Happy Birthday Governor Budd!

  May 18 is the birthday of James H. Budd, California’s 19th governor, who served from January 1895 to January 1899. He was the last Democrat to hold the office until Cuthbert Olsen was elected in 1938. 

A Stockton resident and lawyer, the “genial and jovial” Budd ran on an anti-Southern Pacific, trim-the-fat in government platform. A brigadier general in the National Guard, he shunned railroad travel in his campaign, earning the nickname, “Buckboard Jim.” 

As governor, he had a sign in his office that read: “Jim is in.” 

During his four years as governor, Budd convinced the Legislature to create the Bureau of Highways, the entity that eventually became Caltrans. 

He added buildings to the University of California, closed the State Printing Office with the support of the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner and succeeded in both lowering taxes and consolidating some state agencies. 

“The general condition of state extravagance in California is a matter of common notoriety. Public knowledge of our recklessness in this regard has transgressed our territorial limits and gone to the country, deterring immigration and the influx of needed capital to develop our latent resources,” Budd said in his January 11, 1895 inaugural address

An 1873 graduate of the first four-year class at the University of California, Budd held only one elected office prior to becoming governor: A term in Congress representing Alameda, Sacramento and San Joaquin counties. 

 He wasn’t expected to win his 1882 race against the GOP incumbent but the “scrappy and artful” Budd conducted a “whirlwind campaign on buckboard from house to house” and eked out a victory, according to H. Brett Melendy and Benjamin F. Gilbert in The Governors of California

Budd was the first Democrat to hold the seat since the Civil War. 

A Sacramento Bee article that appeared in the New York Times November 22, 1882 recounts how the Congressman-elect helped a down-on-his-luck “Negro minstrel” stage a benefit performance to raise money. Budd rented the theater, hired the orchestra and – in blackface – appeared in the show. 

 “And that is why the variety performers in this city worked for him on Election Day,” the Bee reported. 

 In Congress, Budd supported the exclusion of Chinese immigrants and secured funding to dredge the Stockton Channel, increasing business for the Port of Stockton. 

He declined to seek a second term, returning to his law practice and local politics. 

Race for Governor

But when the Democrats held their 1894 convention at the Baldwin Theater in San Francisco, Budd was one of the four candidates being considered for governor.

Barney Murphy, four-time mayor of San Jose was the frontrunner, according to the San Francisco Morning Call but Budd prevailed. 

“God Almighty impressed on his face the unswerving, uncompromising, unyielding mark of honesty,” said F. D. Nicol of Stockton in nominating Budd, according to the Call

 “James H. Budd has never acquired the art to smile on one side of his face while he frowns on the other. His life is an open book. He is an honest man, the noblest work of God. Has anybody ever heard of James H. Budd bending the pliant hinges of the knee to any corporate power?” 

Budd won the nomination on the third ballot and told the convention, as quoted by the Sacramento Daily Record-Union: 

 “I am a young man, only 43, and have lived all my life here and was educated in California. I know too much to make mistakes through foolishness and I have too much sense to make the other kind of mistakes.” 

The Republicans nominated former Assembly Speaker Morris Estee. 

 Budd began his campaign in Sacramento on September 8 and took it to Southern California on September 23 where he spoke at the Pavilion in downtown Los Angeles, thumping Republicans for profligate state spending. 

 “When (the Republicans) come to state taxation they are as mum as oysters. California is the most outrageously taxed state in the union. The state of Illinois in 1891 and 1892 spent $10 million and California in the same period spent $15 million or $5 million more than the great state of Illinois,” the Los Angeles Herald quoted Budd. 

 “California spends ($15 million) per annum for state, county and district taxes. While New Jersey spends only $14 million for the same purposes and Georgia spends $13 million less than California. Indiana spends over $3 million less than California, and the same is true of lowa and Kentucky, the parent of the Southern Pacific, spends over $12 million less.

  (The railroad incorporated in Kentucky to avoid California taxes, a frequent criticism of Budd’s.) 

 “Mr. Estee says we can’t help these expenses, and says they are the result of erecting public buildings. The expenses are increasing day-by-day, and when we pledge, our candidates in accord with our platform, to reduce the state taxes, (the Republicans) tell us we ought to discuss (President Grover) Cleveland’s Hawaiian policy. Does that policy take a dollar out of your pocket? 

