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General Benjamin LeFevre
"History of Shelby County, Ohio"
by A.B.C. Hitchcock; Sidney, Ohio; 1913
Richmond-Arnold Pub. Co.; Chicago, IL.
GENERAL BENJAMIN LeFEVRE the subject of this somewhat extended biographical sketch, is a thorough Buckeye, having been born on a farm in Salem township, ten miles northeast of Sidney, October 8, 1838. His parents were pioneers and the ancestral acres of great fertility Ben has owned for years and has recently erected a spacious farm house, approached by a drive shaded with an arcade of maples.
From the ample porch of this delightful rustic abode he can sniff the aroma of the apple blossoms of his nearby orchard and the fragrance of its ripening fruit.
Higher criticism, with its convenient elasticity, had not been developed rendering it possible to interpret the plain injunction of Scripture to multiply and replenish the earth to mean race suicide, so the God-fearing LeFevre household was filled with a large family of stalwart boys and girls, with appetites commensurate with their healthy out-of-door activities and digestion that an ostrich might covet, thus furnishing a home market for the surplus products of the farm.
Though he was not born with a gold spoon in his mouth, as that article was not plenty in those pioneer days of nearly a century ago, he never felt the grip of poverty for the home domain was ample. As the virgin land furnished employment in all seasons, Satan, who gets in his work where there are idle hands, steered clear of that busy, industrious household.
Ben's pockets were not distended with an annoying surplus of pin money, as filthy lucre was not a profuse commodity in those days, and did not admit of liberal distribution to such an extent as to invite burglarious invasion, but the larder was never, empty and its products were dispensed freely in those hospitable times.
He was by nature optimistic, kept himself on the silver lining side of life clouds and shadows, was full of hope and as his sky was thickly set with lofty ideals he bent every energy to achieve and realize their fruition; and his life attest how successful he has been. In his lexicon there was no such word as "fail."
What crude privileges the log country schoolhouses afforded he embraced, but the three R's were the extent of the curriculum, and to the rule of three was the limit of the pedagogic ability to instruct.
In due time he was sent to Sidney for advanced instruction, attended several terms and subsequently taught school and became a student at the Miami University at Oxford.
An episode in his pedagogical career illustrates his natural tact and diplomacy which has served him so well in untying hard knots and straightening tangles. He had one very refractory pupil who gave him a world of trouble, and, feeling that forbearance had ceased to be a virtue, he kept the miscreant in the schoolhouse one evening for substantial settlement. When about ready to administer, a deserved castigation; Ben looked out of a window and caught a glimpse of the irate mother, who was a terror in skirts, sidling up to the schoolhouse with a stride that meant business. She paused a while to listen to the interior proceedings. Not relishing the red hot fury of a woman, Ben at once changed his tactics and in a voice that could be distinctly heard outside, said: "Jim, I wish you would suppress your animal spirits and mischievous ways, for you have marked ability and noble qualities. I did not keep you in for punishment but to have a good talk and appeal to your better nature. You are the hope of your kind and indulgent mother who would do anything for your welfare and solicitous as she is through the day for you I have no doubt that she remembers you in her prayers each
night, and I am doing my best to help her make of you an honor to her and a useful man. At this the mother burst in the door, totally disarmed, and poured the contents of her vial of wrath, intended for Ben, upon her son. This diplomatic stroke endeared Ben to her not only the rest of the term but ever afterward.
When the slogan of the Civil war sounded Ben's quick and patriotic ear heard it, and he joined the Benton cadets, went to Missouri, and served in General Fremont's brief campaign, going as far as Springfield in that state. When the cadets were mustered out he came home as lieutenant and when the Ninety-ninth Ohio regiment was organized joined at Lima, serving as major in the army until the final surrender of the rebel host. He returned to Sidney, studied law with Smith and Cummins, leading attorneys of Sidney, and was admitted to the bar, but having a stronger taste for politics than of legal practice he was elected to the state legislature from Shelby county.
At the close of his term he was appointed governor of the territory of Washington by President Johnson, but which was changed to a consulship to Nurenburg, Bavaria. At that time Andrew G. Curtis, Pennsylvania war governor, was minister to Russia, and Elihu Washburn, minister to France, and the three became fast friends.
