Oliver Hazard Perry Throck Morton

The American politician Oliver Hazard Perry Throck Morton (1823-1877), as governor of Indiana during the Civil War, ably organized support for the Union.

Oliver Perry Morton was born on Aug. 4, 1823, in Salisbury, Ind., but grew up in Ohio. After 2 years at Miami University in Ohio, he left in 1845 to read law in Centreville, Ind. He served briefly as a circuit judge in 1852. Although a strongly partisan Democrat, Morton broke with his party over the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854, which allowed the further extension of slavery into new territories, and he was expelled for disloyalty. Finding reconciliation impossible, he helped found the Indiana Republican party. In 1860 he was elected lieutenant governor and became governor when the incumbent went to the Senate.

Morton zealously favored the Civil War and energetically threw the resources of his state behind the national government. He quickly and effectively raised troops, money, and supplies. But the political situation in Indiana was touchy because the potent Democratic opposition believed the Republicans had provoked an unnecessary sectional conflict for their own partisan advantage. Morton assiduously worked to divide and intimidate the Democrats. He denounced them as traitors and Copperheads intent on destroying the Union, and he worked with military and judicial authorities to harass, weaken, and imprison the Democratic leadership.

Nevertheless, the Democrats secured control of the Indiana Legislature in 1862, primarily by playing on white racial fears aroused by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. The new legislative majority determined to limit Indiana's war activities as a means of appealing to the South to return to the Union. They tried to weaken Morton's authority over military matters, demanded a 6 months' armistice in the war, and threatened to withhold all state appropriations. Morton bitterly resisted. The Republican members withdrew from the legislature, leaving the body without a quorum and legally unable to transact business. Then Morton borrowed money from individuals and the national government to finance state operations and continued as before. The crisis ended when Morton was reelected with a Republican legislature in 1864.

Morton suffered a stroke in 1865. In 1866 he joined other Republicans in denouncing President Andrew Johnson's conservative Reconstruction policies. Morton was elected to the Senate in 1867, where he generally supported the Radical Republicans. He backed military reconstruction, the 14th and 15th Amendments, and Johnson's impeachment in 1868. He served as a member of the electoral commission to decide the Hayes-Tilden election controversy in 1876. He died in Indianapolis on Nov. 1, 1877, of another stroke.


Further Reading on Oliver Hazard Perry Throck Morton

William Dudley Foulke, Life of Oliver P. Morton (2 vols., 1899, 1974), is a complete, albeit partisan, biography. The Indiana political situation is well described in Kenneth M. Stampp, Indiana Politics during the Civil War (1949). Frank L. Klement, The Copperheads in the Middle West (1960), is an excellent analysis of Morton's opponents. Also useful is William Best Hesseltine, Lincoln and the War Governors (1948).