William Dennison Jr.
Portrait of Governor William Dennison who served one, two year term as Governor from 1860-1862. When the Civil War began in 1861 Dennison acted quickly to mobilize Ohio troops.
Ohio governor William Dennison, Jr., was born in Cincinnati on November 23, 1815. His mother, Mary Carter Dennison, was originally from New England, and his father, William Dennison, Sr., was from New Jersey. The couple had moved to Ohio circa 1805. William Dennison, Sr., was a successful businessman in the community.
Dennison attended Miami University, graduating in 1835. He then spent several years studying the law in the office of Nathaniel G. Pendleton of Cincinnati. He was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1840 and quickly set up his own law office in Columbus. He married the daughter of a prominent Columbus businessman, William Neil. He and his wife ultimately had seven children.
Dennison made a reputation for himself within the Whig Party and successfully ran for the Ohio Senate in 1848. He had become known for his opposition to slavery and the annexation of Texas in the years preceding his election. He successfully campaigned to repeal Ohio's "Black Laws" in 1849. As part of a compromise with Democrats, Dennison and other Whigs agreed to allow two prominent Democrats to be appointed to the Ohio Supreme Court if the Democrats allowed the "Black Laws" to be repealed and Salmon P. Chase to be appointed to the U.S. Senate.
Dennison chose not to run for reelection at the end of his term. Instead, he focused on his law practice and other business interests for the next several years. In the 1850s, Dennison served as president of the Exchange Bank in Columbus and then as president of the Columbus and Xenia Railroad. He had a number of investments in railroads during this era.
By 1856, the Whig Party had been destroyed over the issue of slavery. Dennison was an early participant in the newly formed Republican Party and attended the national convention in 1856 as an Ohio delegate. In 1859, Dennison ran for Ohio governor on the Republican ticket, defeating Supreme Court Judge Rufus P. Ranney by approximately thirteen thousand votes. This was a precarious time for the nation, and Dennison's administration would soon have to tackle the challenges associated with the Civil War. Addressing the crisis that the state faced in 1861, Dennison acted decisively to take control of railroads and telegraph lines. He also devoted attention to strengthening the state's defenses and sent George McClellan with Ohio troops into western Virginia to fight against the Confederacy. Although Dennison acted with the best of intentions, most Ohioans were concerned with his somewhat dictatorial manner. His popularity declined rapidly as the war developed. The Union Party, made up of Republicans and Democrats who supported the war, chose David Tod as its candidate in the 1861 gubernatorial election. After Tod's election as governor, Dennison continued to serve the state in an unofficial advisory capacity.
Dennison continued to be prominent within the Republican Party and was chosen as the chairman of the Republican National Convention of 1864. President Abraham Lincoln appointed Dennison as postmaster general in 1864. Dennison held this position until 1866, when he disagreed with some policies of President Andrew Johnson's administration. Dennison did not hold state or national political office again after 1866, although he remained an important figure within the Republican Party, both at the state and national levels, throughout the remainder of his life. He attempted to gain a seat in the U.S. Senate in 1880, running against James Garfield, albeit unsuccessfully.
The former governor remained active in business for the next several years. He continued his interest in banking and railroads but also organized the Franklin County Agricultural Society and promoted local industries. In addition, he served as a Columbus city councilman. Dennison died on June 15, 1882, after a long illness. He was interred in Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus.
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