Horace Austin Biography

A reputation for clearheaded objectivity and disdain for contentious party politics enhanced the appeal of Judge Horace Austin as a gubernatorial candidate in 1869. Minnesota’s sixth governor was determined to bring legislative power to bear against the railroad barons. His advocacy of strictly regulated passenger and freight rates and his opposition to the wholesale allocation of state lands to railroad development earned him a second term. But he was unable to resolve completely the problems inherent in controlling a booming transportation industry and curbing the excesses of its owners.

Son of a prosperous Connecticut farmer and graduate of a private academy, Austin taught school briefly before studying law. He was twenty-five when he moved to Minnesota and began practicing law in St. Peter. Six years later he joined the local Frontier Guards at the outbreak of the U.S.–Dakota War of 1862. In 1869, while judge of the Sixth Judicial District, Austin impressed state Republican leaders with his fair-mindedness and won the gubernatorial nomination.

Remaining in the public sphere after leaving the governor’s office, Austin served as third auditor of the U.S. Treasury in Washington, as registrar of the U.S. Land Office in Fargo, and finally as a railroad commissioner. He devoted his last sixteen years to travel and relaxation at his Lake Minnetonka home.