Gov. Alexander W. Randall
|Important Services at
the Opening of the Rebellion, Discriminating Language Relative to the Situation,
Success in Calling for Troops & Wise Provision for Their Wants,
Prominent Position Among Other Governors,
Influence at Washington, Appointment as Minister to Italy, Address to the Pope,
Service as First Assistant Postmaster General,
Early Life & Career Previous to the War.
THE history of the early regiments from Wisconsin, in the war of the rebellion, is in part a biography of Governor Alexander W. Randall. No candid person, acquainted with the facts in the case, will deny that he was patriotic, earnest, and efficient in furnishing troops for the war. When treason broke forth upon the land, and the people needed that their rulers should be both wise counselors and faithful servants, Governor Randall was found fully qualified to sit as chief magistrate of one of the most vigorous and prosperous States of the Union.
When treason was seeking some plausible reason for her perjury, and some at the North even were apologizing for her infidelity, or justifying her madness, then Governor Randall said to the Wisconsin legislature, January 10th, 1861: The election of Mr. Lincoln was legal, and there was no just cause of complaint from any quarter." At that early date he had the penetration to see, and the ability compactly to state the true relation of the States to the Federal Government. He said: "This is not a league of States, but a government of the people. The General Government can not change the character of the State governments, or usurp any power not delegated; nor can any state change its character or increase its rights." He had also the prophetic eye to use the following language: "The signs of the times indicate, in my opinion, that there may arise a contingency in the condition of the Government under which it may become necessary to respond to the call of the National Government for men and means to sustain the integrity of the Union, and thwart the designs of men engaged in an organized treason."
Concerning the personal liberty laws in Northern States, of which some in the South had hypocritically complained, he, said: "Personal liberty laws are found, or should be found, upon the statutes of every State. All States have them, both North and South, varying in their character and provisions, yet still personal liberty laws. The States never surrendered the right to protect the person of citizens. Every living human being has a right to a legal test of the question whether he is a free man or a slave. Yet all such laws should conform to the Constitution of the United States..... But no fear, no favor, no hope of reward, no demand, no threat, should ever induce or drive a free people to break down the walls of their protection." Noble words! "Let President, Cabinet, Congress, all office holders, all loyal people, never more swerve from protecting even the humblest, the poorest citizen in his rights! Let them yield to no fear, no favor, no demand, no threat! Let them not sacrifice or endanger the life, liberty, Let them show no favoritism, nor grant undue power over the weak to those who are yet disloyal, in opinion if not in purpose, or whose fealty to the Union has not yet had the probation of a twelve month!"
Governor Randall's prompt and spirited proclamation
calling for troops immediately after the fall of Sumter, struck responsive chords in the
hearts of the people. The success of the call is noted in the account of the great
uprising of the people. He appealed immediately to the existing military companies of the
State, twenty of which responded. Eight of them were embodied in the First (three months)
Regiment, making all of the regiment except Companies B and I; four formed Companies A, B,
G and I, in the Second Regiment; four, A, D, E and G, in the Third Regiment; two, F and G,
in the Fourth Regiment, and two, B and D, in the Sixth Regiment. But other companies were
immediately formed, and in seven days after the Governor's proclamation was issued, thirty
six companies had tendered their services for three months; and yet all besides those of
the First (three months') regiment enlisted for three years, except the Beloit company,
which was largely composed of students, who had not calculated on a three years' absence.
The Governor gave immediate attention to all the present and prospective wants of the troops, and soon began to prepare the way with the authorities at Washington to raise additional regiments. He at once took took prominent position among the Governors of the several States, who held frequent conferences for wise and concerted action, and in those councils rendered valuable service to the nation. He ordinarily sent a messenger to the field with each regiment, to watch over the interests of our soldiers by the way, and to do anything for their welfare, beyond the functions of regimental officers, that each day or hour might suggest. He frequently visited the regiments himself in their distant camps, especially after a battle, or any important change in their condition, as shown by allusions in regimental narratives. But, when the war broke out, there remained only eight and a half months of his second two years' term as Governor of the State, and as that time drew near its close, he received from President Lincoln the appointment of Minister from the Government of the United States to that of Italy.
In his address to the Pope of Rome, on the Subject of nonintervention, he said: "I am directed, also, to assure His Holiness that it is the settled habit of the Government of the United States to leave to all other countries the unquestioned regulation of their own internal concerns, being convinced that intrusion by a foreign nation, anywhere, tends to embarrass rather than aid the best designs of the friends of freedom, religion, and humanity, by impairing the unity of the States exclusively interested. It is happening to the United States now, as it happened to ancient Rome, and as has happened to many other republics, that they are making the trial whether liberty can be preserved while dominion is widely extended. The Goverment of the United States asks the Government of Rome to continue its example of nonintervention, and to its great influence in favor of a course of national justice among nations. The Government of the United States cannot ask or receive more, and it is confidently believed the Government of His Holiness will not propose to do less."
