In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, Chamberlain returned to Bowdoin College as a professor, and also spent time speaking around Maine about his war experiences. But, like many a returning veteran, he became restless and somewhat depressed, and it became clear to him that a college professorship was becoming too narrow and confining a role.

Then, it occurred to Republican party leaders in Maine that a man of Chamberlain's reputation--an educated, well-known and wounded war hero--would be attractive to the electorate as a candidate for governor. In those days, Maine elected its governors for only one-year terms. After much thought, Chamberlain allowed his name to be placed in nomination at the June 1866 state convention, and accepted when he was chosen by the delegates as their candidate.

A campaign poster for "the gallant Chamberlain!"

Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum, Brunswick, ME.

This I saw at Chamberlain's home in Brunswick. I don't know from which governor's campaign it comes from.

In September 1866, Chamberlain was elected Governor of Maine by the largest majority in the state's history, up to that time. He would eventually be elected to four consecutive one-year terms--1866, 1867, 1868 and 1869.

During his terms as Maine's Governor, Chamberlain undertook projects that were not just talked about, but instead were carried through. He organized a state War Claims Commission, putting former Governor Samuel Cony in charge. As a result, not only were debts owed to Maine for subsidizing troops during the Civil War paid off, but so were those dating back to the War of 1812.

Chamberlain also publicized the horrible conditions at the Hospital for the Insane, which became more crowded since the start of the Civil War. He pushed for the hospital's enlargement, saying in 1870:

"Cells and corridors and stone walks are dreary confines for minds broken under the weight of real or fancied wrongs...A brief treatment of a sane man in these crowded corridors would very soon give him a title to stay there."(1)

As a matter of course, Chamberlain was also an advocate for veterans of the Civil War, as well as for their widows and orphans. He told Maine taxpayers:

"Whatever means you provide for the care of these orphans, it is a duty too sacred to be slighted. The almshouse, the hovel, and the street are sad homes for the sons of martyrs...The widow should not be obliged to account to the government for her husband, but the government to the widow."(2)

In education, Chamberlain won public support for the College of Agriculture and Mechanic Arts in Orono, which later became the University of Maine. He also addressed the problem of young Mainers leaving the state for better employment elsewhere. Referring to that, he said:

"We have been too long content with the doubtful compliment that 'Maine is a good state to go from'. She must be made a good state to come to, and stay in."(3)

With that in mind, he looked for ways to bring industry to Maine. Seeing that Maine's natural resources, particularly its waterways, was a great selling point in attracting industry, he ordered an in-depth survey of the state's major rivers; this hydrographic survey was completed while Chamberlain was still in office, and eventually attracted developers to southern Maine. He also succeeded in encouraging Scandinavian immigration to Maine. In that regard, he said, half-sarcastically:

"Maine is surely as good a state to migrate to as Minnesota".(4) 

Chamberlain's Governor's chair

Joshua L. Chamberlain Museum, Brunswick, ME.

This is the chair used by Chamberlain while he was Governor of Maine. It was missing for a number of years, until it was discovered it was being used as a throne for the Homecoming Queen at the University of Maine at Orono--a school that was co-founded by Chamberlain, while he was governor!

Not all of his proposals and stands on state and national issues were this popular, however. During his terms as Governor, Chamberlain made many enemies within his own Republican party; instead of "toeing the line", Chamberlain instead followed his conscience and sense of justice, fully recognizing that his unpopular stands could ruin his political career. For instance, he opposed the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868. Mass meetings were held throughout Maine, urging and threatening Senator William Pitt Fessenden, who also opposed impeachment--and who had the support of Governor Chamberlain. In May of 1868, Fessenden and six other Republican senators voted with the Democrats, finding Johnson "not guilty" by one vote. The proceedings, known as "The Great American Farce", disgusted Chamberlain.

On the state level, Chamberlain faced opposition on two major fronts: the state Liquor Laws, and capital punishment.

