John J. McRae: Twenty-first Governor of Mississippi: 1854-1857
Known to his friends and followers as “Johnny McRae of Chickasawhay,” Governor John J. McRae sailed his steamer Triumph up and down the Chickasawhay River “as if it were the Mississippi itself.” McRae was a folk hero and was extremely popular with the people of Mississippi. He was described by a contemporary as “bright ... humorous and fascinating.”
McRae was born in Sneedsborough, North Carolina, on January 10, 1815, and was only two years old when his family moved to Winchester in Wayne County, Mississippi. After graduating from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, McRae returned to Paulding, the county seat of Jasper County, to practice law. McRae also published a newspaper called the Eastern Clarion, the forerunner of the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.
In 1847, McRae was elected to represent Clarke County in the Mississippi
Legislature and was named Speaker of the House in 1850. On December 1,
1851, McRae was appointed to fill the unexpired term of Jefferson Davis
During Governor McRae’s first administration, Mississippi opened
its first mental hospital and established an asylum for the deaf and speechless.
The state also started a levee program in the Delta and adopted a new
legal code known as the Mississippi Code of 1857. In Governor
McRae’s second term, the state adopted a constitutional amendment
designed to prevent the reoccurrence of the situation caused by Governor
Quitman’s resignation in 1851. The amendment set the state’s
general elections for the first Monday in October and moved the inauguration
of the governor from the first Monday in January following the general
election to the first Monday in November. That amendment shortened Governor
McRae’s second term by about two months.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Posted December 2003
Biographical Directory of the United States Congress (1950), 1550.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 67.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form II 201-207.
Sansing, David and Carroll Waller, Mississippi Governor’s Mansion (Jackson, 1977), 40.
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