Joseph Lane

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Joseph Lane
1st Governor of Oregon Territory
In office
March 3, 1849 – June 18, 1850
Preceded by George Abernethy (provisional governor)
Succeeded by Kintzing Prichette
In office
May 16, 1853 – May 19, 1853
Preceded by John P. Gaines
Succeeded by George L. Curry
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oregon Territory's At-large congressional district
In office
March 4, 1851 – February 14, 1859
Preceded by Samuel Thurston
Succeeded by position dissolved
United States Senator
from Oregon
In office
February 14, 1859 – March 4, 1861
Preceded by position created
Succeeded by James W. Nesmith
Personal details
Born (1801-12-14)December 14, 1801
Buncombe County, North Carolina
Died Script error: The function "death_date_and_age" does not exist.
Roseburg, Oregon
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Polly Hart
Occupation general, politician
Signature Joseph Lane's signature

Joseph "Joe" Lane (December 14, 1801 – April 19, 1881) was an American politician and soldier. He was a state legislator representing Evansville, Indiana, and then served in the Mexican–American War, becoming a general. President James K. Polk appointed Lane as the first Governor of Oregon Territory. When Oregon was admitted as a state in 1859, Lane was elected one of Oregon's first two U.S. Senators.

In 1860, Lane was nominated for Vice President of the pro-slavery Southern wing of the Democratic Party, as John C. Breckinridge's running mate. Lane's pro-slavery views and sympathy for the Confederate States of America in the Civil War effectively ended his political career in Oregon.

A son was later elected U.S. Representative and a grandson U.S. Senator, making Lane the patriarch of one of the state's most prominent political families.


Early life

Joseph Lane was born in Buncombe County, North Carolina, on December 14, 1801, to a family of English extraction with roots in colonial Virginia.[1] His father, John Lane, was a veteran of the American Revolutionary War.[1] The Lane family moved to the state of Kentucky from North Carolina when Joseph was a young child.[2]

Lane left home at the age of 15, and was married four years later. He moved to Evansville, Indiana in 1820.[2] Lane and his wife, Polly Hart Lane, had ten children.[3]

Lane was largely self-educated, learning about the world from books which he read at night.[2] During the daytime he worked and saved his money, investing it shortly in the purchase of a flatboat, with which he transported freight up and down the Ohio River.[2] Financial success followed.[2]

Lane was an eloquent public speaker, a talent which helped him to win election to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1822 at the age of just 21.[2] He served in that body from 1822 to 1823, from 1830 to 1833, and from 1838 to 1839.[4] He then moved to the Indiana State Senate, where he served from 1839 to 1840 and from 1844 to 1846.[4] Widely esteemed by his peers, Lane was likewise elected as a captain of his local militia while still a young man.[2]

Mexican-American War

In 1846 the Mexican–American War broke.[1] Lane resigned his State Senate seat, and enlisted in a company of Indiana volunteers.[1] His company was assigned to the 2nd Indiana Volunteer Regiment, and Lane was elected colonel in June 1846. He was soon appointed a brigadier general of volunteers less than a week later.[1]

Lane and the Indiana troops were then deployed to Mexico, where Lane fought with distinction, suffering two minor gunshot wounds, and was brevetted to major general in 1847.[1] Lane commanded the Indiana Brigade at the Battle of Buena Vista, where he served under General and future President Zachary Taylor.[1]

Lane also led the relief force which lifted the Siege of Puebla, defeating Antonio López de Santa Anna at the Battle of Huamantla.

Oregon territory and statehood

As soon as Lane returned from Mexico, President Polk appointed him governor of Oregon Territory. Lane received his commission on August 18, 1848.[1] Lane arrived in Oregon on March 3, 1849, following a hazardous winter trip on the Oregon Trail.[1] Upon reaching Oregon City, Lane's first official act was to initiate the first census of the territory's residents, which showed a total of 8,785 American citizens and 298 citizens of other countries.[1]

Also among Lane's early duties was the apprehension of five Cayuse Indians accused in the Whitman Massacre. The accused were brought back to Oregon City for trial, where they were convicted and hanged.[5]

Lane resigned as territorial governor on June 18, 1850, in favor of a new appointee.[1] On June 2, 1851, Lane was elected Oregon Territory's Delegate in Congress as a Democrat.[1] In May 1853, Lane was acting Territorial Governor for three days to assist in the removal of the unpopular John P. Gaines from office. Lane then ran for re-election as Delegate, winning election on June 6, 1853.[1] Lane won two more terms of office as Delegate in the June elections of 1855 and 1857.[1] He was subsequently elected as one of Oregon's first two United States Senators when Oregon became a state in 1859.

Military operations against Native Americans

In 1853, after he was re-elected as Delegate in 1853, but before he left for Washington, D.C., Lane was appointed as brigadier general commanding a force of volunteers raised to suppress recent Native American violence. Lane led the force to southern Oregon to stop Native American attacks against settlers and miners there.[1] Lane was again wounded in a skirmish at Table Rock, in Sams Valley, not far from today's cities of Medford and Central Point.[1]

Lane was also an active participant in the so-called Rogue River Wars of 1855–1856.[1]

Vice-presidential nomination and political decline

In 1860, the Democratic Party split on the issue of slavery. Pro-slavery Democrats from the South left the national convention and nominated their own candidates: John C. Breckinridge for President, and Lane for Vice President.

