In the House

Two other Warren men serve terms in Congress during 19th Century

Lewis Watson

Carlton Brandaga Curtis was born in 1811 in Madison County, N.Y.

He came to the area first to Mayville, N.Y., where he studied the law before re-locating to Erie to continue his studies where he was admitted to the bar in 1834, according to a biography from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.

That same year he moved to Warren and practiced the law.

Two years later he was elected to the state House of Representatives for a two-year term – 1836-1838.

His first term in Congress commenced in 1851 when he was elected as a Democrat.

Lewis Watson's grave

He was re-elected to a second term in 1853 through 1855… as a Republican.

Talk about a quick flip!

The 32nd Congress saw the formation of Oregon Territory out of the Washington Territory. The House also swore in Vice President William King – who had been elected vice president on the Democratic ticket with Franklin Pierce in 1852. He actually took the oath of office in Havana, Cuba where he had traveled for his health, battling a cast of tuberculosis. He died after 45 days in office, having never taken any official action as vice president.

The 32nd Congress also presided over the first person to lie in state – Henry Clay, one of just over 30 people to be so honored (the most recent two being John McCain and George H.W. Bush).

In his second term – the 33rd Congress – Curtis was the chairman on the Committee on Accounts.

Carlton Curtis' grave

The most significant act of the 33rd Congress was the formation of the US Camel Corps.

Just kidding. (But look it up – the Camel Corps was an interesting, though probably doomed, idea).

The most significant moment of the 33rd Congress was the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which, according to the Library of Congress, Curtis voted against (even though it passed the House 113-100).

The Act permitted the spread of slavery into newly-created territories via popular sovereignty – namely, letting each territory choose.

After the Missouri Compromise in 1820 and the Compromise of 1850, the Kansas-Nebraska act proved yet another attempt at, quite frankly, dodging the issue of slavery.

Carlton Curtis

Curtis left Congress in 1855 and presumably returned to practice law in Warren.

He joined the Union Army – as lieutenant colonel of the 58th Pennsylvania – during the Civil War and was promoted to colonel after a year in the army. However, illness prompted his discharge just weeks after his promotion.

He returned to Warren in 1863 and moved to Erie to practice law in 1868.

During that period he became involved in banking and oil production, according to his biography, “and was one of the originators and builders of the Dunkirk & Venango Railroad.”

He returned to Congress in 1873 as a Republican member of the 43rd Congress.

That Congress passed the nation’s first restrictive immigration law which specifically banned Asian women as well as passing legislation against bigamy in Utah in the LDS community there.

The 43rd Congress also put the nation back on the gold standard after the Civil War and enacted Reconstruction laws – the Civil Rights Act of 1875 – aimed to grant equal rights to African Americans to accommodation and travel serves and to prohibit exclusion from jury service. That legislation, however, was not generally supported by the public, largely not enforced and parts were struck down by the judiciary as unconstitutional.

Curtis ran for re-election in 1874 and was not successful, returning to Erie County and practicing law until his death in 1883.

Lewis Findlay Watson was born in Crawford County in 1819 and moved to Warren in 1835 while in the mercantile business, according to his biography.

He studied law at the “Warren Academy” for a year but returned to the mercantile until 1860, when switched his focus for the next 15 years to lumber and oil.

He “organized and was the first president of the Conewango Valley Railroad Co. in 1861” and was “elected president of the Warren Savings Bank as an organization in 1870.”

In 1877, he joined the 47th Congress as Republican.

Civil service reform – making employment in government jobs based on merit rather than political affiliation – was probably the most long-standing contribution of the 47th Congress. High tariffs were reduced but the Congress also signed off on the Chinese Exclusion Act, which specifically barred all Chinese laborers from entering the country.

He returned to the 51st Congress in 1889 where he served until his death in Washington in August 1890.