Sunday, February 24, 2013

Edward Dickinson Baker, born February 24, 1811

Edward Dickinson Baker was born in London, England in 1811 to schoolteacher Edward Baker and Lucy Dickinson Baker.  His parents were poor but educated Quakers.

In 1816, the Baker family immigrated to the United States, arriving in Philadelphia, where Baker's father established a school. "Ned" attended his father's school before quitting to apprentice as a loom operator in a weaving factory.  

In 1825, the family left Philadelphia and traveled to New Harmony, Indiana, a utopian community on the Ohio River led by Robert Owen.  The family left New Harmony in 1826 and moved to Belleville in the Illinois Territory, a town near St. Louis, Missouri.  Edward Baker bought a horse and cart and started a drayage business that young Ned operated in St. Louis.

Edward Dickinson Baker  was fifty years old when the Civil War began.

Ninian Edwards
Ned Baker met Ninian Edwards, the governor of the Illinois Territory; Edwards allowed Baker to study in his private law library.  Baker  was admitted to the Illinois bar in 1830.

On April 27, 1831, he married Mary Ann Lee of Baltimore; they would have five children together.  Shortly after his marriage, Baker affiliated with the Disciples of Christ and engaged in part-time preaching.

Around 1835, he became acquainted with Abraham Lincoln and became involved in local politics.  Baker was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1837, and served in the Illinois Senate from 1840 to 1844. While living in Springfield, he defeated Lincoln for the nomination for the 7th U.S. congressional seat.

Baker and Lincoln became fast friends, with Lincoln naming one of his sons Edward Baker Lincoln, nicknamed "Eddie."
Edward "Eddie" Lincoln
In 1844, Joseph Smith, the founder of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons), was killed by a mob near Nauvoo, Illinois.  As a colonel in the local militia, Baker was part of a group that pursuied the mob leaders who had fled across the Mississippi River into Missouri. Baker crossed the river and apprehended the fugitives.
During the Mexican American War, Baker briefly dropped out of politics and was commissioned as a colonel of the Illinois Volunteer Infantry in 1846. In the Battle of Cerro Gordo, the regiment was assigned to General James Shields' Illinois brigade in General D.E. Twigg’s division. When Shields was badly wounded in an artillery barrage, Baker led the brigade against the entrenched artillery battery, resulting in the capture of the guns.  General Winfield Scott later said,
The brigade so gallantly led by General Shields, and, after his fall, by Colonel Baker, deserves high commendation for its fine behavior and success.
Soon after Cerro Gordo, the enlistment period ended for men of the 4th Illinois.  Baker returned to Springfield, but rather than run against Lincoln again for nomination to Congress, Baker moved to Galena, where he was elected as a Whig to the 31st Congress (March 4, 1849 - March 4, 1851). 

Baker moved to San Francisco in 1852 and operated a successful law practice.  Baker met Isaac J. Wister, sixteen years Baker’s junior and from a prominent Philadelphia family. The two formed a successful partnership at Montgomery and Jackson Streets.  
California had been admitted to the United States in 1850 as a free state, but by the later part of the 1850s, the state was being pulled in different directions over the issue of slavery. Baker became a leader in the movement to keep California in the Union. In 1855, he ran for a seat in the state senate as a Whig on the Free Soil Party ticket but lost because the Whig party had collapsed. 
Baker became involved in a notorious criminal case in 1855 that threatened his legal and political future. He was criticized for defending Charles Cora, a gambler accused of killing a United States marshal. The jury failed to reach a verdict, and Cora was lynched by a vigilante mob. The experience led Baker to become active in the Law and Order Party, which opposed actions of the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance, which took the law into its own hands. Because of the committee’s criticism of his actions, Baker temporarily left the city and spent some time in the Sacramento area.

Frustrated by his failure to win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1859, Baker looked to greener political pastures to the north. Oregon held special interest for people who had once lived in Illinois, including men he had known in Springfield. He had become interested in Oregon politics in 1857, when Dr. Anson Henry, a friend from Springfield who had moved to Oregon, told Baker he could win the Senate election there. After Oregon became a state in 1859, Oregon Republicans asked Baker to come to their state to run for the Senate and counter the Democratic strength there. By the end of February 1860, the Baker family had moved into a house in Salem. Baker opened a law office and started campaigning for Republicans around the state.

