virginia
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Lucy Fry Mathews
Relations Mathews family
Parents Mason Mathews
Eliza Shore Reynolds Mathews
Alma mater University of Virginia
A.B. 1856
B.L. 1857
Profession Politician
Military service
Allegiance Confederate States of America Confederate States of America
Service/branch  Confederate States Army
Years of service 1861-1864
Rank Captain 1861-1863
Major of Artillery 1863-1864

Henry Mason Mathews (March 29, 1834  April 28, 1884) was the 7th Attorney General and 5th Governor of West Virginia. He was the first ex-Confederate elected to a governorship in the United States, and his election has been regarded as beginning of the era of the Bourbon Democrat.[1][2]

Born in Frankford, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, he received an A.M. from the University of Virginia and B.L. from Lexington Law School. He was admitted to the bar in 1857 and practiced law for several years before the outbreak of the American Civil War. He was commissioned major in the Confederate States Army and served throughout the Vicksburg Campaign.

He entered politics after the war and was elected to the West Virginia Senate in 1865 but was unable to serve due to state restrictions for ex-Confederates. When these restrictions were overturned in 1871, he was sent to the 1872 State Convention to rewrite the West Virginia State Constitution. The following year he was elected attorney general and, following one successful term, was elected governor of the state in 1877.

His election ushered in the quarter-century era of the Bourbon Democrat, the conservative, pro-business faction in the Democratic Party, who sought to oust the Republican coalition of freedmen, carpetbaggers, and scalawags. He was identified as a Redeemer, the southern wing of the Bourbon faction.[3] As governor, his administration sought resolution to the Long Depression, the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, and issues of state debt. He was criticized for his handling of the Great Railroad Strike, which spread from West Virginia to several other states before he called for Federal support—an action his critics believed could have prevented the national strike if taken sooner.[4] Mathews retired from politics at the end of his term in 1881. In later life he served as president of the White Sulfur Springs Company (now the Greenbrier Resort).[1]

Early life

Henry Mason Mathews was born on March 29, 1834 in Frankford, Greenbrier County to Eliza (née Reynolds) and Mason Mathews. His father was a member of the Virginia House of Delegates and his family had been politically prominent in colonial Virginia.[5] His patrilineal ancestry was Welsh and Anglo-Irish.[6] He was educated at the Lewisburg Academy and the University of Virginia, receiving the degrees of A.B. in 1855 and A.M. in 1856 and joining the fraternal organization Beta Theta Pi.[7] He entered Lexington Law School and studied under John W. Brockenbrough, graduating in 1857 with a degree of B.L..[7] He was admitted to the Bar in 1857 and opened a law office in Lewisburg with his brother, Alexander F. Mathews.[8] Soon afterward he accepted the professorship of Language and Literature at Alleghany College, Blue Sulphur Springs, retaining the privilege to practicing law in the courts.[7]

As a young man he was a proponent of fine arts, which he believed to be waning in the decades before the Civil War as the country progressed towards industrialism. In his 1854 University of Virginia Masters Thesis, "Poetry in America," he expressed resignation about the arts being "sacrificed on the altar of progress," as described by historian Peter S. Carmichael.[9] Carmichael described Mathews as one who had "accepted the decline of fine taste and cultivation as an inevitable casualty in society's advance."[9] Mathews, in "Poetry in America," stated, "while we may regret to see the art of poetry declining, .... we know also that this very fact is an evidence of the continual improvement of the mind of man, and of the advancement of the world in the accomplishment of its destiny."[9] This reconciliation of old customs with new would be a defining theme of his political career in the wake of war.

Military service

Brigadier General Alexander W. Reynolds, uncle of Major Henry Mason Mathews

On the outbreak of the American Civil War, Mathews, along with his two brothers, volunteered for the Confederate States Army (CSA). He entered the service as a private, ending the war with a commission of major of artillery.[8]

He quickly experienced difficulties with administrative aspects of the CSA.[10] He was first assigned to the staff of Brigadier General Henry Wise. In 1861 Wise and fellow CSA general John B. Floyd began feuding over military superiority of the western Virginia region.[11] Mason Mathews, from the Virginia House of Delegates, recommended in writing to Confederate President Jefferson Davis that both generals be deposed after spending several days in each camp.[12] President Davis removed Wise from command on his receipt of the letter.[11][13]

Mathews was then assigned to the staff of his uncle, Brig. Gen. Alexander W. Reynolds, in Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson's division of Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton's army. He was promoted to major of artillery and accompanied the generals throughout the Vicksburg Campaign.[10] When general Stevenson's division advanced to Baker's Creek for the Battle of Champion Hill, Mathews was left in Vicksburg as the chief of his department.[14]

