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Feature Article on Ben Lefevre. Topic: POLITICS & PEOPLE
Written by Rich Wallace in November, 1994

SHELBY COUNTY PRODUCED A NOTED POLITICIAN

In the fall of each year, talk turns to politics on the local, state and national level. Political advertisements dominate the airwaves with what some would call annoying frequency. All of this brings to mind Shelby County's most famous and accomplished legislator, General Ben Lefevre. This is his story.

Ben was born in Salem Township as part of a large family on October 8, 1838. He first learned to read by the light of a burning rope knot which he would hang in his room. Upon completion of his schooling, both in the township log cabin and later in Sidney, Lefevre studied at Miami University in Oxford.

Even though he had a college degree, the patriotic fervor of the Civil War took hold of Lefevre and he volunteered to serve under General Fremont with the Benton Cadets in Missouri. After that group was disbanded, he signed on as a regimental officer in the 99th Ohio Volunteer Infantry in July of 1862. Many of his friends from Shelby County, including Thomas Honnell from Port Jefferson, also enlisted.

Lefevre received a battlefield promotion to major at the battle of Stones River, benlefevrewoodcut.gif (68869 bytes)Major Lefevre also led his troops at the battle of Chicamauga, one of the most terrible of the war. It was there that Thomas Honnell, his boyhood friend, was severely wounded. He served with the regiment throughout all of its campaigns in the western theater of the war. After being discharged in 1865, Lefevre returned home and immediately immersed himself in politics. He was elected by the Democrats as a representative to the Ohio General Assembly. While serving in the 65th and 66th General Assemblies, he was the youngest member of those bodies.

(The woodcut of General Lefevre to the right shows him at the time he was a member of Congress.)

After his two terms there, Lefevre was nominated for Secretary of the State of Ohio. He was soundly defeated in that race, and thus suffered the only defeat of his political career. Shortly thereafter, however, he was appointed counsel to Nuremberg, Germany in the spring of 1867. Upon his return to America he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad in Lima, Ohio. During that time, he organized the First National Bank of Lima, serving as its vice-president.

In the mid-1870's, Lefevre became engaged in the political fight of his life. He ran for nomination by the Democratic party for Representative to the 46th U.S. Congress. In those days, a nominating convention was held in each district. In the longest convention in the history of the state, Lefevre was nominated by a majority of one and a half votes on the 218th ballot. The political wrangling lasted for three days and nights.

In his eight years in Congress, Lefevre served with distinction. He introduced the resolution that established the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and served four years as chairman of the Agriculture Committee of the House. He sponsored numerous bills protecting the rights of the veterans of the Civil War. Lefevre was at the height of his popularity when his fourth term ended. A periodical of the time described the manner in which he handled his constituents as follows: "That family in the district is not to be found to whom he has not sent out from Washington an occasional report, pamphlet, printed speech, package of garden seeds or box of bulbs. He has received more press notices touching his personal appearance and gallantry than any other member of Congress."

In 1884, at the age of only 46, Gen. Lefevre commenced another career with the Erie Railroad as claims manager. He retired in 1907 after working 23 years. During his retirement years, Ben Lefevre accomplished much as a world traveler. He made over 20 separate trips to Europe. On one occasion, he completed a year-long trip around the world by himself. He later reported to his friends that he had crossed the Arabian Desert by camel, toured the Taj Mahal and traveled the Ganges River in India. Upon his arrival in Sidney, he claimed never to have been sick one day and attributed his good health to drinking Vichy water, which he carried with him at all times. As Lefevre looked back on a career as a war hero, politician, railroad man and world traveler, he had reason to be well satisfied. The citizens of Shelby County certainly were. To this day, Ben Lefevre is remembered as one of our most beloved public servants.

 

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