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HON. JOHN CHANEY, SR.
Few men have occupied more public stations, or have filled them with more satisfaction to the public, than has the subject of this sketch. In remarkable health and vigor, for one of his advanced age, Judge John Chaney bids fair to fill a century--an age so uncommon that the psalmist allotted but seventy years as the limit of man on earth.
Judge Chaney was born in Washington county, Maryland, January 12, 1790. When he was but four years old, his father removed, with his family, to Bedford county, Pennsylvania. When the father died, John was fourteen years of age. His only brother died soon after, leaving the mother and two sisters to be supported. His father, like all the family, was of a truthful and kind nature. Becoming security for friends, the fine farm of the family, together with the stock, etc., was sold to pay debts not his own. For six years the support of the family devolved upon John, who was scarcely yet in his teens, and he sustained the burden ungrudgingly and manfully. The marriage of his siters took it from his shoulders, and, in 1810--nearly seventy years ago--young Chaney cam West, and, for a time, worked on the land situated on the Ohio canal, in Fairfield county, now the village of Waterloo. Thence he went to Pickaway county, where he labored for nearly two years, when his health failed, and he returned to the old home in Pennsylvania. In 1815, with recruited health, he returned to Fairfield county, and settled in Bloom township, where he has made his home ever since, near what is now Canal Winchester. Afterwards, in order to straighten the lines between Fairfield and Franklin counties, a strip of land, including a tier of sections, was taken from Fairfield and attached to Franklin, which brought Judge Chaney within the latter, his farm being upon one of the sections transferred.
In 1816 Judge Chaney was united in marriage to Miss Mary Ann Lafere, and built, for a residence, a log cabin, fifteen feet square, with puncheon floor, clapboard roof, mud chimney, and other characteristics of the primitive dwellings of that period. Here the honeymoon of the newly-married couple was passed. When not at work upon his clearing, the young settler toiled for others, splitting rails or chopping cordwood. For the former he got fifty cents a hundred; and for the latter, twenty-five cents a cord--the value of a full day's work by a good hand. Soon after his marriage, he brought his mother west, to live with him. Subsequently, while on a visit to her daughters in Pennsylvania, she died. His life was similar to that of all early settlers in Ohio, until the State began her works of internal improvement. Not long after his marriage, he became the purchaser of a small grist-mill. In 1821 he was dubbed "Squire Chaney," on account of his election as justice of the peace for Bloom township, in which office, by successive re-elections, he served nine years. He also served, continuously, as township trustee, for twenty-three years. In the fall of 1828 he was chosen to the house of representatives in the Ohio legislature, and was re-elected in each of the next two years. For a time he held the position of paymaster in the State militia, and became, successively, major and colonel of a regiment. In the spring of 1831 he was elected, by the legislature, associate judge for Fairfield county. The next year he was place[d] on the Jackson electoral ticket, and cast his vote in favor of the hero of New Orleans for his second term in the presidency.
The member of congress for the Fairfield district, in 1828, was elected as a Jackson man, and re-elected in 1830. During his second term, however, he favored the United States bank, voting to pass a bill, desired by the bank, over Jackson's veto. The Jackson men refused him a renomination, and Judge Chaney was made the Democratic nominee. The bank men nominated, as their candidate, the late member, whom they had bitterly opposed at two successive elections. Judge Chaney was elected, and served faithfully, for three successive terms, declining a renomination for a fourth term. During his third canvass, he was challenged to a public discussion in Morgan county--the district consisted of Fairfield, Hocking, Perry, and Morgan counties--but won so triumphant a victory as to largely increase his vote in that county, and he was never afterward challenged to a public discussion. His good common sense, his knowledge of facts, and the plain, sensible manner in which he tore his opponent's charges to pieces, made him a host of friends. The reputation of Judge Chaney in congress, was that of an excellent member. He enjoyed the love and confidence of his political friends, and likewise, the entire respect of his political adversaries. Among the great questions upon which he was called to act while in congress was the repeal of the celebrated "specie circular," issued by General Jackson. The bankers were buying up, for speculative purposes, vast tracts of the public lands, and paying for them in notes of their own bank, such notes, in many cases, being taken to the land office in sheets, signed there, and paid to the receiver as money. Th treasury was thus being filled with notes of a doubtful character; and the circular was issued to prevent anything but specie being received for the lands of the United States. The panic among the bankers was terrible, and every effort possible was made to induce congress to have the circular rescinded. Many members elected as Jacksonians yielded to the clamor, and the bill was only defeated by a few votes. Judge Chaney, faithful amon the faithless, stood firm. The circular was not repealed; so when the banks failed the treasury had but few of their worthless rags on hand, and many of those who voted at the dictation of the bankers, felt as if they would gladly repent in sackcloth and ashes, to atone for their folly.
