Terms: January 16, 1883 - January 18, 1887
January 20, 1891 - January 15, 1895
Born: December 8, 1850
Died: August 1, 1904
Robert Emory Pattison was the first governor since 1790 to be born outside Pennsylvania, and, was the only Democrat elected between the Civil War and 1935. He was born at Quantico, Somerset County, Maryland, December 8, 1850, the son of Robert Henry Pattison, a Methodist Episcopalian minister, and Catherine Woolford. Five years later, the Pattison family moved to Philadelphia where the younger Robert was educated in the public schools, graduating from the city's high school of that city as the valedictorian of his class.
While preparing himself for Dickinson College, Carlisle, Cumberland County, Pattison studied law under Lewis C. Cassidy and was admitted to the bar in 1872 at the age of twenty-one. He continued to practice law until 1877, when he was elected controller of the City of Philadelphia and was reelected in 1880. In 1884, during his term as governor, Dickinson College honored by Pattison awarding him an honorary doctorate of laws (LL.D.).
Pattison's climb to statewide prominence began in 1882 when he was nominated for governor by the Democratic Party at a relatively young age of thirty-two and elected in November of that year by a plurality of 40,202 votes over James Addams Beaver. Democrat Pattison was the only governor to break a string of Republican governors between the Civil War and 1935. Even though he had no previous experience in public office, except for his post in Philadelphia, Pattison was able to take advantage of a split in the Republican Party along with continued economic slowdown that followed the close of the Civil War.
Pattison also captured the public mood of disaffection for political bosses and their machines. The economy had suffered following the Civil War and the Democrats gained control of the state House of Representatives. Pattison had demonstrated skills for reform when he was Philadelphia's controller and rescued the city from bankruptcy. He was determined to bring reform to state government and work for an end to corruption, patronage, and graft.
The governor had problems with public opinion. Although he had promised not to appoint political bosses, he appointed Lewis Cassidy, political boss of Philadelphia as the state attorney general. Political realities convinced Pattison, because of his own inexperience, that he needed Cassidy's political know-how. Meanwhile, the legislators were still attempting to slip through bills that protected special interests, although the decade old revised constitution had provisions to limit such legislation. To help counter this, Pattison used his veto power freely.
Pattison was the first governor to warn the public against corporations becoming "too vast and irresponsible" and he advocated curving the monopolistic tendencies of the state's railroads. When he took office he demanded "abolition of useless offices," accountability of public funds, and making civil service more efficient with "fitness and integrity alone the tests of appointment." He pushed the legislature to reapportion voter districts to conform to population changes. By this time, the state House of Representatives had grown from 100 to 200 seats and the senate from 33 to 50 seats.
One of the changes brought by the Constitution of 1874 was increasing the governor's term of office from three to four years, but it prohibited a governor from succeeding himself. This allowed James Addams Beaver, who had lost to Pattison, to be elected governor 1887-1891. During Beaver's term, Pattison was chosen president of the Chestnut Street National Bank and Trust Company of Philadelphia, a position he held until he returned to serve as governor. He was appointed a member of the Pacific Railway Commission in 1887, by President Cleveland, and was elected its president. In July 1890, his party again nominated him for governor. This time he ran against Republican George W. Delamater. Campaigning on a platform of reform and better government, Pattison won by a plurality of 16,544 votes.
One of Pattison's first actions of his new term was the adoption of the secret ballot, which helped reform the election process. He also worked to prevent the misuse of money in politics, for more equal taxation, and correcting abuses in government at the local level. Pattison was also aware of the growing rift between industry and labor and warned about the potential for strife. The Industrial Revolution was changing expectations of workers. In 1892, violence broke out when Andrew Carnegie Steel Corporation locked out workers who were planning a strike. Deaths and injuries were high among workers and the company hired gunmen of the Pinkerton Detective Agency. The governor had no choice but to send in 12,000 members of the state militia to put an end to what was known as the Homestead Strike.
After Robert Pattison left office on January 15, 1895, he resumed his law practice. He died on August 1, 1904, and was buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, in Montgomery County.