David Tod was born at Youngstown, Ohio on February 21, 1805. He was the son of George and Sarah (Isaacs) Tod. Tod’s father was a successful lawyer and a member of the Ohio Supreme Court. Tod was raised on the family estate, Brier Hill, and attended local schools before enrolling at Burton Academy in Geauga County. As a young man, Tod studied law in Warren, Ohio, and joined the Ohio bar in 1827.
Lawyer and Businessman
After being admitted to the bar, Tod established a successful law practice. He was also an active leader in the Mahoning Valley coal and iron industries. During his business career, he helped form and manage the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad, and he established the Brier Hill Iron and Coal Company.
In 1832, Tod received an appointment as postmaster of Warren, Ohio. The same year, he married Maria Smith of Warren. The couple had three daughters and four sons during their marriage.
While living in Warren, Tod became active in politics as a member of the Democratic Party. In 1838, he successfully ran for a seat in the Ohio Senate. As a member of the legislature, Tod figured prominently in the enactment of a bill to facilitate the return of fugitive slaves to their masters in Kentucky.
After one term in the Senate, Tod chose not to stand for reelection. Instead, he returned to his law practice and business pursuits in Warren. Nonetheless, he remained active in Ohio’s Democratic Party. In 1844 and 1846, Democrats selected Tod as their candidate in Ohio’s gubernatorial elections. He lost the first election to Whig candidate Mordecai Bartley by 1,271 votes – less than one-half of one percent of the votes cast. In 1846, he lost to Whig candidate William Bebb by 2,385 votes – less than one percent of the total votes cast.
In 1847, President James K. Polk appointed Tod as minister to Brazil. Tod served in that post until 1851 when he returned to Ohio to concentrate on his business interests. Tod resumed his political pursuits in 1858 when he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Republican John Hutchins defeated Tod.
In May 1860, Tod served as an Ohio delegate to the Democratic National Convention in Charleston, South Carolina. When the party split over slavery, southern delegates walked out of the convention. Despite several attempts, the remaining delegates could not agree on a candidate for president. In June, Tod again represented Ohio Democrats at the party’s second convention in Baltimore. When the Southern delegates again walked out, the convention’s chairman, Caleb Cushing, joined them. Tod replaced Cushing as chairman of the convention and helped to secure the Democratic presidential nomination for Illinois Senator Stephen A. Douglas.
War Democrat Governor of Ohio
After the onset of the Civil War, patriotic convictions prompted many Ohio Democrats to set aside traditional political allegiances to support President Abraham Lincoln’s administration. Because of this, the party split into two factions, one that supported the war (War Democrats), and one that opposed the war (Peace Democrats). Tod sided with the War Democrats. On September 5, 1861, War Democrats met with Republicans in Columbus, Ohio, and formed a coalition known as the National Union Party (aka Union Party). In a move designed to strengthen solidarity, Republican members of the new party agreed to jettison incumbent Republican Governor William Dennison and nominate Tod as the Union Party candidate for the upcoming gubernatorial election. On November 5, 1861, Tod defeated Peace Democrat Hugh J. Jewett by over 50,000 votes to become Ohio’s twenty-fifth governor.
Clash with Peace Democrats
Throughout his tenure, opposition from Peace Democrats, also known as Copperheads, plagued Governor Tod. As the war dragged on and casualty totals mounted, the Peace Democrats became more outspoken in their criticism of the war. President Lincoln and Governor Tod responded by trying to silence their opponents.
Edson Olds’ Arrest and Imprisonment
On August 12, 1862, Tod recommended that federal officials arrest former Ohio Congressman and Peace Democrat Edson Olds at his home in Lancaster, Ohio for treasonable acts, including discouraging enlistments in the army. Authorities imprisoned Olds at Fort Lafayette, in New York, until December 12, 1862. During his imprisonment, voters elected Olds to the Ohio House of Representatives, illustrating the mounting political strength of Copperheads in southern Ohio. After his release from prison, Olds swore out a warrant for the governor’s arrest and sued him for kidnapping in June 1863. Olds subsequently dropped the charges several months later, but that did not end Tod’s wrangling with Copperheads.
Clement Vallandigham’s Arrest and Imprisonment
The same month that Olds started legal proceedings against Tod, federal soldiers arrested Copperhead leader Clement Vallandigham in Mount Vernon for making an anti-war speech in violation of Major General Ambrose Burnside’s controversial General Order Number 38. Governor Tod looked askance, as Burnside denied his political rival access to Ohio’s civilian courts. Instead, a military tribunal quickly tried and convicted Vallandigham, sentencing him to two years’ confinement in a military prison. Vallandigham’s arrest and conviction ignited protests and riots in other parts of Ohio, most notably in Vallandigham’s hometown of Dayton.
