Title:
The Last Pioneer Governor of Indiana—"Blue Jeans" Williams

Author:
Howard R. Burnett

Date:
1926

Source:
Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 101-130

Article Type:
Article

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The Last Pioneer Governor of Indiana—"Blue Jeans" Williams1

HOWARD R. BURNETT, Monroe City

When "Blue Jeans" Williams came to Indiana in 1818, two years after the state was admitted to the Union, life was still primitive. The whipping post was still common. Only three circuit courts were in existence, each with a judge drawing a salary of seven hundred dollars annually. The duties of the governor were so light that he could be absent from his office a large part of the time. The members of the Assembly were paid two dollars per day for attending the sessions at Cory-don. Indians still had a claim to two-thirds of the soil of the state. Travel was dangerous and was usually on foot or by horseback, the first stage line in the state not being opened until 1820. Game was abundant and settlements were few and small, except in the southern part of the state. Under such conditions the Williams family came into Knox County to establish a home. Here they soon developed into typical pioneer Hoosiers.2

Of the sixteen governors who served Indiana before 1877, fourteen were lawyers, one a gunsmith, and one a newspaper man. James D. Williams, who was inaugurated January 8, 1877, was the first farmer and last pioneer governor of the


  • 1 This study was suggested by Dr. Logan Eaarey of Indiana University in his clnss in Indiana History during the Summer Session of 1926. It was worked out in a Seminar in Recent American History conducted by Dr. A. T. Volwller during the Second Semester, 1926–1926.
  • 2 Logan Esarey, History of Indiana from Its Exploration to 1860 (Indianapolis, 1915). Chapter X.
state. Although most of his predecessors were born and reared on a farm, none were farmers by occupation at the time of their election. None of his successors were really pioneers; for by their time the true pioneer days had disappeared.3 James D. Williams was a typical pioneer farmer in his younger days, and was a "dirt farmer" of Knox County at the time of his election as Governor of Indiana, in the fall of 1876.

Williams' paternal ancestors were of English-Welsh stock and came to Virginia about 1750. His father, George Williams, after his marriage moved to Pickaway County, Ohio, and here his first child, James D. Williams, was born, January 16, 1808. The elder Williams lived here till the fall of 1818, when he moved to a farm a few miles north of Vincennes, Indiana, in what is now Vincennes Township, Knox County, where a brother, who had previously settled here, helped him to become established.4

Later, when James D. Williams became Governor, he was fond of telling how, at the age of ten, he had made the trip from Ohio on horseback, fording the shallow streams and swimming his horse across the deeper ones. From his account we may infer that the Williams family, then consisting of father, mother, two daughters and four sons, brought their goods on pack-horses over the trail from Cincinnati to Vincennes.5

During the five years that James Williams lived on the farm north of Vincennes, his life was like that of any typical pioneer boy of his time. When he could be spared from the farm, he went to school in the pioneer log school house and acquired the "book larnin" offered there. This was the extent of his school training and was equivalent to that of the first five grades of the present schools.6 Life here was one of extreme poverty. Clothing was of homespun material and shoes ere so hard to get that the entire family went barefooted


  • 3 Charles Joseph Oval. Governors of Indiana (Indianapolis, 1916), entire.
  • 4 For ancestry, see VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Nov. 20, 1580. A short biography by T. A. Bland, M. D. a Personal friend of Williams. For settlement in Knox County, see VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Sept. 19, 1873.
  • 5Indianapolis Sentinel, Aug. 16, 1870. In public speeches, Williams often told the story of his trip to Indiana.
  • 6 Oval, Governors of Indiana, 84.
during the summer. Each sister had but one pair of shoes and stockings and they were for Sunday use only. The house was small and poorly furnished. Food, of the commonest sort, consisted mainly of corn bread, mush, and wild game. Most of the game was shot by his younger brothers, for James had to help his father clear the land and plant and cultivate the crops. The first sieve owned by the Williams family in Indiana was made by stretching over a wooden hoop a piece of deerskin, in which holes had been punched by the spindle from the spinning wheel. Their tools were of the rudest sort, consisting of the ax, hoe, a wooden plow, wooden pitchforks, "whang" leather harness, and a wooden harrow. Their main crop was corn. They raised a few vegetables and a little patch of cotton.7

In 1823, when young Williams was fifteen, the family moved to a farm in Harrison Township, Knox County. According to tradition, James, or "Long Jim" as he was now called, became an expert hand at log rollings. He was especially skillful in dragging and placing the logs with an ox team. His special virtues as an ox driver were his patience and his expert use of the whip. His strength was very effective at the hand-spike, for he had developed a hardy and well knit frame, with muscles kept hard as steel by pioneer labors in the woods and on the farm. James was never fond of hunting and gave little time to it. During spare hours he preferred to read or to visit among his neighbors. Thus he developed his powers of thought and his ability in conversation to such an extent that he soon became known as a young man of more than ordinary ability. Even at this early age he was noted for his honesty, industry, thrift, and an abundance of what his neighbors called "horse-sense."8 Here, in 1828, George Williams died, leaving a widow and six children, of whom James, then twenty, was the oldest. James immediately took charge of the farm and managed it so successfully that he was able to support the family.

During these years on the farm, "Long Jim" was mingling with the young people of the neighborhood at their corn


  • 7IndianapolisSentinel, June 3, 1877.
  • 8 Wllliam Wesley Wollen, Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early Indiana (Indlnnnpolin, 1883), 148.
huskings, apple bees, and dances, and building up a popularity among his neighbors which he was able to maintain throughout his long life. He singled out from among the girls of his acquaintance Nancy Huffman as the special object of his attentions, made love to her so ardently that she accepted his suit and married him February 24, 1831. Thus, at the age of twenty-three, James D. Williams took upon himself the duties of a husband in addition to the duties of providing for his mother and his brother and sisters.9

This union seems to have been an unusually happy one. James, from the first, gave his wife the name of "Honey", and continued its use throughout the half century of their married life.10 Of the four daughters and three sons born to them, two daughters and one son died in infancy. This was not an unusual occurrance in those early days of terrible infant mortality. The surviving children were taught honesty, industry, and sobriety and were given the full advantages of the local district schools. As they grew older, Williams became the wealthiest man in his neighborhood, but to keep his children in sympathy with the democratic spirit of the community, he frequently required them to go barefooted to Sunday school.11

In 1836, when Williams was twenty-eight, he purchased a section of land, located along the banks of Pond Creek in Harrison Township, Knox County. Upon it he erected a log house and moved his family there. This was his place of residence throughout the remainder of his long life. In the sixties, however, the log house was torn down and a story-and-a-half frame house erected upon the same site.12 Williams was very successful in his farming operations and continued to add to the original section, until, by the time of his election as Governor, he had built up an estate of approximately three thousand acres.18


  • 9VincennesWeekly Western Bun, Sept. 19, 1873.
  • 10VincennesWeekly Commercial, Nov. 27, 1880.
  • 11 Mrs. Ruth J. Davidson of Petersburg, Ind., a granddaughter of James D. Williams, relates that her mother frequently went barefooted to Sunday school in obedience to her father's orders.
  • 12 A portion of the section containing the site of the Williams home is now owned by his great-granddaughter and is known as "The Old Governor Williams Homestead."
  • 13VincennesWeekly Western Bun, Aug. 7, 1874.
[Figure]

Home of "Blue Jeans", Williams when he was elected Governor. The little room at the left was his office; next was the living room; at the right the parlor. This house, with Williams' papers in the office, burned in 1895.

