By JD LONG
CADIZ – A good trivia question for local residents would be, “who really was John Bingham?” The answer would more than likely surprise a lot of people as the sun sets and rises on the statue of his likeness in front of the Harrison County courthouse.
There is a simple description on the front of the granite that faces W. Market Street that gives a little glimpse of what the man stood for.
“No more slave states; no more slave territories; the maintenance of freedom where freedom is, and the protection of American industry.” It’s attributed while at Philadelphia from 1848.
For starters, Bingham was the prosecutor in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. The congressman of Ohio struggled with Secretary of War, Edwin M. Stanton’s attempted appointment of Bingham into the death of Lincoln. But he would go on to give the country the trial and convictions that the shadow of President Kennedy’s death never saw 100 years later.
“He secured the Committee’s (on Resolutions of the Ohio State Republican Convention) support and then the Convention’s for a plank highlighting the unconstitutionality of the Fugitive Slave Act,” according to Erving E. Beauregard obtained from the Harrison County Historical Society (HCHS). He also joined the Committee’s successful refusal in the re-nomination of Chief Justice Joseph R. Swan who was in favor of that Slave Act.
Ironically, during Lincoln’s presidential run Bingham supported an ally of his for the Republican nomination, Salmon P. Chase. But after that Bingham began to warm up to the president where it was said Lincoln had actually asked Bingham for advice before appointing Stanton to his post.
“I frequently met and conversed with him during the whole period of his presidential service,” Bingham said of Lincoln. The president consulted with Bingham on many other occasions as noted where the once Cadiz citizen said he’d never heard a vulgar word out of Lincoln’s mouth. And Lincoln was also impressed by Bingham’s lack of pining for favors, as noted in the HCHS archives.
“Mr. Bingham has not been much obliged by appointments; so that I think the first Pay Master [sic] hereafter appointed in Ohio should be his man…”
Another major accomplishment by Bingham was that he was known as the Father of the 14th Amendment, which provides the individual freedoms that we Americans enjoy every day of our lives.
“…Nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law…” the Amendment states in part. Beauregard (former professor at the University of Dayton) wrote that the 14th Amendment reflected Bingham’s thoughts on religion, family heritage and his upbringing.
Not everyone gives Bingham buckets of accolades towards the 14th Amendment such as, Charles and Mary Beard and a conspiracy theory mixing a political collusion with “corporate lawyers, particularly railroad attorneys” who wanted the Supreme Court the power in protecting “large corporations from assaults by state legislatures.”
Beauregard wrote that the states of Ohio and New Jersey opposed the Amendment for “realizing it would make the Supreme Court the final arbiter in all disputes.” The South also opposed it but was forced to acquiesce “as a condition of readmission to the Union.”
“In the Fourteenth Amendment I sought to obtain for all human beings, including the long oppressed members of your race, the precious rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” as stated by Bingham when he wrote to a black classmate.
According to the Harrisonian, John Armor Bingham was born on Jan. 21, 1815 in Mercer, Pa. After the death of his mother he moved to Cadiz where he lived with an uncle. He later returned to Mercer after his father remarried where he worked as a printer’s apprentice in 1831.
In 1835 Bingham once again returned to Harrison County where he attended the now-defunct Franklin College in New Athens. An interesting note states that Bingham, due to illness, failed to finish college coming up one term short. But what is interesting about that is the feelings it induced and helped to shape Bingham’s thoughts.
“Although failing to take a degree, Bingham’s attendance at ‘Old Franklin,’ and his association with the college founder, the Reverend John Walker, nurtured in him a profound hatred of slavery and Freemasonry.”
He found himself back in Mercer where he taught school and chased the practice of law where he was admitted to the Pennsylvania Bar in 1841. This led Bingham, a member of the Whig Party, to serving as prosecutor for Tuscarawas County from 1846-1849.
Bingham got involved in the presidential campaign of 1840 by supporting William Henry Harrison, for which the county is named. Bingham then supported future President, Zachary Taylor in 1848 on the condition that Taylor support the anti-slave movement. This led to Bingham’s words that are now inscribed below his statue.
Bingham also married his first cousin, Amanda in 1844 and along with supporting Lincoln’s policies he served on various House committees, “facilitated legislation creating greenbacks” and had a hand in creating the state of West Virginia. And if that isn’t enough for history, he also appointed George Armstrong Custer to West Point. Bingham died in 1900 at his Cadiz home and is buried at the Cadiz Union Cemetery.