Henry P. Baldwin, Governor of Michigan from Jan. 4, 1869 to Jan. 1, 1871, is a lineal descendant of Nathaniel Baldwin, a Puritan of Buckinghamshire, England, who settled at Milford, Conn, in 1639. His father was John Baldwin, a graduate of Dartmouth College. He died at North Providence, R. I., in 1826. His paternal grandfather was Rev. Moses Baldwin, a graduate of Princeton College, in 1757, and the first who received collegiate honors at that ancient and honored institution. He died in Parma, Mass., in 1813, where for more than 50 years he had been pastor of the Presbyterian Church. On his mother’s side Governor Baldwin is descended from Robert Williams, also a Puritan, who settled in Roxbury, Mass., about 1638. His mother was a daughter of Rev. Nehemiah Williams, a graduate of Harvard College, who died at Brimfield, Mass., in 1796, where for 21 years he was pastor of the Congregationalist Church. The subject of this sketch was born at Coventry, R. I. Feb. 22, 1814. He received a New England common-school education until the age of 12 years, when, both his parents having died, he became a clerk in a mercantile establishment. He remained there, employing his leisure hours in study, until 20 years of age.
At this early period, Henry P. Baldwin engaged in business on his own account. He made a visit to the West, in 1837, which resulted in his removal to Detroit in the spring of 1838. Here he established a mercantile house which as been successfully conducted until the present time. Although he successfully conducted a large business, he has ever taken a deep interest in all things affecting the prosperity of the city and State of his adoption. He was for several years a Director and President of the Detroit Young Men’s Society, an institution with a large library designed for the benefit of young men and citizens generally. An Episcopalian, in religious belief, he has been prominent in home matters connected with that denomination. The large and flourishing parish of St. John, Detroit, originated with Governor Baldwin, who gave the lot on which the parish edifice stands and also contributed the larger share of the cost of their erection. Governor Baldwin was one of the foremost in the establishment of St. Luke’s Hospital, and has always been a liberal contributor to moral and religious enterprises whether connected with his own Church or not. There have been, in fact, but few public and social improvements of Detroit during the past 40 years with which Governor Baldwin’s name is not in some way connected. He was a director in the Michigan State Bank until the expiration of its charter, and has been President of the Second National Bank since its organization.
In 1860, Henry P. Baldwin was elected to the State Senate, of Michigan; during the years of 1861-‘2 he was made Chairman of the Finance Committee, a member of the Committee on Banks and Incorporations Chairman of the Select Joint Committee of the two Houses for the investigations of the Treasury Department and the official acts of the Treasurer, and of the letting of the contract for the improvement of Sault Ste, Marie Ship Canal. He was first elected Governor in 1868 and was re-elected in 1870, serving from 1869-1872 inclusive. It is no undeserved eulogy to say that Governor Baldwin’s happy faculty of estimating the necessary means to an end – the knowing of how much effort or attention to bestow upon the thing in hand, has been the secret of the uniform success that has attended his efforts in all relations of life. The same industry and accuracy that distinguished him prior to this term as Governor was manifest in his career as the chief magistrate of the State, and while his influence appears in all things with which he has had to do, it is more noticeable in the most prominent position to which he was called. With rare exceptions the important commendations of Governor Baldwin received the sanction of the Legislature. During his administration marked improvements were made in the charitable, penal, and reformatory institutions of the State. The State Public School for dependent children was founded and a permanent commission for the supervision of the several State institutions. The initiatory steps toward building the Eastern Asylum for the Insane, the State House of Correction, and the establishment of the State Board of Health were recommended by Governor Baldwin in his message of 1873. The new State Capitol also owes its origin to him. The appropriation for its erection was made upon his recommendation, and the contract for the entire work let under his administration. Governor Baldwin also appointed the commissioners under whose faithful supervision the building was erected in a manner most satisfactory to the people of the State.
He advised and earnestly urged at different time such amendments of the constitution as would permit a more equitable compensation to State officers and judges. The law of 1869, and prior also, permitting municipalities to vote aid toward the construction of railroads was, in 1870, declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Many of the municipalities having in the meantime issued and sold their bonds in good faith, Governor Baldwin felt that the honor and credit of the State were in jeopardy. His sense of justice compelled him to call an extra session of the Legislature to propose the submission to the people a constitutional amendment, authorizing the payment of such bonds as were already in the hands of bona-fide holders. In his special message he says: “The credit of no State stands higher than that of Michigan, and the people can not afford, and I trust will not consent, to have her good name tarnished by the repudiation of either legal or moral obligations.” A special session was called in March, 1872, principally for the division of the State into congressional districts. A number of other important suggestions were made, however, and as an evidence of the Governor’s laborious and thoughtful care for the financial condition of the State, a series of tables was prepared and submitted by him showing, in detail, estimates of receipts, expenditures, and appropriations for the years 1872 to 1878, inclusive. Memorial of Governor Baldwin’s administration were the devastating fires which swept over many portions of the Northwest in the fall of 1871. A large part of the city of Chicago having been reduced to ashes, Governor Baldwin promptly issued a proclamation calling upon the people of Michigan for liberal aid in behalf of the afflicted city. Scarcely had this been issued when several counties in his State were laid waste by the same destroying element. A second call was made asking assistance for the suffering people of Michigan. The contributions for these objects were prompt and most liberal, more than $700.000 having been received in money and supplies for the relief of Michigan alone. So ample were these contributions during the short time of about 3 months, that the Governor issued a proclamation expressing in behalf of the people of the State grateful acknowledgement, and announcing that further aid was unnecessary.
Governor Baldwin has traveled extensively in his own country and has also made several visits to Europe and other portions of the Old World. He was a passenger on the Steamer Arill, which was captured and bonded in the Caribbean Sea, in December, 1862, by Capt. Semmes, and wrote a full and interesting account of the transaction. The following estimate of Governor Baldwin on his retirement from office, by a leading newspaper, is not overdrawn: “The retiring message of Governor Baldwin will be read with interest. It is a characteristic document and possesses the lucid statement, strong, and clear practical sense, which have been marked features of all preceding documents for the same source. Governor Baldwin, retired to private life after four years of unusually successful administration amid plaudits that are universal throughout the State. For many years eminent and capable men have filled the executive chair of this State, but in painstaking vigilance, in stern good sense, in genuine public spirit, in thorough integrity and in practical capacity, Henry P. Baldwin has shown himself to be the peer of any or all of them. The State has been unusually prosperous during his two terms, and the State administration has fully keep pace with the needs of the times. The retiring Governor has fully earned the public gratitude and confidence which he to-day possesses to such remarkable degree.”
Source: Chapman Brothers. Portrait and biographical record of Genesee, Lapeer and Tuscola counties, Michigan. Chicago: Chapman brothers, 1892.