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The McGaughey who almost became Minnesota's first territorial governor and other strange political connections

by Bill McGaughey


The first hurdle is my name:  McGaughey, pronounced Mic-Gaw-ee or McGoy. If that name seems strange to people in Minnesota, consider what might have been. In 1847, President Zachary Taylor nominated a certain Edward McGaughey to be the first territorial governor of Minnesota.  However, the U.S. Senate rejected the nomination.  The President's third choice, Alexander Ramsey, was eventually nominated and confirmed.  President Taylor died in 1850 - some say he was poisoned - and was succeeded by Millard Fillmore.  Had history taken a different turn, then, I dare say that the McGaughey name might today be attached to a Minnesota county.

My full name is William Howard Taft McGaughey, Jr.  As one would suspect, my father's name was William Howard Taft McGaughey, Sr.  He was born on March 28, 1912.  My paternal grandfather, a medical doctor in Indianapolis, was an ardent Republican.  He named his third son after President Taft, the Republican candidate for President in 1912. There was a rift between Taft and his predecessor, Theodore Roosevelt, over environmental and other policy. Roosevelt entered the presidential race as candidate of the Progressive or "Bull Moose" party, finishing second to Woodrow Wilson.  Somewhere among my possessions is a photograph of William Howard Taft with a handwritten message addressed to my father. 

My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was a Democrat.  He represented Putnam and Montgomery counties in the Indiana Senate. One of his accomplishments was to defeat a Republican attempt in 1925 to transfer a heavily Republican county to another Congressional district so that a certain state senator might be elected to Congress.  My grandfather and his colleagues fled to Dayton, Ohio, so that the state senate would lack a quorum to enact this legislation.  In the face of public ridicule, the Republican boss, who was also leader of the Ku Klux Klan, agreed to drop the gerrymandering legislation if the Democratic Senators came home. My grandfather was elected minority leader of the Indiana Senate in 1927.

My father never ran for public office; but, had history taken a different turn, he might have become a high official in the U.S. government.  The reason is that he was a close friend and colleague of George Romney (Mitt Romney's father) at the Automobile Manufacturers Association and American Motors Corporation, where Romney was CEO and my father was Vice President in charge of Communications.  George Romney became a three-term Governor of Michigan.  At one time, he was considered the front-running Republican candidate for President.  (JFK confided to a friend that he feared George Romney more than any other possible opponent.)  But the political tide was running against liberal Republicans, Romney made an unfortunate comment about "brainwashing", and Richard Nixon won both the Republican nomination and the Presidency.  Nixon's trip to China changed history, both in a public and personal way.

My Chinese-born wife's father also briefly held political office.  He became vice mayor of a city in south China after the communists seized power on the strength of having been a high ranking officer in the People's Liberation Army.  He was also a regional leader of China's Construction bureau.  Like many other government officials, however, he became a target of Red Guard activists during the Cultural Revolution. My wife's family suffered enormously during that period. To this day, my wife steers clear of political activities because her father once told her that politics is dangerous.

And what have I myself done politically?  I've been a long-shot candidate in three primary elections:  for Mayor of Minneapolis, U.S. Senator, and President.  I lost all three contests. So back to some other odd facts.

Minnesota's first territorial governor, Alexander Ramsey, came from Pennsylvania. My parents retired to the town of Milford in northeastern Pennsylvania to a house that I now own.  Although my own ancestors - the Wells family - founded Milford in the 18th century, its most prominent resident was Gifford Pinchot, a two-time Governor of Pennsylvania. He was the founder and first head of the U.S. Forestry Service.  Pinchot was politically close to Theodore Roosevelt.  When President William Howard Taft fired him for criticizing the Interior Department's sale of coal lands in Alaska, a quarrel developed between Taft and Roosevelt, leading to Roosevelt's third-party candidacy as a Progressive. Gifford Pinchot and his relatives and all deceased members of my birth family are buried in the Milford cemetery. 

Aficionados of theories about the Kennedy Assassination may be interested in the fact that Gifford Pinchot's niece, Mary Pinchot Meyer, was John F. Kennedy's mistress. They traveled together to Milford in September, 1963, when President Kennedy accepted the Pinchot family home as a gift to the Forestry Service and was the main speaker at the dedication ceremonies. Orville Freeman, former governor of Minnesota, was then U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, who oversaw the Forestry service. 

Mary Meyer's former husband, Cord Meyer, was a top official of the CIA. Another CIA official who became famous in the Watergate scandal, Howard Hunt, made a death-bed confession in which he alleged that Cord Meyer had arranged for President Kennedy to be assassinated at the behest of Lyndon Johnson. Mary Meyer, whose sister was married to editor Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, was murdered while walking along the C&O canal towpath in October 1964. My late brother, Andy, knew her son.

One final fact: The Edward McGaughey who might have become a Minnesotan was a member of Congress who came from Putnam County, Indiana. This is the same area that my grandfather represented in the Indiana Senate. Depauw University is located there. That's where my parents first met.

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