George C. Gorham

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George Congdon Gorham
George C. Gorham LOC.png
6th Secretary of the United States Senate
From: June 6, 1868 – March 24, 1879
Predecessor John W. Forney
Successor John C. Burch
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Sarah Ann Hills (died 1875)
Effie Bassett
Religion Presbyterian

George Congdon Gorham (July 5, 1832 – February 11, 1909) was a newspaper editor and conservative Republican in California politics, known for his firm commitment to equality, challenging the racial animosities of his time perpetuated by labor unions. A Stalwart Republican,[1] Gorham also served as the secretary of the U.S. Senate for a decade and worked for the California branch of the Republican National Committee.

Early life and career

Gorham was born in Suffolk, New York, on July 5, 1832, to George Gorham and the former Martha Peckham Congdon.[2] Following education at Connecticut, he joined the California Gold Rush in 1849 along with other "49ers," though subsequently left the pursuit and clerked for Democratic jurist Stephen J. Field, who eventually became a U.S. Supreme Court justice.[3]

In 1859, Gorham entered journalism as an assistant editor for the Sacramento Daily Standard, later editing the San Francisco Daily Nation.[3] With the help of Fields, he obtained a position clerking for the U.S. Circuit Court in San Francisco, and also was one of eight individuals who owned the Central Pacific Railroad during the 1860s.

California gubernatorial election, 1867

In 1867, Gorham ran for governor of California and obtained the Republican nomination held in mid-June.[4] He campaigned on equality for Chinese immigrants who faced repression by white supremacist labor unions[3] and likened exclusion of the Chinese to chattel slavery of blacks in the South, declaring his opposition to "all attempts to deny the Chinese the right to labor for pay, as I am to the restoration of African slavery whereby black men were compelled to labor without pay."[5] Repudiating the "anticoolie" movement, Gorham asserted:[6][7]

The CA Democrats' white supremacist campaign poster against Gorham.[8]
I believe in the Christian religion, and that rests upon the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man. The same God created both Europeans and Asiatics.

—George C. Gorham, 1867

Many Republicans who supported the Union cause during the Civil War bolted towards the Democratic Party in opposition to Gorham's stance.[9] Democrats painted their opposition towards Chinese immigration as "anti-slavery," claiming that the presence of Chinese laborers violated the newly enacted 13th Amendment. They also employed anti-capitalist propaganda, assailing corporations as supporting immigration to derail the interests of white laborers.[9]

The Democrats also propagated a racially derogatory satire cartoon in the election cycle, antagonizing his support of racial equality as undermining government.[10] Gorham, desperate to revive a sinking campaign as vicious race-baiting posed to cost him the election, began to publicly opposed the importation of "slaves" as well as voting rights for the Chinese and Indians, though notably maintained strongly pro–civil rights convictions by the regional standards of his time.[6]

Henry H. Haight, the Democratic nominee, distanced himself from the party's traditional association with slavery and attacked Gorham with a combination of anti-Chinese and anti-slavery arguments centered around disdain towards capitalist businessmen;[11] In the general election, Gorham lost to Haight by a margin of ten percentage points.[6] In addition to their gubernatorial victory, the Democratic Party in California gained two U.S. House seats, a majority of the state assembly, and nearly clinched the state Senate.[11]

Despite their campaign on professed anti-slavery stances, California Democrats refused to ratify the 14th Amendment, and the state was among the first "redeemed" in the postbellum era.[11] Subsequently elected Republicans, in an appeal to the populist bigotry throughout the state, competed with Democrats in denouncing Reconstruction.

Senatorial secretaryship, national party politics

Following his gubernatorial defeat, Gorham moved to Washington, D.C., as a representative for California in the Republican National Committee.[3] When Secretary of the Senate John Forney resigned subsequent to the impeachment trial of Democratic president Andrew Johnson, Gorham obtained the open position,[12] bolstered by California U.S. senator John Conness. His tenure, spanning nearly eleven years, oversaw the election of the first black U.S. senator in 1870 (Hiram R. Revels), as well as the establishment of the Committee on Privileges and Elections the following year to resolve senatorial election disputes.[3] A party loyalist, Gorham barred Senate Republicans who joined the insurgent Liberal Republican Party from receiving committee assignments, and in addition was an investigator of financial corruption in Congress.

