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James Alexander McDougall

Senator James A. McDougall

In office
1861 – 1867
Preceded by William M. Gwin
Succeeded by Cornelius Cole

Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 2nd district
In office
1853 – 1855
Preceded by Joseph W. McCorkle
Succeeded by Philemon T. Herbert

Born November 19, 1817(1817-11-19)
Bethlehem, New York
Died September 3, 1867 (aged 49)
Albany, New York
Political party Union Democrat
Occupation Attorney, Politician

James McDougall (November 19, 1817 – September 3, 1867) was an American attorney and politician elected to statewide office in two U.S. states, then to the United States House of Representatives and United States Senate from frontier California.


Early life

James Alexander McDougall was born November 19, 1817 in Bethlehem, New York and educated in the Albany grammar schools,[1] where he excelled in mathematics and civil engineering. While still a young man, McDougall assisted the survey of the Mohawk and Hudson Railroad, later known as the Albany and Schenectady, one of the first railroads in the nation.[2] McDougall began the study of law in Albany before moving westward, settling in Pike County, Illinois in 1837. He completed his study and began practicing law in Cook County,[1] where McDougall soon made the acquaintance of another rising Chicago lawyer, Stephen A. Douglas.[2]

Political career



In 1842 the twenty-five year-old McDougall was elected Illinois Attorney General; he was re-elected in 1844.[3] "Small in stature, he had uncommon strength of constitution, as well as of mind. He was a brilliant speaker, skillfully wielding the weapons of repartee, humor, and sarcasm, and made himself one of the most noted speakers of the West."[2] During his tenure in the state capitol, Springfield, Illinois, rising tensions in Nauvoo, Illinois gave way to violence when on June 27, 1844, the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith, Jr. was killed by a mob after surrendering to the custody and protection of the state. McDougall was involved in the negotiations by which the Mormons agreed to leave Illinois. Following his two terms as state attorney general, McDougall returned to private practice in Chicago, establishing a law partnership with Ebenezer Peck.[4]

While traveling the circuit and serving as attorney general in Illinois, McDougall became friendly with many fellow lawyers, including Douglas, Edward D. Baker[2] and Abraham Lincoln.[5] By 1849, McDougall had been twelve years in the Prairie State of Illinois, and had made himself "one of the most popular men of his state,"[2] but like many of his age was still looking westward. McDougall organized and accompanied an exploration of the Rio del Norte, Gila and Colorado Rivers reaching the headwaters of the Rio Grande in what would soon become southwestern Colorado Territory.[2] Hearing news of the California Gold Rush, McDougall returned to Illinois, gathered up his family and possessions, and took the new steamship California to San Francisco.[2]


Resuming his law practice, McDougall was elected California Attorney General in October 1850 but resigned after a year to accept a seat in the state legislature.[2]

In 1852 McDougall successfully ran for Congress as a Democrat, pledging to get federal support for a railroad to the Pacific. He did introduce a Pacific Railroad bill, but it was opposed by Thomas Hart Benton. McDougall served a single term in the House before returning to law practice in San Francisco.

The Democrats in California split into factions, and election of a California Senator in 1860 became entangled in the national crisis over secession. When it appeared that a secessionist Democrat might be elected, Republicans abandoned their own candidate and threw their support to McDougall.

Washington, D.C.

While serving in the U.S. Senate during the Civil War, McDougall again worked on behalf of a Pacific railroad project, but alcohol abuse made him ineffective. By 1862, McDougall was making a spectacle of himself and neglecting his Senate duties. He fought against some of Lincoln's war measures, but he was mostly dysfunctional. Not once did he travel back to California during his entire six-year term.

Later life

Upon leaving office, McDougall retired to his boyhood home in Albany, New York, where he died on September 3, 1867, presumably of alcoholism. His body was sent to California, per his wishes, and buried in Lone Mountain Cemetery in San Francisco, later renamed Calvary; his remains were reinterred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California in 1942.


  1. ^ a b Boxer, James Alexander McDougall
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Shuck, Bench and Bar in California, p. 357
  3. ^ Rhodes, James A. McDougal, in Shuck, ed. Representative and Leading Men of the Pacific, p.689
  4. ^ Greene and Thompson, The governors' letter-books, p. 166
  5. ^ Nadal, A Virginian Village, and Other Papers, p. 130


Further reading

  • Buchanan, Russell (September 1926). "James A. McDougall: A Forgotten Senator". California Historical Society Quarterly XV (3): 199–212.  
Legal offices
Preceded by
Josiah Lamborn
Attorney General of Illinois
1843 –1846
Succeeded by
David B. Campbell
Preceded by
Edward J. C. Kewen
Attorney General of California
1850 –1851
Succeeded by
Serranus Clinton Hastings
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Joseph W. McCorkle
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Philemon T. Herbert
United States Senate
Preceded by
William M. Gwin
United States Senator (Class 3) from California
Served alongside: Milton S. Latham, John Conness
Succeeded by
Cornelius Cole


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