Hugh Sleight Walsh was born on November 10, 1810, in New Windsor, New York. He spent his entire childhood and much of his early adulthood in New York, but also lived for a time in Alabama before coming to Kansas Territory in 1857.
In Kansas, Walsh worked as a private secretary, first to Frederick P. Stanton and later to James W. Denver, with whom he appears to have cultivated a close political relationship. On May 12, 1858, Walsh became the territorial secretary, replacing Denver, who had vacated the position to become territorial governor.
As territorial secretary, Walsh had the job of serving as acting governor when necessary. This occurred four times total.
Time in Office
Walsh’s first stint as acting governor lasted from July 3 to July 30 in 1858 during the temporary absence of Governor Denver. Little of note occurred during this time.
He next became acting governor on October 10, 1858, upon the resignation of Governor Denver. Walsh remained in close contact with Denver, however. He confided to the outgoing governor that he entertained some hopes of securing an appointment to the office himself, although he was also amenable to the idea of having a Kentucky man as the next territorial governor. When word came that Samuel Medary was the president’s selection, Walsh was disappointed, but admitted to Denver that he respected the future governor’s tact. Meanwhile, Walsh occupied the rest of his time as acting governor petitioning for federal money to offer as a reward for the capture of John Brown and dispatching Missouri guerilla fighters to stamp out an opposing abolitionist band under James Montgomery known as the Jayhawkers.
Despite Walsh’s suspicions of the new governor, his relationship with Medary started off cordially enough. But when Walsh became acting governor again on August 1, 1859, a small matter arose that was to have a negative impact on his future career. Provisions had previously been made to examine the claims of those who had suffered property damage due to border conflict with the understanding that the United States Congress would pay the claims. Kansas Territory was prohibited by law from issuing bonds for the purpose. So when Territorial Treasurer Robert B. Mitchell came to the acting governor with a request to approve a bond issue, Walsh was duly suspicious. The treasurer hastened to assure him that the bonds were to cover territorial expenses, not to pay off private claims. Walsh refused, however, stating that he would not approve them without examining the matter thoroughly and that he did not have the time to do so just then. Medary returned on September 15 and subsequently approved and sold the bonds himself.
The bonds came to Secretary Walsh’s attention again during his fourth period as acting governor, which began on April 15, 1860. Based on the bonds and on an 1858 charter authorizing the establishment of banks in Lawrence, Leavenworth, and Wyandotte (now part of Kansas City, Kansas), a bank was established in Lawrence. Acting Governor Walsh protested on the grounds that the charter had expired, but the bank officials politely advised him not to interfere. That May, Walsh challenged Treasurer Mitchell for his reasoning on the subject and merely received a formal letter asking on what authority Walsh was questioning the treasurer. Walsh retorted that the territorial treasurer was required to submit his records for inspection at the request of the governor. But all his repeated demands for further information could only elicit the following reply from Mitchell:
…I have been, since the reception of your note of yesterday, wholly incapable to find the time to make a satisfactory reply to your inquiries, but will endeavor to do so at the earliest possible time convenient.
The treasurer subsequently left town.
According to Walsh, Governor Medary had already been treating him rather coldly, starting from January 1860 when the secretary had made a report to the territorial legislature on the fraudulent bonds. Subsequent events did not improve the relationship any. The governor eventually asked to have Walsh removed from office, claiming “incompatibility of temper” as a pretext. Walsh resigned that June and took up a much more congenial life of farming near Grantville in Jefferson County, Kansas.
- Suppressed James Montgomery’s guerilla warfare efforts to some extent.
- Exposed Governor Medary’s claim bond fraud.
In His Own Words
- Gubernatorial ambitions: “If Mr. Medary should not accept I hope that the appointment may be held in abeyance until after the session and if I succeed well and the President chooses to honor me with the appointment I will esteem it a high honor—but it is almost as difficult to get a good secretary as a good Governor and I would rather be without one than not have a good one—I can find good clerks & make them do what perhaps I could not find a secretary willing to do….”
- Beginning of the claim bond scandal: “In May or June, 1859, I was applied to by Mr. Mitchell, the Treasurer of the Territory, to approve, as Acting Governor, certain Territorial Bonds. I refused on the grounds that I did not believe any Bonds issued for Claims, under the Act to provide for the adjustment and payment of Claims, were valid. The Treasurer informed me that the Bonds were not for claims but Territorial expenses, and belonged to David Weir. I informed him that I would not sign any Territorial Bonds whatever without tracing them back to their original indebtedness, through all the parties’ hands through which they might have passed. As I was superintending the public printing at the time, I had not then leisure to do it.”
- Relationship with Governor Medary: “Before the time of issuing the Bonds we were on friendly terms, and so continued for sometime afterwards. The Bonds were issued in the summer of 1859; we continued friendly up to January, 1860. I then for the first time, discovered that Gov. Medary was unfriendly to me, and I presumed his hostility arose out of a report which I made as Secretary, to 21 members of the Legislature who called upon me for information in regard to these claim Bonds. At least up to that time we were on speaking terms.”