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John Conness

John Conness
United States Senator
from California
In office
March 4, 1863 – March 4, 1869
Preceded by Milton S. Latham
Succeeded by Eugene Casserly
Personal details
Born (1821-09-22)September 22, 1821
Abbey, County Galway, Ireland
Died January 10, 1909(1909-01-10) (aged 87)
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts
Political party Democratic Party, Union Republican

John Conness (September 22, 1821 – January 10, 1909) was a first-generation Irish-American businessman who served as a U.S. Senator (1863–1869) from California during the American Civil War and the early years of Reconstruction. He introduced a bill to establish Yosemite National Park and voted to abolish slavery. His advocacy of Chinese immigration and civil rights cost him his constituency.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Immigration and career 2
  • Legacy and honors 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Early life and education

Born in Abbey, County Galway, Ireland, on September 22, 1821, Conness was the youngest of fourteen children. His father was Walter Conness, whom John described as "a very dignified and intellectual man, one whom men of all positions came to for counsel: being also a man of rare courage and independence."

Immigration and career

In 1836 Conness arrived in the United States at age 15 as an immigrant. For more than a decade on the East Coast in New York, Conness learned to make pianofortes and also worked as a merchant. He emigrated to California in 1849 to join the excitement and promise of the Gold Rush.[1]

He was among the thousands of "forty-niners" attracted by the

United States Senate
Preceded by
Milton S. Latham
U.S. Senator (Class 1) from California
March 4, 1863 – March 4, 1869
Served alongside: James A. McDougall, Cornelius Cole
Succeeded by
Eugene Casserly
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Edmund Pettus
Oldest living U.S. Senator
July 27, 1907 – January 10, 1909
Succeeded by
Cornelius Cole

External links

  • Conness, John (1904). "Autobiography and Reminiscence of John Conness, San Francisco". Autobiographies and Reminiscences of California Pioneers 7. University of California. Retrieved 18 Nov 2009. 
  • Denning, Robert (Sep 2008). "A fragile machine: California senator John Conness". California History ( Retrieved 18 Nov 2009. 


  1. ^ a b  This article incorporates public domain material from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress document "CONNESS, John" (retrieved on 2009-01-09).
  2. ^ Conness 1904, pp. 110–111.
  3. ^ a b Denning 2008.
  4. ^ Denning 2008, p. 14.
  5. ^ a b Denning 2008, p. 15.
  6. ^ Denning 2008, p. 12.


  • Conness supported the federal land grants for Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove, founding what later became the Yosemite National Park.
  • Mount Conness and Conness Creek in the Sierra Nevada were named in his honor.
  • Conness voted for the amendments to abolish slavery and grant freedmen citizenship.
  • He supported immigration and civil rights for Chinese in California.

Legacy and honors

After his Senate term, in 1869 Conness relocated to Boston, Massachusetts, a center of Irish-American life. He lived there the remainder of his life, for nearly four decades. He died in an insane asylum in Jamaica Plain, now part of Boston.[6] After his death, he was buried in Cedar Grove Cemetery in Dorchester, Boston.[1]

At the beginning of Reconstruction, Conness alienated some of his California constituents by advocating strongly for Chinese immigration and civil rights. At a time of rising anti-Chinese feelings in California, his was an unusual and unpopular view, and he lost support of his party. He strongly believed in justice for all immigrants.[3]

Conness was with colleagues senators William M. Stewart of Nevada and Charles Sumner of Massachusetts the night Lincoln died. "Upon hearing of the attack on Secretary of State William H. Seward, the three men ran to Seward's lodgings. There they were turned away by a doctor who was attending to Seward, and they ran to the White House, where they heard the news that Lincoln had been shot. Conness declared that 'this is a conspiracy to murder the entire cabinet' and directed soldiers to go protect Secretary of War Edwin Stanton."[5] Conness had the honor of being a pallbearer at Lincoln’s funeral on April 19, 1865.[5]

A Douglas Democrat who later became a Union Republican while serving in the Senate, Conness earned President Abraham Lincoln’s respect. The two men worked together on legislation to protect Yosemite National Park and Mariposa Grove. In addition, Conness gave support to Lincoln's war measures.[4] Lincoln once said of Conness that he “is habitually careful not to say what he does not know,” and described him on another occasion as “one of our United States Senators, of high standing, whom I cheerfully indorse.”

After losing to John G. Downey in the first instance and Leland Stanford in the second, Conness was chosen by the Legislature to fill the full term of US Senator from California for the term beginning in 1863. (Senators were still selected by state legislatures then.) US Senator John Conness introduced the bill to protect the land that became Yosemite National Park.

candidate for Governor in the 1861 election. Union Democratic Democratic candidate for Lieutenant Governor in 1859 and the Anti-Lecompton Elected to the State Assembly in the 1853-54 and 1860-61 sessions, Conness was nominated as the [3] The state was bustling with new people. In the 1850s, the


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