Thursday, July 5, 2012

Melbourne Haddock Ford (1849-1891)


  This well dressed gentleman is Melbourne Haddock Ford, a U.S. Representative from Michigan in the late 1880s. Despite his untimely death at age 41 in 1891 this oddly named politician managed to carve quite a career for himself in the public forum, serving at various times as an attorney, Michigan State legislator, state Democratic Committee chairman and U.S. Representative.
   Melbourne H. Ford was born in Saline, Michigan on June 30, 1849, one of five children born to Theron Ford and his second wife Amelia Burke.  The Ford family removed to Lansing, Michigan when Melbourne was ten and he is recorded as receiving his education in the schools of that city. Ford continued his education at the Michigan State College of Agriculture. In 1864, the then fifteen year old Ford enlisted in the U.S. Navy and after three years of service was promoted to midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis. He left the Academy in 1868 (a memorial resolution on his life gives his reason for leaving as an "affection of the eyes") and shortly thereafter returned to Lansing. Here he became employed as a clerk in a drugstore and eventually found his niche as a stenographer. The Congressional memorial address on his life notes that Ford "grew to be an expert and one of the most successful shorthand writers in the country" and was "long engaged as a stenographer in the higher courts of Michigan."
   While still employed as a stenographer, Ford studied law, and was admitted to the Michigan state bar in 1878. Also around this time Ford married Newport, Rhode Island native Mary Carr, and three children were eventually born to them: Kate Huntington, Thomas Burke (1878-1959) and Arthur Melbourne. After beginning his law practice, Ford authored a legal textbook, entitled "Ford's Legal Analysis", mentioned as being a "small but standard legal work". In 1885 he was elected to his first political office, that of Kent County's representative in the Michigan State Legislature. He continued to serve in the legislature in 1886 and is mentioned as being "most prominently identified in this session of the legislature with an effort for the restoration of capital punishment in Michigan".
   Due to Ford's popularity in the state legislature, his name began being mentioned as a candidate for Congress, and he eventually launched a campaign in 1886. On election day Ford eked out a narrow win (18,567 votes to 18,120) over his Republican opponent George Washington McBride, and took his seat in January 1887. During his term Ford held a seat on both the Committee on Territories and the Committee on Military Affairs, and later chaired the Select Committee on Contract Labor.
  Ford was defeated for reelection in November 1888 by Charles Eugene Belknap (1846-1929) and returned to practicing law in Grand Rapids. In 1890 he was named as the Chairman of the Democratic State Convention being held in Grand Rapids and in that same year was reelected to the U.S. House of Representatives over Republican nominee Charles W. Watkins. Ford's second term in Congress officially began in March 1891 and was terminated by his untimely death in Grand Rapids on April 20, 1891 at age 41. The memorial address on his life makes note that on "April 19th, 1891 he sought repose, and in that strange and solemn interval of time, the twilight of the morning, in the violet dawn, he was stricken with a malady which in a matter of hours removed him from the earth."  The New York Times obituary on Congressman Ford (published one day after his decease)  lists his cause of death as apoplexy and has been posted in its entirety below.


   Melbourne H. Ford's untimely death certainly curtailed a promising political career that had barely been started. In the days and weeks following his death numerous newspapers and periodicals (both in Michigan and in other areas) lamented the loss of the popular Congressman, and in the Congressional memorial address honoring him, Ford was praised as "the most promising young man in Michigan and that a bright future of usefulness and honor was before him" and that "few climbed high in so short a time".
  Ford was subsequently interred in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Grand Rapids and was survived by his wife Mary, who died in 1935 at age 87. The portrait of Melbourne H. Ford shown at the top of this article was prominently featured in the House Memorial address on his life, originally published in 1893.

           This rare portrait of Ford was featured in his obituary in the Wichita Daily Eagle in May 1891.

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