- John G. Downey
name = John Gately Downey
order = 7th
office = Governor of California
January 14, 1860
January 10, 1862
Isaac N. Quinn
Pablo de la Guerra
birth_date = birth date|1827|6|24|mf=y
County Roscommon, Ireland
death_date = death date and age|1894|3|1|1827|6|24
Los Angeles, California
party = Democrat
spouse = Maria Guirado (d. 1883)
Rosa V. Kelly
John Gately Downey (
June 24, 1827ndash March 1, 1894) was an Irish-Americanpolitician and Governor of Californiafrom January 14, 1860to January 10, 1862. Until the election of Arnold Schwarzeneggerin 2003, Downey was California's only foreign-born governor. Downey was also the first Southern Californian to assume the governorship.
Downey was born in the townland of Castlesampson, Taghmaconnell parish,
County Roscommon, in central Ireland, to Denis Downey and Bridget Gately on June 24, 1827. Castlesampson is West of the present day town of Athlone, Ireland. Educated in Ireland, Downey's family immigrated to the United Statesin 1842 at the age of 14. Settling in Charles County, Maryland, the Downeys joined two stepsisters who had already settled in the U.S.. However by 1844, by age 16, dwindling family finances forced Downey to halt his education and become independent. He apprenticed at an apothecaryin Washington, D.C.until 1846. Downey afterwards relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio, where he worked as a druggist. Like many who heard about the California Gold Rush, Downey decided to go West. He stopped along the way at Vicksburg, Mississippi, then Havana, Cubaand finally New Orleans, Louisiana. It is not clear why Downey took such an erratic route to California. By 1849, Downey had arrived in California, briefly prospecting in Grass Valley before finding a job at a drug store in San Francisco. [cite web |url=http://www.californiagovernors.ca.gov/h/biography/governor_7.html |title=John G. Downey |publisher=California State Library |date=2006 |accessdate=2007-07-12] He soon moved to Los Angeles, becoming a successful businessman with interests in real estate and cattle ranching. It was in Los Angeles that Downey began an interest in politics, elected to the Los Angeles Common Council in the early 1850s.
A Lecompton Democrat that favored slavery in the
Kansas Territory, Downey was elected as a member of the lower house California State Assemblyfor the 1st District, serving from 1856 to 1857. In the 1859 general elections, Downey was elected Lieutenant Governor, overcoming the party split within the Democratic Party between Lecompton and Anti-Lecompton Democrats, as well as seeing off a challenge from the infant Republican Party.
Five days after being sworn in as Lieutenant Governor, Governor
Milton Lathamresigned after appointed himself (with the support of the State Legislature) to fill the federal Senate vacancy left by the death of David C. Broderick, who had been killed in a duelearlier in 1859. [cite web |url=http://www.anchorbrewing.com/san_francisco/duel.htm |title=The Last Duel in San Francisco History |publisher=Anchor Steam Brewing Company |date=2002 |accessdate=2007-07-11] Downey assumed the governorship on January 14, 1860.
During his governorship, the Assembly and Senate passed the "Bulkhead Bill," a highly controversial bill heavily supported by San Francisco capitalists that would place the city's waterfront in the hands of private companies within monopolies. Despite its support among San Francisco's wealthy, local merchants and the public alike were in staunch opposition. In a move that stunned many former wealthy supporters, Downey
vetoed the Bulkhead Bill, claiming that " [I] ts provisions are not only in conflict with the constitution and the principles of natural justice, but that the measure as a whole is calculated to work irreparable injury to our commerce, internal and external, of which San Francisco is and must forever remain a metropolis." [cite book |author=Theodore H. Hittell|title=History of California, Vol IV |location=San Francisco, CA |publisher=N.J. Stone & Company |year=1897 |origyear=1885 |isbn=]
Downey's veto was widely popular in both San Francisco and throughout California, marking the peak of his popularity. Shortly afterwards, Downey visited the city and was greeted as a hero. [cite book |author=Theodore H. Hittell|title=History of California, Vol IV |location=San Francisco, CA |publisher=N.J. Stone & Company |year=1897 |origyear=1885 |isbn=] However, capitalist supporters of the Bulkhead Bill never forgave the governor. During a later visit to San Francisco, Downey described a protester as a "bulkheader." The result was a fist fight, broken up only when Downey supporters physically restrained his opponent. [cite web |url=http://www.californiagovernors.ca.gov/h/biography/governor_7.html |title=John G. Downey |publisher=California State Library |date=2006 |accessdate=2007-07-12]
By the 1860 presidential election, the Democratic Party again splintered. Anti-Lecomptons favored
Stephen A. Douglas, while Lecomptons supported John C. Breckinridge. Previously part of the Lecompton faction, Downey sided with Anti-Lecomptons, supporting Douglas in his failed bid against Abraham Lincoln. [cite book |author=Theodore H. Hittell|title=History of California, Vol IV |location=San Francisco, CA |publisher=N.J. Stone & Company |year=1897 |origyear=1885 |isbn=]
