Biography of Governor Moses Wisner

Governor Moses Wisner
Governor Moses Wisner

Moses Wisner, Governor of Michigan from 1859 to 1861, was born in Springport, Cayuga Co. N. Y., June 3, 1815. His early education was only what could be obtained at a common school. Agricultural labor and frugality of his parents gave him a physical constitution of unusual strength and endurance, which was ever preserved by temperate habits. In 1837 he migrated to Michigan and purchased a farm in Lapeer County. It was new land and he at once set to work to clear it and plant crops. He labored diligently at his task for two years, when he gave up the idea of being a farmer, and removed to Pontiac, Oakland Co. Here he commenced the study of law in the office of his brother, George W. Wisner, and Rufus Hosmer. In 1941, he was admitted to the bar and established himself in his new vocation at the village of Lapeer. While their he was appointed by Gov. Woodbridge Prosecuting Attorney for that county, in which capacity he acquitted himself well and gave promise of that eminence he afterward attained in the profession. He remained at Lapeer but a short time, removing to Pontiac, where he became a member of a firm and entered fully upon the practice.

In politics he was like his talented brother, a Whig of the Henry Clay stamp, but with a decided anti-slavery bias. His practice becoming extensive, he took little part in politics until after the election of Mr. Pierce to the Presidency in 1852, when he took an active part against slavery. As a lawyer he was a man of great ability, but relied less upon mere book learning than upon his native good sense. Liberal and courteous, was he yet devoted to the interest of his client, and no facts escaped his attention or his memory which bore upon the case. He was no friend of trickery or artifice in conducting a case. As an advocate he had few equals. When fully aroused by the merits of his subject his eloquence was at once graceful and powerful. His fancies supplied the most original, the most pointed illustrations, and his logic became a battling giant under whose heavy blows the adversary shrank and withered. Nature had bestowed upon him rare qualities, and his powers as a popular orator were of a high order.

On the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, repealing the Missouri compromise and opening the Territories to slavery, he was among the foremost in Michigan to denounce the shameful scheme. He actively participated in organizing and consolidating the elements opposed to it in that State, and was a member of the popular gathering in Jackson, in July, 1854, which was the first formal Republican Convention held in the United States. At this meeting the name “Republican” was adopted as a designation of the new party consisting of Anti-slavery Whigs, Libertymen, Free Soil Democrats, and all others opposed to the extension of slavery and favorable to its expulsion from the Territories and the District of Columbia. At this convention Mr. W. was urged to accept the nomination for Attorney General of the State, but declined. An entire State ticket was nominated at the annual election in November was elected by an average majority of nearly 10,000. Mr. W. was enthusiastic in the cause and brought to its support all his personal influence and talents. In his views he was bold and radical. He believed from the beginning that the political power of the slaveholders would have to be overthrown before quiet could be secured in this country. In the Presidential canvass of 1856 he supported the Fremont, or Republican ticket. At the session of the Legislature of 1857 he was a candidate for United States Senator, and as such received a very handsome support.

In 1858, he was nominated for Governor of the State by the Republican convention that met at Detroit, and at the subsequent November election was chosen by a vary large majority. Before the day of the election he and addressed the people of almost every county and his majority was greater even than that of his popular predecessor, Hon. K. S. Bingham. He served as Governor two years, from Jan. 1, 1850, to Jan. 1. 1861. His first message to the Legislature was an able and statesman-like production, and was read with usual favor. It showed that he was awake to all the interests of the State and set forth an enlightened State policy, that had its view of the rapid settlement of our uncultivated lands and the development of our immense agricultural and mineral resources. It was a document that reflected the highest credit upon the author.

His term having expired Jan. 1, 1861, he returned to his home in Pontiac, and to the practice of his profession. their were those in the State who counseled the sending of delegates to the peace conference at Washington, but Mr. W. was opposed to all such temporizing expedients. He counsel was to send no delegate, but to prepare to fight.

After Congress had met and passed the necessary legislation he resolved to take part in the war. In the spring and summer of 1862, he set to work to raise a regiment of infantry, chiefly in Oakland County, where he resided. His regiment, the 22d Michigan, was armed and equipped and ready to march in September, a regiment whose solid qualifications were afterwards proven on many a bloody field. Col. W’s. commission bore the date of Sept 8, 1862. Before parting with his family he made his will. His regiment was sent to Kentucky and quartered at Camp Wallace. He had at the breaking out of the war turned his attention to military studies and became proficient in the ordinary rules and discipline. His entire attention was now devoted to his duties. His treatment of his men was kind, though his discipline was rigid. He possessed in an eminent degree the spirit of command, and had he lived he would no doubt have distinguished himself as a good officer. He was impatient of delay and chafed at being kept in Kentucky where their was so little prospect of getting at the enemy. But life in camp, so different from the one he had been leading, and his incessant labors, coupled with that impatience which was so natural and so general among the volunteers in the early part of the war, soon made their influence felt upon his health. He was seized with typhoid fever and removed to a private house near Lexington. Every care which medical skill or the hand of friendship could bestow was rendered him. In the delirious wanderings of his mine he was disciplining his men and urging them to be prepared for an encounter with the enemy, enlarging upon the justice of their cause and the necessity of their crushing the Rebellion. But the source of his most poignant grief was the prospect of not being able to come to a hand-to-hand encounter with the “chivalry.” He was proud of his regiment, and felt that if it could find the enemy it would cover itself with glory, — a distinction it afterward obtained, but not until Col. W. was no more. The malady baffled all medical treatment, and on the 5th day of Jan 1863, he breathed his last. His remains were removed to Michigan and interred in the cemetery in Pontiac, where they rest by the side of the brave Gen. Richardson, who received his mortal wound at the battle of Antietam. Col. W. was no adventurer, although he was doubtless ambitious of military renown and would have striven for it with characteristic energy. He went to the war to defend and uphold the principles he had so much at heart. Few men were more familiar than he with the causes and the underlying principles that led to the contest. He left a wife, who was a daughter of Gen. C. C. Hascall, of Flint, and four children to mourn his loss. Toward them he ever showed the tenderest regard. Next to his duty their love and welfare engrossed his thoughts. He was kind, generous and brave, and like thousands of others he sleeps the sleep of the martyr for his country.


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


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