The name Thomas Lyon Hamer only brings puzzled looks when spoken today. Even in Georgetown, Ohio, Hamer’s home and place of burial, only a handful of local historians have any knowledge of the man whom U. S. Grant believed would have been president of the United States had he not died prematurely and unexpectedly.
“I have said before that Hamer was one of the ablest men Ohio ever produced . . . I have always believed that had his life been spared, he would have been president of the United States during the term filled by President Pierce . . . his partiality for me was such there is but little doubt I should have been appointed to one of the staff corps of the army—the Pay Department probably—and would therefore now be preparing to retire. Neither of these speculations are unreasonable, and they are mentioned to show how little men control their own destiny” (Grant, 53).
Yet if the man had lived even another year or two, he would not only be in all United States history textbooks; that history would likely be quite different. The national events in the decade leading up to the American Civil War and possibly the outcome of the war itself would have been significantly altered. Fate is a fickle mistress.
Hamer was very well-known in his day, and it is perplexing to try to understand how someone so influential while alive was virtually forgotten, even locally, by the turn of the twentieth century. Perhaps it is because he was eclipsed by another very important individual from Georgetown, Ohio, who did become president. Perhaps it is because Hamer’s sons died young and childless, leaving no direct heirs to carry his name and fame into the future.
Hamer’s Mexican War flag, a gift to him from the people of Brown County, Ohio (photo courtesy of Ron Bulow)