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Alvin Peterson Hovey (September 6, 1821 –November 23, 1891) was a Union general during the American Civil War, an Indiana Supreme Court justice, congressman, and the 21st Governor of Indiana. During the war he played an important role in several battles and uncovered a secret plot for an uprising in Indiana. As governor, he launched several legal challenges to the Indiana General Assembly's removal of his powers, but was mostly unsuccessful. He successfully advocated election reform before he died in office.

Early life[]

Family and background[]

Alvin Peterson Hovey was born in Mount Vernon, Indiana on September 6, 1821 to Abiel and Francis Hovey. His mother died while he was a young boy, and his father died when he was fifteen leaving him orphaned. His youth was spent in poverty, and after being sent to an orphanage following his father's death, he received a basic education before being turned out at age eighteen. Hovey wanted to become a lawyer, and went work as a bricklayer by day, and studied law at night in the office of John Pitcher, a Mount Vernon attorney in 1840. After over three years of study in the office, he was admitted to bar in 1843 and opened his own law office.[1]

Hovey was propelled into the state spotlight in 1849 when he was appointed to oversee the estate of the deceased William McClure. McClure was a wealthy idealist who was one of the co-founder of the failed utopian settlement of New Harmony, Indiana. In his will, he ordered that his estate be sold and the proceeds be used to fund the construction of libraries. His two siblings had already seized much of his estate, sold it, and made off with the funds. Posey filed over sixty lawsuits to reclaim the assets of the estate, and used the proceed for their intended purpose. The funds successfully funded the opening of 160 libraries in Indiana and Illinois. The case gained considerable press coverage around Indiana, and Hovey gained considerable popularity from his success.[2] He met and married his wife Mary Ann in 1844, and the couple had five children. Only two of the children survived infancy.


Hovey was elected as a Democrat to serve as a delegate in 1850 to help create a new constitution for the state of Indiana. Hovey supported the educational and governmental reforms to the constitution, as well as being a driving force in some of the more controversial aspects of the constitution. He opposed the extension of suffrage to women and blacks, and proposed adding a section to the constitution to ban free blacks from Indiana. His proposal was accepted because it was viewed as a punishment to the southern states, who would be required to care for the free blacks. He also opposed the bankruptcy reforms, saying that it would grant to much protection from creditors, and encourage laziness.[3] The constitution was approved by the public, but the anti-black portions were ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court two years later.

In 1854, Hovey was appointed by Governor Joseph A. Wright to fill a vacancy on the Indiana Supreme Court until an election could be held. At the time of his appointment, he was 34, making him the youngest justice in the history of the court. It also made him the only constitutional delegate to become the interpreter of a document which he himself had helped write. His most important decision was in voting to strike down taxing laws created by some townships to increase funding for their schools. His decision stated that the constitution required all state schools be funded uniformly. He campaigned to be elected to the Supreme Court, but was defeated having only served six months on the court.[3]

In 1855, Hovey was appointed by United States President Franklin Pierce to serve as US Attorney for Indiana. The state Democratic party had been going though a period of internal problems over the slavery issue. The pro-slavery faction, led by Jesse D. Bright, expelled many anti-slavery members of the party including Hovey during the 1858 state convention. Bright was able to influence President James Buchanan to remove Hovey from office because of his position. Hovey responded by running for Congress against Democrat William E. Niblack as an Independent, but was defeated by a large margin. Hovey then joined the Republican Party, along with many of the other expelled Democrats.[3]

American Civil War[]

Front lines[]

Immediately following the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, Hovey was commissions as a colonel and organized the First Regiment of the Indiana Legion, a militia force that was used to defend the state during the war. Shortly thereafter, he was promoted to colonel of the Regular Army and given command of the 24th Regiment Indiana Infantry. His regiment was quickly sent to the front-lines where he led in the Battle of Shiloh during 1862. H remained with the advance elements of the main western Union army, and was promoted to brigadier general and granted command of a full division. He led his division at the Battle of Champion Hill later that year earning the praise of General Ulysses S. Grant.[3]

He again led his division in the Siege of Vicksburg, breaking Confederate control of the Mississippi River. Grant again praised Hovey as key to the siege's success. Shortly after the battle, he received word that his wife had died, and returned home to arrange for guardians for his children. Her death was deeply saddening to Hovey who was slow to recover emotionally. He returned briefly to the front in 1864 to lead a division during the Atlanta Campaign, but again returned home.[4]

Sons of Liberty[]

Back in Indiana, Governor Oliver P. Morton placed Hovey in command of the Regular army and Indiana Legions units in the state. His primary task was overseeing recruitment and keeping anti-government activities under control. To accomplish the task, Hovey raised a division of ten-thousand troops, but would only accept unmarried men. Because of the young age of most of his soldiers, his division was nicknamed "Hovey's Babies." His investigations uncovered a network of southern sympathizers known as the Sons of Liberty and the Knights of the Golden Circle. He alleged the group had secret plans for a uprising in Indianapolis in August 1864. To prevent the plot, he had dozens of suspects arrested and taken before military tribunals for judgment. Several were sentenced to hanging, but their terms were commuted to life in prison. After the war, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the trials unconstitutional in the case of Ex parte Milligan.[4]