In the same address he put the character of the war
and its causes in it's true light in the following: " It is not improper for me to
say here, that the character of the war now existing in the United States, and the causes
of that war, have been most grossly misrepresented, and are almost universally
misapprehended abroad. It is not resistance by the South to oppression, for there has been
no oppression by the Government, its officers or agents. It is not a struggle by the South
for rights, for every right guaranteed by the Constitution, or ever enjoyed since the
Government began, was protected and enjoyed, by and under the laws, at the commencement of
the war. It is not a war of the North against the South, nor a war waged by one portion of
the country to subjugate or conquer another portion of the country. It is a war of
It is treason and rebellion on the one hand, and law, order, and constitutional government on the other. On the one hand it is the rebellion of disaffected, ambitious, bad men, who desire, not to change the form of the government or the character of the government, but to destroy it altogether. On the other hand it is a struggle for peace, law, stability, liberty, government itself. It is government and existing institutions against an armed rebellion seeking to overthrow them."
Concerning the final result of the conflict, he made
the following dignified and patriotic prophecy: "However the accidents of
fierce conflicts may temporarily vary the appearance of the strife, it is certain that the
government will sustain itself. It is certain, because, under God, justice is always
certain. This causeless, inexcusable, wicked rebellion will be crushed, ground as between
an upper and nether millstone. 'The government is in the right; it has the will and the
It will come out of the conflict stronger than ever before, with elements of power newly developed, and prepared for sterner quarrels, if they must come - to vindicate its honor, maintain its rights, and the rights of its people. It is like the fabled rock, so aptly poised that when the touch of a child might jostle it to its centre, yet no opposing human force could move it from its foundation."
Unquestionably Governor Randall performed an important service for our country by his official visit to the Government of Italy at that early stage of the war, and contributed toward fixing the policy of nonintervention with American affairs among foreign nations. That done, he soon tired of remaining abroad while the agitation's and dangers of an unprecedented intestine war oppressed our country at home. He accordingly resigned, and, while Major General King, of Wisconsin, succeeded to his place, he received the appointment of First Assistant Postmaster General, which office he proceeded to fill.
Governor Randall is a native of New York, but had been a resident of Wisconsin about twenty years when the rebellion broke out. He practiced law in Waukesha many years, and was postmaster there under President Tyler's Administration. He acted with the Democratic party from 1844 to 1848, but with free soil tendencies supported Van Buren instead of Cass, in the latter year; and yet four years later, in 1852, supported Pierce and King. He was an anti-Barstow advocate in the division among the Democrats of the State from 1849 to 1853, and in 1854 was elected to the Assembly of the State from the Waukesha District, as an independent Democrat, though acting with the Republicans in the next session of the Legislature. In the autumn of 1855, he was the Republican candidate for Attorney General, but the whole ticket, except the candidate for Governor, was defeated. When Judge Hubbell resigned his place as Judge of the second circuit, in 1856, Governor Bashford appointed him to that office, which he filled with much ability. In 1857, as the Republican candidate for Governor, he was elected, and was reflected in 1859. He has had a successful career as a politician, in the better sense of the term; and while he tendered important services to the country, especially at the opening of the war, the fortunes of war, by calling for those services, contributed to his success as a public man. Some men remain in comparative obscurity for want of the opportunity to be developed and known, but such has not been the ordering of Providence with Governor Randall.
Wisconsin in the War of the Rebellion, Wm DeLoss Love, 1866
Gov. Randall was born in Ames,
Montgomery Co., New York, on October 31, 1819 to Phineas Randall and Sarah Beach. He had
been admitted to the New York Bar at less than 20 years old and began his law practice in
Waukesha in 1842. That same year he married his first wife. They had a daughter in 1843
who subsequently died at the age of eight. His wife died of consumption 9 months after his
inauguration, having suffered a lengthy illness, in Waukesha and is buried with her family
at Prairie Home Cemetery.
The governor, although a prominent Methodist layman, was not adverse to a game of cards nor a drink in private and suffered the indignity of going bald before he reached 38 years of age and having to be referred to as the "toupee-wearing" Gov. Randall.
At the end of his second term he was appointed by Lincoln as Minister to the Papal States, a post he did not enjoy and eventually left. After Lincoln's death he became an advisor to President Johnson and was appointed Postmaster General - the first citizen of Wisconsin to hold a cabinet post.
He had remarried in 1863, in
Elmira, N. Y., and resided there until his death July 26, 1872 of 'Bright's disease of the
kidney's accompanied by paralytic attack of the vocal organs'. He is buried in Elmira.