Samuel Medary Biography

A Jacksonian Democrat, Samuel Medary was Minnesota's third-and last-territorial governor, serving for only thirteen months. When President James Buchanan appointed him governor in March, 1857, Minnesota was already in transition from a territory to a state. A premature statewide election was held in October, 1857 and a full slate of state, judicial, and legislative officials was elected. Because Congress did not accept the state constitution until May 1858, the elected officers did not actually qualify for their offices.

Meanwhile, Medary was still the recognized governor, although he spent most of his time outside the territory and conducted business through Charles L. Chase, the secretary of the territory. Some historians argue that Minnesota had three governors during this period: Henry H. Sibley, governor-elect, Charles L. Chase, acting governor, and Samuel Medary, governor de jure.

Expecting swift approval by Congress of Minnesota's admission to the Union, the newly-elected Minnesota state legislature met in December, 1857. The question arose whether any legislation passed by the body was legal, and whether Governor Medary had any right to sign the bills. Protests were filed, both in the legislature and in Congress. This ambiguity is one reason Medary spent most of his term back home in Ohio rather than in Minnesota. Meanwhile, passage of Minnesota statehood was delayed in Congress until Kansas—a slave state—was admitted.

The Minnesota legislature passed one bill in December and Governor Medary signed it. They passed four general and eight special acts in January, and six general and thirty special acts in February, all signed by Chase as acting governor. In March the legislature set out to amend the state constitution, which was not yet approved by Congress. The amendment became known as the "Five Million Loan" bill.

The Five Million Loan bill loaned to four railroad companies the credit of the state, not to exceed five million dollars. Bonds were to be issued as railroad construction was completed. The railroad companies would pay off the bonds by selling land granted to them by the federal government. The bill, signed by Governor Medary, later proved disastrous. By July, 1859, the value of the bonds fell so low that they were no longer useable as collateral to continue building the railroads.