Alexander White Baldwin

Alexander White Baldwin was probably born near Gainesville, Alabama, around 1840 to Joseph Glover Baldwin and Sidney White. His father was a writer and local Whig politician who owned at least 7 slaves. The family moved to San Francisco, California, in 1854, and Joseph eventually became an associate justice on the state’s supreme court. Alexander was a gifted and precocious child, and he enrolled at the University of Virginia in 1855. He spent the next two years studying Latin, modern languages, and moral philosophy, and he reportedly “acquired great reputation as a brilliant writer, orator and conversationalist.” In March 1857, UVA’s faculty gave Alexander and several classmates permission to attend President James Buchanan’s inauguration in Washington, D.C.

Baldwin graduated from UVA in 1857, and he returned to California in January 1859. He settled in Downieville and established a successful legal practice. That June, he served as secretary for the “Lecompton Democratic State Convention,” which endorsed the Kansas Territory’s fraudulent proslavery constitution. In the presidential election of 1860, however, Baldwin supported moderate Democrat Stephen Douglas.

Baldwin fiercely opposed secession, and he attended a “Union meeting” in Downieville in May 1861. He helped draft a series of resolutions, declaring that “Secession is but a milder name for Treason.” Baldwin and his neighbors vowed to “ignore for the present, all past political differences, party names and issues…forgetting there is a North or a South, and rallying to the cry of the Union.” They “acknowledge[ed] no other flag save that which floats from the dome of the Capitol at Washington,” and they swore to “defend it in every peril.”

A Confederate sympathizer criticized Baldwin and accused him of betraying the South. In response, Baldwin published a public letter insisting that “this revolution was not the act of the Southern people.” Confederate President Jefferson Davis, he observed, “administers laws which the people’s representatives have not passed,” under a “constitution to which they have never assented.” His devotion to the Union did not make him “untrue to the place of my birth.” Indeed, it was in Alabama and Virginia that he “learned to love the Union, and abhor disunion.” He urged readers to “Stand with me and the spartan patriot band at the South, who yet remain loyal and faithful to the Union.”

In the summer of 1861, Baldwin attended California’s Union Democratic State Convention and delivered a passionate Independence Day speech. He moved to the Nevada Territory that winter, and he married Alice Reeve on August 21, 1862. They had at least three children: Alexander, born around 1863; Edith, born around 1865, and Alice, born around 1867. Edith died in San Francisco on October 18, 1865, when she was only ten months old.

Baldwin attended a Soldiers’ Relief Meeting in Virginia City, Nevada, in October 1862 and donated $250 to the cause. In December 1863, he attended the Storey County Union Convention and approved resolutions that “breathe[d] a spirit of intense National loyalty.” He served on Nevada’s Union Party Central Committee and secured a seat in the territorial legislature. He called for statehood for Nevada, which Congress granted in October 1864. Then, on March 10, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln nominated Baldwin to the U.S. District Court for the new District of Nevada. The Senate confirmed his appointment the following day.

Baldwin remained active in Nevada’s Union Party after the war. In October 1865, he attended the Union State Convention, which expressed “gratitude to God for the overthrow of the most wicked and unnatural rebellion known in the history of man.” The delegates praised Union soldiers and sailors, whose “valor and sacrifices have given to us and our children a preserved and regenerated Republic.” They opposed Black suffrage and vowed to support President Andrew Johnson. At the same time, however, they called for a slow and deliberate process of Reconstruction. They refused to readmit the Confederate states until southerners had given “conclusive and unmistakable proof” of their “contrition for the past and devoted patriotism in the future.”

Baldwin addressed a “grand mass meeting” of Union men in Virginia City in November 1866 and delivered the July 4th address there in 1867. In April 1868, the Union State Convention voted Baldwin as its permanent president. The delegates, radicalized by southern intransigence, praised Congressional Reconstruction and called for Johnson’s impeachment. By “thwart[ing] the success of the reconstruction measures,” they insisted, Johnson had betrayed the American people. His actions were “so flagrantly illegal, so thoroughly mischievous, and so dangerous to the welfare of the nation as not only to justify but demand” his removal from office. Baldwin supported General Ulysses S. Grant in the election of 1868 and delivered several speeches throughout the year. His Independence Day speech in Sacramento, California, was reportedly so passionate that Democratic partisans in the audience left the meeting in protest.

Then, in the fall of 1869, Baldwin travelled to Oakland, California, to visit his mother. He left Oakland on November 14, riding in the palace car at the back of a Western Pacific train. During the journey, he moved forward into the smoking car just as his train collided with another train. As one reporter noted, “wood and iron shattered like fragile splinters,” and railroad cars were “heaped in one mass of wreck and ruin together.” The first four cars of the Western Pacific train were “totally ruined in the awful crash”—including the smoking car Baldwin had just entered. Baldwin and at least a dozen others died in the collision.

Baldwin’s funeral took place in Oakland on November 16, and friends eulogized him as an “incorruptible Judge” and a “man of pure and high-toned character.” A delegation from Nevada arrived, hoping to return Baldwin’s body to their state and hold a public funeral. Alice, however, refused their request and buried her husband in his family’s burial ground in Oakland.


Alexander W. Baldwin Drafts Unionist Resolutions

Alexander W. Baldwin Denounces Secession

Name:Baldwin, Alexander White
Alternative names:
  • UVA (Union)
  • Civilian
Branch of service:
Residence at UVA:San Francisco, CA
UVA Begin Year:1855
UVA End Year:1857
Residence at enlistment:
Rank In:
Rank Out:
Highest rank achieved:
Birth date:1840
Birth date certainty:Around
Birth place:Gainesville, AL
Death date:1869-11-14
Death place:Alameda County, CA
Causes of death:accident
Occupations:Attorney, Judge
Person 1Relation TypePerson 2
Baldwin, Alexander Whiteparent ofBaldwin, Alexander White, Jr.
Baldwin, Alexander Whiteparent ofBaldwin, Edith
Baldwin, Alexander Whiteparent ofBaldwin, Alice
Baldwin, Alice Reevewife ofBaldwin, Alexander White

1840, 1850, and 1860 United States Federal Censuses, available from; Session 33 of the University of Virginia Chairman’s Journal, October 15, 1856 – June 20, 1857, Jefferson’s University: The Early Life; Catalogue of the University of Virginia, Session of 1855-56 (Richmond: H. K. Ellyson, 1856); Catalogue of the University of Virginia, Session of 1856-57 (Richmond: Charles H. Wynne, 1857); Sacramento Bee, 31 January 1859, 24 June 1859, 24 June 1861, 21 August 1862, 4 October 1862, 9 May 1865, and 14 July 1868; Daily National Democrat, 3 July 1860, 22 July 1860, 21 May 1861, and 29 May 1861; The Weekly Butte Democrat, 6 July 1861; The Daily California Express, 29 April 1862 and 11 January 1864; Gold Hill Daily News, 28 December 1863, 4 January 1864, 28 July 1864, 22 June 1865, 11 October 1865, 5 November 1866, 17 June 1867, 28 March 1868, and 9 April 1868; The Idaho World, 28 October 1865; San Francisco Chronicle, 15 November 1869 and 17 November 1869; Sacramento Daily Union, 15 November 1869 and 10 December 1869.