Kansas’ first governor, Charles Lawrence Robinson, was born in Hardwick, Massachusetts on July 21, 1818. Educated at Hadley and Amherst academies, he graduated from Amherst College and attended medical school in Woodstock, Vermont and Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Charles received his medical degree in 1843 from Berkshire Medical College and established medical practices in Belchertown, Springfield and Fitchburg.
When news of the California Gold Rush reached his ears on the other side of the country, Robinson headed west in 1849. There he opened a restaurant in Sacramento and began a new career as editor of a daily paper, the Settler’s and Miner’s Tribune in 1850.
Robinson also took an active part in the riots of 1850, seeking to uphold squatter sovereignty. In the process, he was seriously wounded and placed under indictment for murder and conspiracy. Following a 10-week confinement, Robinson was found not-guilty and his indictment was discharged by the court without a trial. At the same time, Robinson was elected to the California legislature, where he served as a representative from California’s 12th State Assembly District in 1851. He was known as “an active and decisive participant” during the territory’s turbulent time-frame preceding statehood.
On October 30, 1851, Robinson tied the knot with Sara Tappen Doolittle Lawrence. Two children were born to the couple. In 1856, Sara published Kansas, its Exterior and Interior Life. In the publication, she described examples between friends and foes regarding slavery in Kansas. Charles returned to Massachusetts in 1852 where he resumed his publishing career, working for the Fitchburg News.
Robinson was sent by the New England Emigrant Aid Society to Kansas in June 1854 to be its confidential agent. Shortly after he was settled, the tragedy known as “Bleeding Kansas” erupted. Robinson showed a passion for the Free-Staters, and in the process angered a large number of pro-slavery advocates. On December 23, 1854, the group held its first meeting with the stabilizing influence of Robinson’s cool, detached leadership.
In January 1856, Robinson was elected to be the Territorial Governor of Kansas under the “illegal” Topka Constitution. He was held in custody from the spring of 1856 until September of the same year at Camp Sackett, along with the son of abolitionist John Brown and other Free-State leaders.
Under the Wyandotte Constitution in 1859, Robinson became the first Governor of Kansas. He was inaugurated two months prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. During his single term in office, he was constantly preoccupied with thoughts of the war, in addition to the activities of his flamboyant chief rival, James H. Lane. The bitter rivalry led to impeachment proceedings against the governor, in addition to State Auditory George S. Hillyer and Secretary of State J. W. Robinson.
Though the other two political figures were convicted and removed from office, the governor was found to be innocent of the charges; however, the stain left behind hurt his political career. History, however, would remember him kindly. One biographer’s heralded prose regarding Robinson reads, “as the strongest character in the history of the State . . . Under his leadership the battle was won for the North, Kansas entered the Union a Free State, and the prestige of the South was crushed and broken forever.”
Robinson served the Kansas History Society as its president for one year and remained active in the affairs of Kansas until he died on August 17, 1894 at the age of 76. He was buried in the Oak Hill Cemetery located in Lawrence, Kansas.