About 1845 Williams constructed a dam across Pond Creek a few hundred yards from his home, and erected there what was probably the first grist mill in Harrison Township. This dam, some two hundred yards long and six feet high, was constructed of earth and logs and formed a pond covering something like fifty acres. Water stored in this pond was used to operate an old fashioned turbine water wheel which furnished power to run the machinery in the three-story log and frame grist mill built on the bank of the pond over the mill race. Old-fashioned stone burrs were used for grain grinding,14 the lower one being stationary, the upper one fastened to a shaft turned by a rawhide belt running from a pully on the turbine shaft.15 No doubt this mill proved profitable, for before 1853 the toll rate varied from one-sixth to one-eighth the grain ground. A law passed by the General Assembly in 1853 set the toll for a water mill at one-eighth the grain ground.

A sawmill was later installed in a shed adjoining the grist mill and operated by the same power. Sawing was done by an upright, sash saw, a method so slow that the workman would put the log on the carriage, set the machinery in motion and go about the mill at other work, returning in time to carry away the board when it was finished, and start the saw through the log again. This saw was lifted by power from the water wheel, but was pulled downward by a heavy weight attached to its lower end. The work at the sawmill became so heavy that a separate wheel had to be installed to furnish power for its constant operation.16

The necessity for help at the mill and on the farm forced Williams to hire many hands. To assist in securing and keeping efficient and steady help, Williams built three double log houses in the mill yard, each to be occupied by two families. Each half of each pair of houses consisted of a log room, twenty-five feet square, with a lean-to kitchen in the rear and a small porch in front. With six or more families in the same


  • 14 One of these stones, showing the grooves for grinding grain, is now used as a well cover in the yard of the former Williams premises.
  • 15 This description of the mill is drawn from information given by old people living in the Williams community.
  • 16 This description of the sawmill is furnished by my father, who, when a boy, frequently visited it.
yard, quarrels were sure to arise. Williams gained quite a reputation for honesty, fairness, and efficiency in settling these quarrels justly and, in the main, satisfactorily, when they became too serious to be settled by the participants themselves.17

The Williams mill became the most important gathering place in the community. Many heated political arguments took place here during the exciting political campaigns throughout the forties, fifties, and sixties. It was the common meeting place for the township school board of which Williams was at one time a member, and also secretary.18 Pond Creek Mills post office was established here, and a stock of farm equipment was kept for sale. An effort was made to establish a town about the mill site, but this was never done. The mill was kept in operation till late in the seventies.19

Soon after the Ohio and Mississippi, now the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, was built, Williams and Sanford L. Niblack established a profitable pork packing plant at Wheat-land, and continued its operation throughout the period of the Civil War. They did quite a volume of business here, frequently shipping pork products in car load lots. The growth of the large meat packing industry in Chicago and Cincinnati forced them to suspend the operation of their plant in the early seventies.20

Williams was vitally interested in and heartily supported the development of his community. He gave a building site to the local Methodist congregation, of which his wife was an active member, and later donated ground for the adjoining cemetery in which, many years afterwards, he was buried. He also gave Harrison Township an acre of ground in 1855, to be used as a school site and playground for the school to which he sent his children.21 The Walnut Grove Methodist


  • 17 Mrs. Sarah A. McCoy, who lived in one of these log houses in the sixties, related her experiences to the writer.
  • 18 The records of the Harrison Township School Trustees for 1847 and 1855 are in the Library at Indiana University.
  • 19 James D. Williams, a grandson of Governor James D. Williams, continued to operate a sawmill on this site till about 1900.
  • 20 This information Was furnished by John Niblack, of Wheatland, a son of Sanford L. Niblack, who says he remembers seeing bacon from the Williams-Niblack plant stacked in box cars like cord wood.
  • 21 An entry is found in the Harrison Township school trustee's record for Aug. 5, 1956, accepting this Rift.
Episcopal Church and the Pond Creek schoolhouse still occupy the ground he gave them.

Although he gave the land upon which the Church was erected, he never became a member of the organization. In spite of the fact that he was not a member of the church, Williams was repeatedly elected superintendent of the Sunday School, and served in that capacity for more than thirty years.22 When Williams, as candidate for governor, was asked, "To what church do you belong?" he replied, "I am not a member of any church. My religion is 'Do Justice to all men'."23 He frequently spoke of himself as a "brother-in-law" to the church, referring to his wife's membership in the Methodist Church at Walnut Grove.24

That politics made an unusually strong appeal to "Long Jim" Williams is shown by his participation and leadership in township, county, district, and state Democratic organizations. His leadership was first noticeable in township political affairs where he served as vice-president of the Democratic township organization in 1840, and secretary of the township organization in 1842. His activities in the district included services as a delegate to the district convention at Bloomfield in 1843, and at Petersburg in 1857, where he served as chairman of the resolutions committee. He was a delegate from Harrison township to the Democratic state conventions of 1844, 1848, 1855, and 1858, President of the Knox County Democratic convention 1857, member of the Democratic State Central Committee of 1862, during which time he was chairman of the Committee on Resolutions which issued the famous "Declaration to Voters of Indiana of 1862,"


  • 22 Williams frequently gave "coppers" (pennies) to the little boys who waited along the aisle for him to pass out after Sunday school. He would speak to each one pleasantly, pat him on the head, and drop the penny into his pocket. Many men still living in the community remember this practice.
  • 23VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Nov. 26, 1880. When Williams was candidate for governor the Sun asked for a biography. He sent them the following brief statement: "James D. Williams, residing in Harrison Township, near Wheatland, by occupation a farmer, was born in Pickaway County, Ohio, January 16, 1808, and came to Knox County, November 27, 1818. Was married February 24, 1831, to Miss Nancy Huffman, in Harrison Township. Have two children living and Ave dead. The former are John Williams, and Eliza, wife of Richard H. Dunn, a widow since November, 1867. Am a Democrat; and my relidon: 'Do Justice to all men'."
  • 24IndianapolisJournal, Aug. 10 and 13, 1878.
and delegate to the National Democratic Convention of 1872, in which he supported the Greeley ticket.26

Interest in political affairs did not stifle Williams's active interest in agriculture and its development. A large portion of his farm was situated in Pond Creek and White River bottoms and possessed soil of great depth and fertility. Much of it was subject to overflow, but some of it was rolling upland. This combination proved excellent for the cultivation of corn and wheat, for meadows, and for the raising of live stock. His skill as a farmer is shown in the fact that, at the first State Fair at Indianapolis in 1852, he took first prize for the best wheat grown in the state. His "Essay on Agriculture" appears in the State Board of Agriculture Report for 1852. He produced the best timothy and the best clover in the state in 1855. During October of the same year, he exhibited a four-year-old steer at the Knox County Fair that weighed twenty-seven hundred pounds. At the State Fair in 1857, Williams took first premium for the best oats grown in the state, with an average yield of eighty-three and one-half bushels per acre. He also took first premiums for the best timothy and red-top, and for the best orchard grass, clover, blue grass, and timothy seed produced in the state. His son, George, produced the best ten acres of corn in the state; and another son, John, produced the best five acres of corn, and the best acre of spring wheat. At the State Fair in 1857, Williams and his sons took fifteen first premiums, nine of which were silver cups representing a total value of $150. Again in 1859, he produced the best yields of corn and of timothy in Indiana.26

By a law of February 14, 1851, provision was made for the organization of a State Board of Agriculture, and for the formation of county agricultural and mechanical societies. Knox County, under the leadership of James D. Williams, was among the first to take advantage of this law. The Knox County Agricultural and Mechanical Society held its first fair October 15, 1851, and paid out between twenty and thirty