Another question, deemed at the time of momentous importance, not only in congress, but by the people of all the States, was settled while Judge Chaney was a member; in its settlement he bore a leading part. The Cherokees held a large reservation in Georgia; they adopted a tribal organization, with their own code of laws. The state government rebelled at this, claiming that Georgia laws alone should prevail on the reservation. The commission of a murder in the Cherokee country brought matters to a crises. The State authorities seized the offender, and tried him in the State courts, where he was sentenced to death. The case was brought before the United States court, and a writ of habeas corpus was issued; but the Executive of Georgia refused to produce the prisoner, and ordered the decision of the State court to be enforced. The man was hanged, to remove the cause of the complaint, and settle the vexed question of jurisdiction. A treaty was made by the United States with the Cherokees, in which, for a certain sum of money and lands west of the Mississippi river, the reservation was ceded to the general government. Georgia claimed the land. It was not only valuable, but had been much improved; there were on it fine farms and residences, school-houses, etc., hence the struggle to get it. The question had to be settled by congress. After a short debate, it was referred to the House committee on judiciary affairs, of which Judge Chaney was a member, and Hon. John Bell, of Tennessee, was chairman, the former was absent, by reason of sickness in his family, when the committee met, and as the six remaining members were equally divided in opinion, no report could be made. He had, however, carefully examined the question, and on his return was ready to act, voting in the committee with those who held that the treaty was right and valid. His views prevailed there and in the House, where a bill was introduced authorizing the government to sell the lands, and, after some bluster and threats, all parties acquiesced, and the lands were sold, and the great Cherokee question was settled at once and forever.
A finer specimen of a man than Judge Chaney, in his younger days was hard to find. There was a good-natured rivalry at Washington, between the New York delegation, and that from Ohio, on this subject, the New Yorkers claiming the palm for the Hon. Francis Granger, of that State, while the western members, one and all, asserted that in this particular the Empire State could not compare with the west. A Wash-
ington newspaper had an editorial on the subject, in which the statement was made that, while men might differ, to a woman the softer sex would vote for Judge Chaney.
Leaving congress at the close of the session, in 1839, Judge Chaney claimed retirement as his just due; but his old neighbors and friends, in 1842, elected him once more to the lower house of the Ohio legislature, over which body he was called to preside as speaker. Two years afterwards he was chosen to the State senate, and was again a member of the house in 1855. In the convention which drafted the present State constitution, he was an active and honored member. He has held more different public offices, probably, than any other man in Ohio, and filled them well. And yet it is a fact, borne out by the united testimony of his friends and neighbors, that he never asked a single office at the hands of his party or his friends. Yet when office was tendered him, he felt that he could not decline. He had more honest pride in the good opinion of his neighbors and constituents than in office-holding; and, in all the heated contests through which he passed, his integrity, his word, and honor, were never impugned. His private character was in ti, and as he has lived, so will he die; an honest, God-fearing man, fearing to do evil, and striving to do good.
Judge Chaney was thrice married, His first wife, Mary Ann Lapere died in February, 1823, leaving four children. In November, 1824, he was remarried, this time being united to Miss Elizabeth Miller, who died in January, 1836, leaving five sons and two daughters. In December, 1860, he married Mrs. Mary Stephenson, who is still living. Most of his children survive--his daughters well married; his sons fine business men. Among the latter are, O. P. Chaney, a grain merchant, doing and extensive business at Canal Winchester, and Dr. H. L. Chaney, an excellent physician, in large practice, at Groveport.