Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Henry Osborne: two scandals, twice removed

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Aside from being the subject of some of the earliest political scandals in the country's history, Henry Osborne has the dubious distinction of getting sacked twice due to two very different instances of misconduct.

Born in 1751 in Newton, Ireland, Osborne emigrated to America. In 1779, in the midst of the American Revolution, he was admitted to the Philadelphia bar. The Supreme Executive Council of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania appointed him the judge advocate of the Pennsylvania militia in 1780, and in 1781 he was appointed escheator general for the commonwealth (a position that addressed what to do with the estates of people who had died without leaving an heir). In 1782, Osborne was appointed solicitor to collect evidence for the state's claim to the Wyoming Valley.

Osborne took a wife during his time in America, but unfortunately already had a wife whom he had left behind in Ireland. When she crossed the Atlantic in 1783 with proof of their marriage, the Council found that he had committed bigamy and dismissed him from all of the offices he'd held.

Osborne left the state with his first wife and reappeared in Georgia around 1785. His political career in that state was similarly well-rounded, and he held posts as the collector for ports south of Sunbury, justice of the peace for Glynn and Camden counties, and Commissioner of Indian Affairs, Southern Department. He served in the House of Assembly from 1786 and 1788 and as chief justice from 1787 to 1789. Osborne was appointed as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1786, but never made the trip back to his old stomping grounds.

After 1789, Osborne became a justice in the Georgia Superior Court. His time on the bench was cut short two years later, when General Anthony Wayne, the Federalist candidate for a Georgia seat in the House of Representatives, defeated incumbent Anti-Federalist candidate James Jackson in the general election of January 1791. Though Jackson protested that the vote had been fradulent, the House vote to seat him tied and the speaker upheld Wayne's victory.

Returning to Georgia, Jackson published a series of accusations against Osborne and Thomas Gibbons, Wayne's campaign manager, saying the duo had rigged the vote. Jackson charged Gibbons with getting unqualified magistrates to oversee the returns. Osborne was accused of a wider range of malfeasance, including illegally reopening the polls after dark, suppressing votes in Camden and Glynn counties, and personally casting 69 votes for Wayne.

The state legislature brought articles of impeachment against Osborne, but he refused to testify during the trial, saying the matter was one for federal officials to consider rather than state authorities. In December of 1791, the state senate convicted Osborne of five of the six counts brought against him. He was removed from the Superior Court, barred from holding an office of public trust for 30 years, lost his commission as a Camden magistrate, and was ordered to pay a $600 fine to cover the costs of the impeachment process.

Gibbons was not charged with any wrongdoing in the matter, but was later removed from the state senate after he was implicated in a separate vote-rigging scandal. Wayne's seat was declared vacant in 1792; Wayne, who was also not implicated in the fraud that helped him win his seat, decided not to run and returned to the military. Jackson's fight to regain his seat turned out to be for naught, as John Milledge was elected in the special election, but he was elected to the Senate not long after. Both Milledge and Jackson served as Governor of Georgia, and Milledge was elected to fill Jackson's seat in the Senate after the latter's death in 1806.

The impeachment appears to have effectively ended Osborne's political career, although he benefited from a clause in the 1798 state constitution that released prior convictions on impeachments and restored those individuals to citizenship. Osborne died in 1800 on St. Simmons Island in Georgia.

Sources: The Documentary History of the First Federal Elections edited by Gordon DenBoer, A Standard History of Georgia and Georgians by Lucian Lamar Knight, Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Politics on the Periphery: Factions and Parties in Georgia 1783-1806 by George R. Lamplugh, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States by Roger Foster, Pennsylvania State Archives

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