Stephen Miller Biography

Frail health prompted Stephen Miller, a Pennsylvania German businessman, to leave home at age 42 and follow his friend Alexander Ramsey to Minnesota, where the climate reportedly was more congenial. Miller established a mercantile business in St. Cloud and, within two years, had risen to prominence in the state Republican Party.

During the Civil War, this middle-aged soldier with no previous military experience was appointed lieutenent colonel in the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. In 1862 Miller returned from the South and replaced Henry Sibley as commander of Mankato’s Camp Lincoln, where 303 Dakota men, convicted of participating in the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862, awaited their fate. Four months later he supervised, by order of President Lincoln, the mass execution of 38 of those men condemned for their part in the war.

His military career and fellow-Republican Alexander Ramsey’s support assured Miller of a gubernatorial victory in the 1863 election. He was the first of several Civil War veterans to serve as governor of Minnesota. Although lacking a college degree, he valued higher education and advocated generous appropriations to state normal schools and the University of Minnesota. In his final address to the legislature, he strongly but unsuccessfully urged the adoption of a black suffrage amendment to the state constitution.

Miller chose not to run for re-election and was unemployed until 1871, when he became a railroad-company field agent in Windom. He served as a congressman in 1873 and as an Electoral College representative in 1876. In 1881 the war hero and popular governor died alone, an impoverished widower.