Silas Woodson (May 18, 1819 – October 9, 1896) was the 21st Governor of Missouri, United States, between January 3, 1873, and January 12, 1875. He was notable for being the first Democrat elected to that position since the Civil War. No Republican would reach the office for over 30 years after Woodson's election.[1]

Silas Woodson
21st Governor of Missouri
In office
January 3, 1873 – January 12, 1875
LieutenantCharles Phillip Johnson
Preceded byB. Gratz Brown
Succeeded byCharles Henry Hardin
Chief Justice of the Idaho Territorial Supreme Court
In office
July 28, 1864 – January 1865
Appointed byAbraham Lincoln
Preceded bySidney Edgerton
Succeeded byJohn R. McBride
Personal details
Born(1819-05-18)May 18, 1819
Barbourville Kentucky, U.S
DiedOctober 9, 1896(1896-10-09) (aged 77)
St. Joseph, Missouri, Missouri, U.S
Political partyDemocratic

Early life


Woodson was born in Barbourville, Kentucky, to mother Alice (Chick), and father Wade Netherland Woodson

He was the most outspoken opponent of slavery at Kentucky's 1849 constitutional convention and left the state after the passage of the 1850 constitution enshrined it in state law.[2]


Woodson became a lawyer. In 1846 he became partners with Samuel Freeman Miller.[3] Woodson gained a reputation as a trial lawyer.[4] On June 20, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln nominated Woodson as Chief Justice of the Idaho Territorial Supreme Court. The senate judiciary committee reported Woodson's nomination adversely, and the senate laid his nomination on the table on June 30.[5] After congress adjourned, Lincoln gave Woodson a recess appointment to the position on July 28, 1864.[6] He resigned his commission in January 1865, without having set foot in the Idaho Territory.[7]

Political career


Woodson had made one previously unsuccessful attempt for the Missouri Legislature in 1868, but was chosen to run in 1873 against Republican Senator John B. Henderson. Woodson beat Henderson 156,777 votes to 121,889.[4]

In his inaugural address, Governor Woodson spoke about education, in particular defending the Democratic position regarding common schools. Historian Arthur Lee commented this showed the institutionalization of public schooling in Missouri.[1]

As part of his time as governor, Woodson brought a case against Pacific Railroad for non-payment of a state-issued debt. The Railroad had contended that it was unable to repay $2 million lent to it due to the impact of the Civil War. Woodson had responded by attempting a sale of the Railroad in default. In the 1874 case of Woodson v Murdock, the Supreme Court found in favor of the Railroad.[3]

In 1875, Silas Woodson was briefly investigated for his role in co-signing certificates issued during the Civil War by the Crafton Commission. Woodson owned $198,045 worth of the certificates personally. He was exonerated after it was shown that Crafton had been forging then-Governor Woodson's signature on certificates for defective muster rolls.[8]



Woodson died in St. Joseph, Missouri. He is buried there at the Mount Mora Cemetery. His headstone was vandalized in October 2006.


  1. ^ a b Karanovich, F. A. (2009). "Managers of Virtue Revisited". American Educational History Journal. 36 (1 & 2). ISBN 9781607522256.
  2. ^ Howard, Victor B. (October 21, 2021). Black Liberation in Kentucky: Emancipation and Freedom, 1862-1884. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 9780813184784.
  3. ^ a b Ross, Michael Anthony (2003). Justice of Shattered Dreams: Samuel Freeman Miller and the Supreme Court During the Civil War Era. LSU Press. p. 222. ISBN 9780807129241.
  4. ^ a b Parrish, William Earl (2001). A History of Missouri: 1860 to 1875. University of Missouri Press. p. 280. ISBN 9780826213761.
  5. ^ Journal of the Executive Proceedings of the Senate of the United States of America, from December 1, 1862, to July 4, 1864, inclusive. Government Printing Office. 1887. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)
  6. ^ Heyburn, Weldon B. (1900). Idaho Laws and Decisions, Annotated and Digested. Statesman Printing Company.
  7. ^ "Courts without judges". The Idaho World. January 14, 1865.
  8. ^ Sinisi, Kyle S. (2003). Sacred Debts: State Civil War Claims and American Federalism, 1861–1880. Fordham University Press. p. 71. ISBN 9780823222599.
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Missouri
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Missouri
Succeeded by