  • 25VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Oct. 10, 1840; July 23, 1842; Sept. 22, 1857; April 1, 1843; June 7. 1844; VinCennes Western Bun and General Advertiser, Dec. 4, 1847; VincennesCourant, Feb. 17, 1855; John B. Stoll, History of Indiana Democracy (Indianapolis, 1916). 205, 250.
  • 26 The material summarized in this paragraph is found in the Indiana Agricultural Reports for the years from 1862 to 1859.
dollars in premiums.27 This society, with Williams as president, continued in active existence until the Civil War period.28 Williams reorganized the Knox County Agricultural and Mechanical Society in June, 1871,29 and continued to serve as president until his election as Governor.30

A district Agricultural and Mechanical Society of Southwestern Indiana, membership in which was open to every county south of the National Road, was formed at Princeton in Gibson County, March 9, 1858, with Williams as president. This society held its first annual fair at Vincennes in October of the same year.31

Under provisions of the law of February 14, 1851, a State Board of Agriculture was organized May 27, 1851, with Govern Wright as president. At the second meeting of this boar at Indianapolis, January 8, 1852, Williams was a delegate from Knox County, and was appointed a member of the committee on schedule of premiums for the first State Fair in the fall of 1852. He also presided over a meeting of the board held January 31, 1852, and took a prominent part in the discussion of agricultural topics. He was elected a member of the board for 1856, and served continuously until 1871, serving as president for three years, 1862, 1863, and 1871.32 He was again a member for 1874, but resigned in December of that year to enter Congress, after having been a member of the board for sixteen years. To him more than to any other man except Governor Wright the state owes the development of the State Board of Agriculture. As a member, he saw the receipts of the Indiana State Fair grow from $14,000 in 1856, to $45,000 in 1874.33

Few men in Indiana have had a longer career of service in public office than James D. Williams. His interest in political affairs previously discussed would indicate that, even when quite young, he was a man of considerable importance


  • 27 Indiana Agricultural Reports, 1851, 101.
  • 28 There were no reports from Knox County sent to the State Board of Agriculture through the Civil War Period.
  • 29 Indiana Agricultural Reports, 1871, 305.
  • 30IndianapolisJournal, July 8, 1876.
  • 31VincennesWeekly Western Sun, March 20, and June 25, 1858.
  • 32 Williams' activities as a member of the State Board of Agriculture are indicated in the Indiana Agricultural Reports for 1866 to 1871, inclusive.
  • 33 Indiana Agricultural Reports, 1874, 4.
in the Democratic party. Williams' first public office was that of Justice of the Peace in Harrison Township, to which he was elected in 1839.34 According to tradition "Squire" Williams acquired considerable local notoriety by settling many cases brought before him by personal intervention, before the matter came to trial. If, however, this failed to settle the difficulty, he heard the case and gave his decision without fear or favor. Though his neighbors sometimes disagreed with his decisions, they never questioned his honesty and sincerity.35

Williams resigned as justice of the peace to enter the state legislature in 1843. His first vote was in opposition to a House resolution providing that two copies each of the IndianapolisSentinel and IndianapolisJournal should be provided for each member out of the general expenses of the Assembly.36 Thus his legislative record for economy in public expenditures, that later made him so prominent in state, and for one session of Congress, in national legislation, was begun with his first vote and remained consistent to his last one.37; He served as a state representative from Knox County in the sessions of 1843, 1847, 1851, 1857, and 1869.38 A study of his activities during these sessions shows that his desire for economy in public expenditures became almost an obsession, and led him to scrutinize carefully every bill bearing in any way upon public finances.

As a member of the lower house, Williams served on many of the most important committees and had much to do with the trend of state legislation from 1843 to 1869. One of his pet schemes was the improvement of the Wabash River so that it might be navigable throughout the year.39 In the sessions of 1851 and 1857 he was a member of the committee on Canals and Internal Improvements and had much to do with the final adjustment of the state canal debt.


  • 34 The Justice of the Peace docket written by Williams in 1839 is in the Library at Indiana University.
  • 35A Biographical History of Eminent and Self Made Men of Indiana (Cincinnati, 1880), Vol. 1, 40.
  • 36 Indiana House Journal, 1843, p. 22.
  • 37Congressional Record, 44th Congress, 1st Session, Vol. N, Pt. 4, 3864.
  • 38 Indiana House Journal, 1843, 1847, 1551, 1857 and 1869.
  • 39 Vinccnnes Weekly Western Sun, Aug. 5, 1843.

In the campaign for election to the legislature of 1843, Williams's opponents spread the rumor that he would be opposed to river improvement and canal building. This rumor he silenced by his statement, "I will use all diligence in getting any available means now at hand, or that may hereafter become available, and apply it for the improvement of the river." This reply seems to have been satisfactory for he was elected by a majority of 112 votes.40

He was returned to the legislature as a representative from Knox County again in the session of 1847, this time at the call of the voters of his county. His standing in the community is indicated by the following comment in the Sun, "Mr. James D. Williams, a gentleman of moral worth and excellent practical sense, is a candidate to represent Knox County in the Legislature. He served one year with credit to himself and the people who sent him. He is a farmer—a tiller of the soil—one of the working men of the County—we call upon all honest men to support him. Mr. Williams is in favor of the completion of the canal and the improvement of the river. He is emphatically the peoples' man." Even this early in his career his simplicity, his honesty, and the fact that he was a "dirt farmer", were powerful aids in getting votes, for he was elected on the Democratic ticket in a county that normally went Whig by three hundred and fifty votes.41

Williams' political popularity continued to increase in his own county. Although defeated in 1844 and 1848, he was elected in 1850, and again in 1856, this time by a majority of 485 votes.42 After serving in the state Senate through four sessions, Williams was returned to the lower house for one session, that of 1869. Three resolutions offered by him in this session are interesting in the light of after events. The first, providing "that the office of state printer be abolished and state printing be let to the lowest responsible bidder," was smothered by the committee on printing; the second "regulating the sale of certain swamp lands and providing


  • 40VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Aug. 12, 1843.
  • 41VincennesWeekly Western. Sun. June 5 and July 3, 1547.
  • 42 James Southerland. Biographical Sketches of the Members of the Forty-first General Assembly (Indianapolis, 1861), 17.
for their retention by the state"; and the third, "that the members of the House were opposed to amending the United States Constitution to permit negro suffrage," were lost because of lack of quorum and adjournment.43

James D. Williams was a member of the state senate for the first time in the session of 1859, having been elected joint senator from Knox and Daviess Counties, without opposition.44 His attitude toward the canal system seems to have changed after 1847, for in reply to the question, "I desire to know whether you are in favor of the retrocession of the Wabash and Erie Canal?" he replied, "I answer that I am not, that the State does not have power under the Constitution to purchase the canal; that if it did have such power, it would be impolitic, unwise, and injurious to the best interests of the state to do so."45 At this session and succeeding ones Williams was on such important committees as those on roads, agriculture, canals, finance, printing, claims, federal relations, and prisons. As chairman of the Committee on Finance he had much to do with determining the amount and distribution of state appropriations, during sessions when Democrats were in control of the state. His importance as a member of the Senate is indicated by the number of times his name appears as a member of special committees, the number and importance of the resolutions offered by him, and the number of bills and amendments proposed by him.46

