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Governor Daniel Hartman Hastings

Term: January 15, 1895 - January 17, 1899
Affiliation:Republican
Born: February 26, 1849
Died: January 9, 1903

Daniel Hartman Hastings was an honest, skilled statesman who gained public notice for his leadership assisting victims of the Johnstown Flood. Hastings was born in Lamar Township, Clinton County, Pennsylvania, on February 26, 1849. He was the youngest of nine children of immigrant parents, William Hastings, a farmer born in County Derry, Ireland, and Sarah Hartman, a Presbyterian and native of Ayrshire, Scotland. His family was poor and Hastings later joked that their farm's most valuable crop was goldenrod. A determined young man, the future governor was a devout Methodist, self-educated, industrious, and worked hard on the family farm while growing up.

In 1861, when the Civil War broke out, his three elder brothers had enrolled themselves among the Union army defenders and Hastings felt he must follow their example. However, his father would not consent to their twelve-year-old son going off to war. Still determined to join the army, he was overtaken at Lock Haven and brought home, only to make another attempt, this time getting as far as Williamsport before his anxious father captured him. A third time he succeeded in reaching Carlisle and enlisting. His dream of marching in a Union uniform was cut short by the arrival of his father, who, exerting his parental authority, took him back home to more peaceful pursuits.

At just fourteen years of age he was hired as a schoolteacher in Wayne Township, Clinton County, but with the condition attached that he should pass an examination. He walked back to Lock Haven, passed the required examination, received his certificate, and footing it back, was in time to open his classroom the next morning to begin his new avocation. For the next four years he taught school and worked with his father on the farm during summer breaks.

The administrative talents of a mature eighteen-year-old were noticed in 1867 when he was elected principal of the Bellefonte High School in Centre County. His new responsibilities impressed him with the need of higher education, and under the tutelage of Professor Mundy of the Bellefonte Academy, he mastered classical studies, including Greek and Latin. While principal of the high school he also gained greater access to the public forum as assistant editor of the Bellefonte Republican . During this time, too, he studied law and was admitted to the bar of Centre County in April 1875, becoming a member of the firm of Bush, Yocum & Hastings.

In 1877, Hastings married Jane Armstrong Rankin, daughter of the late James H. Rankin, Esq., once a prominent member of the bar of Centre County, and who had two daughters.

In July 1877, he was made paymaster of the Fifth Regiment of the Pennsylvania National Guard, with the rank of captain. In March of the following year, he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel of the regiment. Three months later, he was appointed assistant adjutant general of the Second Brigade, and nine months later he rose to the rank of colonel of his regiment. Meanwhile, Hastings was becoming more prosperous, with business interests in coal mining and banking. In 1887, well acquainted with fellow Bellefonte resident, National Guard commander, and current governor, James A. Beaver, Hastings accepted an appointment as adjutant general of Pennsylvania.

Ironically, it was the disaster at Johnstown that helped vault Hastings into statewide prominence. On May 31, 1889, an earthen dam at Lake Conemaugh fourteen miles above Johnstown burst after heavy rains pushed the poorly maintained dam beyond its limits. Johnstown was built in a flood plain and was 450 feet lower in elevation than the lake. An estimated twenty million tons of water roared down the Conemaugh River basin and smashed into Johnstown with no warning to the citizens. The torrent swept with it people, animals, buildings, homes, trees, railroad tracks, freight cars, and anything else not anchored to the ground. More than 2,200 people were killed, with some state newspapers initially reporting up to 9,000 dead. As soon as the news reached Harrisburg, Adjutant General Hastings immediately assembled a team to go to the scene. Hastings earned a reputation of swift action, an eye for assessing the greatest need, and telegraphing Governor Beaver requests for tents, medical supplies, and other necessities to help relieve suffering. In addition, Pennsylvania First Lady Jane Hastings joined her husband a week later to work with other women in distributing food, clothing, and other distress relief. The Republican Party remembered the leadership and relief work of General and Mrs. Hastings, and the voters regarded the adjutant general as a state hero when he ran for office. Politically, Hastings had already laid some groundwork for his gubernatorial nomination. In the campaign of 1882 he was a warm supporter of the candidacy of General James A. Beaver for governor, and in 1886 he again presented the name of General Beaver to the Republican convention. In the following year he was elected chairman of the state Republican convention. In 1888 he was delegate-at-large from Pennsylvania to the Republican National Convention at Chicago, and was selected to nominate John Sherman, of Ohio, for the presidency.

Hastings presented himself as a candidate for governor to the Republican Party in 1890, but U.S. Senator Matthew S. Quay, a powerful Pennsylvania political boss, instead pushed for and succeeded in the nomination of George W. Delamater, a wealthy banker and friend of Standard Oil interests. Delamater was rejected by the voters, including many disaffected Republicans, in favor of returning Democrat Robert E. Pattison to the governor's office. Finally, on May 23, 1894, at the Republican state convention in Harrisburg, it was General James Beaver's turn to nominate Hastings. The Democrats nominated William M. Singerly to run against Hastings, but Hastings's popularity was apparent when he won the November election by an unprecedented majority of 241,397 votes.

Significant changes to state government took place during the Hastings administration. In 1895, Hastings appointed the first seven judges, including his friend, former Governor Beaver, to the new Pennsylvania Superior Court. The industrial revolution brought dramatic and often violent changes in society, leading to an overburdened state Supreme Court. The Superior Court brought improved justice for citizens and became a model for similar courts throughout the world. Also in 1895, conservation was advanced with the creation of the State Game Commission, and in 1897 the State Forestry Commission was established. A new state Department of Agriculture replaced the Board of Agriculture to ensure the state's continuing regard for Pennsylvania's farmers and consumers. The governor also signed a bill eliminating state property taxes. Revenues were replaced by new taxes on corporations. During the Hastings administration, on February 2, 1897, the state capitol building in Harrisburg was destroyed by fire and a replacement would not be completed until 1906 and two administrations later.

The responsibility of Pennsylvania's role in the Spanish-American War of 1898 fell to Governor Hastings during his final year in office. After the U.S. Battleship Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, Cuba, on February 15, 1898, and a formal declaration of war between Spain and the United States was made in April, Hastings directed the state General Assembly to contribute men, supplies, and money to the American war effort.

After leaving office in January 1899, Daniel Hastings returned to his law practice in Bellefonte. Bellefonte was home to five state governors, plus two others who became governors of other states. Hastings died relatively young at age fifty-three on January 9, 1903, and is buried in Union Cemetery, Bellefonte.