 “Mr. Estee said in this hall that the people don’t want a cheap government. I say we want an economical government. I leave this question to the people of California, whether the Southern Pacific shall evade its taxes and pile their burdens on the people. We recognize that this corporation, which has taxed us to death, should be brought into subjection. 

“In Bakersfield my late leader and now my opponent said that what the people wanted was a competitive railroad. That was an admission that the railroad was robbing the?people. We propose to choke a 25 percent reduction of rates out of the Southern Pacific of Kentucky. The farmer who ships a ton of wheat to Port Costa and gets $16 a ton, the railroad takes $4.50, or more than one-quarter of the money, and yet we built this railroad with our money. Our learned opponent says you want competition, but I say the Democratic Party will give you relief.” 

Budd canvased much of the state by buckboard – shunning the railroad –often accompanied by his wife, Inez. He benefited from favorable publicity for helping put out a fire at a meeting in Willows and rescuing a girl from a kicking horse. 

The Republican press claimed that in 1876 Budd had raped Nancy Neff, a teenage maid. After she gave birth to a child that died soon after she got smallpox and Budd sent her away to die but not before convincing her to will him her property. 

“Infamous falsehood,” Budd countered, although he admitted knowing the girl. 

Although 1894 was a Republican sweep, Budd narrowly won. He was the only Democrat to win statewide office.  He beat Estee by 2,000 votes out of 284,548 votes cast. 

There were allegations of ballot stuffing by both Democrats and Republicans. 

Voter fraud in San Francisco gave Budd the victory, Republicans claimed, but an investigation by an Assembly committee found the charge baseless.

Early Life 

Budd was born in Janesville, Wisconsin but his family moved to Old Liberty in San Joaquin County when Budd was seven. His father practiced law in Woodbridge and in 1861 the family settled in Stockton. 

 He attended grammar school and high school in Stockton before attending UC Berkeley where he was a Zeta Psi. Influenced by his father’s interest in politics, Budd became a member of the state Democratic Central Committee while at Berkeley.

The same year he graduated he married Inez Merrill, a widow. The two had met in high school in Stockton. They had no children. 

Inez believed that 13 was a lucky number.  According to the California State Library, she made cash bequests in multiples of 13 in her will. 

 Under the name “I.A.M.” she wrote the 1905 126-page religious tract, The God in Heaven or Truth Revealed.

After being admitted to the bar in 1874, Budd practiced law with his father and served as deputy district attorney. He turned his party’s nomination for the Assembly in 1876. 

Governor Budd 

Budd’s glittery inaugural festivities were covered in great detail by the San Francisco Morning Call

As he did in his campaign, Budd stressed economy in government. 

 “Laws designed to bring the public expenditures within the limits of reason, to lop off redundant functionaries, to concentrate distributed institutions of like character under a single management, to reduce salaries as far as may be deemed consistent with the efficiency of the service, and in general to place the affairs of the State upon the same safe business footing as that of a successful private enterprise, must originate with one or the other of the two houses,” he said in his inaugural speech. 

Among his recommendations were creation of single board to govern the state asylums and transfer of the functions of several agricultural commissions to the University of California. 

He sought repeal of the 1891 law granting bounties on coyote scalps. The Republican majority Legislature did so in 1895 as well as transfer the functions of the viticulture commission to UC. Two years later, lawmakers created the single governing board for the asylums. 

His constitutional amendments to change the membership requirements of the railroad commission and make its decisions appealable did not meet with the same success. 

In his first biennial message, Budd recommended the governor’s term should begin on the first Monday in July instead of January. 

He complained that 207 of the 317 bills sent to him during the last legislative session had come to his desk during the final 10 days. Governors should have 30 days instead of 10 to consider bills after the Legislature adjourns, which governors now have. 

Printers, pressmen and bookbinders objected to Budd’s vetoing the appropriation for the State Printer’s Office. 

“After Governor Budd’s Scalp,” was the Sacramento Daily-Record Union headline on April 5, 1897. One of the first acts of Budd’s sucfessor was to restore the Office of State Printer. 