During the sessions of 1861, 1863, and 1865 Williams joined the Democrats in their attacks on Governor Morton's war activities. This caused him to be severely criticised and denounced as a Copperhead, a term later applied to him by the Republicans when he became a candidate for governor in 1876. From a study of his activities in the Senate, it seems that his attitude was not intended to be one of sympathy for the South so much as it was the result of his desire to support Democratic criticism of the War Governor and his management of war time financial policies. In the session of 1861 Williams voted for an appropriation to provide a


  • 43 Indiana House Journal, 1869, 466 and 475.
  • 44 Southerland, Biographical Sketches, 17.
  • 45VincennesWeekly Western Sun, July 30, 1858.
  • 46 Williams's activities in the Senate are indicated in the Indiana senate Journal for 1859, 1861, 1863, 1865, 1871 and 1873.
$100,000 war contingent fund for the Governor, but later in the same session, introduced, but failed to secure the passage of a resolution calling upon the governor to furnish the legislature a detailed statement of all expenditures from the fund.47 This resolution he introduced again in the session of 1863, and asked that the state treasurer make a detailed report of the war expenditures "to see if the Governor's $100,000 contingent fund had been properly expended." This time the resolution passed the Senate.48

In the special session of 1865, and the special session of 1871, Williams was a candidate for president pro tem of the Senate, but was defeated each time by a few votes. During the session of 1865, he introduced and secured the enactment of a law accepting the terms of the Morrill Land Grant Act of 1862. The enactment of this law later made possible the establishment of Purdue University in which Williams always maintained a friendly interest.49 During his long service in the state legislature, Williams became one of the best parliamentarians in the state and rarely made mistakes.60 His valuable services earned for him the title, "The Nestor of the Senate."51 The following comment indicates the nature of the popular conception of him and his work: "Mr. Williams was pointed out to us as the Abe Lincoln of the Senate, and looking at him, we thought we could see the point…. He has become a waymark of righteousness in general legislation of both houses.62 Williams' last appearance as a member of the state senate was during the session of 1873.

When Governor Hendricks called a special session of the state legislature to elect a United States Senator in 1872, the Democratic caucus selected Williams as its candidate; the Republican caucus selected Ex-Governor Morton to receive the Republican vote. By a strict party vote in each house, Morton defeated Williams by six votes in the Senate and thirteen in the House.


  • 47 Indiana Senate Journal (Special Session) 1861, 269.
  • 48 Indiana Senate Journal 1863, 100.
  • 49 See note 46 above.
  • 50 David Turpie, Sketches of My Own Times (Indianapolis, 19031, 249.
  • 51VincennesTimes, April 22, 1876.
  • 52IndianapolisSentinel, Feb. 1, 1871.

Williams' activities in state legislative affairs led to his nomination for Congress in 1874, by the Democrats of the Second District. At the district convention, held at Washington, Daviess County, July 23, the candidates were Thomas R. Cobb, a Vincennes attorney, and James D. Williams. Delegates arrived on Wednesday, July 22, and seemed to be about equally divided in their support of the two candidates, but, during Wednesday evening, Williams so out-generaled Cobb and his forces that when the convention convened on Thursday morning Cobb's only chance for nomination was to secure the passage of a two-thirds rule.58 This proposal was put before the convention, but was voted down by the Wil-lams' supporters. The convention then called both candidates before it and asked each to support the nominee regardless of which was nominated. After each candidate had made a speech to the convention embodying such a promise, they were asked to retire from the hall while the balloting took place. On the first ballot the vote was Williams, one hundred seven, Cobb, sixty-four. The bitterness of the campaign for nomination had disappeared by August 3 when Williams and Cobb appeared together and made speeches from the same platform at a Democratic rally at Montgomery. The VincennesSun, which had bitterly opposed Williams, said on July 31: "The nomination (of Williams) is such as will command the hearty and cordial support of all Democrats and Conservatives…. The writer of this article tried in every honorable way to prevent the nomination of Williams, but since he is nominated, he proposes to march shoulder to shoulder with the friends of Mr. Williams to meet the common enemy, and battle as actively for him as he did against him." Williams' nomination proved to be especially popular among farmers because he was reported to be a member of the Grange, and had the active support of that organization.

The Republicans were unable to agree on a nominee in convention, but Levi Ferguson, of Pike County, announced himself as their candidate late in August. Williams carried


  • 53 Charges were made by the Cobb delegates that Williams paid the hotel bills of the Martin County delegates in exchange for their support. A prominent lawyer of Pike County, who was a Williams worker, says that money and whirtkey were used in Williams' behalf.
every county in the district.54 This was due partly to his popularity with the Grangers, and partly to the lack of harmony and organization among the Republicans.55

Immediately after his election the newspapers of his district began a spirited discussion as to whether Williams would continue to wear home spun, or Kentucky jeans, when he appeared in Congress, as he had done throughout his long career as a state legislator. He soon settled the discussion by sending twenty five yards of "jeans," made of wool from his own flock, to a Vincennes tailor to be made up into two full suits for use in Washington.56

Adlai E. Stevenson recalls that:

While a passenger in a train to Washington, to be present at the opening of Congress, my attention was directed to a man of venerable appearance, who entered the sleeping car at a station not many miles out from Cincinnati. He was dressed in "Kentucky jeans" and had the appearance of a well-to-do farmer. Standing in the aisle near me he was soon engaged in earnest conversation with the porter, endeavoring to get a berth. The porter repeatedly assured him that every berth was taken. He told the porter that he was quite ill, and must get on his journey. I then proposed that he share my berth for the night. He gladly did so until other accommodations were provided.

On the Monday following, when the House was in the process of organization, the name of James D. Williams of Indiana being called, my sleeping car acquaintance, still attired in blue jeans, stepped forward, and was duly sworn in as a member of Congress. He soon became known all over the country as chairman of the Committee on Accounts. His determination to economize and peculiarity of dress and appearance soon made him the especial objects of amusement to newspaper correspondents. He was the butt of many cheap jokes,57 but, even so "Blue Jeans Williams" became a name to conjure with, and he soon became the most popular man in the state.58


  • 54 The Second District has generally gone Democratic since the Civil War. Williams' majority over Ferguson was 7, 690.
  • 55 This account of Williams' election is drawn from the files of the VincennesWeekly Western. Sun for 1574.
  • 56SullivanDemocrat, Dec. 1, 1575, quoted in the VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Dec. 10, 1575.
  • 57 Colonel W. R. Holloway, Recollections of the Exciting Campaign of 1876 in Which Harrisoon Was Defeated for Governor, in the IndianapolisStar, May 23, 1909. One of these jokes was that Williams objected to the laundry bill for 4,800 towels used in the House washroom. In the course of his objections he was reported to have said, "Why, one towel on a roller on my back porch at home does a family of seven for a week." Such stories, started by Williams' political opponents to discredit him, really reacted in hls favor.
  • 58 Adlai E. Sterenson. Something of Men I Have Known (Chicago, 1909), 33.