This "Southern Democrat" ticket was defeated. With his defeat as Vice President and the beginning of the Civil War, Lane's political career ended. His pro-slavery views had been controversial in Oregon; his pro-secessionist views were wholly unacceptable.[5] Lane became notorious for an exchange with Andrew Johnson of Tennessee on his last day in the Senate. Johnson had spoken in favor of the Union and denounced secession. A referendum on secession in Tennessee failed shortly thereafter, generally credited to Johnson's speech. On March 2, Lane accused Johnson of having "sold his birthright" as a Southerner. Johnson responded by suggesting that Lane was a hypocrite for so accusing Johnson when Lane so staunchly supported a movement of active treason against the United States.[6]

Later years

File:Mrs. General Joseph Lane.jpg
Portrait of Polly Hart Lane, Joseph Lane's wife

Lane had taken a land claim of 1 square mile (2.6 km2) located just north of Roseburg, Oregon, in 1851.[1] He later purchased a 2,000-acre (810 ha) ranch located about 11 miles (18 km) east of that town, which he owned for a number of years before selling to a son.[1] Lane also constructed a home overlooking the South Umpqua River; after his Senate term, he retired there in 1861.[1] Although openly sympathetic to the Southern rebellion in the Civil War, Lane remained home on his ranch and did not participate in the fighting, nor did he make a return to politics after that date.[1] Lane has been accused of keeping a personal slave as late as 1878, an assumption based on the race of the African-Indian orphan he raised from the age of two to seventeen.[7] Lane was baptized as a Roman Catholic in 1867,[8] but renounced that faith before his death.[9]

Death and legacy

Lane died at his home on April 19, 1881. His body was interred in the Roseburg Memorial Gardens.[10]

General Lane's daughter's home in Roseburg, where he spent much of his time, is now a museum maintained by the Douglas County Historical Society.[11] Known as the Creed Floed House, the Floed–Lane House, or simply the Joseph Lane House, it is on the National Register of Historic Places.[12] The Floed-Lane House was never his dwelling place.[11]

Lane County, Oregon, is named for Lane.[13] Joseph Lane Middle School in Roseburg is named for him, as is Joseph Lane Middle School in Portland.

Lane's son Lafayette Lane served as U.S. Representative from 1875 to 1877. His son John Lane fought in the Civil War for the Confederacy.[8] Lane's grandson Harry Lane was a mayor of Portland, Oregon, and then U.S. Senator from 1913 until his death in 1917.[8]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 Portrait and Biographical Record of Western Oregon: Containing Biographical Sketches of Many Well Known Citizens of the Past and Present. Chicago: Chapman Publishing Co., 1904; pp. 620–621.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 Bancroft, Hubert Howe (1886). History of Oregon, 1834-1848. 1. San Francisco, CA: The History Company. pp. 776–777, fn. 38.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Corning, Howard M. Dictionary of Oregon History. Portland, OR: Binfords and Mort, 1956. p. 142.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Helmer, Normandy S. "Historic Photograph Collections: Joseph Lane photographs, 1850s-1903: Biographical Sketch". University of Oregon Libraries, Eugene, OR, 2005.
  5. 5.0 5.1 "Notable Oregonians: Joseph Lane – Governor". Oregon Blue Book. Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved March 8, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Means, Howard. The Avenger Takes His Place: Andrew Johnson and the 45 Days That Changed the Nation. Harcourt, 2006, pp. 69–71.
  7. "Peter Waldo". Talky Tina Press. Retrieved September 10, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Lansing, Ronald B. Nimrod: Courts, Claims, and Killing on the Oregon Frontier. Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 2005, p. 266.
  9. "Obituary of Joseph Lane". Oregon Newspaper Research. Retrieved September 13, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "Joseph Lane". Find A Grave. Retrieved August 11, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Floed-Lane House". The Umpqua Trapper. Douglas County Historical Society. 1985. Retrieved March 8, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Oregon National Register List" (PDF). Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. June 6, 2011. p. 11. Retrieved March 8, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Government Printing Office. p. 180.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Works cited

Further reading

  • Hendrickson, James E. Joe Lane of Oregon: Machine Politics and the Sectional Crisis, 1849-1861. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1967.

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
George Abernethy(1)
Territorial Governor of Oregon
Succeeded by
Kintzing Prichette
Preceded by
John P. Gaines
Territorial Governor
Acting Territorial Governor of Oregon
May 16, 1853 – May 19, 1853
Succeeded by
George Law Curry
Acting Territorial Governor
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Samuel Thurston
Delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Oregon Territory

March 4, 1851 – March 4, 1859
Succeeded by
Position dissolved
(Oregon statehood)
United States Senate
Preceded by
Position created
(Oregon statehood)
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from Oregon
Served alongside: Delazon Smith, Edward D. Baker
Succeeded by
James W. Nesmith
Party political offices
Preceded by
John C. Breckinridge
Democratic vice presidential nominee(2)
1860 (lost)
Succeeded by
George H. Pendleton
Notes and references
1. George Abernethy served as head of the Oregon Country's provisional government before official territorial status was granted by Congress in 1848.
2. The Democratic party split in 1860, producing two vice presidential candidates. Lane was nominated by Southern Democrats; Herschel Vespasian Johnson was nominated by Northern Democrats.