Disaffected Maine Republicans chuck their own governor, Part 2

The national and Maine state flags adorn the Maine graves at Gettysburg National Cemetery over the 4th of July 2020 weekend. Some of these heroes died in the fighting on July 1, 1863. Back home, Maine Republicans convened in Bangor the same day and tossed Gov. Abner Coburn off the 1863 election ballot. The dichotomy is rich. (Photo courtesy of James Knights)

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Married to Augusta native Harriet Stanwood, transplanted Pennsylvanian James G. Blaine wielded great power within the Maine Republican Party by summer 1863. Buying into the Kennebec Journal in 1853, he moved to Augusta and won election to the Maine House in 1858. Repeatedly re-elected, he became House speaker in January 1863. Republicans also made him their state-committee chairman.

He would win election to Congress that year.

Aware that his political enemies had orchestrated replacing him, Maine Governor Abner Coburn removed his name from contention after receiving insufficient first-round delegate votes during the Republican state convention held in Bangor on Wednesday, July 1, 1863. (Maine State Archives)

Dubbing their event the “Union State Convention,” Republicans met in Bangor on Wednesday, July 1 to nominate a gubernatorial candidate. “An extra train of nine crowded cars” brought “the Kennebec and other delegates from the west” to the Maine Central Railroad depot in Bangor on June 30. Joined by “the quite largely represented” War Democrats, delegates jammed Norumbega Hall on Central Street on Wednesday morning.

Some 700 miles to the southwest, John Buford’s Union cavalry tangled with Harry Heth’s infantry as the morning passed.

Blaine gaveled the convention to order shortly before 11 a.m., and the 1,274 delegates representing 298 towns dealt with procedural issues. A few speakers, especially loquacious Lewis Barker of Exeter, droned interminably.

The morning session ended with Portland delegate John T. Gilman relating how the Forest City “had honored herself by capturing the first rebels on the coast of Maine.” Mixing his Caleb Cushing tale with political jokes, he held the delegates spell-bound and received “three hearty cheers … for Portland.”

James G. Blaine chaired the 1863 Maine Republican state convention that replaced standing Governor Abner Coburn on the September 1863 ballot. (Library of Congress)

Reconvening at 2 p.m., delegates approved three permanent party committees before selecting four men “to receive, sort and count the votes” for a gubernatorial candidate. Coburn would have normally won the nomination, but Blaine suddenly stood and claimed to speak for the governor.

A great personal friend and admirer” of Blaine, Coburn knew he faced great opposition. Hoping “to unite all the loyal men of Maine in one harmonious organization,” he decided his 1862 nomination “gave him any priority or precedence” to be automatically renominated, Blaine stated.

Coburn “simply submitted his name” and “if nominated” would “faithfully serve.” If not picked, he “would cheerfully and most cordially” support the candidate, Blaine announced about the same time as the 16th Maine Infantry tramped toward its Gettysburg Gotterdammerung.

With Norumbega Hall tightly packed, Blaine suggested that the voting committee stand “on the outside, and receive the votes as all the delegates passed out.” The four men filed outdoors, and delegates walked past and submitted their ballots.

During the vote tabulation, more orators (not all skilled) added to Norumbega’s stifling hot air. Finally the vote counters delivered their report: Of the 1,083 ballots cast, 418 went to Coburn and 474 to Samuel Cony, a lawyer and a former Augusta mayor.

But the winning candidate needed 542 votes.

A Skowhegan delegate stood and claimed “he was authorized to withdraw” Coburn from contention. The delegates “most loudly cheered” the governor, shouted for Cony, and recast their ballots This time only 991 delegates voted. Needing only 496 votes to win, Cony got 899.

Die-hard Coburn supporters cast 26 votes for their man.

Delegates hollered for Blaine, who praised Cony — “his townsman, friend and neighbor” — “as a true, tried, loyal … man—of popular bearing and with every quality of head and heart needed by an executive in these troubled times.”

Blaine then moved that the convention adjourn. The sun set on this overwhelmingly Republican day as the delegates filed into downtown Bangor and filled the local bars and eateries.

As darkness fell, George G. Meade looped his badly mauled army from Culp’s Hill around to Cemetery Hill to Cemetery Ridge. Ironically 12 ballots cast in the first-round voting at Bangor had gone to Maj. Gen. Oliver Otis Howard, whose decision to build a fall-back line on Cemetery Hill had probably saved the army.

Sources: Charles E. Williams, The Life of Abner Coburn, Thomas W. Burr Press, Bangor, Maine, 1885, pp. 35-36, 63; Union State Convention, Daily Whig & Courier, Thursday, July 2, 1863

If you enjoy reading the adventures of Mainers caught up in the Civil War, be sure to like Maine at War on Facebook and get a copy of the new Maine at War Volume 1: Bladensburg to Sharpsburg, available online at Amazon and all major book retailers, including Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble. —————————————————————————————————————–

Brian Swartz can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net. He enjoys hearing from Civil War buffs interested in Maine’s involvement in the war.

Brian Swartz

About Brian Swartz

Welcome to "Maine at War," the blog about the roles played by Maine and her sons and daughters in the Civil War. I am a Civil War buff and a newspaper editor recently retired from the Bangor Daily News. Maine sent hero upon hero — soldiers, nurses, sailors, chaplains, physicians — south to preserve their country in the 1860s. “Maine at War” introduces these heroes and heroines, who, for the most part, upheld the state's honor during that terrible conflict. We tour the battlefields where they fought, and we learn about the Civil War by focusing on Maine’s involvement with it. Be prepared: As I discover to this very day, the facts taught in American classrooms don’t always jibe with Civil War reality. I can be reached at visionsofmaine@tds.net.