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James Brown Ray (February 19, 1794 – August 4, 1848) was an Indiana politician and the only Senate President-Pro-Tempore to succeed to become Governor of the State of Indianamarker. He served during the period when the state transitioned from personal politics to political parties, but never joined a party himself. Elevated at age 31, he was the state's youngest governor. Serving from 1825 to 1831, he was the longest-serving governor under the constitution of 1816, and was most known for his eccentricity and early promotion of the creation of large scale railroad system in the state. The state experienced a period of prosperity during his term and a 55% population increase, the greatest of any governor. His promotion of railroads and his alleged involvement in several scandals caused him to lose popularity as his opponents, who favored the creation of canals, considered railroads to be a fantasy idea. Leaving office, he continued to advocate the creation of a railroad system until his death.

Early life

Family and background

James Brown Ray was born in Jefferson County, Kentuckymarker on February 19, 1794 the son of Rev. William Ray, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, and his wife Phebe Ann Brown Ray, one of twelve children. He attended local common schools and received a basic education. He moved to Cincinnatimarker, Ohiomarker, when he was still a boy, where he studied law in the office of General Gano, and was later admitted to the bar in 1816. He met Mary Riddle who he married on December 10, 1818, and the couple had two children. The couple moved to Brookville, Indianamarker that year, and Ray setup a law office and quickly rose to prominence in the community.

Ray was known to be rash and sometimes belligerent. In one incident he insulted a Brookville farmer who severely beat Ray for the insult. In another incident, Ray threatened another lawyer with a "thrashing" before a court session, to which the lawyer replied with a fist in Ray's face. The courtroom went wild and both men were restrained before further blows could be thrown.


Ray's outspoken manner helped him gain popularity in his community. In 1821 he served a one year term in the Indiana House of Representatives. In 1822 Ray was elected to the Indiana State Senate beginning his term on December 2. On January 30, 1824, the same day Lieutenant Governor Ratliff Boon resigned, Ray was elected senate-president-pro-tempore. In 1823 his wife died and remarried to a widow, Esther Booker or Centervillemarker, in September 1825, the couple had five children. On February 12, 1825 Governor William Hendricks resigned from his office to become a senator. Ray, who was still serving as the Senate President Pro Tempore became governor, the only time this occurred in Indiana history. There was a brief debate about his eligibility because of his age, but he was able to provide proof that he was in fact the required thirty years old.


Indiana was still a young state during Ray's term, but was growing rapidly. Population increased 55% during his term, and the states finances were strengthened during a period of relative prosperity. Party politics also entered the state during his term. Previously, all politicians in the state were loosely affiliated with the Democratic-Republican Party or none at all, but national politics had stirred the collapse of that party the creation of the Democrat and Whig parties. Ray resisted the rise of the parties and tried to remain neutral.

Ray became the first governor to serve in the new capitol of Indianapolismarker. He found the Governor's Mansionmarker to lack privacy, and refused to live there, instead purchasing a private home on the site of the current Marion County Jail. His Indianapolismarker home, the oldest still remaining in Indianapolis, was moved in 1977 and is now within the Lockerbie Square Historic Districtmarker. Shortly after his elevation, the execution of three murderers was to be carried out. Two of the murders where men and one was still a minor. The three men had taken part in murdering a family of Senecas. In a last minute decision Ray decided to pardon the young minor, arriving at the location of the execution on horse back just in time to spare the boys life.

In the summer of 1825, Ray announced that he would seek election to the Governors office. Ray's election campaign against Whig candidate ,Chief Justice Isaac Blackford, was difficult, as his opponent had the backing of the Whigs party. Blackford, who was a graduate of Princeton Universtity, charged that Ray was "pompous, poorly educated, and ill-equipped for the job." Ray countered with arguments against party politics and made a strong case for internal improvements, winning the election by 2,622 votes, 13,040 to 10,418, to return to the governors office as an elected governor.

Internal improvements

At his first meeting with the legislature on December 8, 1825, he delivered an address calling for the construction of canals, citing Ohiomarker's recent success in that area as evidence of their value. He changed his position though in 1827, and instead decided that the state would better benefit from railroads. He soon became the primary opponent of the canal projects, leading to a loss of support in the General Assembly. Railroads were still relatively new, and their value was not yet evident. Ray continued to advocate the railroads into his second term, and requested that the General Assembly create a committee to explore their possibilities. Their report called his plans to make Indianapolismarker a railroad hub "utopian", and "mad and impractical". They instead overwhelmingly supported the construction of canals.

A compromise was ultimately reached which funded both projects. After the William Hendricks administration had restored the state's credit and stabilize income, the new administration was able to move ahead with plans to build canals, railroads, and more roads in the state. Design plans on the Wabash and Erie Canal began during his administration. The state's first railroad was also constructed, a short line connecting Shelbyville, Indianamarker to Indianapolis as a compromise with the governor to approve funds for the canal. Industry in the state expanded exponentially during those years with several large factories opening up in the different locations around the state. Despite the compromise, his opponents accused him of purposely delaying progress on the Wabash and Erie by delaying reports, his slow progress in surveying, and slow page in other areas, further kindling distrust from the legislature.