In Congress Williams was made chairman of the Committee on Accounts, and his close scrutiny of expenditures for minor items became a standing joke during the long session of 1875 and 1876. Due to his activities, the number of clerks for the various committees was reduced, appropriations for lemons and sugar for the usual cold drinks in the cloak rooms were not made, expenditures for stationery, penknives, and various other supplies were cut materially, and he soon received the name of "the two and one half cent member from Indiana."59

During this session of Congress Williams was given the name "Blue Jeans"; and from that time forward this name and "Old Uncle Jimmy" vied with each other for first place in popular usage. That he was not entirely averse to the use of such names, probably having in mind their value as a means of political advertising, may be inferred from an event that took place in Congress during the debate on the general appropriation bill. Reduction of expenditures being a fundamental principle of Democratic reform, the items in this bill were cut so low that Congressman Foster, a Republican member from Kentucky, referred to the "home-spun-Kentucky Jeans Statemanship of the Democratic members in their attitude toward government expenditures." James D. Williams took this as a personal affront and rose to make his first and only speech in Congress. After telling a "funny" story by way of getting started, he turned to Foster and in a few scathing remarks closing with, "I am not ashamed of my Kentucky jeans. The people of Indiana are not ashamed of me because I wear it," defended himself so well that Foster apologized to him before the House.60 The name "Blue Jeans" together with his reputation for honesty and economy, had much to do with Williams' election as Governor in 1876.

Descriptions of "Blue Jeans" went the rounds of the newspapers of the country, and he became an object of curiosity and interest wherever he appeared. A description appearing in the CincinnatiEnquirer is typical:

The name "Blue Jeans" Williams is very appropriate. He is not less than sixty years of age, about six feet three in his boots, and every


  • 59VincennesTimes, April 15, 1876.
  • 60 Congressional Record, 44th Congress, 1st Session, pp. 3864–3870.
inch an honest farmer statesman. His avoirdupois is not far from 160 pounds. He has a tremendous reach of arms, and his foot resembles a well developed Borgardus-kicker. In other words, he travels on the broad gauge principle. His habiliments, including coat, vest and pantaloons are of that sterling stuff known as blue jeans. Intimate friends say he wears nothing else. When one suit becomes too threadbare for society use, he immediately has another made of like texture. Notwithstanding his long dusty ride from the Capital his shirt was clean, and his black neck cloth maintained at its proper equilibrium. Except that he is a little more attenuated about the jowl, he does not look unlike the late Mr. Lincoln. Until he stood erect, I did not notice that Mr. Williams's coat was anything more than an ordinary cut, but it is. Notwithstanding the material of which it is made, it approaches the Prince Albert pattern….The color is the only objection I can make. It is too blue for a good greenback man.61

During the summer of 1876, Judge Niblack, ex-Congressman from the First Indiana District, introduced Williams to President Grant as "The Granger Congressman from Indiana." Williams created quite a bit of amusement by his reply to Grant's invitation to "sit down awhile for a chat on farm topics." This reply was in substance that he was not of enough importance to take the President's valuable time from his public duties. Grant complained to him that the Democratic appropriation bill did not provide suflicient money to carry on necessary affairs of government, and asked him to be more liberal in his views toward providing for necessary expenditures, a request which so angered Williams that he refused to call upon the President again,62 and later accused him of "being a very extravagant man".63

Williams record for economy in Congress, his long and notable services in the state legislature, his popularity with Indiana farmers, and his reputation for honesty, led several of his friends to propose his name as a possible candidate for the Democratic nomination for Governor, which was to be made in the spring of 1876. During the preceding winter his name was frequently mentioned as a desirable candidate for the nomination, but it seemed that Franklin Landers and


  • 61VincennesTimes, April 16, 1876.
  • 62VincennesTimes, Sept. 2, 1876.
  • 63IndianapolisSentinel, Aug. 18, 1876. In his first speech in the race for Covernor, made at Salem, Aug. 16, Williams charged Grant with extravagance in vetoing the bill to reduce the President's salary.
W. S. Holman each had a better chance for the nomination than Williams, with Williams a good compromise candidate in case the Landers and Holman forces should get into a deadlock. So matters stood when the Democratic convention met at Indianapolis April 19, 1876.64

In the meantime, the Greenback party of Indiana met at Indianapolis February 16, 1876, and adopted a platform in favor of immediate and unconditional repeal of the Resumption Act of January 14, 1875, and the withdrawal of all bank notes, and demanded that all paper money be issued by the United States Government directly to the people—in other words a purely "soft money" platform. The nomination for Governor was offered to Franklin Landers, a Greenback Democrat, then serving in Congress as a member from the Indianapolis district. Landers took the matter of accepting the nomination under advisement, with the hope that he would also be able to dominate the Democratic state convention, write a Greenback plank into the platform, and secure the nomination. If he could secure the nomination of both parties his election would be assured.65

The Republican state convention met at Indianapolis February 22, 1876, and during a stormy session, adopted a platform eulogizing in highest terms the past record of the National Republican party, endorsing the Civil War and Reconstruction policies of the party, and demanding the repeal of the Resumption Act, but calling for the continuance of the existing greenback currency. The nomination for Governor was given to Godlove S. Orth, then serving as United States minister to Austria.66

The Democrats, jubilant, and confident of carrying Indiana in October, met in convention in Indianapolis, April 19, 1876. They adopted a platform declaring for honesty in public office, retrenchment and economy in state and nation, gold and silver basis for currency, and repeal of the Resumption


  • 64IndianapolisSentinel, April 20, 1876. Both the Journal and Sentinel discussed the likelihood that Williams would become the compromise candidate. He did not enter the race as an active candidate, and did not know that his name had been placed before the state convention until he received a telegram notifying him of his nomination.
  • 65IndianapolisJournal, Feb. 17, 1876; also IndianapolisSentinel, same date.
  • 66IndianapolisJournal, Feb. 23, 1876.
Act. The business of the convention was conducted with greatest difficulty because of extreme disorder among the delegates. The fight was particularly bitter between the supporters of Holman and Landers. To quell the disturbance, the name of James D. Williams was offered as a compromise candidate and he was given the nomination unanimously. Great enthusiasm was created for Williams when he was called the "Great Lincoln Democrat of the Centennial Year." "After giving three cheers for Thomas A. Hendricks, three cheers for J. D. Williams, three cheers for the ticket, three cheers for the party, three cheers for victory in October, and three cheers for the country, the convention adjourned."67

What the Republicans of the state thought of the work of the Democratic Convention can be drawn from the statement in the IndianapolisJournal:

The convention could not have done a better day's work for the Republican Party. We believe either Landers or Holman would have been beaten and we know Williams will. He hasn't a single element of positive strength. He is simply an Old Bourbon Democrat, a life-long office holder, of fair to average ability, narrow views and hidebound ideas. He will doubtless hold the strict Democratic vote but no more. He is in no sense the equal of Orth.68

The Democrats were well pleased with their candidate for Governor and declared that: "Democracy may well be proud of its convention of yesterday. Free and untrammeled they met, and free and untrammeled they did their work. The candidate chosen is a representative Democrat. He is a man of unimpeachable integrity. No stain of a bribe ever touched his hands."69

Ex-Governor Morton's declaration that, "a Democratic victory in Indiana in October means a triumph of Confederate Democracy throughout the Nation in November,"70 centered the attention of both parties in the state canvass on national issues rather than in purely state affairs. Much attention was given throughout the summer of 1876 to a discussion of the personality of the candidates, Orth and Williams, and charges


  • 67IndianapolisSentinel, April 20, 1876.
  • 68IndianapolisJournal, April 20, 1876.
  • 69IndianapolisSentinel, April 20, 1876.
  • 70IndianapolisJournal, Aug. 12, 1876.
and counter charges of dishonesty were made by Democrats and Republicans against each other and the respective candidates for governor. Each party charged the other with intention to carry the state at any cost, and by corruption and fraud if necessary. Much bitterness developed over the "bloody shirt" issue. Political speakers were bitter in their attacks upon their opponents and their policies.71

The Republicans opened their campaign at Greencastle July 10, where Orth, in his key note speech, devoted his time to a review of the Civil War and Reconstruction periods, and the question of national public debt and finances, but said little about state affairs. A general formal opening of the Republican campaign was held July 20, when more than twenty five rallies were held over the state.72

Lack of enthusiastic and united support of Orth, because of his connection with the Venezuelian claims,73 caused him to tender his resignation as candidate for Governor August 2.74 The Republican State Central Committee met at Indianapolis on August 5 and named General Benjamin Harrison as his successor. Harrison. then on a fishing trip on Lake Superior, returned to Indianapolis on August 5, and took the matter of his acceptance under advisement until August 7, when he sent his letter of acceptance to the Republican State Central Committee.75 Orth's resignation made a second opening of the Republican canvass necessary. This was held at Danville August 18, where Harrison, standing under the inscription, "The office seeks the man," launched his campaign by discussing the Democratic war record, and Tilden's part in it, but said very little about state affairs. This speech foreshadowed the nature of the campaign to be waged in Indiana in 1876.