In 1864, he was arrested by orders of General Robert E. Lee after an unintended strategic error. He described the circumstances in a letter to his brother, Capt. Joseph William Mathews:

"On the night of the 6th [October 1864], I got into Camp tired and wet, went to bed and slept very soundly. About midnite a courier brought me a note that each brigade should move with its own ordnance. By a very dim light and just aroused, I read the note incorrectly, that each division shall move with its own ordnance. When I discovered my mistake I explained the matter to General S[tevenson]. He said that my explanation was perfectly satisfactory and asked me to make it in writing in order that he might forward it to Gen. Lee. I did so and just before Lee rec'd the explanation he ordered S. to arrest me and prefer charges. So here I am in arrest."[8]

Lee dismissed the charges on receipt of the explanation and Mathews returned to his camp. By the end of 1864 he had been granted discharge from the Confederate States Army.[8]

Political career

While at war Mathews' reputation as a fledgling leader had spread through his home state. In a post-war state that was dominated by the Republican party, Mathews, a Democrat, was elected to the West Virginia Senate in 1865 but was not allowed to serve due to the restriction that prohibited former Confederates from holding public office.[5][12] Though the legislative minority, the generally ex-Confederate led Democrats grew in popularity in the half-decade following the war. In 1871, the Flick Amendment was ratified to the West Virginia State Constitution, returning state rights to former Confederates and allowing the Democratic party to regain control of the legislature. Mathews was sent as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1872 to overhaul the 1863 Republican-drafted state constitution.[1] The following year he was elected 7th Attorney General of the state under Governor John J. Jacob and served ably one term in which his popularity within his party rose.[1]

An 1870s political cartoon calling for 'Death to Bourbonism'

At the end of his term as attorney general, Mathews, as a Democrat, defeated Republican Nathan Goff by 15,000 votes in the most one-sided race for governor in state history at that time.[7] He became the first Confederate veteran in the country to be elected to a governorship, and is considered the first of the country's Bourbon governors,[1] a label applied by the faction's opposition that alluded conservative Democrats to the Bourbon kings of France who had, opponents claimed, learned little from the divisive and bitter French Revolution during which House of Bourbon was overthrown and subsequently returned to power.[3] Bourbon Democrats were accused of identifying with the values of the 'Old South' by promoting classism and seeking to minimize the impact of Reconstruction efforts on policy.[15]

His inaugural address was centered around a theme of unity and progression in the wake of war, promising:

"The legitimate results of the war have been accepted in good faith, and political parties are no longer aligned upon the dead issues of the past. We have ceased to look back mournfully, and have said "Let the dead past bury its dead," and with reorganized forces have moved up to the living issues of the present."[16]

In a display of reconciliation and party unity, he appointed several Republican party members to his cabinet, a move that was uncommon in the post-war political climate.[1] His term would be defined by a national depression and labor strikes.

Blockade of engines at Martinsburg, West Virginia, 16 July 1877

Awaiting him in office were economic woes associated with the Panic of 1873 and the subsequent Long Depression. In July 1877, four months into his term, he learned that in Martinsburg, Berkeley County, Baltimore and Ohio Railroad workers had been stopping trains to protest wage cuts. He called out a local militia company to disperse the protest. Among the company were several rail workers sympathetic to the strike. The militia acted indecisively until a striker named William Vandergriff fired on the militia and was mortally wounded when a militiaman returned fire. Local papers criticized Gov. Mathews' initiative and deemed Vandergriff a "martyr," and the militia officially conveyed to Mathews that they would thereon refuse his orders.[4]

He responded by sending another militia company—this time containing no rail workers—to address the growing strike. When he was informed that this company too sympathized with the strikers, he complied with the urging of his administration to request Federal troops from newly elected President Rutherford B. Hayes. President Hayes had vowed not to involve the Federal government in domestic matters during his candidacy several months prior, and he sought to solve the matter diplomatically. After failed negotiations with leaders of the railway "insurrection," he reluctantly dispatched Federal troops to Martinsburg. However, by this time the strike, by then referred to as the Great Railroad Strike of 1877, had reverted to peaceful protest in Martinsburg while violence spread to Maryland, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Missouri. The strike gained considerable support in other states across the country.[4] [17]

In 1880, he was again required to dispatch the militia, this time to Hawks Nest, Fayette County, to stop the state's first major coal strike, miners from Hawks Nest having been threatened with violence to cease productivity by a rival constituent.[18]

