Calvin S. Brice

Calvin Stewart Brice (September 17, 1845 – December 15, 1898) was a Democratic politician from Ohio. He served in the U.S. Senate.

Born in Denmark, Morrow County, Ohio, Brice dropped out of Miami University in 1861 to join the Union Army. After a short stint in the army he returned to Miami and earned his undergraduate degree in 1863. After the Civil War, Brice studied law at the University of Michigan and then started a business career where he amassed a fortune, largely in railroads. In 1879, he became president of the Lake Erie and Western Railroad and built the Nickel Plate Road in 1882. After serving as the chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1889, Brice was elected to the Senate in 1890. He served a single term and was not a candidate for re-election in 1896.

Early life

Calvin Brice was born on September 17, 1845 in the small town of Denmark, Ohio, to Elizabeth Stewart and William Kilpatrick Brice, a Presbyterian minister of no great wealth. Originally homeschooled, he later entered the Columbus Grove public school system in Putnam County. Showing some promise as a student, Brice began preparations for higher education and in 1859 gained admission to Miami University, to which he would become a devoted alumnus later in life. His efforts in 1885 and 1888 to provide funding for the University were largely responsible for its survival, and a science building, Brice Hall (now demolished) was named in his honor.

Military and early legal career

Brice's first attempt to join the army in 1861 met with little success, after being turned down because of his young age. In the summer of 1862, however, Brice enlisted and served three months in the 86th Regiment of the Ohio Volunteer Infantry, seeing action in West Virginia. In 1863 he returned to and graduated from Miami University and worked as a schoolmaster, before he joined the army again in 1864, this time serving as captain to a company of volunteers he recruited for the 180th Ohio Infantry. Brice rose rapidly through the ranks of the Union Army and, by the end of the war, attained the position of Lieutenant-Colonel.

With "no desire for an army career," according to historian Thomas Mach, Brice ended his military career soon after to pursue a career in law. He earned his law degree from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, in 1865 and passed the Ohio bar in 1866.

Business career

After working as a private lawyer, Brice joined the Lake Erie and Louisville Railroad law department, where he gained his initial experience with the railroad industry, learning how to operate, fund, and expand its lines. Around the same time, he put his foot in the door of the railroad business through connections with Charles Foster, the governor of Ohio at the time. Foster became impressed with Brice after he unveiled a plan to save a foundering rail project running from Toledo to Ohio’s coal fields. With Foster’s support, Brice managed to guide the railroad through the Panic of 1873 and expand it into Lima and other areas. Brice eventually rose to president of the company in 1887, which by then had become known as the Lake Erie and Western Railroad.

Over time, Brice netted a great fortune, laying claim to ten different railroads while spreading into numerous other businesses, including the National Telegraph Company and the Chase National Bank of New York. Perhaps his most marked achievement came with his role in the construction of the Nickel Plate Road in 1882, which ran from New York to St. Louis. He later sold this road for a generous profit to William Henry Vanderbilt, who recognized it as a dangerous competitor.

Throughout his business career, two overlying themes appeared dominant - Brice’s ability to take a failing or fledgling business and restructure it to make profit, and his involvement with Charles Foster, whose support was crucial to Brice’s success. The mining town of Briceville, Tennessee, which he proved instrumental in helping to connect to railroad service, is named for him. At the same time, however, Brice remained selfless in his aims and frugal in his desires, unlike most of the so-called robber barons of his day. According to historian James White, Brice did not accept much compensation for his services during a business transaction and often held himself accountable to the public by "stripping a proposition of every incumbrance and laying it bare for inspection."

Political career

Despite Foster's Republican leanings and his residence in a Northern state, Brice held Democratic ideals as a Bourbon Democrat. He began his second venture into public service as an electoral candidate for Samuel Tilden in 1876 and later worked for the 1884 presidential campaign of Grover Cleveland. As time passed, Brice became active in the Democratic Party and was elected as a delegate at large to the national convention. In 1889, Brice was chosen to replace the late William H. Barnum as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a position he served until 1892.

By 1890 Brice had gained enough support from the Democratic Party to replace George H. Payne, the outgoing U.S. Senator of Ohio. Because of suspicious circumstances deriving from Payne’s initial selection, though, Brice was scrutinized by the Senate before assuming office. Although Brice enacted few memorable measures as Senator, he served on the Democratic Steering Committee, Committee on Appropriations, and as Chairman of the Committee on Pacific Railroads. He also became known as one of the most hard-working and intelligent members of Congress. Still, Brice managed to serve only one term, losing to Republican Joseph B. Foraker in 1897. His differences with the Democratic Party, especially on issues of free silver and tariff regulation, may have contributed to his defeat. After leaving office, Brice remained active in the Democratic Party until his death in 1898 of pneumonia.


* Thomas S. Mach. "Brice, Calvin Stewart";
*, The Nickel Plate Road Historical and Technical Society Inc., 1998-2007
* “Miami University: For Love and Honor,” Calvin S. Brice Society,
* Rietsch et al,
* James T. White. “Calvin Stewart Brice,” The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography,,M1
* Henry Howe. Historical Collections of Ohio: Morrow County,
* The Allen County Museum,
* Allen County Archive Obituaries,

ee also

*New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad
*List of United States Senators from Ohio

External links

*findagrave|6839795 Retrieved on 2008-09-28

NAME= Brice, Calvin S.

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