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to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861
19th Century, 1845-1861
|James William Denver
Governor of Kansas Territory and namesake of Denver, Colorado
James William Denver was born in Winchester, Virginia, on October 23, 1817. He attended the local public schools before moving with his parents to Wilmington, Ohio, in 1830. After teaching school in Missouri (1841), he attended the Cincinnati Law School, from which he graduated in 1844. He was admitted to the bar and commenced practice near Xenia, Ohio, before moving to Platte City, Missouri, in 1845.
In 1850, Denver moved to California, where he became a trader. Moving into the political arena, he was elected to the California State Senate in 1851. In 1852, he was appointed as Secretary of State of California. In 1854, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where he served from 1855 to 1857; he was not a candidate for re-nomination in 1856.
On April 17, 1857, President James Buchanan appointed him Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He resigned that position on June 17, 1857, to become Secretary of the Kansas Territory, and was appointed Territorial Governor in December. During his administration, citizens of the territory voted on the Lecompton Constitution, which allowed slavery. The only choices available to voters, however, were full or limited slavery, and the election was boycotted by the majority of those in favor of banning slavery. The pro-slavery constitution passed by an overwhelming majority, but it was later discovered that several thousand votes had been cast by "border ruffians" who had crossed into Kansas from Missouri in order to illegally cast ballots in favor of the constitution. Denver retired as Territorial Governor in November 1858, and resumed his position as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, serving until his resignation on March 31, 1859.
On August 14, 1861, President Abraham Lincoln commissioned Denver a Brigadier General, and he served in that capacity until resigning on March 5, 1863.
After the Civil War, Denver practiced law in Washington, D.C., and Wilmington, Ohio. He served as a delegate to the Democratic National Conventions of 1876, 1880, and 1884, and was even mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential nominee in 1876 and 1884. He died in Washington, D.C., on August 9, 1892, and is buried in Sugar Grove Cemetery, Wilmington, Ohio.
In November 1858, while Denver was serving as Territorial Governor of Kansas, William Larimer, Jr., a land speculator from Leavenworth, platted a townsite along the South Platte River in what is now Colorado (but which, at that time, was part of Kansas). He called his town "Denver City" to honor the Governor, hoping that the city would be chosen as the seat of Arapaho County.
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This page was last updated on January 13, 2017.