Local man was Kansas governer at age 23

By John Conway
For the Times Herald-Record

George M. Beebe, Worshipful Master of Monticello Lodge, 1870-1872
It is arguable that no man in the annals of Sullivan County history ever achieved so much as George Monroe Beebe, and yet you are forgiven if you are not familiar with the name.

Those who over the years have written so ably about Sullivan County's past have not dwelled on his accomplishments. Manville B. Wakefield mentions him not at all. James Eldridge Quinlan, who throughout his "History of Sullivan County" maintained "it is not the province of the local historian to write freely of the living," affords Beebe but one sentence.

Only Hamilton Child, who published "The Gazetteer and Business Directory of Sullivan County for 1872-73," provides so much as a clue to Beebe's station in life. Child lists Beebe as the owner and publisher of the Republican Watchman newspaper, and, in a footnote, praises him for allowing John Waller, the publisher of a rival paper, the Sullivan County Republican, to use the Watchman's printing press to put out his paper when the Republican offices were destroyed by fire in 1872.

Edward F. Curley, in his "Old Monticello," refers to Beebe as a "well known and highly respected citizen" of the village but declines to elaborate, noting that "anything I might say regarding him would be of little avail."

Indeed, Beebe was the owner and publisher of the Republican Watchman from 1866, when he purchased it from Quinlan, until 1895, when he sold the paper to Adelbert M. Scriber and Charles Barnum. During his tenure as newspaperman, he served in the State Assembly, the U.S. Congress and as a judge in the Court of Common Claims.

But Beebe's greatest accomplishment came years before all of that.

Beebe became governor of Kansas in 1860 at the age of 23.

Beebe was born in New Vernon, in Orange County, on Oct. 28, 1836. He was the son of Elder Gilbert Beebe, a well-known Baptist preacher in Bloomingburg and Middletown who later published the nationally distributed Baptist newspaper, Sign of the Times.

George attended public school and the Wallkill Academy in Middletown. After graduation, he moved to Monticello, where he studied law in the office of prominent local lawyer George W. Lord. Beebe received his law degree from Albany Law School and was admitted to the bar in 1857.

That same year, he went west, according to Alvin O. Benton in his 1942 book "Early Masonry in Monticello and Sullivan County," and became editor of the Central Illinois Democrat, a daily paper published in the city of Peoria.

He worked on Stephen Douglas' re-election campaign against Abraham Lincoln in 1858, and following the Douglas victory moved to Troy in the Kansas Territory to practice law.

One year later, he was elected to the territorial council, and in 1860, was appointed secretary of the territory by President James Buchanan. A few months later, he was governor, a post he held when Kansas was admitted to the Union amidst much turmoil in 1861.

Benton relates in his book that "one day when the boy governor was sitting in his executive mansion communing with his thoughts, a party of United States and territorial officers called to see the new governor. He showed them about his mansion; delighted them with their apostrophies [sic] on Kansas and they praised his hospitality. 'Well, Governor,' said one of the Washington visitors, 'you seem to be nicely situated here, but where is your library?' 'Right this way,' replied Governor Beebe. They passed through one room into another, and the governor closed the door softly, much to the mystification of his visitors. 'There!' said the governor, pointing to a farm almanac, 'There is my library!' "

Beebe served as a delegate to the North-South peace convention in Philadelphia in 1861, and became the law partner of Albert H. Horton, who later served as chief judge of the Kansas Supreme Court.

Before long, he had relocated his practice to St. Joseph, Mo., and then to Virginia City, Nev.

In 1865, he ran unsuccessfully for associate judge on the Nevada Supreme Court, and following his defeat, was appointed internal revenue collector for the state by President Andrew Johnson. He resigned that position to return to Monticello, where he purchased the Republican Watchman newspaper in 1866.

Beebe was defeated in his run for the state Senate in 1871, but he was elected to the Assembly in 1872 and 1873. Benton writes that he was "quickly recognized as the orator of the Assembly and his common sense, social qualities and oratory made him a commanding figure among his legislative associates."

By that time, Beebe had become master of Monticello Lodge 532 of the Free and Accepted Masons, a position he filled ably, as Benton notes, "During his years as Master, the lodge enjoyed largely attended meetings and interesting programs."

Beebe was elected to Congress in 1874 and again in 1876, serving as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of the Navy and of the Committee on Mines and Mining. He ran for a third term in Washington in 1878, but lost.

He served as a delegate to three Democratic National Conventions 1878, 1880 and 1892.

Gov. Grover Cleveland appointed him a judge of the New York State Court of Claims in 1883. He served in that capacity until his retirement from public life in 1900.

By that time, Beebe had sold his interest in the Republican Watchman and had moved to Ellenville. He died there on March 1, 1927. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Newburgh.

John Conway is the Sullivan County historian and an adjunct professor of history at Sullivan County Community College in Loch Sheldrake. He lives in Barryville. This article was published in the Times Herald-Record on March 8, 2003. It is posted here with permission of the author.