Henry A. Swift Biography

Described by peers as gentle, self-effacing, and ambivalent toward politics, Henry Swift was Minnesota’s third governor for less than a year, completing the second term of Alexander Ramsey, who had been elected U.S. senator. With little time or apparent inclination to effect major change, this Republican governor concentrated on assuring the welfare of Civil War veterans.

After graduation with honors from Western Reserve College in his native Ohio, Swift tutored the children of a slave owner in Mississippi, an experience that reinforced his commitment to abolition. He returned to Ohio, earned a law degree, and began a career in business and government service.

Swift left his commercial enterprises in 1861 for the state Senate seat that propelled him into the governorship. Later he served two more terms in the Senate and was a reluctant candidate for the U.S. Senate. “I shall be ten times happier with my family in St. Peter than as Senator at Washington,” he declared characteristically upon learning he had lost the Republican senatorial nomination in 1865. Four years later, he succumbed to typhoid fever at age 45.