As to the former issue, Maine had at that time a Prohibition Law, making the sale, purchase and manufacture of intoxicating liquor illegal. This Prohibition Law was supported by another law, called the Constabulary Law, which gave law enforcement officers the right to enter and search private homes on suspicion of possession of liquor. The Republican party supported this law--but Chamberlain sided with the Democrats, believing this was not only an infringement on the constitutional rights of individuals, but afforded these officers a great opportunity to misuse their authority. He believed it was not the state's job to dictate virtues and that:

"...legislation upon what a man shall eat and drink, is certainly a pretty strong assertion of 'State Rights' over those of the individual."(5)

Because of this stand, Chamberlain received much criticism from his own party, as well as church groups and temperance advocates. The pressure to support this law intensified when he politely refused to be chairman of a temperance convention in Augusta. At the time, litigation on the Constabulary Law was pending, and Chamberlain believed it would be a conflict of interest if he attended--and particularly if he acted as chairman. It turned out to be the right stand to take--during his administration, both the Constabulary Law and the part of the Liquor Law requiring jail sentences for a first offense were repealed by the state Legislature.

The other major issue Chamberlain faced opposition on was capital punishment. On a personal level, Chamberlain favored it, feeling that without the threat of the death penalty, criminals were more likely to commit murder. Criminals found guilty of murder in the first degree in Maine were sentenced to be hanged--in accordance with that law, a year after the sentence was pronounced. It was the Governor's responsibility to sign the death warrant and set an execution date. When Chamberlain became Governor, he discovered that his predecessors (except for Governor Samuel Cony) had neglected to follow through with this duty, because the law put no time limit on when death warrants were issued.

With this in mind, Chamberlain approached the Legislature several times, asking to have capital punishment abolished altogether, or to put a time limit on when executions should take place. As he put it:

"If we cannot make our practice conform to our law, then make our law agree with our practice."(6)

When this appeal did not work, Chamberlain refused to follow his predecessors' example, and signed the death warrant on a rapist-murderer named Clifton Harris. Two things began to complicate matters: supposedly Harris had turned state's evidence, to implicate an accomplice. Because he did this, State Attorney General William Frye wanted the death sentence commuted to life imprisonment--but Frye had not protested Harris' death sentence until Chamberlain had signed the death warrant. But, Chamberlain pointed out, if Frye had promised Harris a lighter sentence in exchange for information, wouldn't that have given Harris an incentive to lie, and possibly implicate an innocent man, in order to save his own life? (As it turned out, Harris' supposed "evidence" wasn't enough for Frye to charge the accomplice.) Secondly, Harris was a black man, a former slave; his sympathizers cited this background as the reason for his violent behavior, and asked for mercy. Chamberlain didn't see it that way:

"However the experience of suffering may have affected my personal sympathies, the consideration of the public safety convinces me that this is not the time to soften penalties. Too much crime is abroad, and emboldened by the mildness and uncertainty of punishment...Mercy is indeed a heavenly grace, but it should not be shown to crime. It is the crime and not the man, at which the law strikes. It is not to prevent that man alone from repeating his offense, but to prevent others from so doing."(7)

Chamberlain did not budge from his position. The sentence of execution was carried out.

On top of all the controversies--and occasional death threats!--he faced as Governor, Chamberlain's marriage began to suffer at this time as well. His decision to enter politics after the war did not sit well with his wife Fannie. She enjoyed being a Bowdoin professor's wife, and resented his absences in the state capital at Augusta. (In all fairness to Fannie, there was no "Governor's Mansion" in Augusta at the time, and being Governor was not a "full-time" job.) She began to think her husband no longer cared about her, and in 1868 began talking to some "back-door" gossips about the possibility of divorce! In a letter to Fannie, written in November of 1868, Chamberlain begged her to consider the implications of such an action--not just for him, but especially for Fannie. The lot of a divorcee at that time, in Maine, would not have been a happy one:

"Augusta, November 20, 1868:

"Dear Fanny:

"In the whirl of all this uproar of obloquy now hurled at me by the friends of Harris & the rampant temperance men I find myself assailed by only one thing which distresses me.

"On arriving here last night sick & worn out, I had hoped that even if I could have no other care and nursing [I[ would at least have that of sleep.

