Pioneer Governors: William Irwin, 1875-1880

William Irwin As President pro Tempore of the State Senate, William Irwin assumed the role of acting lieutenant governor when Romualdo Pacheco stepped into the governor’s chair after Newton Booth’s resignation in February 1875. Irwin had first entered politics when he was elected to the State Assembly 1861-63 representing Siskiyou County. Born in Butler County, Ohio, on January 1, 1827, William graduated from Marietta College in Ohio in 1848.  He taught school for a year in Port Gibson, Mississippi, followed by two more years of teaching at his alma mater, Marietta College.  In 1851 he passed up a chance to study law in Chicago—instead booking ship passage to California—but after arriving in San Francisco he headed to Oregon where he joined his uncle’s lumber business. Three years later he returned to California where he worked in a slaughterhouse, engaged in mining and lumber, and owned a livery stable and a stage coach line in Siskiyou County. In January 1866 Irwin purchased the Yreka Union, becoming editor of the weekly newspaper. In 1869 he was elected to the California State Senate and reelected in 1873. Two years later Irwin was elected governor of California and was sworn into office as California’s 13th governor on December 9, 1875. During his term paper money was widely introduced although Irwin fought to keep California a “hard money” state, preferring gold and silver instead. Also, a second constitutional convention was held, and a new state constitution was adopted that went into effect on July 4, 1879. After leaving office on January 8, 1880, William Irwin was appointed to the Board of Harbor Commissioners, a position he held until his death on March 15, 1886. He is buried in Sacramento’s City Cemetery.  


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