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(1823-1903) | Lake Forest College Archives and Special Collections

Name: (1823-1903)
Variant Name: Farwell, Charles B.; C. B. Farwell; Charlie Farwell


Historical Note:

Over a century of confusion about the political reputation and U.S. Senate role of Charles Benjamin Farwell, 1823-1903, kept him out of current Senator Mark Kirk's maiden speech of December 15, 2010.  Kirk reviewed some of his significant Illinois Senate predecessors.  Perhaps this omission was influenced by an October 24, 2010 Mark Jacobs review of Illinois senators that noted Farwell's reputation as a "corrupt political boss."  But Farwell, both a businessman and Chicago-based political power broker, when serving in the Congress and Senate, between 1870 and 1891, supported quietly or behind the scenes but effectively Washington steps to promote Chicago and Illinois interests through currency and tariff measures. 

C. B. Farwell was a New England-descendant Chicago businessman, political leader, and philanthropist who helped found the town of Lake Forest in 1856-57 and then to relaunch the Collegiate Department of Lake Forest University in the 1870s.  He was the institution's largest benefactor in the 19th C., contributing ca. $300,000 (in the era when Rockefeller initially founded the University of Chicago with $1 million). 

Farwell is best-known for his role in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois and national government.  As John J. Halsey of Lake Forest University wrote in 1903, Farwell's position "as a statesman is a part of our national history and is there written large...." (Stentor, Oct. 1, 1903, 14).  As Cook County Republican Congressman from 1871 to 1877 and 1881 to 1883 and Illinois U.S. Senator from 1887 to 1891, Farwell supported the growth of the industries that led to Chicago's late 19th C. breakout commodities, manufacturing and population growth. Especially as a Senator he championed measures that promoted the development of Chicago area and Illinois commodities and manufacturing--such as barley and other agricultural products, steel, farm implements, meatpacking, and printing/book production.  These measures included the McKinley Tariff of 1890 and international copyright legislation.  But his political reputation remains mired in the details, minutiae of his political organizing and deal-making, to which the Chicago Tribune took editorial exception.  Joseph Medill's paper focussed on the increase in prices for foreign goods that was unpopular with consumers rather than fundamental support of national and local economic growth.  This economic expansion made the Chicago region the 20th C. transportation and manufacturing center of the nation, and it was this end that Farwell sought in his Washington stints. 

The tariff contributed to the defeat of President Benjamin Harrison and of Farwell in the 1890 election, leading to its repeal in the new administration.  But later this manufacturing protection roll-back was blamed for the significant economic depression that began in 1893.   

From the time of his arrival in Chicago in the mid 1840s Farwell was interested both in business and in government.  In 1844 C. B. Farwell came to Chicago from rural Mount Morris, Illinois, and at once entered the dry-goods trade as a clerk and book-keeper.  Before long he was engaged as Deputy Cook County Clerk.  When the regular Clerk immediately  became seriously ill, Farwell ably took over the meeting in his stead on his first day on the job, and filled his post for four months, learning by doing.  His earliest earnings had been invested in real estate, eighty-five dollars.  After leaving the Clerk's office in 1846, he went into the real estate office of J.B.F. Russel, continuing to invest his earnings in real estate and then in Mexican War land warrants, etc.  In 1849 he entered George Smith's bank, but also ran for County Clerk; losing, her ran again in 1853 and won, leaving Smith's bank then.  He served two terms as Clerk, eight years, until 1861 when he retired.  But he is credited as being Chicago's first political boss in those eight years.  In the 1860s he devoted himself to his businesses (real estate, etc.), with part-time service on local and state boards.  Then in 1864 he purchased an interest in his younger brother's John V. Farwell & Co. booming whole-sale dry-goods concern, according to Andreas (II, 694) taking over management as John left the business for Sanitary Commission war-related work.  In the 1860s he served on the state-level Board of Equalization and in 1868 he was chair of the Cook County Board of Supervisors.   

Farwell's national political role began when he was elected to Congress representing Cook County, serving three terms to 1877.  In this period he was a member of the House committee on banking and currency and he was the chair of the committee on manufactures.  On of his earliest measures introduced was an amendment to the banking law facilitating opening more new banks (National Cyclopedia of American Biography, v. 6, 394). Scholar Thomas R. Pegram reports that Farwell in 1876 "used his influence and spent some of his personal fortune to reverse the outcome of  the election" in Louisiana, when he was one of the "'visiting statesmen'" investigating returns following the Hayes-Tilden presidential vote that fall. This boost helped elevate Hayes to the presidency.  Farwell then returned to Chicago, where he and his brother John were engaged in building a state capitol building for Texas in Austin in exchange for the 3 million-acre XIT Ranch in the Texas panhandle region, several counties.  In 1887 he was elected to the U.S. Senate to complete the term of the deceased General John A. Logan, and he retired after that term in 1891, becoming then president of the John V. Farwell & Co. firm.

