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Marsh Giddings

Born on November 19, 1816 in Sherman, Fairfield County, Connecticut, the son of William and Jane Louisa (Ely) Giddings. Giddings was the brother of Adeline, Abner, William P., Jane E., Louisa, Emma, Ely, John, Ezra, Czar, and Eusebia. A Congregationalist whose English ancestors came to Massachusetts in 1635, he was married in 1838 to Louisa Mills of Richland, Michigan, by whom he was the father of William M. and a daughter.

Giddings moved with his parents to Richland, Kalamazoo County, Michigan in 1830. His father died the following year, and while Giddings was able to enroll in Western Reserve College in Hudson, Ohio in 1834, he soon had to withdraw for financial reasons. He was elected Justice of the Peace for Richland Township at the age of twenty‑one. Giddings also read law in Richland and began a practice in 1841. The previous year he had been a leading campaigner and orator for William Henry Harrison, the Whig candidate for President. Moving to Galesburg, Michigan in 1847, Giddings represented that community in the Legislature in 1849. During the 1850s he practiced law at Galesburg and Kalamazoo. After splitting with the Whigs over the slavery issue, he served on the Committee on Resolutions at the convention in Jackson, Michigan in July 1854 which laid the foundation for the Republican Party in that state. In 1860 he attended the Republican National Convention as a supporter of the candidacy of William H. Seward. That same year Giddings was elected Probate Judge of Kalamazoo County, a position he held for eight years. The Republican activist served on his party’s National Committee from 1864 to 1868. President Ulysses Grant nominated him to be Consul General to Calcutta in 1869, although he declined that office.

Giddings did not seek the position of Governor of New Mexico; instead, Michigan senators Zachariah Chandler and Thomas W. Ferry encouraged President Grant to appoint him, in the hope that the New Mexico climate would improve Giddings’ failing health. Soon after his arrival at Santa Fe on September 1, 1871, he became involved in the most serious legislative revolt of New Mexico’s territorial period by vetoing the Legislature’s attempt to reassign the Chief Justice of the Territory, Joseph G. Palen, to a remote judicial post. Palen’s decisions had antagonized some of the most powerful political interests in the territory. Giddings’ veto was sustained early in January of 1872, but the Democrats, with some Republican assistance, were determined to rid themselves of the troublesome jurist. Accordingly, they removed several Republican members of the Legislature in order to give the Democrats control. During the heated debates on this issue in January 1872, legislators brought guns into the Assembly chambers, and Giddings sat in on the proceedings to try and prevent violence. Federal troops, with the authorization of the governor, finally were brought into the Assembly to maintain order. When the Republican legislators were reinstated, Democrats walked out and convened their own Assembly.

Late in January of 1872 the Territorial Supreme Court ruled that the expulsion of the Republicans was illegal. The Democratic‑controlled Upper House, anxious to pass legislation, offered a compromise in which the Republicans would be reseated if a new Speaker of the House was approved. Giddings and the Republicans agreed to this settlement and the crisis ended. The Legislature of 1872 proceeded to pass the majority of Giddings’ programs, the most important of which was an ad valorem property tax to be used primarily to support schools. Some Democratic opposition to Giddings persisted, however, and several political figures in New Mexico called for his removal after he named his son Librarian and Adjutant General of the territory.

In 1872 the Legislature, with Giddings’ tacit approval, acted as a constitutional convention and sent to the voters a state constitution in an attempt to encourage the granting of statehood by Congress. Nevertheless, the voters of New Mexico were not particularly interested, and only about one‑third of the electorate bothered to vote. The outcome of this vote was never made public. Giddings, perhaps to spare the pro‑statehood forces embarrassment, claimed that many ballots were not returned in the time specified by the Legislature; thus, he claimed, the returns were invalid.

After this stormy beginning, the latter part of Giddings’ term was uneventful. He became ill in January 1875 and died on June 3 at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe; his body was returned to Kalamazoo. Giddings was buried in the Mountain Home Cemetery there. Until the arrival of Giddings’ successor, Samuel B. Axtell, on July 30, 1875, Secretary of the Territory William G. Ritch served as Acting Governor.

Sources Used:

Santa Fe Weekly Post, September 2, 1871.

American Biographical History of Eminent and Self‑Made Men ... Michigan (Cincinnati, 1878).

Minot S. Giddings, The Giddings Family (Hartford, 1882).

Pioneer Collections [Michigan], vol. 5 (Lansing, 1884).

Moses S. Beach, The Ely Ancestry (New York, 1902);

Henry M. Utley and Byron M. Cutcheon, Michigan As a Province, Territory, and State: The Twenty‑Sixth Member of the Federal Union, vol. 3 (New York, 1906).

William A. Keleher, Violence in Lincoln County, 1869‑1881 (Albuquerque, 1957).

Calvin Horn, New Mexico’s Troubled Years: The Story of the Early Territorial Governors (Albuquerque, 1963).

Robert W. Larson, New Mexico’s Quest for Statehood, 1846‑1912 (Albuquerque, 1968).