In the U.S. Senate Secretary Office, Gorham established the positions of the financial clerk, enrolling clerk, as well as journal and minute clerk.[3] Among his accomplishments, he also founded the Senate Library, for which he appointed George Wagner as the first librarian. Gorham's leading responsibilities concerning debates on the U.S. Senate floor oversaw the transition from the Congressional Globe, which was privately contracted, to the Congressional Record.[3]

Ousting from secretarial post

Stalwart Republicans



Other members:

Related topics:

Disdained by Democrats for his loyal party politics, Gorham was denied his secretarial position following the 1878 midterm elections, when Republicans lost control of the Senate.[3] In the immediate aftermath, he consulted to Republican leader James G. Blaine of Maine the "good deal of panic" created by the insurgent Greenback movement which made inroads among previous rank-and-file Republican voters.[13] The following year, Gorham became an editor for the National Republican, where he exhibited "gifted" talents and backed New York senator Roscoe Conkling, a civil rights activist, figurehead for the party Stalwart faction, and conservative leader of the New York Republican political machine.

The 1880 U.S. Senate elections, coinciding with the presidential election that year, resulted in a tie between Republicans and Democrats in the chamber.[3] One initially undecided Independent-elect, William Mahone, caucused with the Republicans to give the party a one-vote majority—Gorham, filled with eagerness, sought to regain his old position as Secretary of the Senate. However, due to the absence of several Republican senators as a result of illnesses and/or constituency obligations, Democrats prevented the ousting of their officers by denying quorum calls, delaying proceedings;[3] the nominations of Gorham for Senate clerk and Harrison H. Riddleberger for sergeant-at-arms were killed by a Democratic filibuster.[14]

Gorham aligned with the Stalwart faction led by Conkling (pictured).

A compromise was hatched between President James A. Garfield, whereby the present officers would remain while committee-controlling Republicans could continue the confirmation process. Furthermore, a failed political maneuver that cost New York's Republican Stalwart senators Roscoe Conkling and Thomas C. Platt their seats temporarily ensured a Democratic majority, with whom the GOP hatched a compromise, abandoning hopes to restore Gorham's secretaryship in return for retaining chairmanships of committees.[3]

Intraparty rifts

Along with other Stalwarts, Gorham vociferously opposed the executive actions of President Rutherford B. Hayes, the favorite of the Half-Breed faction, which abandoned congressional Reconstruction and left the South into the hands of Democratic Redeemers. Hayes in a speech at St. Paul, Minnesota, subsequently concurred by James G. Blaine, insisted that the currency debate between gold vs. silver was of greater priority than civil rights, which Gorham and William E. Chandler dissented from. Gorham stated:[15]

Our party has played the comedy of the Almighty Dollar throughout the summer and fall, [and has] not even reminded the North of the suppression of the Republican vote of the South.

—George C. Gorham, late 1870s

Gorham, as secretary of the Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (RCCC), refused to grant authorization for the printing of President Hayes's St. Paul speech due to its contents lacking "word expressing a preference for the Republican Party over the Democratic Party."

In 1880, the Stalwart Gorham predicted a nonconsecutive renomination of Grant to head the Republican ticket in the presidential election that year,[16] which failed to materialize due to a maneuver by Half-Breeds and Blaine supporters. Also that year he was an intercessor between Mahone and national Republican leaders James A. Garfield, Ulysses S. Grant, James G. Blaine, and John Sherman, when the Virginia Readjuster leader sought Republican political support.[17] However, the four were highly critical of Mahone's fiscal "irresponsibility."

In December 1883, at the onset of the 48th United States Congress, Gorham tried yet again to regain the secretaryship of the U.S. Senate.[3] However, due to his staunch affiliation with the then-obsolete Stalwart faction which kindled intraparty feuds with civil service reformers, Republican senators denied granting the position to Gorham despite the latter's optimistic hopes of party unity.[18] The vote was initially reported incorrectly by The New York Times, leading to complaints by several U.S. senators, and subsequently corrected.[19]

Later life

Retiring from the National Republican in 1884, Gorham dedicated the remainder of his life to writing.[3] Among his published works, most notable was a two-volume biography of Edwin M. Stanton,[20] the Radical Republican Secretary of War during the Lincoln Administration whose attempted removal by Andrew Johnson resulted in the enactment of the Tenure of Office Act.

