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Henry Joseph Gardner
 From Dictionary of American Biography

Henry Joseph Gardner, June 14, 1818-July 21, 1892

Governor of Massachusetts, was born in Dorchester, Mass., the son of Dr. Henry and Clarissa (Holbrook) Gardner. He was a descendant of Richard Gardner, a resident of Woburn, Mass., in 1642, and a grandson of Henry Gardner (1730-1782), the first treasurer and receiver general of Massachusetts and a member of the Provincial Congress. Graduating at the Phillips Exeter Academy in 1831, Gardner entered Bowdoin College, but did not remain to secure a degree, preferring to go into business. Starting in the dry-goods firm of Denney, Rice & Gardner, in Boston, he ultimately became the controlling force in the corporation, the name of which was changed to Henry J. Gardner & Company. He retired from this occupation in 1876 and during the remainder of his life was resident agent of the Massachusetts Life Insurance Company.

In 1850 he entered municipal politics as a member of the Boston Common council, of which he was president in 1852 and 1853. He was a representative in the General Court, 1851-1852, and a delegate to the Massachusetts constitutional convention of 1853. With the sudden rise of the American, or Know-Nothing, party in Massachusetts, Gardner, who had hitherto been a Whig and an anti-slavery man, rapidly became prominent in its councils. Although it held no public meetings and kept out of the newspapers, this party, based on a fear of Roman Catholic domination and of foreign influence in the United States, attracted large numbers of citizens into its ranks. Gardner, who was an astute politician and a shrewd judge of men and motives, organized ?with great skill and success the knave-power and the donkey-power of the Commonwealth? (G.F. Hoar, Autobiography of Seventy Years, 1903, I, 189-91). In the autumn of 1854, he was the Know-Nothing candidate for governor, receiving 81,000 votes to 26,000 for the Whigs and 13,000 for the Democrats. In the same campaign, his party elected all but two members of the legislature and every member of congress from Massachusetts?the most amazing political landslide in the history of the state. In 1855, running against Julius Rockwell, the Republican nominee, Gardner was again successful; and in 1856, when his candidacy was endorsed by the republicans, he won a third victory. He was finally defeated in 1857 by Nathaniel P. Banks, a Republican, the Know-Nothing movement having run its course.

Contrary to the expectations of is enemies, Gardner was a rather conservative governor. During his three terms in office, he did little that was sensational, although he fulfilled pledges by having a ?reading and writing clause? inserted in the Naturalization Act, by reforming the election laws, and by supporting alien pauper and homestead acts. He disapproved of the Personal Liberty Bill in 1855, but it was passed by the legislature over his veto (J.F. Rhodes, History of the United States from the Compromise of 1852,vol. II, 1900, p. 77). After his defeat, he was never again a factor in Massachusetts affairs, and at the time of his death he had been forgotten by all except a few historians. Gardner was married, on Nov. 21, 1843, to Helen Elizabeth Cobb, daughter of Richard and Elizabeth (Wood) Cobb, of Portland, Me, by whom he had four sons and three daughters. He died of cancer at his home in Milton, Mass.

[Obit. Record Grads. Bowdoin College ? for the Decade ending 1 June 1899 (1899); F.A. Gardner, Thos Gardner, Planter ? and Some of his Descendants (1907) p. 3; G.F. Tuttle, The Descendants of Wm. And Elizabeth Tuttle (1883), p. 310; G.H. Haynes, ?A Know-Nothing Legislature,? Ann. Report, Am. Hist. Asso. ? 1896 (1897), I, 177-87; E.L. Pierce, Memoir and Letters of Chas. Sumner, vol. III (1893), passim; H.G. Pearson, The Life of John A. Andrew (2 vols., 1904); Dorchester Births, Marriages, and Deaths to the End of 1825 (1890); Boston Daily Advertiser, Nov. 22, 1843; obituary in Boston Transcript, July 22, 1892.] C.M.F.

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Created: July 2, 2005   Modified: July 2, 2005