Pioneer Governors: Leland Stanford

Leland Stanford California’s eighth governor was born Amasa Leland Stanford on March 9, 1824, in Watervliet, New York, and was raised on his family’s two prosperous farms in the area. Stanford attended college in Clinton, New York, and studied law at Cazenovia Seminary. In 1845 he entered a law firm in Albany, New York, where he met his future wife. After being admitted to the bar in 1848, he migrated to Port Washington, Wisconsin, returning to Albany to marry Jane Lathrop on September 30, 1850.  Two years later he left Jane with her ailing father and followed his gold-rushing brothers to California, where he practiced some law, but had greater success as the keeper of a general store for miners in Michigan Bluff.  After opening a general store in Sacramento with his brothers, he went back to Albany in 1855 to join his wife but returned to California with her the following year. Politically active, Stanford helped organize the Republican Party in Sacramento in 1856. He was elected governor in 1861, serving as the first Republican governor from January 10, 1862 to December 10, 1863.  His one-month shortened term of office was the result of legislation passed during his administration, which changed the governor’s term limits from two to four years and also changed the start of the term from January to December. Meanwhile, Stanford and his associates Charles Crocker, Mark Hopkins, and Collis Huntington had committed themselves to building the first transcontinental railroad. His only child Leland Stanford Jr.—born after 18 years of marriage in 1868—died of typhoid fever in 1884 while the family was vacationing in Italy. Leland and Jane founded and developed Leland Stanford Junior University, now known as Stanford University, in 1885 as a memorial to their son. As governor, Stanford sponsored legislative reforms, backed the conservation of forests, and cut the state budget in half. He was the U.S. Senator from California 1885-93. As a private citizen, he helped organize what is now the Sacramento Public Library. The Stanford’s spectacular San Francisco Nob Hill home was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, but their Sacramento mansion is now a State Historic Park and is also used for official state social functions.

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