Battle of Fort Fizzle
Adding to his trouble with Copperheads, Tod faced the challenge of meeting the Lincoln administration’s escalating manpower demands throughout his tenure as governor. Unable to fill growing quotas, Tod and federal officials resorted to the unpopular practice of conscription. Peace Democrats assailed the decision as an assault on personal freedoms.
In June 1863, resistance to the draft in Holmes County became so combative that Tod deployed over 400 federal soldiers to quell an uprising of northeast Ohio residents. This incident became popularly known as the “Battle of Fort Fizzle.” Despite his difficulty filling quotas from the war department, Tod resisted recruiting black soldiers. When black abolitionist leader John Mercer Langston urged the governor to enlist African Americans, Tod responded, “Do you not know, Mr. Langston, that this is a white man’s government; that white men are able to defend and protect it?”
Squirrel Hunters to the Rescue
Besides Tod’s political ordeals, he also dealt with two military crises during his tenure. In September 1862, Confederate forces captured Lexington, Kentucky, and threatened Cincinnati, Ohio. Federal officials dispatched Union General Lewis (Lew) Wallace to Cincinnati to prepare the city’s defenses. Upon arriving in the Queen City, Wallace declared martial law and enlisted civilians to dig trenches and erect other defenses. Governor Tod traveled to Cincinnati and ordered state officials to send any available militiamen and munitions to the city. Without Wallace’s approval, Tod also enlisted the aid of 15,766 volunteers from sixty-five counties to help protect Cincinnati. Popularly known as the “Squirrel Hunters,” most of the volunteers had no military training and carried antiquated weapons. Still, their presence in the Queen City helped to convince Confederate leaders to cancel the invasion.
Southern Ohio did not escape so easily the next year. On July 13, 1863, roughly 2,000 Confederate cavalrymen commanded by General John Hunt Morgan invaded Ohio from Indiana near the Hamilton-Butler County line. For the next two nights, the Rebels raided the outskirts of Cincinnati.
On July 15, Morgan divided his men, sending one detachment through Warren, Clinton, Fayette, Ross, and Jackson Counties. His main force traveled through Clermont, Brown, Highland, and Pike Counties. The two units reunited at Jackson, Ohio and journeyed east toward Meigs County planning to cross the Ohio River into West Virginia.
Governor Tod responded quickly to the invasion. On July 12, he issued a proclamation mustering the Ohio militia. By July 18, the militiamen confronted Morgan’s Raiders in Meigs County. Although Morgan forced the outnumbered militia to retreat, the encounter bought enough time for Union army forces to block the Confederate escape route.
Battle of Buffington Island
A full-fledged battle erupted the next day as Morgan’s men attempted to cross the Ohio River near Buffington Island. Union soldiers captured most of Morgan’s Raiders during the Battle of Buffington Island. Morgan and about 700 Rebels broke through the Union lines and fled north along the river, seeking a place to cross. They found an unprotected ford about twenty miles north of Buffington Island, where several hundred more Raiders forded the river before Union gunboats interceded. Morgan then led the rest of his men through several eastern Ohio counties before surrendering to federal forces at Salineville, in Columbiana County, on July 26, 1863.
As the election of 1863 approached, Tod aspired to serve another term as governor, but the coalition that nominated him in 1861 was less enthusiastic. During his term, Tod antagonized Republicans, by appointing Democrats to several key state offices, by refusing to embrace President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and by resisting efforts to enlist black soldiers. By 1863, Radical Republicans were not willing to support Tod’s re-nomination. Instead, the Unionists turned to another Democrat, John Brough (pronounced Bruff), who was more in tune with the war’s new anti-slavery direction. Like his predecessor, William Dennison, Tod accepted the circumstances and gracefully stepped aside.
Despite being cast aside by the Unionists, Tod was a competent administrator during his one term in office. His efforts to provide for the needs of Ohio soldiers, including equipment, rations, transportation, pay, and health care, earned him the nickname, “the soldier’s friend.” Tod’s loyalty to Lincoln’s wartime policies also earned him the gratitude of the president.
When Salmon P. Chase resigned his cabinet position as secretary of the treasury, Lincoln nominated Tod for the post in 1864. As in Ohio, however, Radical Republicans in Congress were not enthusiastic about supporting a Democrat who was cool toward emancipation. To avoid embarrassment for Lincoln and himself, Tod declined the nomination, citing poor health.
Tod spent the remainder of his life attending to his private business ventures and staying out of the public spotlight. Over the course of the next few years, he suffered from a number of small strokes.
In 1868, Tod briefly returned to public life, serving as a Republican Presidential elector for Ulysses S. Grant. However, he passed away before the Electoral College met. Tod died of a stroke at sixty-three years of age, on November 13, 1868, at his home in Youngstown. He left behind a widow and seven children. Tod’s family buried him in the Oak Hill Cemetery in Youngstown.