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James Ponder Passes Away

Today in Masonic History James Ponder passes away in 1897.

James Ponder was an American politician.

Ponder was born on October 31st, 1819 in Milton, Deleware. He worked as a merchant and eventually inherited his father's business which he expanded to shipbuilding, agriculture and banking.

In 1857, Ponder was elected to the Deleware House of Representatives. He served in the House until 1859. From 1865 to 1869 he served in the Deleware State Senate. He served two terms in the Deleware State Senate.

In 1870, Ponder was elected as the 42nd Governor of Deleware as a Democrat. When Ponder became Governor the wounds of the Civil War were still open. It was in the election 1870, that by Federal law, African-Americans were given the right to vote. During and after the election there was strife due to the change in voting laws. Ponder was certainly not sympathetic to the situation and stated to the Deleware General Assembly that the Federal Governement was wrong in extending the right to vote “uneducated Negroes.”

During the 1870 election, voter lists were rigged to prevent African-Americans from voting in the election. This guaranteed Democrats all of the seats in General Assembly. In 1872, President Ulysses S. Grant sent in Federal Troops to police the election. This led to more strife between Deleware and the Federal Governement. It also led to the passage of the “Assessment Act of 1873." The Assessment Act allowed tax collectors to easily remove voters from voting lists with the claim that they had not paid their taxes. It also made it exceedingly difficult for voters removed from the list to get back on.

Ponder's term did include an expansion of state offices in what is now called the "Old State House" and a restoration of the building including adding the first heating system and gas lights.

Ponder's most controversial act of the time was appointing his brother-in-law, disgraced United States Senator Willard Saulsbury as Chancellor of Deleware. Saulsbury was left the Senate as a disgraced alcholic. He promised Ponder that he would change his ways. It is presumed Saulsbury did just that since he was never removed from office and in fact remained as Chancellor of Deleware until 1893, long after Ponder had left the Governors office in 1875.

Ponder passed away on Novermber 5th, 1897.

Ponder was a member of Endeavor Lodge No. 17 in Milton, Deleware. He also served as Deputy Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Deleware.

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