Recent Tribune and Senator Kirk listings of Illinois' U.S. Senators have not rated Farwell highly, largely due to a body of articles in the Chicago Tribune database reflecting Joseph Medill's Tribune's opposition to Farwell and his policies.  Indeed, the 1933 Dictionary of American Biography volume relied heavily on the articles from the Chicago Tribune v. 3, 294-5).  Most notably, he was not re-elected to the Senate in 1891 because of his support for the landmark McKinley Tariff, from which derived the marking of products from abroad with their place of origin. Raising prices for consumers but doing little to help farmers (grain prices were static while farm implement costs rose), the tariff--almost 50% on some foreign goods--was unpopular and led to the reelection defeat of President Benjamin Harrison, and along with him Farwell, with farmers leading the reaction.  The tariff was soon repealed, but then later this was blamed for the 1893 Depression.  The tariff was a trade-off for supporting the Silver Purchase Act, which by 1896 also led to midwestern calls for "free silver" (william Jennings Bryan's "cross of gold" speech), but led to the election of McKinley to the presidency.  Tariffs were reinstated.  Generally, Farwell's business and government balance of experience led him to favor manufacturers in the tariff measure as being in Illinois's best interests.  As a political organizer with rare skill that also translated into successful business, he was opposed by the Chicago Tribune for his independent, pro-business stance in favor economic growth, but with the short-term discomfort for consumers and, to some extent, farmers.  He also fought to allow federal funds to be deposited in private banks, in order to facilitate trade (National Cyclopedia).   

Farwell's policy positions would not fare well in today's complex economy and global climate.  Still, nothing seems more current than his alleged Chicago smash-grab methods in an era of hanging chads, blind special interest political funds, and residency disputes.  Still, Farwell's balanced view of government and business working to advance the Chicago and Illinois region is not unlike that avowed by current U.S. Senator Mark Kirk, who left him off his December 15, 2010 Senate maiden speech list of notable Illinois Senators that included too Kirk's immediate predecessor Roland Burris.

In 1852 Charles married Mary E. Farwell, and they had four children, daughters Anna (De Koven), Rose (Chatfield-Taylor), and Grace (Winston, McGann) and one son, Walter.  Anna and Walter eventually settled in the New York city area while Rose and Grace stayed in Chicago and Lake Forest.  The Senator's Lake Forest home was Fairlawn (burned 1920; replaced 1923), 965 E. Deerpath. 

While working in George Smith's bank, rising to teller before leaving in 1853, he made friends with fellow bank employee Scots-born Sylvester Lind, who with Farwell was a founder of Lake Forest. By the 1860s, after Lind had sponsored the beginning of Lind U. now Lake Forest College, and also lost his fortune by 1863, the C. B. Farwells were summering in Lake Forest and staying with the Linds as boarders.   

In support of Lake Forest University, formerly to 1865 Lind University, Charles and Mary Farwell donated much of the funds for early College buildings (Young, North, Hotchkiss, etc.) and operations.  Only his early 1900s donation of the current College athletic field, Farwell Field, bears the name of his family, the institution's first great benefactors.  Forgotten perhaps by the city, county and state he served honorably and freely, he is recognized for his work at Lake Forest College and his name lives on in the athletic field he gave.  Here the great football coach Ralph Jones had undefeated teams in the late 1930s and here the Chicago Bears based their practice facilities in 1985 in preparation for their winning of Superbowl XX, 1986.  Halas Hall on the east end of Farwell Field, now used by the College's own athletic space, is a memento too of the Bears' founder George Halas who worked to build it.  Farwell would be pleased by this successful Chicago regional enterprise. 

Sources:

Andreas, Alfred Theodore.  History of Chicago..., 3 vols.  Chicago: Andreas, 1884-86, I, 534; II, 694.   

Biographical Dictionary of the Leading Men of Chicago.  Chicago: Wilson, Peirce & Co., 1876.

Farwell, Charles B. Archives reference file--"Trustees--Farwell, Charles B."

Halsey, John J.  "A Noble Benefactor," The Stentor [Lake Forest College weekly newspaper], v. 18, no. 2 (October 1, 1903), 14-15.

Jacobs, Mark. "The Strange Story of a Senate Seat," Chicago Tribune (October 24, 2010).

Kirk, Mark.  Speech in the Senate, December 15, 2010. 

McClure, the Rev. James G. K.  Address at the Funeral of Hon. Charles B. Farwell ... Sept. 25, 1903.  Lake Forest: 1903. 

National Cyclopedia of American Biography. v. 6.  New York: James T. White & Company, 1929, 394.

Pegram, Thomas.  "Charles Benjamin Farwell," American National Biography, ed. John a. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, v. 7, 751.

 

Schulze, Franz, Rosemary Cowler, and Arthur H. Miller.  30 Miles North: A History of Lake Forest College, Its Town, and Its city of Chicago.  Lake Forest: 2000.

Arthur H. Miller

December 21, 2010

Sources:

Andreas, Alfred Theodore.  History of Chicago..., 3 vols.  Chicago: Andreas, 1884-86, I, 534; II, 694. 

Biographical Dictionary of the Leading Men of Chicago.  Chicago: Wilson, Peirce & Co., 1876.

Farwell, Charles B. Archives reference file--"Trustees--Farwell, Charles B." 

Halsey, John J.  "A Noble Benefactor," The Stentor [Lake Forest College weekly newspaper], v. 18, no. 2 (October 1, 1903), 14-15.

Jacobs, Mark. "The Strange Story of a Senate Seat," Chicago Tribune (October 24, 2010). 

Kirk, Mark.  Speech in the Senate, December 15, 2010. 

McClure, the Rev. James G. K.  Address at the Funeral of Hon. Charles B. Farwell ... Sept. 25, 1903.  Lake Forest: 1903. 

National Cyclopedia of American Biography. v. 6.  New York: James T. White & Company, 1929, 394.

Pegram, Thomas.  "Charles Benjamin Farwell," American National Biography, ed. John a. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1999, v. 7, 751.

Schulze, Franz, Rosemary Cowler, and Arthur H. Miller.  30 Miles North: A History of Lake Forest College, Its Town, and Its city of Chicago.  Lake Forest: 2000.

Note Author: Arthur H. Miller, Archivist and Librarian for Special Collections, amiller@lakeforest.edu



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