From Ohio History Central
Benjamin Franklin Wade was a political leader from Ohio and a Radical Republican in the Reconstruction years after the American Civil War.
Benjamin Wade was born on October 27, 1800, near Springfield, Massachusetts. In 1821, Wade and his parents came to Ashtabula County, Ohio. He briefly taught school, although he never formally attended school in his life. He moved to Albany, New York, in 1823 to study medicine. He returned to Ohio in 1825 and studied law under Elisha Whittlesey. Wade passed the Ohio bar examination in 1828 and opened a law practice in Jefferson, Ohio.
In 1835, Wade went into politics and served as the prosecuting attorney of Ashtabula County from 1835 to 1837. Ashtabula voters elected Wade to the Ohio Senate in 1837 and 1838. As a state legislator, Wade favored the Whig Party's platform and became well known for his abolitionist views. He campaigned for the repeal of Ohio's black codes. His strong anti-slavery stance offended many Ohioans. Ashtabula voters refused to reelect Wade in 1839, but he was elected to the Ohio Senate once again in 1842. In 1847, Wade became a judge of the Third Judicial Court of Ohio and held this position until the Ohio legislature elected him as one of Ohio's two United States Senators in 1851. Wade remained a senator until 1869. He was a strong supporter of the Republican Party and believed that equal rights should be extended to African Americans. The Ohio legislature failed to reelect Wade in the election of 1868.
Southern senators viewed Wade as one of their strongest opponents during the 1850s and the early 1860s. He was a major opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and his opposition and fiery oratory helped establish the Republican Party in Ohio. Wade became widely respected in the North for his views on slavery. Several Republicans wanted to see Wade as their candidate for the presidency in 1860, but Ohio Republicans eventually united behind Salmon P. Chase. Nevertheless, Wade still received three votes at the Republican National Convention in 1860.
During the American Civil War, Wade remained in the Senate and served as the chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on the Conduct of the War. Wade encouraged President Abraham Lincoln to subdue the Confederacy militarily, rather than seeking a quick end to the conflict through peaceful negotiations. In 1864, Wade helped author the Wade-Davis Bill. This legislation required fifty percent of white Southern voters living in a seceded state to take the oath of allegiance to the United States before the state could apply for readmission to the Union. The bill easily passed Congress, but President Lincoln refused to sign it. The bill never became law. After Lincoln's death in April 1865, Wade became a staunch opponent of President Andrew Johnson's relatively lenient plan to reunite the country at the war's conclusion. If the Senate had removed Johnson from office during his impeachment trial, Wade, as president pro tempore of the Senate, would have become the next president of the United States.
Upon completing his term in 1869, Wade remained active in government affairs. He served as a government director of the Union Pacific Railroad and also participated in a commission debating whether or not the United States should annex Santo Domingo. Wade also continued to practice law. He died on March 2, 1878 in Jefferson, Ohio.
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