Upon his return to this country he was employed by Col. Thomas A. Scott to look after the revenue cases of the Pennsylvania railway and remained until he resigned to run for democratic congressional nomination from this district, composed of Shelby, Miami, Darke, Mercer and Auglaize counties. A mass convention was held in Sidney, and after a fierce fight of three days and nights, the time Jonah spent in making interior observations of the whale, Ben was victorious by one and a half votes on the two hundred and eighteenth ballot for the forty-sixth congress, and triumphantly elected in November.
While serving his first term the district was changed to comprise Shelby, Auglaize, Alien, Mercer, Paulding, Putnam, Defiance and Van Wert counties. Five of these counties were represented by W. D. Hill, who was up for renomination, but Ben won on the first ballot. The district was again changed and Ben served continuously for eight years. It is safe to say that no representative ever served his constituents with more fidelity than General LeFevre, or procured more lucrative employment for democratic hoys in republican administrations than he. His diplomacy and suavity did the work. Milton E. Ailes, who subsequently became assistant secretary of the treasury under Lyman D. Gage, was one of his boys from Sidney.
Upon entering congress he served on the committee on agriculture and the committee on military affairs, and introduced the first bill for the suppression of contagious diseases among domestic animals. He introduced the resolution creating the department of agriculture and always espoused the cause of the soldiers, and was ever at his post.
At the close of his congressional career he was engaged by the Erie railway to look after claims, and for twenty-three years was in its service, resigning in the summer of 1909, much to the regret of the railroad managers, as letters show.
Many of these years his vacations were spent in Europe, and he has crossed the Atlantic over twenty times and visited all the countries of the continent and nearly all the cities, and sipped the waters of its famous springs. Being a great pedestrian, he mingled much with the peasants and common people studying their habits and modes of life, and has made footprints, man's size, in the soil from Italy to Finland, not giving Sweden and Norway the go-by. His views afoot if written out would fill volumes.
After Mr. LeFevre's resignation as a railway official, he again set sail for Europe, and pausing long enough to get breath, started on an overland trip to the Orient. It was more of a leisurely saunter than trip, as he took his own time and avoided the water as much as possible. He left France, traversed Austria and Hungary and the Balkan states to Constantinople, where he spent two weeks. A religious festival was in progress and the supply of Moslem prayers seemed to be largely in excess of the demand. He next went to Smyrna and to Jerusalem, where he stayed three weeks, visiting all the places of interest and some not so interesting. It seemed as if all the beggars were expecting him, from the welcome they gave him, and had an idea that he had a souvenir for each one. Ben donkeyed and cameled it across Arabia and sailed across the Arabian sea to Bombay, India, a most wonderful city, with the finest architecture in the world. The hotel Taj Mahal is not excelled for artistic beauty by any on earth, and is owned by a parsee. He made the acquaintance of several parsees, who are the merchants of the city. He journeyed to Delhi and at Agra saw the famous tomb Taj Mahal, built for an Indian princess at a cost of $20,000,000. When Lord Curzon was viceroy of India he had a lamp that had been destroyed or taken from the tomb replaced, but could find only two men that could do it. One of these was brought from Persia, and they were about two years in fashioning it. He passed through Lucknow and Cawnpore on his way to the sacred city of Benares, on the Ganges, where he paused for several days. From thence he went to Calcutta, at the delta of the Ganges on the Bay of Bengal. It is the most interesting city that be saw so far on his journey, and its jute mills are the largest in the world; employing 57,000 men. The experts in these mills get twelve cents a day and the others less. They live on rice the year around, a most monotonous diet, and it goes without saying that they do not buy it in Sidney nor Dayton. From there he sailed diagonally across the Bay of Bengal, rounded the peninsula of Malacca, passed Singapore on his way to Borneo, Hong Kong and Canton, a most interesting city, where half a million people live on boats, briefly viewed the Philippines on his way to Japan, where be remained for some time, then took a Pacific steamer for San Francisco, halting for awhile at the beautiful flower-embowered city of Honolulu. From San Francisco he went to Southern California and returned by way of Texas to Sidney, where he was most warmly greeted by his many friends after a year's absence. Abstemious in his habits, careful in diet, drinking Vichy water as a beverage, the year was one of unbroken health and enjoyment. How one so genial and a social favorite has managed to elude Cupid's darts seems strange, but he has, and is as ever in "maiden meditation and fancy free," with no obvious symptoms of change for "better or for worse."
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