Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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GWIN, William McKendree, senator, born in Sumner county, Tennessee, 9 October, 1805; died in New York city, 3 September, 1885. His father, the Reverend James Gwin, was a pioneer Methodist minister, and also served as a soldier on the frontier under General Andrew Jackson. After receiving a classical education, the son studied law in Gallatin, Tennessee, but abandoned it for medicine, and took his medical degree in 1828 at Transylvania university. He then removed to Clinton, Mississippi, and obtained an extensive practice, but in 1833 left the profession, and was appointed by President Jackson United States marshal for the district of Mississippi. In 1840 he was elected to congress as a Democrat, and became an adherent of John C. Calhoun. Declining a renomination for congress on account of financial embarrassment, he was appointed, on the accession of James K. Polk to the presidency, to superintend the building of the new custom-house at New Orleans. On the election of General Taylor he resigned and set out for California, where he arrived 4 June, 1849. His attention had first been called to that country by Mr. Calhoun, who, when secretary of state, had laid his finger on the map where San Francisco now stands, saying, "There, when this bay comes into our possession, will spring up the great rival of New York." Dr. Gwin took an active part in favor of the formation of a state government, and was elected to the convention that was held in Monterey in September to frame a constitution. In the ensuing December he was elected United States senator for the long term, with General Fremont as his colleague. His labors in the senate were incessant, and his success was remarkable. He maintained amicable relations with all parties, and his hospitable mansion became a neutral ground, where the leaders of rival factions met on social terms. On his return to California, in 1851, the legislature tendered him the thanks of the state for his services. In the following session he was a member of the finance committee and chairman of that oil naval affairs. He secured the establishment of a mint in California, the survey of the Pacific coast, a navy yard and station, with large appropriations, and carried through the senate a bill providing for a line of steamers between San Francisco, China, and Japan, by way of the Sandwich islands. He was re-elected, and served till 3 March, 1861. At the beginning of the civil war he was arrested on accusation of disloyalty and imprisoned till 1863, when he went to Paris, where he became interested in a scheme to colonize Sonora with southerners. Dr. Gwin was invited to meet the emperor in. private audiences, and interested him in the project. It is said that, on the invitation of the minister of foreign affairs, he drew up a plan for the colony, which was approved by Napoleon, and then submitted to Maximilian. The latter, who was at that time in Paris, requested Dr. Gwin's attendance at the Tuileries, and, after full inquiry, signified his approbation. Within two weeks after the departure of Maximilian for Mexico. Dr. Gwin also left for that country, bearing an autograph letter from the emperor to Marshal Bazame. The latter gave no encouragement to the colonization plan, nor did Dr. Gwin succeed in securing from Maximilian any satisfactory assurances of support. He returned to France in January, 1865, and in an audience with the emperor frankly exposed the condition of affairs in Mexico. Napoleon urged his immediate return to Mexico, with a peremptory order to Marshal Bazaine to supply the troops necessary to the full accomplishment of his scheme. This advice was taken, but Dr. Gwin still met with no success, and, demanding an escort to take him out of the country, which was promptly furnished, returned to his home in California. He continued to take an active part in politics, and engaged with energy in the canvass for the presidency in 1876 in the interest of Samuel J. Tilden. Dr. Gwin's personal appearance was impressive; he was tall, finely proportioned, with a massive head, and a face full of animation.
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