Archives of Maryland
(Biographical Series)

Edwin Warfield (1848-1920)
MSA SC 3520-1476

Governor of Maryland 1904-1908

The following essay is taken from Frank F. White, Jr., The Governors of Maryland 1777-1970 (Annapolis:  The Hall of Records Commission, 1970), 233-236.

"EDWIN WARFIELD, who like William T. Hamilton became governor in spite of his party bosses’ opposition, was born at 'Oakdale,' in Howard County, on May 7, 1848, the son of Albert G. and Margaret (Gassaway) Warfield. For several generations, his ancestors, who bad distinguished themselves in public service, had owned and farmed the estate. The Warfields had achieved prominence in war and peace in Maryland, while through his mother, Edwin Warfield was a descendant of Colonel Gassaway Watkins who had served in the Maryland Line during the Revolutionary War and at the time of his death in 1840 was the President of the Society of the Cincinnati in Maryland.

"Warfield was educated in the public schools of Howard County and at St. Timothy’s Hall in Catonsville. The end of the Civil War with the emancipation of the slaves left his family little besides their land, so for several years, he interrupted his education to work on the farm. In 1866, Warfield became a county school teacher even though he had no special training to be one, and while he taught school, he studied law and was later admitted to the Bar.

"In 1874, when he was twenty-six, Warfield began his career of public service by being appointed to fill a vacancy in the office of the Register of Wills in Howard County. In the following year, he was elected to the full six-year term but he declined re-election to that post when his term expired in 1881.

"Before the end of his term as Register, Warfield was appointed to the State Senate to succeed Arthur Pue Gorman who had resigned his seat to become a United States Senator. Warfield was re-elected in 1883, while during the session of 1886, he served as the president of that body.

"In the meantime, he entered the business world and expanded his professional activities. After he became a member of the Senate in 1881, he began the practice of law in Ellicott City and purchased the Ellicott City Times, a newspaper which he edited between 1882 and 1886. He also organized the Patapsco National Bank of Ellicott City and was connected with that financial institution until 1890.

"Warfield played an important part in the presidential campaign of [p. 234] 1884 when the Democrats captured the presidency for the first time since 1860. In doing so, that Party now had ample patronage opportunities so when the time came for appointing a successor to the Republican Surveyor of the Port of Baltimore in 1886, President Grover Cleveland nominated Warfield for the post, even though he had indicated no previous interest in it. Warfield’s appointment was made on April 5 of that year, just at the time the General Assembly was ready to adjourn, and in order that there might be no vacancy in the presidency of the State Senate, Warfield immediately resigned that office as well as his membership on the Democratic State Central Committee to which he had belonged since 1878. He remained as Surveyor throughout the remainder of the Cleveland administration and until May 1, 1890.

"Until this time, Warfield had been unmarried. In 1890, he married Emma Nicodemus, daughter of J. Courtney Nicodemus of Baltimore. They had three daughters and one son, all of whom were still living when Warfield died.

"The national Democratic defeat in 1888 and the Republican return to power in that year ended Warfield’s career as Surveyor. When he was replaced in 1890, he found that he was unemployed, so he organized the Fidelity and Deposit Company in Baltimore and was president of that institution from that date until he died. Between 1890 and 1899, Warfield participated only once in politics, devoting himself instead to building up the Fidelity Company. In 1896, he was chosen a delegate-at-large to the Democratic National Convention which nominated William Jennings Bryan for the presidency.

"In 1899, Warfield announced his candidacy for governor, prior to which he secured the Fidelity board’s approval for doing so. In that same year, both Senator Arthur Pue Gorman, who led the State organization and I. Freeman Basin, who headed the Baltimore City organization, opposed him, with the result that Warfield failed in his attempt to secure the gubernatorial nomination. 'The sentiment for Warfield was so strong that the leaders deemed it absolutely necessary to have him and his following enthusiastically for the ticket to win.' Accordingly, the forces led by John Walter Smith, the successful nominee requested Warfield to make the speech nominating Smith, so '[it] is believed by many that this action upon the part of Mr. Warfield did more than anything else toward securing him the nomination four years later,' asserted Frank Kent.1

"Although he was unsuccessful in 1899, Warfield learned that the people liked him and had faith in him, so almost as soon as the results of the election were known, he began his campaign to succeed John Walter Smith in 1904. He built up a great deal of sentiment so that when the convention was held in 1903, he was nominated by acclamation even though the party bosses again opposed him. He went on to defeat his Republican opponent Stevenson A. Williams by a margin of over 12,600 votes after a strenuous and exciting campaign.

