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Thomas Carney

Thomas Carney

Politician, governor. Republican. Born: August 20, 1824, Delaware County, Ohio. Died: July 28, 1888, Leavenworth, Kansas. Served as second governor of Kansas from January 12, 1863, to January 9, 1865.

Thomas Carney was born August 20, 1824, near Tipton, Delaware County, Ohio. The son of James and Sarah Carney, he had three brothers, one half brother, and three half sisters, who grew up on an Ohio farm. He was educated in nearby Berkshire. His father died in 1828, leaving behind a widow and four small sons. Carney stayed with his mother until the age of 19 and in that time he frequently hauled products from their farm with an oxen team 36 miles away to the town of Newark. He left home that same year with only $3.50 in his pocket to live with his uncle, Elijah Carney, at Berkshire. There he stayed for several months working daily for his board while attending school.

In fall 1844 Carney found employment with a retail dry-goods company in Columbus, earning $50 dollars per month and free board the first year and $100 per month and board the second year. He was later hired to work in a wholesale dry-goods house in Cincinnati and soon after was accepted as a company partner. The firm of Carney, Swift & Co. became one of the best-known non-perishable goods storage houses in the country.

He married Rebecca Ann Canaday on November 13, 1851; they had five sons. He was Presbyterian but not a member of any church. After 12 years in Cincinnati his health began to fail and in 1857 he decided to go west to Leavenworth, Kansas, to seek better health and find a new business opportunity. In spring 1858, in partnership with Thomas C. Stevens, Carney opened the first wholesale house in Leavenworth. Stevens retired in 1866, at which time the firm took the name of Carney, Fenlon & Co. Carney became the sole proprietor of the business. He also founded the wholesale shoe firm of Carney, Storer & Co., later Thomas Carney & Co. He sold the business in 1875.

Carney took an active and progressive interest in Kansas’ public affairs. In 1861 he was elected to the second state legislature where he served on many committees. After one year in the legislatre Carney had earned such an impeccable record that he was recommended as a Republican Party candidate for governor. He was nominated at a convention in Topeka on September 17, 1862. At November 4, 1862, election he was chosen over W. R. Wagstaff by a majority of 4,627 votes. On January 12, 1863, he was sworn into office becoming the second governor of Kansas. Carney was the first of six native Ohioans to serve as Kansas' chief executive. 

As governor Carney endorsed Kansas state bonds to establish state credit on a firmer footing and to foster national credibility. During the Civil War funding was desperately needed for arms and ammunition, so Carney went to New York to sell state bonds to for funding. He personally organized and financed an armed border patrol to defend the Kansas-Missouri border from Confederates. The federal government ordered Carney to disband the border patrol three days before William Quantrill’s violent attack on Lawrence that left many dead.

He was denied a second term in 1864; the Kansas Legislature elected him to serve in the United States Senate in 1864, but he declined the appointment. He returned to Leavenworth to resume the storage business that he had put aside. From 1865 to 1866 he was the mayor of Leavenworth and was one of the founders of the city's First National Bank. For many years he was a member of the bank’s board of directors. He was also a director of the Kansas City, Lawrence & Fort Gibson Railroad. He was widely associated with mining operations near Gunnison, Colorado. After being rather wealthy when he was governor, he lost much of his money later in life and died relatively poor.

Carney died at the age of 63 from apoplexy on July 28, 1888, in Leavenworth. He was buried in Mount Muncie Cemetery in Leavenworth.

Entry: Carney, Thomas

Author: Kansas Historical Society

Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.

Date Created: June 2011

Date Modified: February 2017

The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.