Andrew Gregg Curtin

The American politician Andrew Gregg Curtin (1815-1894) was the influential governor of Pennsylvania during the Civil War and one of Abraham Lincoln's most powerful supporters.

Andrew Gregg Curtin's father was an Irish immigrant who settled in Pennsylvania in 1793 and became one of the first manufacturers of iron in that state. Curtin was born on April 23, 1815, at Bellefonte in Center County. Following an excellent tutorial education, he read law and was admitted to the bar in 1839. He promptly formed a partnership with John Blanchard, later a member of Congress. From the beginning, Curtin was a success. Magnetic, honest, and popular, he possessed a congenial manner, ready wit, and extraordinary power of speech.

Curtin entered Pennsylvania politics at the age of 25. As a Whig, he campaigned actively on behalf of the presidential candidacies of William Henry Harrison, Henry Clay, Zachary Taylor, and Winfield Scott. In 1854 he declined the nomination for governor and threw his support to the successful candidacy of James Pollock, who repaid Curtin with the high post of secretary of the commonwealth. Curtin's most notable achievement in that position was in fostering the cause of public education.

In 1860 Curtin was instrumental in securing the Republican presidential nomination for Abraham Lincoln. He himself agreed to run for governor against strong Democratic opposition. He won the election by a wide margin, and his victory was instrumental in swinging Pennsylvania to Lincoln in the national election a month later.

An ardent unionist, Curtin had an untarnished record as Pennsylvania's Civil War governor. He aroused such early and enthusiastic support for the North that five companies of Pennsylvania troops were the first soldiers to arrive in Washington for the capital's defense. When the state raised double its initial quota of 14,000 volunteers, Curtin organized the extra force into the Pennsylvania Reserve Corps. Throughout the war Curtin was "ceaseless in his devotion to the wants and needs" of Pennsylvania soldiers. He ensured that his regiments had the most up-to-date arms and equipment; he went to unparalleled lengths to care for the wounded; and he fathered a law providing for the education of war orphans in the state. These and similar endeavors earned him the sobriquet "Soldier's Friend."

Following a second term as governor, Curtin in 1869 accepted the ambassadorship to Russia. He returned to America in 1872 and supported the presidential candidacy of Horace Greeley, an action which alienated leading Republicans. Curtin then joined the Democratic party. Defeated in an 1878 bid for Congress, he ran again in 1880 and won the first of three consecutive terms in the national legislature. Thereafter he retired to his mountain home, where he died Oct. 7, 1894.


Further Reading on Andrew Gregg Curtin

Curtin's messages and proclamations as governor of Pennsylvania were published by the state. No adequate biography of him exists. William H. Egle edited a series of laudatory sketches Andrew Gregg Curtin: His Life and Services (1895). For an analysis of Curtin's Civil War career see William B. Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors (1948).