Budd frequently vetoed appropriations bills and, in one instance, declared a state holiday on the Friday a funding bill was defeated for the following day. A number of newspapers opined against the action

“Is our governor a crank or an imbecile?,” wondered the Wheatland Four Corners. “We advise an immediate inquiry into this subject by the proper authorities. Who ever heard of the whole machinery of a state like California being brought to a standstill with but 24 hours notice for such a cause? Governor Budd may attempt to reason the whyfor but he cannot estimate the result. Due notice having been given, it might have been proper for California to take one day in which to rejoice over the defeat of the funding bill. But Budd’s holiday was a Budd jollification, also a Jim fool proceeding. The resulting good is not, and the injury to the state, county, town and private business is far reaching.” 

After praising his “vim” and efforts to economize, the Antioch Ledger lamented that Budd  “has an amazing weakness for grand stand plays and pyrotechnic demonstrations that are not creditable to his dignity or to his good judgment.” 

Of most lasting impact was Budd’s creation of a state road building agency.   

 His three highway commissioners — R.C. Irvine of Sacramento, Marsden Manson of San Francisco and L. Maude of Riverside – bought a team of horses and a buckboard wagon and “proceeded, during the next year and a half, to cover the state, logging some 7,000 miles,” writes Harrison Irving Scott on the California Historian website

“Upon their return, they submitted a report to the governor recommending a system of state highways which would connect all large centers of population. Every county seat would be reached. Their recommendation included the utilization of existing county roads to the fullest possible extent. 

In 1897, the Legislature replaced the bureau with a Department of Highways and appropriated money to build a better Placerville to Lake Tahoe highway. 

“Members of the new department made exhaustive studies of road construction practices and economics. (They) toured Europe to observe methods used in England, France and other countries,” Scott writes. 

“Their findings on such factors as drainage, and roadbed and pavement construction, were based on fundamental engineering policies. At the outset, modern highway development in California was on a firm foundation.” 

Ill health caused Budd not to seek a second term. 

 In his second biennial message in 1899 shortly before his successor, Henry Gage, took office, Budd summed up the accomplishments of his administration: 

 “For a number of years the state had been under a financial cloud, and had pursued a slip-shod, down-at-the-heel, borrow-from-Peter-to-pay-Paul policy. 

“Payments of its debts were delayed, and its warrants were at a discount on the street—a condition of affairs disgraceful at home and disastrous, abroad. 

“Its institutions were under neither systematic nor uniform laws, the asylums were filling with those not entitled to shelter, and deficiencies were the order of the day. 

“Bounties were paid on coyote scalps and the indigent laws made the basis of gross frauds. 

“The controller’s estimates continued to increase from report to report, and the Legislatures augmented the amounts beyond all reason. 

“State property was at loose ends; no account was taken thereof; and no inventories given or required. 

“Imitations of food filled the markets, to the detriment of the real products of the state. Adulterations abounded everywhere, and the laws of health were openly ignored. 

“Our roads were a disgrace, and the money spent upon them largely Wasted through ignorance of the art of road-building. 

“County governments existed by permission only, as there was no constitutional law regulating them. 

“Tax-sharks thrived on the distress of the people. 

“Our codes were practically shapeless, and my predecessor had urged the creation of a commission to put them in form. 

“The University of California suffered from lack of funds, and proper buildings had twice been denied the affiliated colleges. 

“Needless taxation was placed on the people for the useless institutions that had sprung up.

“This was, in part, the condition of the State when I assumed the responsibilities of this office. As I relinquish them, I am glad to say that all these conditions have undergone a radical and permanent change.” 

After leaving office, Budd opened a San Francisco law office. He was named chief lawyer for the State Harbor Commission in 1899 and, in 1900, a UC regent. 

Budd’s health continued to worsen. He toured Europe in 1907 in an effort to regain it, returning in 1908. 

 “The illness of his brother, John E. Budd, caused him to plan an automobile trip to Lake Tahoe, and the brothers spent several weeks at mountain health resorts,” according to George Tinkham’s 1923 History of San Joaquin County

“But meanwhile the ex-governor contracted a cold that brought on a recurrence of rheumatic and kidney troubles. Treatment under a specialist in a San Francisco hospital proved of no avail, and he was brought to his Stockton residence, here the end came.”

Budd died July 30, 1908 at the age of 57. 

At his funeral, Gov. James Gillett said Budd “made an excellent executive officer” and “was one of California’s best governors, … always fearless and independent in the discharge of his duties.” 



Filed under: California History

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