Michigan Road

Map of Land Cession treaties in Indiana

Another of Ray's key projects was the construction of the Michigan Road to connect the Ohio River with Lake Michiganmarker and pass through Indianapolis in the middle. Such a road would require land sessions from the Pottawatomie tribe in northern Indiana. He wrote President John Adams requesting such a treaty be negotiated, and Adams responded by appointing Ray and Governor Lewis Cass of Michigan as commissioners to negotiate a treaty with the tribe. The treaty was concluded in the fall of 1826, along with an additional treaty which provided for the removal of a majority of the Miami tribe and almost all of the Pottawatomie a few years later. In total over were transferred to the United States.

Taking a commission from the federal government to negotiate the treaty was unconstitutional, and Ray's opponents in the legislature seized the opportunity to attack him again. They claimed that in taking the position, he forfeited his position as governor. The situation was similar to the attempted impeachment of Jonathan Jennings only a few years earlier. A motion to bring impeachment proceedings against him was narrowly defeated in the General Assembly, 31–27.

Waning popularity

Other events began to transpire, which caused Ray's popularity to wane considerably. The General Assembly passed a bill to have him expand the Indiana Code to include the new criminal and civil laws, and better divide the two sections, using the Napoleonic Code as a template. Two years after the passage of the bill, Ray had still not began work on it, and requested the General Assembly grant him additional funds and provide him with a staff for the project. The Assembly passed a resolution rebuking his lack of progress, but granted his request. He finally completed the code in 1831.

In 1827, Ray became involved in a bitter dispute with Samuel Merrill, the Indiana State Treasurer. Merril was a Whig and a close ally of Blackford, and began to make personal attacks on Ray. He claimed Ray was committing fraud and using his public office for personal gain. He specifically tried to incriminate him for making a secret deal with the Indians when negotiating the treaty in 1826, claiming that he had accepted a bribe from them. Merrill's charges were ambiguous, lacking considerable detail, but was enough to stir a controversy and give another excuse to Ray's opponents to again attack him. Lewis Cass wrote a letter to the General Assembly on Ray's behalf, calling the claims absurd. Despite ending the dispute, Ray's image was severely tarnished.

Second term

When Ray ran for reelection in 1828, he was approached by state Democrat leader Ratliff Boon to join their party. The party was just beginning to form in the state. Ray made an agreement with him, that he would be a Democrat so long as his reply of acceptance remained a secret. Shortly after that, he was interviewed by a pro-Whig newspaper where he called the Democrats an "outrageous, violent faction." The Democrats responded by fielding their own candidate in the election, and the month before election day, they published his secret agreement to run as a Democrat. The revelation caused a major uproar, but despite his apparent attempt to play both parties, he won reelection by plurality. he received 15,131 votes to, defeating Whig Israel T. Branby 's 12,251, and Democrat Harbin H. Moore's 10,898.

In 1830, the entire Indiana Supreme Court was up for reappointment. Ray reappointed Justice Issac Blackford, but refused to reappoint the other two members. He bargained behind the scenes with the Assembly leaders for a deal: he would reappoint their choices to the courts and in exchange they would elect him to the United States Senate. The deal did not remain secret long, and combined with what was considered his "insane" idea of making Indianapolis a hub for a great railroad system, and without a party to support him, he lost most of his public support. He began to allege a conspiracy against him, claiming he was the "victim of misrepresentation and malicious envy." He accomplished very little in his second term, and left office still being despised.

Return to private life

Ray returned to his law practice which he moved to Indianapolis, after his term as governor. He found it difficult to find clients and public dislike for him did not fade. He ran for Clerk of Marion County in 1831 but was overwhelmingly defeated. He ran for Congress in 1837, but was soundly defeated by William Herod, 5,888–9,635. He attempted to run again in 1833, but dropped out after his inability to win became apparent.

His treatment led him to become even more firm in his views, which further hurt his standing. His behavior only worsened the situation; he was known to walk with a cane, for appearance only, and stop in the street and write in the air with it for no apparent reason. He ran advertisements in the newspaper offering to sell a "tavern-stand", a farm he did not own, and offering to construct a railroad from Charlestown, South Carolinamarker to Indianapolis. He attempted a business venture and opened what he called at "Law, conveyancing, writing, abstract-making, land-agency, general and emigrants' intelligence and counsel office." The business soon folded for lack of customers. He had few friends and most people believed he had become mentally deranged. He took a trip to Wisconsinmarker in 1848 and stopped in Cincinnatimarker, Ohiomarker, before returning home. There he developed cholera and he died on August 4, 1848, aged 54, and was buried in Spring Grove Cemeterymarker.


  1. Woollen, p.56
  2. Gugin, p. 62
  3. Woollen, p. 64
  4. Woollen, p. 63
  5. Dunn, 374
  6. Gugin, pp. 61–62
  7. Conn, Earl L. My Indiana:101 Places to See (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2006). pg.88
  8. Thompson, p. 195–197
  9. Gugin, p. 64
  10. Woollen, p.60
  11. Gugin, p. 63
  12. Goodrich, p. 196
  13. Woollen, p. 58
  14. Woollen, 61
  15. Gugin, p. 65
  16. Gugin, p. 66
  17. Woollen, pp. 57 & 60
  18. Gugin, p. 67
  19. Woollen, p. 62
  20. Gugin, p. 68


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