On this day in 1897: Supreme Court rules Hazen Pingree can’t serve as Detroit mayor and governor

    Hazen Pingree statue in Detroit | Ken Coleman

    Heading up an executive branch of government, whether it be a city or a state, is demanding work. Lots of hours, much to do. So holding the office of Detroit mayor and Michigan governor at the same time would seem to be a daunting task.

    For more than two months, Hazen Pingree did just that. The progressive Republican was first elected Detroit in 1889. Then he was elected governor in 1896.

    But on March 19, 1897, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for him to hold both offices. After the ruling, Pingree resigned as Detroit mayor and went on to serve two terms as Michigan governor. 

    Pingree was born Aug. 30, 1840, in Denmark, Maine. In 1862, he enlisted in Company F of the 1st Massachusetts Heavy Artillery and fought for the Union in the Civil War. At one point, Pingree was a prisoner of war and endured the notorious Camp Sumter Confederate prison in rural Georgia. He later moved to Detroit and landed a job as a clerk and cobbler in R.H. Fyfe’s shoe store.

    As Detroit mayor, Pingree led several reforms. An advocate for the working poor, he developed “potato patches” and vegetable gardens to help feed families during the 1893 Depression. He also is credited with creating the city’s Public Lighting Commission and Board of Health and is generally regarded as one of the city’s best mayors.  

    Pingree was a three-term mayor when he decided to run for governor. He defeated Democrat Charles R. Sligh of Grand Rapids. In October 1900, Pingree called a special session of the Michigan Legislature to pass a constitutional amendment that would empower the state to levy a tax on the property of all railroads, telephone, telegraph companies and banks. Michigan voters approved the measure the following year.

    In 1901, the Detroit Free Press wrote that Pingree’s most significant action as governor was establishing a state tax commission, which brought in millions in revenue to state coffers. 

    He died in 1901, at age 60. Pingree was interred at Woodlawn Cemetery in Detroit. 

    Ken Coleman
    Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.