The Democratic campaign opening was delayed by the fact that Williams wished to remain at his post in Congress until


  • 71 A typical attack upon Williams' character will be found in the IndianapolisJournal, April 24, 1876; upon the character of Orth, IndianapolisSentinel, July 27, 1876.
  • 72IndianapolisJournal, July 10 and 20, 1876.
  • 73 It was charged that Orth, while in Congress, had voted to legalize certain bonds issued by Venezuela, and held by American capitalists; and that he had, at the same time, accepted an attorney's fee of $70,000 for getting this bill through Congress. X Congressional Investigation later declared that Orth had had no criminal connections with the Venezuela claims, but at the time of his resignation from the Republican ticket, his guilt was still an open question.
  • 74IndianapolisJournal, Aug. 3, 1876.
  • 75IndianapolisSentinel, Aug. 8, 1876.
adjournment early in August. His first appearance in his canvass for Governor of Indiana was made at Salem, August 12, when the Democrats formally opened their campaign for the October election. In the speech at Salem, Williams discussed the question of honesty and economy in national and state governments, justified his record in Congress, declared that he believed in the policies of the Greenback party in regard to currency, and defended his record during the war period when he had been a member of the state Senate.76

From this time on political excitement in Indiana was at white heat. Monster rallies were held by both parties. Glee clubs were organized in every village, town and city in the state. Great parades led by brass bands were formed at every rally. The greatest Democratic gathering of the campaign was held at Wheatland, August 31, near the home of "Blue Jeans" Williams. Democratic papers estimated that fifteen thousand people attended "Uncle Jimmy's" home coming.77 Among some of the features of this rally were "huge wagons loaded down with young women dressed in blue jeans, a wagon from Busseron Township drawn by seventy-four mules, and a wagon drawn by fourteen oxen, containing rail-splitters, and surmounted by a hickory pole on the top of which was a live rooster bound fast." "Blue Jeans" clubs from neighboring towns sang "Blue Jeans" songs. Williams wore a brand new suit of jeans to grace the occasion. Leading Democrats, including Governor Hendricks and Colonel Isaac P. Gray, were present and addressed the people from the two large speakers' stands. "Everybody was satisfied and went away happy."78


  • 76IndianapolisJournal, July 10, Aug. 16, and Aug. 19, 1876.
  • 77IndianapolisSentinel, Sept. 1, 1876. The VincennesWeekly Western Sun said 20,000 people were present, the IndianapolisJournal estimated the number at 7,000. In all probability 10.000 persons attended the celebration at Wheatland.
  • 78VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Sept. 1, 1876. A favorite with the crowd was the "Democratic Rallying Song," one stanza of which was:

    Delighted and hopeful we anchor Our trust in all virtuous means,

    For this as a weapon will conquer In the hands of our leader, "Blue Jeans".

    Then three cheers for the flag—our old charmer— On the "Sage of the Wabash" it leans;

    Three cheers for the honest old farmer Who leads us, dressed up in blue jeans.

    Members of the "Blue Jeans" clubs wore uniforms consisting of "Blue Jeans pants, with corded warns: white chip hat, with blue cambric band; red flannel belt, three inches wide, stitched to waistband of pants."

The Republicans, not to be outdone by Democratic "Blue Jeans" enthusiasm, organized a monster celebration to be held at Tippecanoe Battle Ground, September 26, in honor of "Young Tip." Here the scenes of 1840 were revived. A company of "Old Tip" supporters of 1840 organized and marched about through the crowd, and aroused intense enthusiasm by singing:

With General Harrison brave and true,

We'll show what Indiana'll do;

Blue Jeans Williams can't come in,

The color's alright but the cloth's too thin.

Log houses on wheels, large wagons filled with young ladies in uniform, canoes on wheels, and wagons carrying banners were a part of the parade, said to have been three miles long. Godlove Orth presided over a great outdoor political speaking in the afternoon at which Harrison made the principal speech.79

As the campaign got well under way hundreds of political meetings were held over the state by each party. The IndianapolisSentinel carried a list of thirty five Democratic speakers from fourteen different states who stumped the state for "Blue Jeans" during August and September.80 The Democrats held over five hundred public meetings in Indiana during July, August and September. Williams made a thorough canvass of the rural portions of the state, but did not often appear in the larger cities; his special strength was to be found among the farmers. Daniel W. Voorhees accompanied Williams about the state to "exhibit" him as the Republicans said. Williams would speak for a few minutes then give way to Voorhees, who made the real appeal to the voters at each Williams' rally.81 The IndianapolisJournal carried a list of forty-five Republican speakers from seven states who spoke at more than six hundred public meetings during August and September of 1876.82Harrison proved to be the greatest of the Republican orators; Voorhees the greatest of the Democratic orators in this campaign.


  • 79IndianapolisJournal, Sept. 27, 1876.
  • 80IndianapolisSentinel, August to October, inclusive.
  • 81 The IndianapolisSentinel for August and September contains accounts of these meetings.
  • 82IndianapolisJournal, August to October, inclusive.

The issues discussed in the campaign were for the most part national in their character and application and dealt with the Democratic war record, the question of resumption and the currency, and honesty and reform in public office. The first of these issues, that of the "bloody shirt," was made the subject of many long and fervid orations, by Harrison and Voorhees. Harrison at Greensburg, August 24, declared:

For one I accept the banner of the bloody-shirt. I am willing to take as our ensign the tattered, worn out old gray shirt, worn by some gallant Union hero; stained with his blood as he gave his life up for his country, and shoulder to shoulder, elbow to elbow, stepping to the music of the old drum taps, we will move forward, eyes to the front, faces to the foe to victory, again under the hallowed banner of the "bloody shirt."83

Voorhees' answer to this was, "We are not fighting the war now against the South. We are fighting the battle of honesty and reform in public office."84 On the question of national currency each party, in the main, advocated the principles set forth in its state platform. The question of honesty and reform in government consumed much of the time of all political speakers of both parties.85

Much time was given to a discussion of the qualifications for the governorship possessed by Harrison and Williams. The tone of this discussion can be gathered from the following editorials, the first from the Republican Journal is as follows:

Gen. Harrison, the Republican candidate for Governor so far surpasses his opponent, J. D. Williams, in all the essential points that any attempt at comparison takes the form of contrast. Harrison is a man of large intellect and extensive attainments; Williams a man of narrow mind and no culture. Harrison would take front rank in any assemblage of great men; Williams a rear rank in an assemblage of common ones. Harrison was a brave soldier and patriot; Williams was a Copperhead and fomenter of state difficulties. Harrison discusses questions of state like a statesman; Williams calls attention to his personal appearance…. Harrison travels on his brains; Williams on his pantaloons. One would honor the governorship; the other disgrace it,86


  • 83IndianapolisJournal, Aug. 21, 1876. This statement was carried on the Journal's editorial page until the election.
  • 84IndianapolisSentinel, Sept. 6, 1876. Voorhees frequently remated this statement.
  • 85 The political speeche as reported in the newspapers of the fall Of 1876 justify this view.
  • 86IndianapolisJournal, Sept. 5, 1876.

