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B. Gratz Brown (1826 – 1885)

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B. Gratz Brown, lawyer, Missouri legislator, United States senator, and Missouri governor, came of age in a politically and emotionally charged period of American history. His life demonstrates the radically different attitudes Americans had regarding slavery and Southern sympathizers.

Benjamin Gratz Brown was born on May 28, 1826, in Lexington, Kentucky, to Mason Brown and Judith Bledsoe Brown. His mother died in 1827, and he and his father moved to Frankfort, Kentucky, to live at Liberty Hall, the family estate.

Benjamin attended Transylvania University in 1841 and went to Yale College in 1845. After graduating in 1847, he moved back to Kentucky to practice law with his father and attend the Louisville Law School. In 1849 he moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and joined the law office of his cousins, the politically prominent Frank and Montgomery Blair.

Brown became active in politics during the 1850s. He was elected to the state legislature from St. Louis in 1852 and again in 1854 and 1856. In 1854 he became the editor in chief of former U.S. Senator Thomas Hart Benton’s paper, the Missouri Democrat, where he continued to express his opinions on the slavery question and the Free Soil Party. This political party was against expanding slavery into the territories, believing that free men on free soil was better for a strong economy. Like Benton, Brown was against slavery, but for economic reasons rather than moral ones. His position on slavery would change throughout the war period.

Brown’s political views caused some to react very violently. Such was the case with future lieutenant governor Thomas C. Reynolds, who challenged Brown to a duel after the two swapped insults in Missouri newspapers. The duel occurred on August 26, 1856, and resulted in Reynolds walking away unharmed and Brown being shot in the knee.

Duel Notice Duel Notice The Jefferson City Inquirer reported on the August 26, 1856, duel between Brown and Thomas C. Reynolds, noting relief that both men had survived the conflict.


[Jefferson City Inquirer, August 30, 1856]

A fight with his cousin Frank ended Brown’s career on the paper, and he lost his bid for reelection to the Missouri legislature in 1858, largely because of his controversial opinions. In that same year, Brown married Mary Hansome Gunn of Jefferson City, and the couple had eight children.

Brown led a regiment for three months when the American Civil War
The Civil War was a military conflict that began on April 12, 1861, when Southern forces fired on Fort Sumter outside of Charleston, South Carolina. Several Southern states had seceded from the United States (also known as the Union) and formed the Confederate States of America (also referred to as the Confederacy) out of fear that the United States' newly elected president, Abraham Lincoln, would not allow the expansion of slavery into new western states. Battles and skirmishes were fought throughout the country by Union and Confederate forces. General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox, Virginia, on April 9, 1865. As other Confederate forces heard the news of Lee's surrender, they surrendered as well and the war was soon over. Over half a million men were killed or wounded in the war. Thousands of former slaves gained their freedom. After the war, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution were passed prohibiting slavery, providing equal protection for all citizens, and barring federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote due to their race, color, or status as a former slave.
began in 1861. He then joined the Radical Republican Party, which believed in the complete abolition
The goal of the American abolition movement was to end the system of slavery that existed in the United States from its early colonization until the Civil War era. From the late 1770s to the early 1800s, several northern states abolished slavery by passing antislavery laws that called for slaves in those states to be gradually emancipated (freed) over a period of time. From the 1830s onward, the abolition movement grew quickly and began to call for the immediate emancipation of all slaves in America. In the 1850s, tension between people with proslavery views and those favoring abolition dominated American politics. The fight over abolition was one of the main issues leading to the Civil War. Abolition was formally adopted in Missouri in January of 1865. Later that year, slavery was ended in America with the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
of slavery and punishment of Southern sympathizers. In 1863 he was elected by the Missouri state legislature to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat. While a senator, Brown focused on economic issues, securing reimbursements for the state for military expenses, obtaining money to build the Eads bridge in St. Louis, and developing railroad and telegraph lines.

After the war, Brown changed his politics once again. He no longer shared the Radical Republican sentiment that limited the civil rights of Southerners. He believed in voting rights for everyone, including women, as well as amnesty for former rebels. Brown did not seek reelection to his U.S. Senate seat. Instead he moved to Ironton, Missouri, where he leased a quarry.

Brown reemerged from his short break from politics as the gubernatorial nominee for the new Liberal Republican Party. He beat the Radical Republican candidate Joseph McClurg and became the governor of Missouri in 1870. He built the much needed governor’s mansion in Jefferson City, supported public education, and reformed the criminal system. In 1872 Brown became the vice presidential candidate on the ticket with Horace Greeley. They lost the election to Ulysses S. Grant, and the Liberal Republican Party ended.

Brown became a Democrat and went back to his law practice. He changed political parties six times as his sentiments toward slavery and secession
Secession occurs when a region formally attempts to withdraw from the government that rules over it. During the Civil War, the slave states of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas seceded from the United States to form the Confederate States of America. These states were readmitted to the Union after the Civil War ended. Although many Missourians fought for the Confederacy and Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson actively tried to lead Missouri into secession, Missouri remained in the United States during the Civil War.
ists evolved throughout the Civil War and Reconstruction
Reconstruction was the period following the Civil War in which the United States had to face the war's consequences. When the war ended in 1865, there was lasting resentment in Missouri and elsewhere between those who had supported the Confederacy and those who had supported the Union. The Republican Party controlled the federal government at this time, and controlled the Missouri government from the end of the war until 1872. At the national level, the Republicans pushed through the Thirteenth Amendment, which ended slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to all people born in the United States, and the Fifteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote to all citizens without regard to race. Other measures were drawn to strengthen the power of the federal government and keep former Confederates out of power. The Republican-dominated Missouri legislature passed a new constitution in 1865 which included sections to limit the power of the state legislature and former Confederates. Other reforms were passed to create a statewide public school system, which included schools for blacks. However, the Democrats retook control in Missouri in 1872, and a new constitution was written in 1875, after which many of the reforms in the 1865 constitution were reversed. Likewise, many reforms were reversed at the national level after Reconstruction ended in 1877. Blacks continued to be legally discriminated against in Missouri and other states until the mid-twentieth century.
era. Above all, Brown remained loyal to the Union
Union is the term used to identify the United States and its government during the Civil War.
, and his work as a politician focused on improving the lives of Missourians. He died of pneumonia
Pneumonia is an illness that affects an individual's lungs. It is caused by bacterial or viral infections that inflame the air sacs in the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. An individual suffering from pneumonia may have a cough, fever, breathing difficulties, and chest pain. Pneumonia can affect people of all ages and can lead to death if it is left untreated.
and heart disease in Kirkwood, Missouri, on December, 13, 1885, and is buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery.
Text and research by Laura R. Jolley

Meets Show-Me Standards SS: 2, 6, 7; 4th grade GLE 2a.A.

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References and Resources

For more information about B. Gratz Brown's life and career, see the following resources:

Society Resources

The following is a selected list of books, articles, and manuscripts about B. Gratz Brown in the research centers of The State Historical Society of Missouri. The Society’s call numbers follow the citations in brackets. All links will open in a new tab.






Historic Missourians: B. Gratz Brown
B. Gratz BrownB. Gratz Brown (1826 – 1885).

[SHS 019769]

Benjamin Gratz Brown

Born: May 28, 1826
Died: December 13, 1885 (age 59)
Category: Politicians
Regions of Missouri: Central, St. Louis
Missouri Hometown: St. Louis