"Things have now however come to that pass that I must trouble you by referring again to the suggestion I made to you some time since in regard to your making a confidant of untrustworthy persons. I have had abundant & concurrent testimony from many -- all as much your friends as mine -- that you were complaining to everyone who came into the house of my conduct & treatment of you. I have passed that over for a long time not thinking it worthwhile to notice it. When I found that you were still disposed to do this & in the last instance in a direction that would do you more harm than me, I ventured to give you the warning I did some time since. You received it with apparent kindness & I was satisfied. I then referred to it again just before I came away & you spoke in a way that made me nearly happy.

"Now last night after I had gone to bed, Mr. Johnson came in with a very distressed demeanor & begged me not to be angry with him but he saw such grief & ruin impending that he must tell me. Miss Courlaender {NOTE: a Brunswick schoolteacher} it seems is freely telling people that "you told her (and Mrs. Dunning as well as everybody else) that I abused you beyond endurance -- pulling your hair, striking, beating & otherwise personally maltreating you, & that you were gathering up everything you could find against me to sue for a divorce." Mr. Johnson says this is doing immense harm. Whether the fact is so or not & the bitter enemies who now assail me on public grounds will soon get hold of this & will ruin me. He is in great distress & begs me to do something -- what he does not know.

"You must be aware that if it were not you who were so clearly implicated in this business, I should make quick work of these calumniators. I fear nothing for myself. But you must see that whatever come upon me, comes upon you too with even more effect & for your sake I must again offer the suggestion that you act with wisdom and discretion.

"If it is true (as Mr. Johnson seems to think there is a chance of its being) that you are preparing for an action against me, you need not give yourself all this trouble. I should think we had skill enough to adjust the terms of a separation without the wretchedness to all our family which these low people to whom it would seem that you confide your grievances & plans will certainly bring about.

"You never take my advice, I am aware. But if you do not stop this at once, it will end up in hell.

"I am sorry to say this to you, when I have so entirely confided in you & have been so reassured of late in this confidence, as my interest in your matters & in your friends must convince you. Of course this has given me a troubled night & I am taking up the duties of the day wholly unfitted for them.

"The thing come[s] to this, if you are contemplating any such things as Mr. Johnson says -- there is a better way to do it. If you are not, you must see the gulf of misery to which this confidence with unworthy people tends. You have this advantage of me, that I never spoke unkindly of you to any person. I shall not now do so to you. But it is a very great trial to me -- more than all things else put together -- wounds, pains, toils, wrongs & hatreds of eager enemies". (7A)

. Fortunately, the crisis passed, and no legal action was taken. In fact, after the stress of his political career, Chamberlain began to look more favorably on return to academic life--which naturally would please Fannie.

One very interesting -- and unusual, to me -- thing happened during Chamberlain's tenure as Governor. In the midst of all the resultant controversies, both political and professional, he got so frustrated with everything that he considered offering his military skills to -- of all people -- William, King of Prussia! At that time, Prussia was becoming the dominant military force in central Europe, and was slowly unifying the country we now know today as Germany. In 1870, Prussia was involved in a war with neighboring France, which was led by Emperor Napoleon III--and was kicking the stuffing out of the French!

In this unusual letter, written in July of 1870, and referring to himself in the third person, Chamberlain goes as far as to think about offering his resignation, as Governor of Maine:

"Augusta, July 20, 1870

To His Majesty

William, King of Prussia


"The undersigned respectfully presents to your Majesty the tender of his services in the war now opening in Europe. He has the honor to refer to the fact that he has served through all grades from field officer to that of General of Division. His last two promotions were made in the field of battle under circumstances which warrant him in referring to them as testimony of his capacity. The office he now holds of Governor of the State of Maine he proposes to resign in case your Majesty shall be pleased to accept his service.

"While no great principle of international right is involved in the present impending war, the honor of manhood is a point in which a soldier may well be sensitive. In this feeling & sympathizing with your Majesty's political & personal attitude, well acquainted with your language & admiring your people, I tender the best service of my sword.

"Your Majesty's most obedient servant,

Joshua L. Chamberlain

late Major Genl, Bt. U.S. Army

Gov. & Comdr. in Chief of State of Maine". (8A)

My question is: would Chamberlain have actually gone through with this idea? And what would both his family, and the citizens of Maine, have thought of their Governor offering his military experience to a foreign power? Interesting to speculate on what might have happened.

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