The Democratic Sentinel in speaking of Harrison said:

General Harrison has nothing in common with the people who hammer at the forge, till the ground or labor with their hands. An aristocrat by birth, he is one in feeling and sentiment…. He thinks the blood in his veins is a deeper blue than that which courses in the veins of the mechanic and day laborer. He is as cold as an icicle and has more brains than feelings. He is the best example we know of brains run to seed. He is a stronger candidate than Orth, but he is not strong enough to be elected Governor of Indiana this Centennial Year87

In spite of the seeming harshness of political editorial attacks made upon the candidates for Governor, much good natured ridicule, without personal malice, was current in the press. The best example of this sort of journalism appeared in the IndianapolisJournal, September 7, and is as follows:

He (Williams) is a difficult man to describe. Abraham Lincoln was an Admiral Crichton in comparison, and Richard Smith would look like an Apollo Belvidere along side of him. The English language would never recover from the shock of a detailed and accurate description of his general appearance, and it would take Uncle John Robinson, in his most energetic and capable moments to properly emphasize his political points and peculiarities. He is as handsome as black India-rubber baby drawn out to its greatest possible length and its face pinched out of shape. His head, in shape, is of the sugar-loaf order, and is covered with a short, stumpy growth of bristling, iron-gray hair. His only whiskers is a little bunch of the same description of hair grown upon his "Adam's apple" and sticking out between the hard, yellow-starched ends of his cotton "side-boards," that serve on each side of his head to support, the heavy dewlaps of his enormous ears. His eyes are small, and closely set against the high, narrow bridge of his long, sharp, inquisitive nose. His mouth looks as though it had been put on warm and ran all over the lower part of his face before it got set, and it opens like the opening of navigation in the spring. Looking him full in the face gives one the idea of a narrow loaded hay barge, with broad side sails set, coming down stream with the front cabin doors wide open. His long, lean legs part with each other in disgust at the hips and pursue separate and diverging paths to the knees, when negotiations for a reconciliation are entered into which takes place finally at the ends of the toes of two great feet, which join each other lovingly, while the heels still remain estranged and keep as far away from each other as possible.

As the campaign drew to a close both parties extended themselves to the limit to win. The Republicans declared it a matter of state pride to elect Harrison. They appealed to


  • 87IndianapolisSentinel, Aug. 7, 1876.
the Irish, the negro, the Independent, the business man, the regular Republican, and the young man, to help save the state from further Democratic misgovernment.88 The Democrats appealed to the "regular" Democrats, the Independents, the reformers, the day laborers, and the honest Republican farmers and mechanics, "in the name of liberty to lay aside their love of party and unite in electing the faithful old farmer statesman to the office of governor."89 During the last few days of the campaign James G. Blaine and former Governor Morton made speeches in Indianapolis in behalf of the Republican cause.90 The Democrats imported men from Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois to save the day for "Blue Jeans."91

The State election, October 10, 1876, resulted in a majority of slightly over five thousand for Williams.92 On the evening of October 11, the IndianapolisJournal declared, "The returns seem to justify the assertion that Harrison is elected Governor. The election was a full, fair and unconditioned expression of popular will." The Democrats were highly elated over the fact that "Blue Jeans swept the Hoosier State from stem to stern" and declared that "Williams will not make a glittering ruler, but he will prove a golden one, enriching the people of the state by his economy and honesty and wise and prudent counsels."93 By October 13, when Williams' election was assured, the Journal had changed its views regarding the election, and professed to believe "Jimmy Williams owes most of his majority, if not his election, to efforts of professional corruptionists and trained repeaters brought in from other states."

Williams as governor-elect became more widely advertised than he had been as congressman or candidate for Governor. He and his family became special victims of newspaper reporters. The Republican press continued to find amusement in his blue jeans and his simple methods of living. They


  • 88IndianapolisJournal, Oct. 4, 1876.
  • 89IndianapolisSentinel, Oct. 5, 1876: VincennesWeekly Western Bun, Sept. 23, 1876.
  • 90IndianapolisJournal, Sept. 26, 1876.
  • 91IndianapolisSentinel, Aug. 26, 1876.
  • 92 Indiana Senate Journal, 1877, 43. Williams' vote was 213, 219: Harrison's, 208,080: Williams' majority, 5,139.
  • 93IndianapolisSentinel, Oct. 11 and 12, 1876.
asked the Democrats if Williams' family would attend the inaugural ball barefooted, and if Williams himself would lead the dancing.94 Even Harper's Weekly sent a reporter to the Williams farms near Wheatland to interview Mrs. Williams in her home. At this time the Williams home was "a story and a half frame house painted white. The parlor had an ingrain carpet, a wide fireplace with daguerreotypes on the mantel, a high post bed-stead with a patchwork quilt, and a portrait of General Jackson hanging on the wall."95

When James D. Williams appeared in public he was immediately besieged by reporters seeking interviews on his attitude toward current political questions. He was courteous to all, but as one of them expressed it, "a rather dry pump to work upon." He was never a very good subject for reporters, always expressing himself very clearly and briefly if he said anything at all, but usually during such an interview "his face, when he chose to be uncommunicative, was as un-expressionless as a cast-iron safe, and when he was in such a humor it was useless to try the combination."96

The best description of Governor-elect Williams was that written by a reporter for the IndianapolisHerald after an interview with Williams at his rooms at the Occidental Hotel. He found him

to be a courteous, dignified gentleman, plainly dressed, but scrupulously clean. His suit of blue jeans is cut after an antique pattern; but every part is immaculately clean. His shirt collar is of the style fashionable in the days of 'Old Hickory', and is kept in fraternal nearness to his slender neck by means of an old-fashioned black neckerchief wound around it several times. His shirt bosom is irreproachably white, and was without stud or pin. Across it ran a slender watchguard which secured a silver watch, carried solely for utility and not for ornament. His hands which are long and slender, and rather delicate looking, of an aristocratic rather than a plebeian shape, were especially free from impurities, and his nails were unadorned even by second mourning. In conversation Mr. Williams talks with ease and interest. Personally he is rather noticeable. He is tall and carries his head bent forward a trifle, which is more suggestive of thoughtfulness than of age. Indeed


  • 94 Holloway, Recollections of the Exciting Campaign.
  • 95 Harper's Weekly, Dec. 23, 1876.
  • 96 Charles Dennis, "Blue Jeans" Recalled by Adlai Stephenson, in IndianapolisNews, Jan. 17. 1910. Dennis, as a young reporter, knew Williams and often interviewed him.
his sixty-eight years sit lightly on him, his gait betraying no unsteadiness of nerve, and frailness of body, and his abundant black hair being only about half mixed with white.97

