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Thomas Ewing Jr., 1829-1896

Materials relating to Thomas Ewing Jr.

The first chief justice of the Kansas State Supreme Court, Thomas Ewing Jr., was born in Lancaster, Ohio, on August 7, 1829. His father and namesake was secretary of the treasury under President William Henry Harrison and secretary of interior for President Zachary Taylor, as well as a U.S. senator from Ohio (1850-1851). Ewing Jr. attended Lancaster Academy, served as a private secretary for President Taylor, and graduated from Brown University and the Cincinnati Law School before commencing a private practice in Cincinnati and marrying Ellen Cox in 1856.

The Ewings removed to Kansas Territory in 1857, settling in Leavenworth where Thomas Ewing practiced law with his brother Hugh and brother-in-law William Tecumseh Sherman (Sherman and Ewing also were "foster" brothers). In addition to busy legal business, Ewing took part in the organization of the Kansas Republican Party, because he could not identify himself or Kansas with the pro-Southern Democracy of Presidents Pierce and Buchanan, but worried that the radicals/abolitionists would take the Republicans down. He was a conservative, who seems to have favored "Negro exclusion," but played a key role in the "the Charley Fisher rescue cases." And, although he supported the Wyandotte Constitution, Ewing feared the Republicans' unfair apportionment put too much power "in the hands of the people south of the Kansas river."

Chief Justice Thomas Ewing resigned from the state Supreme Court in August 1862 and then commanded the Eleventh Regiment, Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, and in March 1863 Colonel Ewing was promoted to brigadier general of U.S. volunteers. In the immediate wake of the Lawrence massacre (i.e., Quantrill's raid), Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr., commanding the District of the Border, issued "Order No. 11" on August 25, 1863, clearing the Missouri border counties and thus, it was hoped, eliminating the guerrillas' safe havens. In reality the order laid waste to a region already devastated by war and further embittered many Missourians and caused a great deal of suffering. The "infamous" order is the subject of one of Missouri artist George Caleb Bingham's most famous wartime paintings. A "Memorial Record" (Supreme Court, 56 Kan. xv) explained Ewing's action as follows: ". . . He loved truth and justice . . . He was conservative by nature. The bent of his mind was rather to build up than to pull down; constructive rather than destructive; yet when the occasion demanded he could cut to the roots, as witness Order No. 11--so much criticized, and yet so beneficent that every Kansan should feel grateful for it."

Soon after war's end, Ewing moved to Washington, D.C. to practice law and then back to his native Ohio, where he remained active in political affairs and served his native community as a Democratic representative to Congress (March 4, 1877-March 3, 1881). He subsequently moved to New York City where he died as a result of a streetcar accident on January 21, 1896.


Parrish, William E. Biographical sketch of "Ewing, Thomas, Jr." In American National Biography . New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Taylor, David G. Thomas Ewing, Jr., and the Origins of the Kansas Pacific Railway Company. Kansas Historical Quarterly 42 (Summer 1976): 155-179.

Thomas Ewing, Jr., Papers, 1856-1908, Finding Aid and guide to microfilm collection, see: .

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