Biography of Governor Alpheus Felch

Alpheus Felch
Alpheus Felch

Alpheus Felch, the third Governor of Michigan, was born in Limerick, Maine, September 28, 1806. His grandfather, Abijah Felch, was a soldier in the Revolution; and when a young man, having with others obtained a grant of land between the Great and Little Ossipee Rivers, in Maine, moved to that region when it was yet a wilderness. The father of Mr. Felch embarked in mercantile life at Limerick. He was the first to engage in that business in that section, and continued it until his death. The death of the father, followed within a year by the death of the mother, left the subject of this sketch, then three years old, to care of relatives, and he found a home with his paternal grandfather, where he remained until his death. Mr. Felch received his early education in the district school and a neighboring academy. In 1821 he became a student at Phillips Exeter Academy, and, subsequently, entered Bowdoin College, graduated with the class of 1827. He at once began the study of law and was admitted to practice at Bangor, Me., in 1830.

He began the practice of his profession at Houlton, Me., where he remained until 1833. The severity of the climate impaired his health, never very good, and he found it necessary to seek a change of climate. He disposed of his library and started to seek a new home. He intention was to join his friend, Sargent S. Orentiss, at Vicksburg, Miss., but on his arrival at Cincinnati, Mr. Felch was attacked by cholera, and when he had recovered sufficiently to permit of his traveling, found that the danger of the disease was to great to permit a journey down the river. He their fore determined to come to Michigan. He first began to practice in this State at Monroe, where he continued until 1843, when he removed to Ann Arbor. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1835, and continued a member of that body during the years 1836 and 1837. While he held this office, the general banking law of the State was enacted, and went into operation. After mature deliberation, he became convinced that the proposed system of banking could not prove beneficial to the public interests; and that, instead of relieving the people from the pecuniary difficulties under which they were laboring, it would result in still further embarrassment. He, their for, opposed the bill, and pointed out to the House the disasters which, in his opinion, were sure to follow its passage. The public mind, however, was so favorably impressed by the measure that no other member, in either branch of the Legislature, raised a dissenting voice, and but two voted with in opposition to the bill. Early in 1838, he was appointed one of the Bank Commissioners of the State, and held that office for more than a year. During this time, the new banking law had given birth to that numerous progeny known as “wild-cat” banks. Almost every village had its bank. The country was flooded with depressed “wild-cat” money. The examinations of the Bank Commissioners brought to light frauds at every point, which were fearlessly reported to the Legislature, and were followed by criminal prosecutions of the guilty parties, and the closing of many of their institutions. The duties of the office were most laborious, and in 1839 Mr. Felch resigned. The chartered right of almost every bank had, in the meantime, been declared forfeited and the repealed. It was subsequently decided to be constitutional by the Supreme Court of the State. In the year 1842, Governor Felch was appointed t the office of Auditor General of the State; but after holding the office only a few weeks, was commissioned by the Governor as one of the Judges of the Supreme Court, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Judge Fletcher. In January, 1843, he was elected t the United States Senate for an unexpired term. In 1845, he was elected Governor of Michigan, and entered upon his duties at the commencement of the next year. In 1847 he was elected a Senator in Congress for six years; and at once retired from the office of Governor, by resignation, which took effect March 4, 1847, when his Senatorial term commenced. While a member of the Senate he acted on the Committee on Public Lands, and for four years was its Chairman. He filled the honorable position of Senator with becoming dignity, and with great credit to the State of Michigan.

During Governor Felch’s administration two railroads belonging to the State were sold to private corporations, — Central for $2,000,000 and the Southern for $500,000. The exports of the State amounted in 1846 to $4,657,608. The total capacity of vessels enrolled in the collection district at Detroit was 26,928 tons, the steam vessels having 8,400 and the sailing vessels 18,538 tons, the whole giving employment to 18,000 seamen. In 1847, their were 39 counties in the State, containing 435 townships; and 274 of these townships were supplied with good libraries, containing an aggregate of 37,000 volumes.

At the close of his Senatorial term, in March 1853, Mr. Felch was appointed, by President Pierce, one of the Commissioners to adjust and settle the Spanish and Mexican Land claims in California, under the treaty of Gaudalupe Hidalgo, and an act of Congress passed for that purpose. He went to California in May, 1853, and was made President of the Commission. The duties of this office were of the most important and delicate character. The interest of the new State, and the fortunes of many of its citizens, bot the native Mexican population and the recent American immigration; the right of the Pueblos to the common lands, and of the Catholic Church to the lands of the Missions, — the most valuable of the State, — were involved in the adjudications of this Commission their on, — consisting of some forty large volumes, was deposited in the Department of the Interior, at Washington.

In June of that year, Governor Felch returned to Ann Arbor, where he was since been engaged principally in legal business. Since his return he has been nominated Governor and also for U.S. Senator, and twice for Judge of the Supreme Court. But the Democratic party to which he has always been attached, being in the minority, he failed of an election. In 1873, he withdrew from the active practice of law, and , with the exception of a tour in Europe in 1875 has since led a life of retirement at his home in Ann Arbor. In 1877 the University of Michigan conferred upon him the degree of L.L.D. For many years he was one of the Regents of Michigan University, and in the spring of 1879 was appointed Tappan professor of Law in the same. Mr. Felch is the oldest and only surviving Bank Commissioner of the State, the oldest surviving Governor of the State, the oldest surviving Judge of the Supreme Court of Michigan, and the oldest surviving United States Senator from the State of Michigan.

Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.

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