James D. Williams was inaugurated Governor of Indiana at the Academy of Music in Indianapolis, January 8, 1876. He was introduced by Governor Hendricks and, after taking the oath of office, read his inaugural address. On this occasion Williams wore a brand new suit of blue jeans lined with silk, a gift from ladies of Louisville, Kentucky. In the evening he gave a public reception and ball at the Occidental Hotel. Here he had engaged a suite of rooms for his home during his term as Governor. This reception was a success in every way. He was greeted as warmly by his political opponents as he was by his warmest political supporters. He had few personal enemies on the day of his inauguration, even though the preceding campaign had been one of extreme bitterness.98

It is not the purpose of this paper to discuss at length the executive acts of Governor Williams. Mention may be made of the most important events of his term of office. The great railroad strikes of 1877 tied up freight and passenger traffic for a few days early in July. Williams at first announced that he would interfere in no way with the strike or the strikers, but after some destruction of property by the strikers had led to bitter criticism of his inaction, he called out the militia to protect property and preserve peace. His course pleased the workmen, but brought severe criticism from newspapers favorable to railroad interests.99 Williams was also severely criticised because of the number of pardons issued to inmates of the state prison.100 The most notable event of his administration was the law of March, 1877, providing for the erection of a new State House.101 That this was built and furnished at a cost under the $2,000,000 appropriated for that purpose, is an unusual monument to the honesty and economy of Williams


  • 97 See VincennesWeekly Western Sun, Dec. 29, 1876.
  • 98 Accounts of Williams' inauguration and reception are found in Indianapolis papers for Jan. 9. 1877.
  • 99Indianapolis Sentinel, July 27, 28, and Aug. 14, 1877.
  • 100IndianapolisJournal, July 25. 1878. During the first eighteen months of Williams term he pardoned 125 criminals. This was 15 more than Hendricks had pardoned in any period of the same length.
  • 101IndianapolisJournal and IndianapolisSentinel, March 13, 1877.
and his associates and successors in the enterprise. No act of Williams' career as Governor gave him more pleasure than the appointment of Daniel Voorhees to the United States Senate in 1877, to fill the seat made vacant by the death of Senator Morton.102

Governor Williams took his duties as Governor very seriously, as is illustrated by a toast to the "Governor of Indiana" given at the legislative banquet of 1877, in which he said:

The honorable position of Governor of a great state should not be sought by any one; and should not be declined by him to whom it is tendered. There are great responsibilities connected with it, and when this office is filled by the selection of the people no one should decline them. His acts should be such that after generations will look upon them with pride and say: "He was faithful and true to his people".108

Williams frequently made addresses at county fairs, old settlers' meetings, and farmers' picnics. In June, 1877, he attended an old fashioned log-rolling on the farm of Dr. Furnas near Danville, Indiana. Many of the best known men of Indiana were present and took part in rolling and piling logs. Williams drove an ox team to show that his skill as an ox driver had not deserted him. A picture of the group was taken showing Williams with an ox goad in the act of driving a yoke of oxen.104

Woollen has given us the best contemporary description of Williams as he appeared in 1880. It is as follows:

He stands six feet four inches in his boots; is remarkably erect for one of his years; has large hands and feet; has high cheek bones; a long sharp nose; twinkling grey eyes; a clean shaven face skirted with whiskers upon his throat; and a head covered profusely with black hair in which scarcely a gray filament is to be seen. His physiognomy denotes industry and shrewdness and does not belie the man. He dresses plainly but with scrupulous neatness. He is a good judge of human nature, and he who attempts to overreach him will have his labor for his pains.105

During the summer of 1880 Williams, who was himself at times in exceedingly poor health, experienced the greatest


  • 102IndianapolisJournal and Indianapolissentinel, Nov. 7, 1877.
  • 103IndianapolisJournal, March 2, 1877.
  • 104 Mrs. Ruth J. Davidson of Petersburg has one of these pictures. One also hangs in the court house at Danville.
  • 106VincennesNews, July 7, 1880.
[Figure]

Dr. T. W. Johnson Gov. James D. Williams John W. Furnas
Dandridge Tucker Gen. George Russ Alex Herron
Levi Pennington Dr. Allen Furnas J. D. Kingsbury, of Indiana Farmer

GOV. WILLIAMSAS FARMER Log Rolling on the Farm of Dr. Furnas near Danville, Ind.

Copyright 1877 Wade. Norton & Co.

grief of his long life. In February, 1880, Mrs. Williams suffered an injury from a fall from which she never recovered; she gradually grew weaker until her death, June 27. Williams was at her bedside as often as his official duties would permit and was with her when she died. Mrs. Williams was scarcely known beyond the vicinity of her own home. She did not visit Indianapolis while her husband was Governor. For the forty-nine years of her married life she was content to be the mother and housekeeper, while her husband was away from home looking after his numerous business and political interests. Williams never recovered from the shock of her death.106 Some weeks after this event, he was discovered by his widowed daughter, Mrs. Dunn, hidden in the hay mow, while great sobs of grief shook his frame and tears coursed down his cheeks.107 On Mrs. Williams' monument is found the simple inscription, "Faithful as a Mother, Wife and Friend."

After Williams' return to Indianapolis from his wife's funeral, he rapidly declined in health.108 He said to one of his friends, "I feel a general breakdown all along the line." He became seriously ill early in November and died at his room in the Washington Club House, November 20, 1880. His body lay in state November 22, in the Marion County Courthouse, where sincere tribute to his memory was paid by the people of Indianapolis irrespective of party or creed. The body lay in state at Vincennes, November 23. A public funeral was held in Vincennes at which Henry S. Cauthorn delivered the funeral oration. Short addresses of tribute were delivered by Governors Gray of Indiana, Blackburn of Kentucky, Cullom of Illinois, and Mr. Milton, representing the Governor of Ohio. Williams' body was then buried in the Walnut Grove Cemetery beside that of his wife.


  • 105 Wollen W. W.; Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early Indiana, 151.
  • 107VincennesWeekly Commercial, Nov. 27, 1880.
  • 108IndianapolisJournal, Nov. 21. Williams suffered from inflamation of the bladder, which eventually caused his death.

A large granite monument was erected to Governor and Mrs. Williams by their children and grandchildren.109 This monument was unveiled at a great public gathering, July 4, 1883. As a last tribute to the memory of "Blue Jeans" people came from all over Indiana to be present. Among the distinguished men present were Ex-Governor Baker, Benjamin Harrison, Governor Isaac P. Gray, and Daniel Voorhees, each of whom paid tribute to the memory of James D. Williams.110

General Benjamin Harrison, who was Governor Williams' opponent in the gubernatorial contest of 1876, paid this generous tribute to the memory of the departed governor:

If there were nothing to be said of Governor Williams's relation to the public affairs of Indiana at all, his life would be an honorable and successful one. I have always felt that the successful pioneer, one of those who pressed forward toward the edge of civilization in the early days, and made a successful fight with the wilderness, and cleared the primitive forest and made of it a meadow, and of the marsh a dry field, and who built up around him and for himself and for the family that God gave him, a competence, elevated them, that that life was an honorable life and worthy of mention in any assembly. This work Governor Williams has done conspicuously.111


  • 109 No epitaph can be more fitting than that carved on the monument of James D. Williams:

    James D. Williams Born January 16, 1508. Died November 20, 1580. A representative of the people— Who served as legislator for many years. Was one term in Congress. Governor of Indiana from 1877 till his death. Always a faithful public officer and "An honest man."

    Indiana honored him in life and cherishes his memory in death.
  • 110IndianapolisSentinel, Nov. 21, 22, and 23: IndianapolisJournal, same dates.
  • 111 Woollen, Biographical and Historical Sketches of Early Indiana, 156.


Published by the Indiana University Department of History.