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John Alexander Martin Papers

John Alexander MartinManuscript Collection no. 432




Includes a biographical sketch of his wife, Ida Challiss Martin, 1887; a scrapbook from the Kansas exhibit at the Centennial Exhibition (Philadelphia, Pa., 1876) containing invitations & notices of meetings of exhibit commissioners; letters from the Kansas territorial and Civil War periods (on microfilm, Kansas Historical Society roll MS 221), 1857, 1861-64, mostly written while Martin was a lieutenant colonel & colonel in the 8th Kansas Infantry Regiment; a roster of the 8th Kansas; speeches; later letters, primarily relating to State positions & John A. Martin’s newspaper business, 1885-89; and a tribute to Martin written by his daughter Faith M. Settle.




0.4 ft. (8 folders in 1 box)


Martin, John A., 1839-1889.


John Alexander Martin papers


Ms. Coll. 432


Letters, 1857, 1861-1864: Microfilm. Topeka, Kan. : Kansas State Historical Society, 1962. 1 microfilm reel ; 35 mm. Roll MS 221, available for research, interlibrary loan, or purchase.


Kansas Historical Society (Topeka)


Newspaper editor, publisher; officer, 8th Kansas Infantry, in the Civil War; governor of Kansas, 1885-89 (Republican). Of Atchison.

Details: John Alexander Martin, tenth governor of the State of Kansas, was born 10 July 1839 at Brownsville, Pennsylvania. John’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Brown, was the founder of Brownsville circa 1785. He was the son of James Martin, a boardinghouse keeper, justice of the peace, and postmaster, and Jane Montgomery Crawford Martin; he had two sisters and two brothers. John was educated in Pennsylvania common schools and entered the printer’s trade at age fifteen. At age nineteen in 1857, he moved to the Kansas Territory and settled in Atchison.

In 1858, drawing on his printer skills and being of the entrepreneurial kind, he bought the Squatter Sovereign, a pro-slavery newspaper and changed its name to the Freedom’s Champion in support of abolition. He later changed its name again to the Daily Champion. The publication of this paper was a lifetime hobby for John Martin, and it was the perfect medium to publish his political agenda and personal philosophy on how the affairs of state should be executed.

Martin’s political life largely revolved around Kansas’affairs and the publishing of his newspaper. Eager to be involved in local politics, he served as the mayor of Atchison in 1865, and again in 1878 to 1880. His deep - rooted Republican values congealed at an early age and worked his way up to the chairmanship of the Atchison County Republican Central Committee. He held that position from 1859 to 1884. He regularly attended Republican National Conventions throughout the 1860s and 1870s.

In October 1861, at the outbreak of the Civil War, he was mustered into the Union Army and commissioned a lieutenant colonel in the 8 th Kansas Infantry. He achieved the rank of colonel (brevetted brigadier general) before he was mustered out of service in October of 1864. In 1862, he was appointed provost marshal of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and held that position until his regiment was ordered to Corinth, Mississippi, where the 8 th Kansas became part of General William (“Bull”) Nelson’s army; that unit remained in the Army of the Cumberland until the end of the war. In November 1863, Colonel Martin found himself present at the siege of Chattanooga and was involved in the storming of Missionary Ridge. In 1864, he marched with General Sherman’s Army to Atlanta, and after the fall of Atlanta, Colonel Martin’s regiment joined in the pursuit of the fleeing Confederate General John Hood who headed northward into the backwoods of Tennessee. It was at this time and place where Colonel Martin was cited and decorated for “gallant and meritorious service.”

After the war John Martin was appointed commander in chief of the Kansas state encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic. He married Ida Challiss on 1 June 1871. They had eight children; one died in infancy. He also became an incorporator and president of the Kansas State Historical Society and incorporator of The Kansas Magazine. Martin was also a Kansas representative on the United States Centennial Commission. Above all, John’s heart was always sympathetic to the well-being of the war veteran. The psychological and physical rehabilitation of soldiers from the Union Army, and their families, became his perpetual top priority.

John Martin was recognized by many as an intellectual shining star, and his political ambitions began at an early age when he narrowly missed the Republican nomination for governor in 1878. However, in 1884, the convention rules for age restriction were suspended and John Martin was nominated by acclamation. He won the fall election beating the incumbent governor, George Washington Click. In 1887, he was renominated for a second term by a large margin, and he beat the Democratic candidate, Thomas Moonlight.

Governor Martin was fortunate to have acquired upon his inauguration in 1885 a state of affairs that was persistent in prosperous economic growth, and city and town expansion. But all that boom and extravagance changed in his last year of office when conditions gave way to severe drought and an economic recession. That forced his decision not to run for a third term, as public confidence in his leadership ability waned. However, the State Board of Health, a School for the Feeble Minded, and a soldiers’orphan home were all departments born of the Martin administration; and during his tenure women won the right to vote in local and city elections. The state militia became the Kansas National Guard, and a Bureau of Labor and Industrial Statistics was also created under his watch.

