John W. Leedy

John Whitnah Leedy (March 8, 1849 – March 24, 1935) was the 14th Governor of Kansas.

John W. Leedy
14th Governor of Kansas
In office
January 11, 1897  January 9, 1899
LieutenantAlexander Miller Harvey
Preceded byEdmund N. Morrill
Succeeded byWilliam E. Stanley
Personal details
John Whitnah Leedy

March 8, 1849
Richland County, Ohio, USA
DiedMarch 24, 1935 (aged 86)
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Political partyPopulist
Spouse(s)Sarah J. Boyd
Professionclerk, farmer, miner

Personal life and family

Leedy was born near Bellville, Ohio in Richland County, to Samuel Keith and Margaret (Whitnah) Leedy, the fifth of six children. His parents were members of the Church of the Brethren (colloquially called "Tunkers" or "Dunkers" in the United States). Upon the death of his father in 1853, he went to work for neighbors as a farm hand. He was only able to briefly attend school during a few winters.

In 1863, Leedy attempted to join the Union Army, but was rejected because of his age and the intervention of his mother. But in 1864, he essentially ran away from home, following the 163rd Ohio Infantry in which his cousin Jacob M. Leedy was captain of Company D.[1]

After the Civil War, Leedy moved to Princeton, Indiana where he served as a clerk in a store for three years. His health in decline, Leedy then moved to Carlinville, Illinois and sought work as a farm hand. He worked for Squire Gore (later state auditor of Illinois), and within five years his health had returned and he had saved enough money to purchase his own farm. He married Sarah Jane Boyd (1851–1940) in 1874 and had three children: Clara Romaine (1876–1972), Alice May (1880–1964), and John Boyd (1880–1968).[2]

Leedy moved to Coffey County, Kansas near Le Roy in 1880, where he purchased land for a farm.[3] His interest turned to horse breeding and was known as a successful breeder. However, in 1890, his finances began to fail and during the Panic of 1893, Leedy was forced to turn over his farm and all improvements—including his home—to his creditors.

Political career

Originally a Republican, he became a Democrat in 1872 before joining the Populist Party at its foundation.[4] In 1892, Leedy ran for the Kansas State Senate with both the Populists and Democrats nominations. He served in the State Senate from 1892 until 1897.

At the Populist Party's 1896 convention, delegates chose Leedy as their gubernational nominee over Congressman William A. Harris.[4] At the time of his nomination, Leedy was very poor and he and his family were renting a small house for $15 a month.[5] Leedy defeated the incumbent Republican governor Edmund N. Morrill in the election. As Governor of Kansas, he established a state schoolbook commission and a state printing plant, and organized four state regiments for service in the Spanish–American War. Leedy was known as an outspoken critic of railroads and corporations. He was defeated for renomination as governor.

In 1901, Leedy moved to Alaska, where he discovered a gold mine and consequently became very wealthy, and practiced law despite having no formal legal training. He served as mayor of Valdez for two years.[6]

In 1908, Leedy moved to Alberta and took up a homestead near Whitecourt, named after his son-in-law. Leedy became a naturalized British subject.

He agitated for reform of Canada's banking system, seeking the institution of the system of small rural-based farms that he had helped establish in Kansas during his governorship.[7] He ran for a seat in the Alberta Legislature in the 1917 Alberta general election as a candidate for the Non-Partisan League[8] in the electoral district of Gleichen and was unsuccessful. He received more than 16 percent of the vote but came in behind Conservative candidate Fred Davis and the defeated incumbent John McArthur.[9]

Leedy ran for a seat to the House of Commons of Canada as a Non-Partisan League candidate in the electoral district of Victoria in the 1917 federal election. He was defeated in the three-way race, finishing third behind anti-conscriptionist Laurier Liberal candidate William Henry White (the sitting MP who was re-elected) and the Conservative/Unionist candidate, former Alberta MLA James Holden.[10]

He was active in the United Farmers of Alberta, before and after it decided to engage in direct politics in 1921 and was elected government. He and fellow farmer and bank reformer George Bevington pushed the UFA government to establish a government-owned bank but their efforts were negated by the conservative UFA executive and he withdrew from the UFA. At the age of 77, he ran as an Independent on a bank-reform platform in Edmonton in the 1926 provincial election but was not elected.

Leedy died in Edmonton, Alberta on March 24, 1935, with almost no money or other assets. The Kansas State Legislature donated $1,000 to mark his grave and pay his funeral expenses.[2]

He is interred at Edmonton Municipal Cemetery, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.


  1. Two other soldiers with the Leedy surname served in Company D: Jacob B. Leedy (corporal) and Robert B. Leedy (private). No official records indicate that John W. Leedy was officially mustered into the regiment. See, Official Roster of the Soldiers of the State of Ohio in the War of the Rebellion, 1861–1865 (Akron, OH: Werner Co.), 1886–1895.
  2. "John W. Leedy". National Governors Association. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  3. "John W. Leedy". Blue Skyways. Archived from the original on November 10, 2012. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  4. Onofrio, Jan (2000). Kansas Biographical Dictionary (2nd ed.). Somerset Publishers. p. 285.
  5. "John W. Leedy". The Political Graveyard. Retrieved September 29, 2012.
  6. Mardon, Austin Albert (2010). Alberta's Political Pioneers: A Biographical Account of the United Farmers of Alberta. pp. 55–56.
  7. Grain Growers Guide, March 8, 1916
  8. "Non-Partisan League Holding Conventions". Calgary Daily Herald. May 26, 1917. p. 11.
  9. "Gleichen results 1917 Alberta general election". Alberta Heritage Community Foundation. Retrieved May 1, 2010.
  10. "Victoria Election Results". Parliament of Canada. December 17, 1917. Retrieved May 1, 2010.

Political offices
Preceded by
Edmund N. Morrill
Governor of Kansas
Succeeded by
William E. Stanley
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