Comments on presidential elections of 1884 and 1892

Following the 1884 U.S. presidential election, when the Republican nominee Blaine was defeated by Bourbon Democrat Grover Cleveland, Gorham blamed the results on the South rendered solidly Democratic by:[21]

Gorham excoriated failed presidential candidate James G. Blaine for the latter's attacks on the Mahone Readjuster coalition which temporarily wrested Virginia from Bourbon Democratic control.
...Blaine's defeat of 'force bill' in 1875 and Hayes's subversion of the Governments of South Carolina and Louisiana in 1877. The South, thus made solid, was broken in 1881 by the Mahone coalition in Virginia despite Mr. Blaine's opposition. He summoned all his resources, including his newspaper organs, to drive Mahone and his followers away from the Republican Party, and to restore the solid South by forcing Virginia back into the Democratic fold. After failing in this work in 1882, he finally succeeded in 1883. This year he was quite willing to have Mahone succeed, but the wounds he had inflicted proved mortal.

... If Mr. Blaine had been opposed to a solid South, even a year sooner, Virginia would not have been remanded to her previous condition last year, and would undoubtedly been joined by North Carolina.
... Mr. Blaine's reason for opposing Mahone, as stated by him to one of his leading friends in 1881, was that he was not going to 'build up' certain Republicans whom he named. As it turns out, he was building up Grover Cleveland and the Democratic Party, all of which shows that a ship cannot be scuttled and sunk for the purpose of drowning a portion of the crew without wetting the other.

—George C. Gorham, November 20, 1884

Gorham also wrote a letter to the editor of the Statesman less than two weeks later, published in Walla Walla, Washington Territory, noting the defeat of Republican nominee Blaine as putting "an end to sham Republicanism":[22]

The Republic has some dark problems to solve, but the defeat of the man who was violently opposed to Mahone and coalition in 1881, 1882, and 1883, and to the Force bill in 1875, is surely a step forward. Blaine says he was defeated because Burchard arrested the desertion of Catholics from the Democratic ranks. What a confession! He received the votes of one-third of the Democratic Party of the United States, else he would not have secured 10 States, perhaps not 6.

—George C. Gorham, December 1, 1884

In the aftermath of the 1892 U.S. presidential election, Gorham attributed the defeat of incumbent Republican president Benjamin Harrison by Cleveland to the lack of "accordance with the Republican platforms the party would now be firmly intrenched in power."[23] He noted that Republican greed exemplified in the McKinley Tariff bill alienated the population due to the enrichment of "a few individuals at the expense of the public."

Presbyterian men's club address, final years

Gorham, the president of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church men's club, gave an address in January 1898 on "Unwritten Laws of the United States Senate," listing:[3]

On precedents: One of the Senate's unbending rules is to do nothing it has never done before, and in what it does, to never deviate from previous methods. . . . If any incident occurs which is out of the common, it is not dealt with in an off-hand manner, in accordance with the judgment of those present [in the Secretary's Office], but the Journal is searched until a similar case is found, and whatever course was then pursued is carefully copied.

On attendance: The Senate chamber is very sparsely populated during the first few minutes of its daily session, which are commenced precisely at noon with a prayer by the chaplain. One morning, only one senator appeared in his seat at the appointed hour, where upon the president pro tem struck the desk with his gavel and, with the utmost gravity, said: "The Senator from Vermont will come to order. " The senator obeyed and the prayer went on.

On conference committees: Get an item of any size into an appropriation bill in the House, secure an amendment to it in the Senate, and four men can do pretty much as they please as to the amount.

On expedited legislation: During the presidency pro tem of Mr. [Benjamin] Wade, a new and bashful senator told him he desired very much to obtain the floor to ask unanimous consent to pass a certain private bill. "Oh, bring it right up after prayer," said the old gentleman. "First rate time to pass your bill when no senators are about. " It is needless to say that the advice of the experienced old [senator] was taken, and with the desired result. It should be said that it was a bill to which none would have objected, for a more honest man never sat in a public body than the rugged old senator from Ohio.

