John Hunn (governor)

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For other people named John Hunn, see John Hunn (disambiguation).
John Hunn
51st Governor of Delaware
In office
January 15, 1901 – January 17, 1905
Lieutenant Philip L. Cannon
Preceded by Ebe W. Tunnell
Succeeded by Preston Lea
Personal details
Born (1849-06-23)June 23, 1849
Odessa, Delaware
Died September 1, 1926(1926-09-01) (aged 77)
Camden, Delaware
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Sarah Cowgill Emerson
Residence Camden, Delaware
Occupation businessman
Religion Quaker

John Hunn (June 23, 1849 – September 1, 1926) was an American businessman and politician from Camden, in Kent County, Delaware. He was a member of the Republican Party who served as Governor of Delaware.

Early life and family[edit]

Hunn was born near Odessa, Delaware, son of John and Mary Swallow Hunn. He married Sarah Cowgill Emerson in 1874 and they had one child, Alice. They lived at 3 South Main Street in Camden and were members of the Camden Friends Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers.

Hunn's father, also John Hunn, was a noted abolitionist and chief engineer of the Underground Railroad in Delaware. Shortly after the younger John's birth, the family lost their New Castle County farm, "Happy Valley," in a sheriff's sales because of fines assessed for helping runaway slaves. They then went to live with family at Magnolia, Delaware.

Professional and political career[edit]

The younger Hunn, known as "Honest John", grew up at Magnolia and Port Royal, South Carolina, where his father was working with the Freedmen's Bureau. In 1876 he returned to Delaware, permanently settled at Camden, Delaware and began operating a merchandized fruit, lumber, and lime business in nearby Wyoming. He maintained this business throughout his life.

At the turn of the twentieth century Delaware was going through a political transformation. Most obvious to the public was the unprecedented division in the Republican Party caused, in part, by the ambitions of J. Edward "Gas" Addicks for a seat in the U.S. Senate. A gas company industrialist, he spent vast amounts of his own fortune to build a Republican Party, primarily for that purpose. Largely successful in heavily Democratic Kent County and Sussex County, he financed the organization of a faction that came to be known as the "Union Republicans." Meanwhile, he was making bitter enemies of the New Castle County "Regular Republicans," who considered him nothing more than a carpetbagger from Philadelphia.

Behind the headlines, however, all the effort was making obvious the archaic and corrupt practices that characterized elections and the resultant state government. This caused a consensus to develop that major reform was needed in all areas of state government, but especially in voting procedures, apportionment, and the assignment of various responsibilities to the governor, legislature, and judiciary. The result of the all this was the Constitution of 1897 and the return of two-party politics to Delaware. It also created a statewide, moderately progressive, Republican Party, which become a statewide majority, particularly after the 1905 end of the highly personal Addicks controversy.

Governor of Delaware[edit]

Hunn was to be an early beneficiary of these developments. As a political newcomer, Hunn was acceptable as a compromise candidate to all Republicans. Running in opposition to the Roman Catholic Wilmington leather merchant, Peter J. Ford, he was able to take advantage of the conservative Democratics, discomfort with Catholicism, and their dislike of the national Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan. He handily won the election in 1900 and began a period of Republican occupancy of the Governor's office that lasted for all but eight of the next 60 years.

Hunn also benefited from being the first Governor elected under Delaware's new Constitution of 1897. As such he enjoyed an authority unknown to Governors since the colonial times. He was thus the first Governor of Delaware to be eligible to serve for two terms and most importantly was the first to be able to veto General Assembly bills; a veto power which included the ability to veto particular items on appropriations bills. He was also the first Governor to serve with an elected Lieutenant Governor.

Along with changes to the Governor's authority, the new Constitution modified the duties of the General Assembly so that it too became more effective. Finally, the responsibility for granting divorces was moved to the courts. Along with the requirement for creating a general incorporation law, the General Assembly eventually produced an incorporation law that laid the basis for the state becoming the preferred national incorporation location and all its associated revenues. And it was during this time that the General Assembly finally ratified the Thirteenth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, thirty-one years after they became law. In spite of all this progress, the General Assembly was unable to resolve the Addicks issue until 1903, with the nationally embarrassing result that Delaware spent two years with no representation at all in the U.S. Senate.

Hunn was the first Governor to seek the admission of women to the Delaware College, now the University of Delaware, and to recommend that a paved highway be constructed the entire length of the state.

Delaware General Assembly
(sessions while Governor)
Year Assembly Senate Majority President
pro tempore
House Majority Speaker
1901–1902 91st Republican Henry C. Ellison Republican James V. McCommons
1903–1904 92nd Republican Henry C. Ellison Republican Henry S. Anthony

Death and legacy[edit]

After his term ended, Hunn returned full-time to his business. He died at Camden and is buried there at the Camden Friends Meetinghouse, along with his wife and parents. There is a road off U.S. Highway 13 and Loockerman Street in Dover named for him, as well as one in the Manor Park development in New Castle.


Elections are held the first Tuesday after November 1. The Governor takes office the third Tuesday of January and has a four-year term.

Public Offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
Governor Executive Dover January 15, 1901 January 17, 1905
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes %
1900 Governor John Hunn Republican 22,421 53% Peter J. Ford Democratic 18,808 45%


  • Carter, Richard B. (2001). Clearing New Ground, The Life of John G. Townsend, Jr. Wilmington, Delaware: The Delaware Heritage Press. ISBN 0-924117-20-6. 
  • Conrad, Henry C. (1908). History of the State of Delaware. Lancaster, Pennsylvania: Wickersham Company. 
  • Martin, Roger A. (1984). History of Delaware Through its Governors. Wilmington, Delaware: McClafferty Press. 
  • Munroe, John A. (1993). History of Delaware. Newark, Delaware: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-493-5. 
  • Sobel, Robert; J. Racino (1988). Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States 1789-1978. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-930466-00-4. 


Places with more information[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ebe W. Tunnell
Governor of Delaware
Succeeded by
Preston Lea