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E. N. Morrill papers

Creator: Morrill, E. N. (Edmund Needham), 1834-1909

Date: 1878-1892

Level of Description: Coll./Record Group

Material Type: Manuscripts

Call Number: Misc.: Morrill, E

Unit ID: 42914

Biographical sketch: Member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1883-91) (Republican), 13th governor of Kansas (1895-97), banker; of Hiawatha.

Abstract: Includes a letter from E. N. Morrill, Hiawatha, Kan., 1878 Sept. 3, to Strain & Sturges [Concordia, Kan.]; a letter to F. G. Adams [Topeka, Kan.], 1885 Jan. 31, concerning a reunion of the 1855 Kansas Territorial Legislature; a letter to General William Buell Franklin, 1892 Aug. 4, concerning treatments of veterans; and an item describing Morrill in Lecompton, Kan.

Space Required/Quantity: 1 folder

Title (Main title): E. N. Morrill papers

Titles (Other):

  • Morrill, E. N.
  • E. N. Morrill misc. collection
  • Papers [Portion of title]


Biog. Sketch (Full):

Edmund Needham Morrill, thirteenth governor of the State of Kansas, was born on 12 February 1834 at Westbrook, Maine.

Edmund Morrill came from humble beginnings at Westbrook attending common schools, and he mastered the tanning and fur trade at an early age. He also attended, and graduated from, Westbrook Seminary in 1855. He was the son of Mr. Rufus Morrill; a tradesman in the tanner and furrier works, and Mrs. Mary Webb Morrill, he grew up with one sister and one brother.

Like his predecessor, Lorenzo Lewelling, Edmund Morrill had the instinctive quest for knowledge. His reading and study on many subjects was excessive, especially those relating to education, religion, human rights, and public affairs. He was an industrialist hard working individual, and at age twenty-one he engaged in the laborious nursery business with his partner, John W. Adams. Edmund was a lightning rod for education; he was also elected a member of the School Board of Westbrook.

In 1857 Morrill decided it was time for a life change; he "went for broke" and moved 1,600 miles west to Brown County, Kansas. The year 1857 was an interesting time in history because the issue of slavery had not yet been settled.

After surveying several parts of eastern Kansas, Edmund built his homestead on Walnut Creek in Hamlin Township of Brown County, near the present day village of Hamlin. There he built a sawmill that later burnt down in a ravaging drought fire. Politically, and morally, Edmund felt right about the Free State (antislavery) agenda looming on the horizon, and by October 1857, he was elected from Brown and Nemaha counties as a member of the first Free-State Legislature in the Kansas Territory. Edmund Morrill played a shadowy but conspicuous part in reversing the laws that were earlier enacted by the official Territorial Legislature composed largely of non-resident men from Missouri.

By January 1858, Morrill had made a mark for himself in the political arena and was elected a Free-State member of the proposed Legislature under the terms of the Lecompton Constitution; this body never met. He was one of the many “minds” that were determined to steer the ship of Kansas toward a Free State territory. Then came the drought stricken calamity of 1860. A famine that would horrify its pioneers of the day, and so devastating was the fire-causing drought, the mill owned by Morrill and his partner was burned to the ground. The famine impoverished many settlers for much of 1858 and 1859, and for up to three months going without food, other than green field corn for an occasional winter corn meal.

With internal war erupting in the eastern half of the country, on October 5th 1861, Edmund Morrill enlisted in the army at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and was assigned to Company C, 7th Kansas Cavalry Regiment. His daily routine and attention to detail in his cavalry duties were so impressive that later led to increased command responsibility. In August 1862, Morrill was a cavalry sergeant when he received an appointment as commissary officer of subsistence from President Abraham Lincoln. This appointment was made at the recommendation of Vice-president Hannibal Hamlin, perhaps because Hamlin was also a native from Maine. But this new responsibility came with a promotion to captain, and Morrill was ordered to report to General Ulysses S. Grant at Corinth, Mississippi. Captain Morrill was charged with managing the large perishable and non-perishable stores at Forts Henry, Heiman, and Donelson in Tennessee.

In January 1864, during the tactical planning stage of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s march toward Atlanta, Captain Morrill was dispatched to Clarksville, Tennessee, and ordered to procure several thousand pounds of beef, game and flour for subsistence for Sherman’s army. In his duties as chief commissariat, Captain Morrill was responsible for millions of dollars worth of stores and supplies. His noble executive abilities did not pass without due recognition from the commanders under whom he served. On October 20, 1865, he was promoted to brevet major for meritorious service, and mustered out of the Army.

