Biography of Edmund Needham Morrill, Hon.
Hon. Edmund Needham Morrill. Of the record of Governor Morrill during his term as head of the state government of Kansas a review is given on other pages of this history. It will be wise to supplement that record with some of the more personal details of his career and his various connections, public and business and philanthropic, with Brown County, where his name will always be revered and where he was regarded by common consent as the foremost citizen.
He was born at Westbrook, Cumberland County, Maine, February 12, 1834, and died in 1909, after completing three-quarters of a century of life. He was educated in the common schools and in Westbrook Seminary. His father, Rufus Morrill, was a tanner and currier by trade. The son learned the same business. In 1856 Edmund Morrill, then twenty-two years of age, was elected a member of the board of school supervisors for his native town. At the end of one year he resigned office to come to Kansas. While he was a member of the board he was instrumental in granting a teacher’s certificate to Thomas B. Reed, who afterwards became nationally distinguished as speaker of the House of Representatives.
In 1857 Mr. Morrill joined a colony which left Maine to found a new settlement in the territory of Kansas. They came to Brown County and located a few miles west of where Hiawatha now stands. They laid out a town calling it Hamlin, in honor of Hannibal Hamlin, who was then serving as a senator from Maine. Near this town Mr. Morrill took a claim of 160 acres and when the land came in the market he paid the government $1.25 an acre. He also set up the machinery of a saw mill and began the manufacture of native lumber. This mill was burned but was rebuilt and was conducted successfully for three years.
In the movement of the free state men in the fall of 1857 to capture the legislative machinery of the territory, Mr. Morrill was nominated by that party for the Legislature from the district comprising Brown and Nemaha counties. He received 136 votes in Brown, and 145 votes in Nemaha County against seventy-two and thirty-eight votes, respectively, for the pro-slavery candidate, E. M. Hubbard. During his term in the Territorial Legislature Mr. Morrill helped repeal the “Bogus Laws” and was also prominent in the movement to create a state out of the northern half of Kansas and that part of Nebraska territory south of the Platte River. In January, 1858, Mr. Morrill was elected to the Legislature under the Lecompton Constitution. However, no sessions of that Legislature were ever held.
On October 5, 1861, he was mustered into service as a private in Company C of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry. The 10th of October he was promoted to sergeant and on August 9, 1862, was commissioned commissary of subsistence by President Lincoln. His command was then stationed at Rienzi, Mississippi. Major Morrill was with General Grant at Corinth and at the expiration of his service held the rank of major by brevet. He was mustered out October 26, 1865.
In 1866 he was elected clerk of the court without opposition. Soon afterward a vacancy occurred in the office of county clerk and he was appointed to fill that position and was elected in the fall without opposition. These two offices he filled for some time, being re-elected clerk of court in 1868 and county clerk in 1869 and 1871. He was elected a member of the State Senate in 1872, serving two years, and was re-elected in 1876, for a term of four years. During his second term in the Senate he was president pro tem and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.
In 1882 he was nominated by the republicans for congressman to represent the state at large. After the redistricting of the state he was elected to represent the first district in 1884 and re-elected in 1886 and 1888. He declined a renomination for 1890. During his six years in Congress he was recognized as one of the hardest working members of that body. He especially labored to secure pensions for his old comrades and was chairman of the committee on Invalid Pensions. He drafted and secured the passage of the Morrill Dependent Pension and Disability Act, which proved a blessing to many old soldiers. In recognition of his work for the old veterans he was chosen by Congress in 1891 as member of the board of managers for the National Home for Disabled Soldiers. He was first a candidate for the republican nomination for governor in 1892, but was defeated by Farmer A. W. Smith. Two years later he was nominated and defeated Governor Lewellyn. In 1896 he was renominated, but was defeated in the general overthrow of the republican party in Kansas that year.
While so widely known as a public leader Major Morrill’s conspicuous business interests and private affairs were always in his home county of Brown. In 1871, with W. B. Barnett and Lorenzo Janes, he cstablished the first bank of the county. It was afterwards incorporated as a state bank and he became its president and continued to hold that office until his death. He was president of the First National Bank of Leavenworth a number of years and a director of the Interstate Bank of Kansas City, Kansas. He dealt extensively in Brown County lands and was himself a farmer and stock raiser on a large scale.
He was a member of the Lodge, Chapter and Commandery of Masonry at Hiawatha and of Abdallah Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Leavenworth, belonged to Hiawatha Post No. 130, Grand Army of the Republic, and to the Loyal Legion. He was exceedingly public spirited and liberal with his means in behalf of every local enterprise, Brown County had two institutions of which the people have been especially proud and which they owe to Governor Morrill’s generosity. These are the Morrill Public Library and the Hiawatha Aeademy. The Academy served as a means for the higher education of many young men and young women but in later years had been supplanted by the high school.
In 1882 Governor Morrill made a proposition to the city of Hiawatha to furnish the community with a free library and reading room. That was the beginning of the present Morrill Free Public Library, one of the best institutions of its kind in the state. In 1917 the library had 15,000 volumes of standard literature, and it ranks second only to the schools as a means of education and civic enlightment. Governor Morrill was always the most liberal supporter of this library and was president of its board of trnstees for many years.
Of his personal characteristics he is remembered for his sincerity and honesty in every relationship of life and his ability was matched by an earnestness and progressiveness of ideals.
On November 27, 1862, he married Miss Elizabeth A. Bretton of Livermore, Maine, daughter of William H. Bretton. She died in September, 1868. On Christmas Day of 1869 he married Miss Caroline J. Nash of Boston, Massachusetts. To the second marriage were born three children; Susan B., wife of Cornelius H. Baker, of Hiawatha; Grace W., wife of Charles Dixon, president of the Dixon Live Stock Commission Company of Kansas City; and Frank N., who graduated from Harvard University with the class of 1897 and completed the law course in Harvard Law School in 1900, and is now vice president of the Morrill-Janes Bank.