Questions of debt owed by West Virginia to Virginia arose quickly when in 1863 West Virginia was created from the northwestern Virginia region. While both states recognized that a debt existed, determining the value of the debt proved difficult.[1] Virginia authorities had determined that West Virginia should assume approximately one-third of the state debt as of January 1, 1861 — the year Virginia was seceded from the United States, determining West Virginia’s total to be $953,360.32. Mathews’ advisers countered with the figure of $525,000. Another figure given to him by the Virginians was $7,000,000, owed by West Virginia to its eastern counterpart. Unable to determine the accuracy of these reports, Mathews pursued policy intended to suspend a resolution until the specifics had become clear. His successor, Jacob B. Jackson, inherited the same problem and further suspended the resolution of the matter.[12] The argument dragged on throughout the 1800s and the debt was not retired until 1939.[1]

Later life

Mathews retired from politics in 1881, at which point he returned to his law practice. He additionally served as president of the White Sulfur Springs Company following its post-war reopening. The resort became a place for many Southerners and Northerners alike to vacation, and the setting for many famous post-war reconciliations, including the White Sulphur Manifesto, which was the only political position issued by Robert E. Lee after the Civil War, that advocated the merging of the two societies. The resort went on to become a center of regional post-war society.[19] Henry M. Mathews died unexpectedly in 1884 and is buried in the Mathews family plot at the Old Stone Church in Lewisburg, West Virginia.[7][20]


In 1857, Mathews married Lucy Fry, daughter of Judge Joseph L. Fry.[21] They had 5 children: Lucile "Josephine" (b. 1871), Mason (b. 1873), William Gordon (b. 1877), Henry Edgar (b. 1878), and Laura Herne (b. 1881).[22]

Legacy and honors

Henry M. Mathews on a 2010 Republic of Guinea stamp.

In policy Mathews was a strict Bourbon Democrat, being a proponent of increased immigration, improved transportation, expansion of the coal and oil industries, and funding to establish a state geological survey.[1] He was described by historian James Callahan as “a patriotic, broad, and liberal minded ex-Confederate who had fully accepted the results of the Civil War and was well fitted to lead in meeting living issues.”[23] His administration at large has been characterized as "an era of good feeling," due to his appointing of Republicans to office during his Democratic tenure.[24]

Fellow West Virginia Governor William A. MacCorkle, in Recollections of Fifty Years of West Virginia (1928), said of him:

"He was not a good come-and-take debater, but when he had prepared himself to make an oration on the issues of the day, he was splendid. His oratory was easy, smooth, perfectly balanced, his voice was splendidly modulated, his gestures were perfect, and he could make as fine an impression on a rather cultivated audience as any man in the state."

 — William A. MacCorkle, The Recollections of Fifty Years of West Virginia (1928) [25]

Historian Mary L. Rickard, in the Calendar of the Henry Mason Mathews Letters and Papers in the State Department of Archives and History (1941), offered a critical analysis of his administration:

"At this time there was less wealth per capita in West Virginia than in 1865, the result of which had a pronounced effect upon State politics. Those highest up in the social scale held the highest political positions and the entire organization became dangerously corrupt.

"The social, political, and economic ills of West Virginia were not to be cured nor even successfully treated during Mathews' administration nor during his life time."

