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The birth of a baby boy to Charles and Hannah Jewel Hardin in Milton, in 1820 might have escaped the notice of Trimble County history buffs had it not been for a random search on the internet by Milton Mayor Denny Jackson a few years back. While searching to see what hits might turn up by keying-in “Trimble County” on his computer, Jackson came across a biographical note that began with the following:
“HARDIN, Charles Henry, governor of Missouri (1875-1877), born in Trimble County, Kentucky, in Milton, 15 July, 1820.”
The item noted a few points of interest about Governor Hardin’s career, that he had graduated from college in Ohio, voted against the secession of Missouri during the Civil War, and that he had provided an endowment of property to a college for women.
The notion that the onetime most powerful figure in Missouri government first saw the light of day in one of the smallest counties in Kentucky is intriguing.
While still an infant, Charles Hardin moved with his family to Boone County, Mo., in the autumn of 1820. After spending his childhood in Columbia, Mo., young Hardin rode horseback to Bloomington, Ind., in 1837, to attend Indiana University. In March 1839, he saddled up again, this time bound for Oxford, Ohio, for the purpose of transferring to Miami University. While there, he was one of eight young men who founded Beta Theta Pi fraternity. A fraternity brother later described young Hardin as “a bright student, cheerful, pleasant, agreeable companion. He could read the New Testament in Greek like English.”
After his graduation from Miami University in 1841, Charles returned to Missouri. He was admitted to the bar in 1843 and practiced law in Fulton from 1843-61. During this time Hardin developed an interest in statewide politics and was elected state representative in 1852, 1854 and 1858. In 1855 he was selected one of three attorneys to revise and codify the state statutes.
After three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives, he was elected to the state senate in 1860.
At the outbreak of the War Between the States in 1861, many of Missouri’s residents were slave-holders who sympathized with the Confederacy.
Many Missourians, like Hardin and his wife, the former Mary Barr Jenkins, whom he married in 1844, had migrated to the state from Kentucky. Kentucky’s loyalties were also torn but the Bluegrass State remained in the Union. In Missouri, many of the legislators meeting at Jefferson City were moderates who hoped to avoid bloodshed through compromise. Senator Hardin was deeply troubled by the war and by the secessionist sentiment among the constituents of the district he represented.
Hardin authored legislation to empower the voters of Missouri to make the choice for or against secession.
The General Assembly voted on October 28 “to dissolve the political connection between the State of Missouri with the United States of America.”
Hardin’s was the lone dissenting vote in the Senate against the measure.
Hardin retired from public life for the remainder of the Civil War and withdrew to a farm in Audrain County near Mexico, Mo. In this small town in the northeast section of the state, Hardin became president of the Mexico Southern Bank.
The struggling Audrain County Female Seminary, which had opened its doors in Mexico in 1858, took on new life and was re-named Hardin College and Conservatory of Music when Charles endowed the facility with property valued at more than $80,000. Hardin College, affiliated with the Missionary Baptist Church, eventually closed its doors in 1931 due to financial entanglements exacerbated by the Great Depression. During its existence more than 5,000 young women had received an education at the school.
Hardin returned to public life by again winning a seat in the Missouri State Senate in 1872. Two years later he was elected Governor of Missouri on the Democratic ticket. He assumed office as Missouri’s 22nd governor in January, 1875.