By the outbreak of the
American Civil War, Downey pledged support to the Union, responding to requests by U.S. Secretary of War Simon Cameronfor California troop assistance. However, Downey's support for the Unionist cause remained vague. According to Victorian historian Theodore H. Hittell, "Downey's unionism, it was very plain, was not of the kind by which the Union could be preserved. It meant continued submission and subserviency to slavery and the slave power, which had hitherto dominated the country while the advance of the age had outgrown it...It cannot be said that Downey had any special love for slavery or the slave power; on the contrary, he had to a very considerable extent broken loose of the chivalry and what was called an Anti-Lecompton Democrat; but unfortunately for himself, he was still hampered with old-time doctrines when slavery ruled unquestioned..." [cite book |author=Theodore H. Hittell|title=History of California, Vol IV |location=San Francisco, CA |publisher=N.J. Stone & Company |year=1897 |origyear=1885 |isbn=]
With the Civil War in its first stages by the 1861 general elections, Downey's earlier support for his veto of the Bulkhead Bill had all but evaporated. Downey's own Democratic Party again splintered violently over slavery and unionism. Despite having turned his back to the Lecompton "Breckinridge" faction, Anti-Lecompton "Unionist" Democrats failed to renominate him during the state Democratic convention, effectively ending Downey's political career. During the election, the Republican Party capitalized on the Democratic split and won the elections, with Californians electing
Leland Stanfordover Breckinridge Democrat John R. McConnelland Unionist Democrat John Conness. [cite web |url=http://www.joincalifornia.com/election/1861-09-04 |title=Election History for the state of California |publisher=JoinCalifornia |date=4 Sep 1861 |accessdate=2007-07-12]
After his term as Governor expired in 1862, Downey returned to
Southern California. In 1871, he helped co-found Farmers and Merchants Bank, the first successful bank Los Angeles, with Isaias W. Hellman, a banker, philanthropist and future president of Wells Fargo.
In 1879, Downey joined some public-spirited citizens led by Judge
Robert Maclay Widney, in laying the groundwork for the University of Southern California, the first university in the region. When Widney formed a board of trustees, he secured a donation of 308 lots of land from three prominent members of the community: Ozro W. Childs, a Protestanthorticulturist; Hellman, a German-Jew; and Downey. The gift provided land for a campus as well as a source of endowment, the seeds of financial support for the nascent institution. Downey Street on the USC campus is named after him.
In 1883, Downey, along with his wife, Maria Jesus Guirado, the daughter of a prominent Spanish gentleman of
Sonora, were involved in a violent train accident at Tehachapi Pass, when their train plunged into a ravine. A porter pulled Governor Downey out of the burning wreckage, but Mrs. Downey's body was never found. The event plagued Downey for the remainder of his life, suffering from what was described as "nervous shock," known today as Post-traumatic stress disorder. [cite web |url=http://downeyca.com/hist.htm#John |title=John G. Downey |publisher=City of Downey |accessdate=2007-07-12]
Following the incident, a friend
Frank M. Pixley, introduced him to the twenty year old Yda Hillis Addis, a new writer on Pixley's San Francisco journal " The Argonaut". Although Downey was 32 years older than Addis, they became engaged to marry. When Downey's two sisters discovered the betrothal, they were not pleased. Downey was a wealthy man, if he should pass away, his wealth would shift to Addis. The sisters kidnapped Downey and put him on a boat to Ireland. Addis sued for breach of promise, but left San Franciscobefore the trial. Downey later remarried to Rosa V. Kelly, of Los Angeles.
Downey died in 1894 at his home in Los Angeles. He was originally interred at Old Calvary Cemetery in Los Angeles; after the cemetery was removed, Downey was reburied at
Holy Cross Cemetery, Colma.
Downey, Californiais named in John G. Downey's honor; Downey's land company owned the land that was subdivided to create the town in the 1870s.
During Downey's governorship, construction began on the
California State Capitolin Sacramento. Also during his governorship, the Pony Expressbegan service to San Francisco, and the Central Pacific Railroadwas formed. [cite web |url=http://www.nga.org/portal/site/nga/menuitem.29fab9fb4add37305ddcbeeb501010a0/?vgnextoid=29d9224971c81010VgnVCM1000001a01010aRCRD&vgnextchannel=e449a0ca9e3f1010VgnVCM1000001a01010aRCRD |title=California Governor John G. Downey|publisher=National Governors Association |date=2004 |accessdate=2007-07-12]
* [http://www.californiagovernors.ca.gov/h/biography/governor_7.html John G. Downey biography] at the
California State Library
NAME=Downey, John Gately
SHORT DESCRIPTION=Governor of California
DATE OF BIRTH=
June 24, 1827
PLACE OF BIRTH=
County Roscommon, Ireland
DATE OF DEATH=
March 1, 1894
PLACE OF DEATH=
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