On the political front, a state of turmoil engulfed Kansas during the Martin administration when real estate speculation ran wild, ugly community rivalries arose over securing county seats (these became known as the county seat wars), and these offensive episodes often became so violent that the governor had to send in troops to restore order.

Also, John Martin’s exact position on Prohibition was somewhat convoluted, always in question from the very beginning because of his persistent waffling on the issue. Unlike John St. John, who sternly believed in temperance and adopted the Prohibition measure through legislative action, and George Click, who thought the prohibition order wasn’t at all effective and too extreme, Governor Martin swayed back and forth on the issue. In his years as an ’aspiring governor,’he championed opposition to Prohibition and wrote several editorials on the issue in his Atchison Champion newspaper. But in 1884, John Martin had one goal in mind, and that was to become governor of the State of Kansas. Politically speaking, one might conclude that it was his turn in 1884; he certainly did. The problem, however, was that he was not understood to have fully supported public opinion on the subject of a constitutional amendment supporting the consumption and sale of intoxicating liquors. In September 1884, just as the meeting of the nominating convention came to a close, Martin fully endorsed the Prohibition law. Many political factions in favor of Prohibition, however, saw this act as a mere political maneuver to secure his election and rendered Martin’s decision insincere. To complicate matters, many of its members threatened to join the Prohibition Party if he was nominated by the Republicans. In the end, Martin was nominated and his support for the Prohibition movement only strengthened. In 1886, Martin played a key role in the negotiations for a settlement in the Missouri Pacific Railway strike of that year. It is also worth noting that his experience as a journalist and public administrator developed in him remarkable political skills and a keen judge of character that enabled him to govern with a wide - angle view of the political culture that surely enabled him to make the wise decisions noted in his administration.

Governor John Martin became increasingly frustrated with the rapid downturn of the state of economic affairs, particularly in the real estate market, in his last year of office when it appeared so promising just a few years prior. He tried to reverse the trend but all to no avail. Martin did not wish to seek a third term but only to return to the tranquility of his beloved newspaper; he died less than a year after leaving office. John Martin passed away at the young age of fifty years on 2 October 1889 of pleura - pneumonia at his home in Atchison. So popular was he that more then five thousand people attended his funeral. He is buried at Mount Vernon Cemetery in Atchison.

Contents List

Organized by type of material.

Folder List

Folder 1. Territorial speeches, etc. —

folder 2. Misc. speeches ; campaigns, etc. —

folder 3. Misc. speeches, etc. —

folder 4. Address on Wyandotte Constitution, July 29, 1882 —

folder 5. Roster : Kansas Infantry, 8th Regiment —

folder 6. Autograph book : United States Centennial Commission, 1876 —

folder 7. 1876 centennial scrapbook —

folder 8. Correspondence, 1861-1892 —

Related Records and Collections

Associated Materials

John A. Martin’s official gubernatorial records are in the state archives holdings of the Kansas Historical Society: Record Group 252. An on - line finding aid is available: /research/collections/ documents/govtrecords/governors/martin.htm.

Related Materials

John A. Martin Correspondence, mostly with his father and sister dating from 1857 and 1861 to 1864. Loaned to KSHS in 1962 for filming. KSHS does not have the originals. Microfilm roll MS 221.

Paul A. Martin Correspondence and Papers, 1856-1944 (bulk 1917-1918,1944): Ms. Collection No. 776

Index terms

Subject Headings

Martin, Ida Challiss, 1851-1932.

Martin, John A., 1839-1889.

Kansas. Governor (1885-1889 : Martin)

United States. Army. Kansas Infantry Regiment, 8th (1861-1866)

Centennial Exhibition (1876 : Philadelphia, Pa.) Kansas.

Atchison (Kan.)

Kansas – History – 1854-1861.

Kansas – History – Civil War, 1861-1865.

Kansas – Politics and government – 1865-1950.

Newspapers – Kansas – Atchison.

Speeches, addresses, etc.

Newspaper editors – Kansas – Atchison. i.Settle, Faith M. ii.Kansas. Governor (1885-1889 : Martin) iii.Portion of title: Papers iv.Other title: John A. Martin collection v.Other title: John A. Martin papers vi.Other title: Papers ; roster of Kansas Infantry, 8th Regt. vii.Other title:Roster of Kansas Infantry, 8th Regt.

Additional Information for Researchers

Restrictions on use

This material may be protected by copyright law (Title 17, U.S. Code). At the time this material was donated, the subject of copyright was not specifically addressed. Consequently it is presumed that copyright is owned by the authors’ heirs or assigns.

Preferred citation

John Alexander Martin ms. collection, no. 432, State Library & Archives, Kansas Historical Society.

Acquisition information

Letters, 1857, 1861-1864: Loan, Ernest Tonsing, 1962.
Remainder of collection: Purchase.

Processing Information

Biographical sketch written by David F. Manning, volunteer, 2008. Remainder of finding aid written by Robert L. Knecht, 2009.

Location of originals

Letters, 1857, 1861-1864: Owned by the lender at the time of microfilming.

Description based on a preliminary examination of the records.