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Gov. Isaac Gray
18th and 20th governor of Indiana; Republican (1865-72), Democrat (1873-95)
Served: Nov. 20, 1880-Jan. 10, 1881 and Jan. 12, 1885-Jan. 14, 1889
Born: Oct. 18, 1828; Chester County, Pa.
Hometown: Union City, Ind.
Profession: Lawyer, businessman
Died: Feb. 14, 1895 (age 66); buried in Union City
Other offices held: State senator, 1869-72 (Senate president); lieutenant governor 1877-80; U.S. minister to Mexico, 1893-95
Accomplishments: The first Indiana governor to serve nonconsecutive terms, Gray finished the six weeks remaining in Gov. James Williams' tenure as the lamest of lame ducks.
That's because Gray was renominated for lieutenant governor in 1880, as running mate to former U.S. Rep. Franklin Landers, but the Democrats already had lost the election when Gray began his short stint as chief executive.
Four years later, the Democrats nominated Gray at the top of their ticket and he was elected governor in his own right.
During his career in politics, Gray never was one to shy away from bending the rules to enact his policy goals or in trying to advance to higher office, both of which would play a role in the defining moment of his governorship, known as the "Black Day of the General Assembly."
The origins of that Feb. 24, 1887, fiasco stretch back to 1869 when Gray, then the Republican Senate president, forced through ratification of the Fifteenth Amendment, giving black men the right to vote, over the objections and procedural impediments of Hoosier Democrats.
Despite becoming a Democrat in 1873, after being disgusted by the scandal-ridden administration of Republican President Ulysses S. Grant, Gray never was fully trusted by his fellow partisans due to his role in passing the Fifteenth Amendment.
Shortly after taking office the second time, Gray began maneuvering to win election to the U.S. Senate. However, Democrats threw a wrench in his plans when they persuaded Lt. Gov. Mahlon Manson to resign for a low-level federal job, leaving no clear successor if the Legislature elected Gray to the Senate.
Gray then used an attorney general's opinion to justify holding a special election for lieutenant governor in 1886. To Gray's surprise, Republican Robert Robertson was elected, along with a GOP-controlled House, further stymieing Gray's plans to get elected to the U.S. Senate.
The Democratic majority in the Indiana Senate refused to recognize Robertson's election, would not permit him to preside over the chamber and declared the lieutenant governor's office vacant. Robertson's House Republican allies separately declared him the duly elected lieutenant governor, a position confirmed by the Indiana Supreme Court on Feb. 23, 1887.
The next day, when Robertson attempted to take his post at the Senate rostrum, he was manhandled by a doorkeeper and pushed out of the chamber. Fistfights erupted among Democratic senators and some 600 Republicans who had packed the building to ensure Robertson took office. The fighting continued until one lawmaker pulled a gun and shot it into the ceiling, threatening to kill Republicans unless the fighting stopped.
The fighting instead moved to the House, where Democratic members were pulled outside by the Republican mob, beaten and threatened with death. Gray called in police reinforcements from Indianapolis and Marion County and eventually order was restored after some four hours of fighting.
Robertson never was permitted to preside over the Senate, Gray didn't win election to the U.S. Senate, and Indiana's GOP House and Democratic Senate even stopped communicating with each other — preventing much from getting done.
However, the episode did grow support nationwide for the popular election of U.S. senators, a reform that was still three decades away.
During his remaining years as governor, Gray approved an appropriation for the Soldiers and Sailors Monument located on the Indianapolis Circle, promoted election reforms and cracked down on burgeoning Ku Klux Klan activity in southern Indiana by banning three or more people from wearing masks if gathered for unlawful activities.
Gray twice was considered a candidate for U.S. vice president, in 1888 and 1892, but southern Democrats refused to support his nomination when they learned of his actions as a Republican to ratify the Fifteenth Amendment.
As a consolation prize, President Grover Cleveland in 1893 made Gray minister to Mexico, where he died of double pneumonia in 1895.
The president of Mexico, along with a Mexican army division, personally escorted Gray's body by train back to Indianapolis.