After the war ended, Hovey brevetted as a major general before resigning from the army. He then remarried to Rosa Alice, the stepdaughter of Caleb B. Smith, in 1865. He was then appointed as Minister to Peru and dispatched to the country. Just prior to his departure, his new wife fell ill and died. During his time in Peru, the country was constantly at war with its neighbors and undergoing violent revolution. Hovey spent a good deal of his time trying to determine who was running the country on any given day. In 1870 he resigned from his post and return to Mount Vernon where he resumed his law practice.[5]


Clash with General Assembly[]

In 1872, the Republican party entered Hovey's name as a candidate to run for governor, but he declined, claiming he was finished with politics. For the next fourteen years he continued operating his private law practice until 1886, he was nominated to run for Congress and accepted. He defeated his Democratic opponent J. E. McCullough 18,258 to 16,907. Two years later, he was nominated to run for Governor of Indiana. Benjamin Harrison was running for President that year and was immensely popular in the state. Despite his party ticket's popularity, he barely won the election, defeating Democrat Courtland C. Matson by a plurality, 49%–48.6% of the vote, and Democrats retained majorities in both houses of the Indiana General Assembly. At age sixty-eight, Hovey became the oldest man ever elected governor, up until that time.[5]

In the last year of the term of Hovey's predecessor, Governor Albert G. Porter, the General Assembly had passed a series of laws weakening the governor's powers. The legislature perused an agenda for the most part differing from the Governor's, and overrode most of his symbolic vetoes to enact it. Hovey attempted to reclaim some of the power taken by the legislature by taking many of their recent laws to the courts. They had removed all the governor's appointment powers, and the Indiana Supreme Court ruled in the legislatures favor in that matter. In another case, where the assembly had created state board to run police, fire, and other department at the local level, taking their control from Republican controlled local governments, the courts ruled in favor of Hovey and declared the laws unconstitutional. In a fight over who had the right to appoint newly created department heads, the court ruled against both the assembly and the governor, stating that like all other departments heads must be elected in a general election.[6]


The only agenda item which Hovey was able to pass through the General Assembly was voter reform. The state for several election cycles been the victim of serious voter fraud, and had among the least restrictive voter regulations in the nation. Parties created their own ballots, and were responsible for including their opponents on their ballots. This led to considerable trickery on the party of the parties who would deliberately make their ballot in a manner to increase the likelihood voters would choose their candidate, even accidentally. Vote buying had also become commonplace; that had led to a national scandal in the election of Benjamin Harrison. The reforms enacted created the secret ballot, standardized ballots, provided more supervision at polling stations, and gave the responsibility of creating ballots to the state.[6]

Hovey had campaigned on dealing with the White Cap groups operating in southern Indiana. The vigilante groups had carried out several lynchings, including the Reno Gang, and had been carrying out other forms of vigilante justice, especially in Harrison and Crawford Counties. The often meted out corporeal punishments to men who were believed to not be taking care of their family, local criminals, and alcoholics. Hovey launched investigations into the groups, and made known his intentions to put an end to their organizations. Although no arrests were made, the threat led to a significant decrease and eventual end to their activities.[6]

In 1891, Hovey fell ill and died on November 23, 1891 and was succeeded by his Lieutenant Governor Ira Joy Chase. Hovey's body lay in state in Indianapolis before his remains were removed to his hometown for a funeral. He is buried in the Bellefontaine Cemetery near Mount Vernon.[7]

See also[]

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  1. Gugin, p. 190
  2. Gugin, p. 191
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Gugin, p. 192
  4. 4.0 4.1 Gugin, p. 193
  5. 5.0 5.1 Gugin. p. 194
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Gugin, p. 195
  7. Gugin, p. 196


  • Dunn, Jacob Piatt (1919). Indiana and Indianans. American Historical Society. 
  • Gugin, Linda C. & St. Clair, James E, ed (2006). The Governors of Indiana. Indianapolis, Indiana: Indiana Historical Society Press. ISBN 0871951967. 

External links[]

Template:Start box |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #cccccc" | United States House of Representatives Template:USRepSuccession box Template:S-off |- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Isaac P. Gray |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|Governor of Indiana
January 14, 1888–November 23, 1891 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Ira Joy Chase |- |- ! colspan="3" style="background: #FACEFF;" | Diplomatic posts

|- style="text-align: center;" |- style="text-align:center;" |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"|Preceded by
Christopher Robinson |width="40%" style="text-align: center;" rowspan="1"|United States Minister to Peru
May 22, 1866–September 22, 1870 |width="30%" align="center" rowspan="1"| Succeeded by
Thomas Settle |- |} Template:Governors of Indiana

de:Alvin Hovey