[p. 235] "Edwin Warfield was inaugurated as governor on January 13, 1904. The most important event of his administration was the campaign for the adoption of the so-called 'Poe Amendment' to the Constitution of Maryland which would have removed the Negro from politics. Warfield had been elected upon a plank which advocated the disfranchising of any Negro whose grandfather had been entitled to vote after 1869. This proposal grew out of the fear that a return of Republican rule in Maryland would threaten white supremacy. The amendment 'would not deprive a white man of his vote and affected colored people only, as no colored man’s grandfather before 1869 was entitled to vote in Maryland,' noted Elihu Riley.2 Warfield himself favored the general provision of denying the right of voting to the ignorant and shiftless class of negroes, but early in the fight over the amendment, he declared that he would not sign any vaguely-worded bill since the proposal would eventually jeopardize every citizen’s right to vote. He came out strongly in opposition to it, and since the bill had been drawn up by Senator Gorman, he found the party organization aligned against him. The opponents of the bill commended him as a man who placed the public interest ahead of political loyalty, but more than anyone else, Warfield was instrumental in the amendment’s defeat at the polls by a majority of some 30,000 votes.

"Warfield favored primary nominations for every elected State office as well as for the United States Senate. 'The people are all powerful and can control primary and final elections when they determine to think for themselves politically--do their civic duty,' he told the Legislature in 1906.3  Feeling that the election of United States Senators had long been a scandal, his support enabled the proposal to pass the Convention, even though it would not be enacted into law until about ten years later.

"By the end of his term in January 1908, the regular party organization grew more and more hostile towards Warfield. 'Those who know public affairs in Maryland say that his fights of this sort did much to hasten reforms which were accomplished later,' asserted The Sun.4

"Governor Warfield’s name became synonymous with patriotism and an intense interest in Maryland history. While he was governor, the Old Senate Chamber in the State House in Annapolis was restored to the same condition in which it was when George Washington resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the Revolutionary War army. Warfield helped to make arrangements for the return of the body of John Paul Jones, the Revolutionary War naval hero, from its place of original burial in Paris to its subsequent reinterment at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He appointed a Public Records Commission 'to examine into the condition and completeness of the public records, and report thereon to the General Assembly with such recommendations as they may deem expedient for the better custody and arrangement and preservation of the [p. 236] same.'5 Although the Commission never published a complete report, its Appendix, compiled by Francis C. Sparks, constituted a valuable checklist of legal information about the creation of offices, towns and tobacco warehouses. In 1904, at his urging the Legislature adopted and legalized the Maryland Flag, noting that since colonial times, its use had been 'continued by common consent only.'6

"From January 1908 until his death, Warfield continued both his business and patriotic activities. He became the President of the Fidelity Trust Company and continued as President of the Fidelity and Deposit Company. In 1913, he was elected as the President of the Maryland Historical Society and during his term of office, he was among those who were most active in arranging for the Society’s move to its new home on the corner of Park Avenue and Monument Street in Baltimore. He was also active in the Maryland Society of the Sons of the American Revolution and the Society of the War of 1812. In 1917, he organized a mass meeting at the Lyric Theater in Baltimore as a protest against the appearance of Dr. Karl Muck, the leader of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to appear in Baltimore, following Dr. Muck’s indisposition to play 'The Star-Spangled Banner' at concerts. He served as the chairman of the committee which had charge of the parade and encampment in Baltimore for the 79th Infantry Division before it sailed for France in 1918, and he assisted in the utilization of the home of the Maryland Historical Society for the preparation of Maryland’s World War I records.

"Late in 1919, Warfield’s health began to fail. He spent the last several months of his life confined to his home in Baltimore, where he died on March 31, 1920. After funeral services at the Brown Memorial Presbyterian Church in Baltimore, his body was taken to the family burial ground at 'Cherry Grove,' in Howard County, where he was laid to rest.

“As Governor of the State,” commented The Sun, 'Mr. Warfield will be remembered not so much for concrete things--though he accomplished not a little--as for his brave defiance of dictation, his honest and unswerving devotion to public interests, his demonstration of the fact that a Marylander need not beg the consent of anyone to serve his State, if he have any real Maryland manhood in him. He reinvested the office of Governor with the dignity and independence which belonged to it in the old days. He converted it from the satrapy of a powerful machine into an unfettered agency of the people, a public trust responsible only to the public. For this, had he done nothing else, he would richly deserve to be held in grateful memory. He was one of our ‘pioneers’ in this as in business and his vision, faith, and courage still remain as moral guidons in struggles for cleaner and freer government.'”7

Notes on sources

Return to Edwin Warfield's introductory page

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