After the war, Edmund Morrill returned to Brown County and the town of Hiawatha where he established his home and embarked in the mercantile business. In 1871, he also decided to engage in the banking business. From 1866 to 1871 he did several stints as District Court and county clerk. In 1872, and again in 1876, he was elected to the Kansas State Senate. In the last year of his second term as state senator, he was president pro tem of the Senate and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee. In that committee he forged a plan to stem a State financial crisis by changing the sessions of the Legislature from annual to biennial, which also helped him raise the funds needed to build a new wing and a new center section for the Capitol building. Morrill was also successful in getting two railway lines to traverse Brown County. In the Legislature Edmund Morrill was always at center stage for supporting state, education, and charitable institutions. His practical legislative example was typically known for his equilibrium and fairness in state government, while promoting temperance, good morals, education, and law.

In 1876 Edmund Morrill wrote and published a historical record of Brown County, and in 1882 he established the Free Public Library of Hiawatha, and simultaneously founding the first bank in Brown County. But his greatest contribution to humanity came in 1878 when he gave generously to suffering settlers in western Kansas by delivering enormous quantities of dry stores. All the while, Morrill’s name appeared repeatedly in the press as the most able man for governor and for Congress. In fact, in 1882, the press elevated him forward for Congress with singular unanimity. However, he would not support his own cause. However in the June State Republican Convention, Morrill was nominated as congressman from the state at large along with three others and received 282 delegates.

In the fall of 1882, a majority of about 40,000 elected him to Congress, running ahead of the ticket in about twenty counties. Truth be told, Edmund Morrill would have been just happy to remain in Congress for a working career. But at the urging of his closest friends, he was drawn to the nomination for governor in 1894. His vast popularity in the State ensured his election later that year, and he served one term. At 61 years of age, Governor Morrill was the oldest person elected to the office of Kansas governor to that time. He won with a respectable 188,322 votes to the incumbent Governor Lorenzo Dow Lewelling’s 148,697 votes.

Governor Morrill understood, probably better than any Kansas politician of the day, the real and depressing issues people were facing in the State of Kansas. His inaugural address was heated with indictments on unrest, discontent, and disloyalty going on throughout the State. Morrill’s addressed concerns were on the heels of a national economic depression that only exacerbated the political calamities he was facing: drought, the influence of existing mortgage laws, and the extreme high rates of interest for farmers. Of particular concern were the lack of safety conditions for miners, the State purchase of seed and coal for impoverished farmers, and the overwhelming problem of "street people" roaming the cities. But Morrill stopped short of enacting any laws that would affect these issues, and a mostly divided House and Senate in 1895 made it almost impossible to get any bill to the Governor for signature.

The Governor’s greatest challenge was enforcing the increasingly unpopular Prohibition amendment and the metropolitan police laws. Literally at his wits end, Morrill decided to alienate himself from party leaders and allow for the local policy option for saloons, and this act in effect was the beginning of the end for Prohibition in Kansas. Morrill was equally unsuccessful in his efforts for a new constitutional convention.

As a former nursery tradesman, the governor understood the imperative of farming irrigation for crop survival and thus established a Board of Irrigation, and a $30,000 appropriation for State irrigation development. Governor Morrill also established the appellate court process so the issues of drought, bankruptcy, mortgage laws, and high interest could be litigated fairly in a court of law.

In 1896, Governor Morrill was re-nominated by the Republican State Convention but lost to the combined Democratic and People’s Parties candidate, John W. Leedy, by only 7,500 votes. During his two-year stint as governor, Morrill resided at the Copeland Hotel in Topeka, Kansas. After his defeat for reelection, he returned to his previous residence at Hiawatha, and as president of the Morrill and Janes Bank.
Edmund Morrill also served as president of the First National Bank of Leavenworth, Kansas, and was later director of the Interstate National Bank of Kansas City, Kansas. He opened and directed a loan company in Atchison, Kansas, and an 880-acre apple orchard. Morrill, Kansas, in northwestern Brown County, was named after him.

He died of natural causes on 14 March 1909, at San Antonio, Texas; he is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, at Hiawatha.


No Locators Identified

Related Records or Collections

Related materials:

All of the above sources contain letters by E. N. Morrill. Consult the ms. card catalog at the Kansas Historical Society (Topeka) for other collections containing letters by him.

Index Terms


    Kansas Territory. Legislative Assembly (1855)
    Lecompton (Kan.)
    United States
    Morrill, E. N. (Edmund Needham), 1834-1909
    Reunions -- Kansas
    Veterans -- Medical care -- United States

Creators and Contributors

Additional Information for Researchers

Action note: Biographical sketch by David F. Manning, volunteer, 2008.


General Note: Title supplied by cataloger.