In Salem on July 4, he acknowledged the rumbles of secession threats and proclaimed his willingness to die for his country:
If it be reserved for me to lay my unworthy life upon the altar of my country in defending it from internal assailants, I declare here today that I aspire to no higher glory than that the sun of my life may go down beneath the shadow of freedom’s temple and baptize the emblem of the nation’s greatness, the Stars and Stripes, that float so proudly before us today, in my heart’s warmest blood.
The Oregon legislature met in Salem in September 1860 to elect two men to the Senate. In an effort to keep Baker from receiving the required majority of 26 votes, six pro-slavery senators left the meeting and hid in a barn to prevent a quorum. They were brought back, and the legislators reached a compromise on October 7 and elected Baker James Nesmith, a Douglas Democrat. The Douglas Democrats supported Baker because of his support of popular sovereignty.

In Washington, D.C., Baker took his seat in the United States Senate on December 5, 1860. On December 31, Senator Judah Benjamin of Louisiana argued that Southern states had a constitutional right to secede and that other states would soon join South Carolina, which had seceded on December 20. Baker refuted Benjamin’s argument in a three-hour speech a day later. He acknowledged that he was opposed to interference with slave owners in slave states, but he was also opposed to secession and the extension of slavery into new territories and states. In March 1861, he indicated a willingness to compromise on some issues to prevent the breakup of the country.
Baker in carriage with Lincoln at Inauguration
Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated as president on March 4, 1861. Baker and Senator James Pearce of Maryland rode in the presidential carriage from the White House to the Capitol with Lincoln and outgoing President James Buchanan.  Baker introduced Lincoln to the audience gathered on the east portico of the Capitol: “Fellow citizens, I introduce to you, Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.”

Lincoln's first inauguration at Capitol Building
Lincoln did not name Baker to his cabinet because his support in the Senate was so critical. If Baker had resigned his Senate seat, Oregon’s proslavery Democrat governor would have appointed a proslavery Democrat to take his place.

The Civil War began on April 12 when Confederate artillery fired on Fort Sumter; three days later, President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to join the Union army. Baker left the Senate to go to New York City, where he spoke for two hours to a crowd of 100,000 in Union Square on April 19:
The hour for conciliation is past; the gathering for battle is at hand, and the country requires that every man shall do his duty. . . .If Providence shall will it, this feeble hand shall draw a sword, never yet dishonored, not to fight for honor on a foreign field, but for country, for home, for law, for government, for Constitution, for right, for freedom, for humanity.
The following day, he met with 200 men from California who wanted to form a regiment that would symbolize the commitment of the West Coast to the Union cause. On May 8, Baker was authorized by Secretary of War Simon Cameron to form the California Regment with Baker as its commanding officer with the rank of colonel.  He was assigned command of a brigade guarding fords along the Potomoac River north of Washington, D.C.

At a dinner with a journalist in August, Baker predicted he would die in an early battle of the war: 
I am certain I shall not live through this war, and if my troops should show any want of resolution, I shall fall in the first battle. I cannot afford, after my career in Mexico, and as a Senator of the United States, to turn my face from the enemy.
Baker stopped at the White House on October 20 to visit his old friend. Lincoln sat against a tree on the northeast White House lawn, while Baker lay on the ground with his hands behind his head.  One of Lincoln's sons, Willie, played in the leaves while the two men talked. Baker picked Willie up and kissed him before shaking the President’s hand as he left. Mary Lincoln gave Baker a bouquet of flowers, which he accepted graciously and sadly: “Very beautiful. These flowers and my memory will wither together.”
Willie Lincoln
On October 21 at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, Baker was struck by a volley of bullets through his heart and brain that killed him instantly.
Death of Colonel Edward D. Baker at the Battle of Ball's Bluff, October 21, 1861
Currier & Ives Print
Lincoln was at General George McClellan's headquarters that evening when he got the news of Baker’s death. Charles Carleton Coffin of the Boston Journal saw Lincoln crying when he received the news of Baker’s death:
With bowed head, and tears rolling down his furrowed cheeks, his face pale and wan, his heart heaving with emotion, he almost fell as he stepped into the street.
Ball's Bluff
At Baker′s funeral, Mary Todd Lincoln scandalized Washington by appearing in a lilac ensemble, including matching gloves and hat, rather than the traditional black. Despite Baker's close friendship with her husband, she retorted, “I wonder if the women of Washington expect me to muffle myself in mourning for every soldier killed in this great war?”  

Baker’s body was sent by ship to San Francisco for burial. He was buried in San Francisco National Cemetery.   

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