John Smith Phelps was born in Simsbury, Connecticut, on December 22, 1814 to Elisha Phelps and Lucy Smith Phelps. Educated at Trinity College in Hartford, Phelps was admitted to the Connecticut bar in 1835. After his marriage to Mary Whitney in 1837, the couple moved to Springfield, Missouri, where Phelps opened a law practice. He was elected to the Missouri legislature as a Democrat in 1840 and to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1844 where he represented southwest Missouri for the next eighteen years. Congressman Phelps was recognized nationally for his support for Oregon statehood and an overland mail route to California. Phelps unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1868; but in 1876, he defeated former Congressman Gustavus A. Finkelnburg in the general election on November 7. Governor John Smith Phelps was sworn into office as Missouri’s 23rd governor on February 8, 1877. During his administration, legislation was enacted requiring balanced budgets for counties unless otherwise approved by voters. The state indebtedness was significantly reduced. The University of Missouri received biennial appropriations from the General Assembly for the first time and public schools received increased state financial support. Criminal laws were strictly enforced and the lawlessness that plagued Missouri since before the Civil War was reduced. Governor Phelps retired from public service at the end of his term in 1881. He died in St. Louis on November 20, 1886 and is interred in Hazelwood Cemetery in Springfield, Greene County.
The records (1876-1881) of Governor John Smith Phelps (1814-1886) consist primarily of correspondence and also include financial statements, petitions, receipts, reports, and resignations. The collection also contains invitations to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Centennial Anniversary of the Surrender at Yorktown, and the 1883 World's Fair and Exposition in New York City. Correspondents of note include former Missouri governors Willard Preble Hall and Silas B. Woodson, Virginia Governor Frederick W. M. Holliday, Missouri Congressman Richard Graham Frost, and U. S. Secretary of State John Hay.
Rights and Reproductions
Copyright is in the public domain. Preferred citation: [Item description], [date]; John Smith Phelps, 1877-1881; Office of Governor, Record Group 3.23; Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City.
How to Use This Collection:
The official title lists dates of service from inauguration to end of term. Records (1876-1881) refer to the date range of materials included within the collection. All references to places are within the state of Missouri unless indicated, and county is specified when known. The spelling of proper names varies greatly. When correct spelling cannot be determined the original spelling was retained. Officeholders are Missouri officials unless noted (U. S. Senator, U. S. Secretary of State). State Representatives are referred to as Representative. U. S. Representatives are noted with the title Congressman. Scanned images shown are the best available.
The collection finding aid provides detailed descriptions of additional Phelps material held by the Filson Historical Society, Louisville, Kentucky; Kansas City Public Library, Kansas City; Springfield Library Center, Springfield, Missouri; Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City; the Oregon Historical Society, Portland; State Historical Society of Missouri, Columbia; Truman State University, Kirksville; University of Arkansas, Fayetteville; University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign; and the Wisconsin State Historical Society, Madison.
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