 — Mary L. Rickard, Calendar of the Henry Mason Mathews Letters and Papers in the State Department of Archives and History (1941) [10]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Addkison-Simmons, D. (2010). Henry Mason Mathews. e-WV: The West Virginia Encyclopedia. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/1582
  2. Key, Joe (2008). "The Clay Pipe." Xlibris Corporation, 2008, p 149 https://books.google.com/books?id=QQfV04mDUV8C&pg=PA149 Retrieved December 11, 2012
  3. 1 2 Hans Sperber and Travis Trittschuh. American Political Terms: An Historical Dictionary. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962.
  4. 1 2 3 Bellesiles, Michael A. (2010). "1877: America's Year for Living Violently. The New Press, 2010. p 149. https://books.google.com/books?id=rf4q5LjLbHIC&pg=PA149 Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  5. 1 2 The American Historical Society (1923). "Mathews Family of Greenbrier." The History of West Virginia, Old and New (Chicago and New York: The American Historical Society, Inc.) 2: 7-9. http://files.usgwarchives.net/wv/greenbrier/bios/wvoldnew/m3200001.txt Retrieved 2012-10-19
  6. Boots, John R. (1970). The Mat(t)hews family: an anthology of Mathews lineages. The University of Wisconsin - Madison
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 White, J.T. (1904)"The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: Being the History of the United States as Illustrated in the Lives of the Founders, Builders, and Defenders of the Republic, and of the Men and Women who are Doing the Work and Moulding the Thought of the Present Time." New York Public Library. p 431.https://books.google.com/books?id=TnNMAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA431 Retrieved November 1, 2012
  8. 1 2 3 4 Combs, James Thurl (1987). "Greenbrier, C.S.A. Wartime Letters of Mason Mathews to his son Captain Joseph William Mathews, C.S.A." The Journal of the Greenbrier Historical Society (Parsons, West Virginia: Greenbrier Historical Society) V (1): 5-44.
  9. 1 2 3 Carmichael, Peter S. (2005). "Last Generation: Young Virginians In Peace, War, And Reunion. Civil War America: UNC Press Books, 2005, p. 29. https://books.google.com/books?id=g2NwaOY-ptQC&pg=PA29
  10. 1 2 3 Rickard, Mary L. (1941). "Calendar of the Henry Mason Mathews Letters and Papers in the State Department of Archives and History." Historical Records Survey (U.S.): West Virginia Historical Records Survey, 1941.
  11. 1 2 Civil War Daily Gazette Confederate General Henry Wise Relieved of Duty; “Contraband” Allowed in Navy. http://civilwardailygazette.com/2011/09/25/confederate-general-henry-wise-relieved-of-duty-contraband-allowed-in-navy/ Retrieved November 21, 2012.
  12. 1 2 3 Rice, Otis K. 1986. A History of Greenbrier County. Greenbrier Historical Society, p. 132
  13. Davis, Jefferson, and Crist, Lynda (1992). "The Papers of Jefferson Davis: Volume 7 of Papers of Jefferson Davis, 1861, Papers of Jefferson Davis, 1861." Louisiana State University Press: 1992, page 345. https://books.google.com/books?id=7j1rLgwgO-4C&dq=%221861%22&q=mason+mathews#v=snippet&q=mason%20mathews&f=false Retrieved November 21, 2012
  14. Report of Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson, C. S. Army, commanding Division: MAY 16, 1863.--Battle of Champion's Hill, or Baker's Creek, Miss. O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME XXIV/2 [S# 37]. Retrieved from http://www.civilwarhome.com/stevensonchampionhillor.htm July 30, 2013.
  15. Woodward, C. Vann (1951). Origins of the New South, 1877–1913. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1951
  16. Inaugural address of Henry Mason Mathews. http://www.wvculture.org/history/mathewsia.html Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  17. Laurie, Clayton D, et al. (1997). "The Role of Federal Military Forces in Domestic Disorders, 1877-1945." Army Historical Series. Government Printing Office, 1997, Volume 30, Issue 15 of CMH pub p 29-38. https://books.google.com/books?id=MiVwxsjlxxcC&pg=PA35&dq=%22governor+mathews%22&hl=en&sa=X&ei=DxqwUJ39Ge290QH5tIGgAw&ved=0CEIQ6AEwBzigAQ#v=onepage&q=railway%20strike&f=false .Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  18. Bailey, Kenneth R. Hawk's Nest Coal Company Strike. West Virginia History, (July 1969) http://www.wvencyclopedia.org/articles/335 Retrieved November 1, 2012
  19. Robert E. Lee (August 26, 1868). "White Sulphur Manifesto". Retrieved August 26, 2010.
  20. "Henry Mason Mathews," West Virginia State Archives. http://www.wvculture.org/history/mathews.html
  21. "West Virginia's First Ladies," West Virginia Division of Culture and History, June 2007.
  22. Atkinson, George W. (1919). Bench and Bar of West Virginia. Harvard University:Virginia law book company https://books.google.com/books?id=qi8aAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA279&dq=%22william+gordon+mathews%22&hl=en#v=onepage&q=%22william%20gordon%20mathews%22&f=false Retrieved December 9, 2012
  23. Callahan, James M. (1913) Semi-centennial History of West Virginia: With Special Articles on Development and Resources. University of Virginia: 1913. p242 https://books.google.com/books?id=FjYTAAAAYAAJ&q=mathews#v=snippet&q=mathews&f=false Retrieved November 3, 2012
  24. Capace, Nancey (1999). The Encyclopedia of West Virginia. North American Book Dist LLC, 1999, p 63. https://books.google.com/books?id=K30UKW0aewgC&pg=PA63&lpg=PA63&dq=%22mathews%22+%22governor%22+%22era+of+good+feeling%22&source=bl&ots=C1o_IuJFPA&sig=D4o4KPMOOmDLue4W4fq3Jg1a1po&hl=en#v=onepage&q=%22mathews%22%20%22governor%22%20%22era%20of%20good%20feeling%22&f=false Retrieved November 27, 2012.
  25. MacCorkle, William Alexander (1928). "Recollections of Fifty Years of West Virginia." New York: J.P. Putnam's Sons: New York, 1928; p 172.
Legal offices
Preceded by
Joseph Sprigg
Attorney General of West Virginia
Succeeded by
Robert White
Political offices
Preceded by
John J. Jacob
Governor of West Virginia
Succeeded by
Jacob B. Jackson
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