Born: October 3, 1815, Stamford, Connecticut
College: Yale, 1834
Political Party: Whig; American; Republican
Offices: Governor of Connecticut, 1855-1857
U.S. Consul to Havana, 1864-1867
Died: October 13, 1889, Stamford, Connecticut
In 1841, at the age of 26, William Minor became both a lawyer and a member of the Connecticut General Assembly. He went on to serve a total of nine terms in the Legislature, eight of them in the Lower House and one in the Senate. Minor taught school for five years while he studied law under his father, Simeon Minor, who was himself a former legislator. Minor practiced law in Stamford and was a judge for the Fairfield County Court. He was married to May Leeds in 1849 and they had five children.
While Antislavery and Temperance had become important political issues by the 1850s, a third concern that impacted elections arose in the form of European immigration. These three forces led to the creation of small political parties in the state and this made the political situation different from the past in that two separate parties sometimes nominated the same person for governor depending on what his stand was on the issues. Minor benefited from this confusion with the emergence of the American Party (or Know Nothing Party), whose platform included an anti-foreigner stance. It took its name from the secrecy of its meetings.
The leadership of the Connecticut Know Nothings came from the Whigs, Temperance and Free Soil (Antislavery) parties. In 1854, the Whigs considered Minor for its gubernatorial candidate, but chose Henry Dutton instead. In 1855, Minor was placed on the Know Nothing and the Temperance ballots and he won more votes than the Democratic candidate, but less than 50% of what had been cast. The General Assembly chose Minor. The following year he lost the popular vote to Samuel Ingham by some 6,000 votes, but the new Republican Party and the dying Whig Party were able to gain enough votes to force the Assembly to choose the winner and Minor was reelected.
An incident took place during the election parade of 1855 that was a harbinger of Minor’s first year in office. A disturbance occurred when a Hartford marching unit made up of Irish born Americans was placed in front of a unit of Know Nothings. A parade official was needed to mediate the situation. Minor's message to the General Assembly on that day took an anti-immigrant tone. He sought and gained legislation that unfairly restricted the control that Catholic Bishops could exercise over church property. An attempt was made to prevent foreign-born residents from voting, and Minor, who, as governor, was their Commander-in-Chief, disbanded six state militia units made up mostly of immigrants. Of a more positive nature, Minor did support better schools in Connecticut and held the belief that the schools should be free for all the children in the state. He also supported the antislavery measures of the Republicans, which was necessary to gain that party's support.
The discriminatory practices of Minor's administration caused the Know Nothings to lose their appeal in Connecticut just as the organization was dying elsewhere in the nation. The Know Nothing Party changed its name in the state to the American Party and joined with the Republicans in forming the Union Ticket to oppose the Democrats. However, the Republicans did not want Minor as their candidate and chose Alexander Holley instead.
In retirement Minor maintained his law practice until 1864 when he was appointed as the U.S. Consul to Havana. Three years later he returned to Connecticut and spent one year in the General Assembly and became a judge on Connecticut's Superior Court. He resigned from the Court in 1873 and later attempted, without success, to get elected to the Assembly again. He died in 1889 and is buried in Stamford's Woodland Cemetery.
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38” x 45” in its frame, artist unknown.
Originally prepared by David O. White, Museum of Connecticut History, Connecticut State Library.