On compulsory voting and attendance: There is a rule of the Senate which commands every senator to vote when his name is called for that purpose, unless for special reasons he is excused by the Senate. But this rule is a dead letter. No senator votes unless he chooses to do so. Whenever a senator's refusal to vote is criticized, the Senate's helplessness is disclosed, and no attempt is made to enforce the rule. [This is also the case] with the exercise of the constitutional power of a minority to "compel the attendance of absent members. " They may be notified, but no sergeant-at-arms has yet been found who would lay violent hands upon a truant senator, and compel his attendance in the Senate chamber.

On secret sessions: Perhaps the feature of the Senate by which it is best known to most people is the secrecy of its executive sessions, which is at once an offense and a delight. It offends the American sense of official accountability to the people and it delights the love of mystery, which is one of the strongest human tendencies. It is as precious to the journalist as disease is to the physician.

On February 11, 1909, Gorham died at his Washington, D.C. home,[3] and is interred at Rock Creek Cemetery.[24]


  1. Edwards, J. (1889). John N. Edwards: Biography, Memoirs, Reminiscences and Recollections; His Brilliant Career as Soldier, Author, and Journalist; Choice Collection of His Most Notable and Interesting Newspaper Articles, Together with Some Unpublished Poems and Many Private Letters. Also a Reprint of Shelby's Expedition to Mexico, an Unwritten Leaf of the War, p. 132. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  2. George Congdon Gorham (1832–1909). Find a Grave. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 George C. Gorham, Secretary of the Senate, 1868–1879. United States Senate. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  4. June 14, 1867. Nomination for Governor. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  5. Smith, Stacey L. (2013). Freedom's Frontier: California and the Struggle Over Unfree Labor, Emancipation, and Reconstruction, p. 208. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Paddison, Joshua (2012). American Heathens, p. 20. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  7. Foner, Eric (1988). Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution, 1863–1877, p. 314. Internet Archive. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  8. 1867. The reconstruction policy of Congress, as illustrated in California. Library of Congress. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "Freedom's Frontier," p. 209.
  10. "Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution," p. 312.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 "Freedom's Frontier," p. 210.
  12. June 5, 1868. WASHINGTON. Further Debate in the House on the New Tax Bill. Call for a Soldiers' and Sailors' Conservative Convention. George C. Gorham Elected Secretary of the Senate. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  13. Gyory, Andrew (1998). Closing the Gate: Race, Politics, and the Chinese Exclusion Act, p. 146. Google Books. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  14. Moore, James Tice (1974). Two Paths to The New South: The Virginia Debt Controversy, 1870–1883. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  15. Calhoun, Charles W. (2006). Conceiving a New Republic: The Republican Party and the Southern Question, 1869-1900, p. 155. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  16. April 8, 1880. Grant Sure of Success; Figures Which No Other Candidate Can Present. In Interview With Hon. George C. Gorham—He Estimates a Majority of Over 200 for Grant in the Chicago Convention—Blaine and Sherman's Combined Only 271—All Sorts of Trickery to Defeat Grant. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  17. Doenecke, Justin D. (1981). The Presidencies of James A. Garfield & Chester A. Arthur, p. 51. Google Books. Retrieved May 23, 2023.
  18. December 17, 1883. George C. Gorham Explains. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  19. December 15, 1883. The Defeat of George C. Gorham. Considerable Feeling on the Subject—A Corrected Vote. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  20. March 25, 1899. EDWIN M. STANTON. – George C. Gorham's Biography of the Famous War Secretary. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  21. November 21, 1884. Blaine and the Solid South. Mr. Gorham Shows how Blaine Killed His Own Chances. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  22. December 2, 1884. Mr. Gorham on Republicanism. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  23. November 12, 1892. George C. Gorham Tells Why His Party Was Defeated. The New York Times. Retrieved May 24, 2023.
  24. Goree to Gorlitz. The Political Graveyard. Retrieved May 23, 2023.

External links