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Thomas Andrew Osborn

Thomas OsbornPolitician, governor. Republican. Born: October 26, 1836, Meadville, Pennsylvania. Died: February 4, 1898, Pennsylvania. Served as lieutenant governor: from January 12, 1863, to January 9, 1865. Served as sixth governor of Kansas from January 13, 1873, to January 8, 1877.

Thomas Andrew Osborn was born on October 26, 1836 at Meadville, Pennsylvania to Carpenter and Elizabeth Morris Osborn. Osborn was educated at common schools throughout Meadville; he later attended Allegheny Preparatory College and an apprenticeship program to become a printer. He acquired an interest in the practice of law and pursued his ambition while working as a printer to pay his way through college.

In 1856 he continued his law studies through an apprenticeship at the office of Judge David Derrickson of Meadville. In early 1857 he moved to Michigan and was admitted to the bar. In November 1857 he relocated to Kansas and stopped through Lawrence to secure temporary employment as a compositor for the Herald of Freedom newspaper. He was promoted to shop foremen and then given sole control of the newspaper; he became editor in March 1858.

At age 21 Osborn began to practice law at Elwood, Kansas. He became known as a sound lawyer of good counsel. He was an antislavery Republican. He ran for and was elected state senator from Doniphan County in 1859 contingent on statehood; he took his seat in the first state legislature in 1861. Osborn was chosen president pro tem of the senate in 1862 to preside while the lieutenant governor was absent; he also served in that position during the impeachment trial of Governor Charles Robinson. In fall 1862 he was elected lieutenant governor, defeating John J. Ingalls. He served in that position during the Robinson and Thomas Carney administrations. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln appointed Osborn as U. S. marshal of Kansas. He occupied that office until 1867 when President Andrew Johnson fired him for criticisms made of the administration’s reconstruction policies.

Osborn married Julia Delahay of Leavenworth, a relative of Abraham Lincoln, in 1870. They had one son, Edward, born in 1871.

In 1872 the Republican State Convention nominated Osborn as the Republican candidate for governor. He defeated Thaddeus H. Walker by a large margin and was sworn in as the sixth governor of Kansas on January 13, 1873.

The newly elected governor eloquently spoke of calm and prosperity to the people of Kansas in his first annual message. Osborn’s first year appeared promising with for the state of Kansas. The economy prospered, and many new miles of railroad track construction were steaming forward along with masses of new settlers moving to the Kansas frontiers. But panic erupted in late 1873 when many large Eastern banks began to fail and soured the national economy. The year 1874, however, was one of painful misery for Governor Osborn. The massive grasshopper invasion that caused horrendous crop destruction and famine across the state coincided with increased tensions between American Indians and new settlers in Barber County and along the southern border. Osborn called on the state legislature to organize relief committees to aid the suffering of the grasshopper raid. The U. S. Cavalry was summoned to quell the southern border and recover the plunder. In the midst of battle, the son of Cheyenne Chief Little Robe was killed. The violence escalated in the region. Some demanded revenge, while others urged patience and calm. Osborn exercised diplomacy and steered toward the middle ground during this traumatic period.

Popularly known for his broad vision and resourcefulness in fiscal responsibility, Osborn kept the state budget in check. The promotion of continued colonizing and land settlements and the encouragement of settlers to permanently homestead was the governor’s highest priority. A large group of Mennonites from southern Russia settled in the Arkansas River Valley in 1874 establishing many new counties along the southern Kansas border due to expanding populations.

In 1876 the Centennial Exposition was at Philadelphia, and $30,000 was invested in a magnificent Kansas exhibit that magnified the state’s recent grand successes in the national public eye. In March 1876, U. S. Senator Alexander Caldwell from Kansas resigned from office and Governor Osborn appointed Robert Crozier to fill the remainder of his term. He also appointed John Francis to succeed the state treasurer, Josiah E. Hayes, who had been impeached and convicted for abuse of state funds. In 1875 Osborn received a large number of votes from legislators for the U. S. senate seat. However, Preston B. Plumb, with whom he had worked on the Herald of Freedom, was elected instead.

A few months after Osborn’s governorship ended President Rutherford Hayes commissioned him envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to Chile, so he departed for Santiago. At the close of his time in Chile, the Chilean government honored him for extraordinary diplomatic leadership in settling the dispute of boundary between that country and the Argentine Republic. In 1881 he was elevated to the Brazilian mission. When Osborn returned home from South America he became interested in several business adventures: banking, railroad construction, and real estate operations. In May 1866, he was an incorporator of Northern Kansas Rail Road Company (later part of the St. Joseph and Denver City Railroad Company) and was a director of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe line from its early days until his death. He served as president of the Kansas Historical Society in 1890. 

Osborn died on February 4, 1898, in his home town of Meadville, Pennsylvania, of a severe stomach hemorrhage; he was visiting Meadville after attending a meeting of the Santa Fe’s directors in New York City. He was returned to Kansas for interment at Topeka Cemetery. His religious preference was Methodist, but he was a member of no church.

Entry: Osborn, Thomas Andrew

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2011

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.