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James Mitchell Ashley was best known as a U.S. congressman and abolitionist who laid the foundation to pass the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery.
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Born on November 14, 1824, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, James Mitchell Ashley was a U.S. congressman from Ohio, governor of Montana Territory and an abolitionist. Ashley laid the foundation to pass the Thirteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. He later worked as a railroad president in the Midwest. Ashley died on September 16, 1896, in Alma, Michigan.
"Glory to God in the highest! Our country is free." (Referring to the passage of the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery.)
James Mitchell Ashley was born on November 14, 1824, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to John Ashley, a bookbinder, and Mary Ashley. When he was a young child, his family moved to Portsmouth, Ohio. During his teen years, his father prodded him to go into ministry to follow a long line of relatives who worked as Baptist ministers. Ashley refused and instead ran away from home and worked as a steamboat cabin boy on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
Several years later, he returned home and educated himself in the printing industry. He worked as a newspaper editor at the Portsmouth Dispatch and afterward at the Portsmouth Democrat. Ashley then studied law, passing the Ohio bar in 1849, but never practiced. In 1851, Ashley moved to Toledo, Ohio, to open a drugstore.
While in Toledo, Ashley was active in local politics and served as chairman of the Ohio Republican Party in 1858. A year later, in 1859, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in the 36th Congress.
During his tenure, Ashley was one of the abolitionist movement’s leaders. According to biographer Robert F. Horowitz, Ashley "maintained that under the war powers clause of the Constitution, the government had the right to interfere with slavery in the states and to initiate complete abolition, and that the power should be used against the oligarchic slaveholders. He firmly believed that his views would eventually be accepted by the administration and the American people." In 1863, Ashley proposed an amendment to the United States Constitution to abolish slavery, forming the foundation of the Thirteenth Amendment. When it passed in 1865, Ashley telegraphed the Toledo Commercial, "Glory to God in the highest! Our country is free."
Ashley believed President Andrew Johnson, a supporter of Southern causes during the Civil War, had played a role in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. Ashley was also critical of the president’s attempts to veto extensions of the Freedmen's Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts. He supported impeachment proceedings against Johnson, charging him with the "usurpation of power and violation of law by corruptly using the appointing, pardoning, and veto powers, by disposing corruptly of the property of the United States, and by interfering in elections."
The United States House of Representatives successfully impeached Johnson, though Ashley’s passion for his causes did not endear him to all voters; in 1868 he lost reelection into the 41st Congress by a slim margin.
The next year, President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Ashley as governor of Montana Territory.
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