William R. Marshall Biography

Energy and ambition characterized the life of Minnesota’s fifth—and only southern-born—governor. During William Marshall’s administration, his adoptive state experienced a post-Civil War surge of growth and development: its population doubled to 350,000, its railroad mileage quadrupled, and its commercial endeavors flourished.

The first stops on young Marshall’s trek north from Missouri were Illinois and Wisconsin, where he mined for lead and surveyed land. In 1849 he crossed the St. Croix River to settle in St. Paul, soon home of his fledgling hardware business. His political career began with a term in the first territorial legislature, and his reputation was enhanced when he served as chairman of the convention that founded the state’s Republican Party. The one-time banker, dairy farmer, stock-raiser, and newspaper publisher volunteered to fight in the Seventh Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, serving in both the Civil War and the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862.

A battle-scarred hero, an experienced entrepreneur, and a force in the Republican Party, Marshall handily won the 1865 and 1867 gubernatorial elections. As governor, he repeatedly urged passage of a black suffrage amendment. After defeating it twice, the legislature finally adopted the amendment and inspired Marshall to declare that the “free young state of Minnesota [is] now altogether free.”

After leaving office, Marshall remained active in both the private and public sectors as a banker and a railroad and land commissioner. Subsequent commercial ventures faltered, as did his health. He moved to California in 1894 and died there two years later.