Jacob Dolson Cox, lawyer, soldier, statesman, and scholar, was born in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, on October 25, 1828. His early years were spent in New York City where he apprenticed in law. He elected to forsake law and enter the ministry instead, journeying to Oberlin, Ohio, in 1846 to attend Oberlin College (then known as the Oberlin "Collegiate Institute"). Enrolling in the Preparatory Department and Seminary, in addition to taking the regular college course, Cox was awarded the A.B. degree in 1851 and the A.M. in 1854.
While still a student at Oberlin, Cox married Helen Finney Cochran (1828-1911, L.B. 1846), the eldest daughter of Oberlin's second president, Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875). Helen was the widow of Oberlin Professor William Cochran (1814-1847) by whom she had a son, William (1848-1936. A.B. 1869 LL.D. 1919). In addition to William, the Coxes reared five of their own children: Helen Finney (1850-1936), Jacob Dolson (1852-1930), Kenyon (1856-1919, hon. 1912), Charles Norton (1858-1907) and Charlotte Hope (1871-1937). Two other children died in infancy (Brewster and Dennison).
In 1851 Cox moved to Warren, Ohio, where he served as superintendent of schools and principal of the high school. There he also finished his legal training and entered a law practice. Joining the Whig party in 1853, he lost an election for prosecuting attorney. A man of strong anti-slavery views, Cox changed party affiliations to join the new Republican Party. He served as a delegate to the 1855 State Convention that organized the Republican Party in Ohio. In 1858 he won election to the State Senate of Ohio and during his term allied closely with other radical anti-slavery advocates, including James A. Garfield (1831-1881).
When the Civil War broke out, Cox was appointed a Brigadier-General of Volunteers and placed in charge of training Ohio troops. His active campaigning began in Western Virginia under General George B. McClellan. Subsequently, he fought at the battles of Antietam, Atlanta, Franklin, and Nashville, after which he was promoted to Major General (an earlier promotion in 1862 fell through when the allotted quota of promotions was surpassed). The conclusion of his military service was spent supervising the paroling of Confederate troops in North Carolina.
After the Civil War Cox was nominated as the Republican candidate for Governor of Ohio. During the campaign he published his famous "Oberlin Letter," calling for the segregation of freed Negroes into a separate state and for opposition to Negro suffrage. Cox was elected and served one gubernatorial term, 1866-67. He attempted to compromise the dispute between President Andrew Johnson and the radical Republicans in Congress over Reconstruction policy, but failed. His advocacy of forcible segregation, and his support for Andrew Johnson's position on Reconstruction, resulted in losing favor with his party. When Cox was not renominated for a second term, he entered into private law practice in Cincinnati.
In March 1869, after declining President Johnson's offer to serve as Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Cox was appointed Secretary of the Interior by President Ulysses S. Grant. He made the government's Indian policy more humane, established the first complete civil service examination and appointment system in any government department, and reformed all five bureaus under his control. After serving only eighteen months, Cox submitted his resignation. His decision to resign was fueled in part by the rampant corruption in the Grant administration. He also believed that President Grant did not fully support him in matters of principle involving civil service reform.
After leaving federal government service Cox resumed his law practice in Cincinnati. He soon identified himself with the Liberal Republican movement, and was briefly considered as the Party's presidential nominee in 1872. In 1873 he moved to Toledo to act as president and then receiver of the Toledo, Wabash and Western Railroad. He successfully managed it through the Panic of 1873 and the subsequent depression. He again entered the world of politics in 1876, serving as a representative of the 6th Ohio district, U.S. Congress. There he was reunited with his friend James A. Garfield and his brother-in-law James Monroe (1821-1898, A.B. 1846, B.D. 1849, A.M. 1850).
After only one term in Congress, a discouraged Cox returned to his law practice in Cincinnati. Eager to do more than practice law and to utilize his business acumen, in 1881 Cox accepted the deanship of the Cincinnati Law School which he held until 1897, serving concurrently as President of the University of Cincinnati during 1885-89. During this time he declined a number of political opportunities.
In addition to his other attainments, Cox made quite a reputation as a writer on military history. He took up the study of microphotography as an avocation, published some thirty articles on the subject, and twice was elected president of the American Microscopy Society. He also became one of the foremost military historians of the Civil War. Between 1874 and his death, he was the military book critic for the Nation magazine and authored seven books or book sections on military aspects of the Civil War including Atlanta (1882), The March to the Sea: Franklin and Nashville (1882) and The Battle of Franklin, Tennessee, November 30, 1864 (1897).
From 1897 to 1900 Cox lived in retirement in Oberlin where he wrote his two-volume Military Reminiscences of the Civil War (Scribners' Sons, 1900). Residing in Oberlin, he was near to the college at which he had served as a trustee since 1876 and to which he donated his private library. He died in Magnolia, Massachusetts, on August 4, 1900, and was buried in Cincinnati four days later.
Auer, J. Jeffrey, "Jacob Dolson Cox, 1866-68," in The Governors of Ohio, (Columbus, The Ohio Historical Society, 1954).
Cochran, William Cox, "General Jacob Dolson Cox: Early Life and Military Services," Bibliotheca Sacra, LVIII (1901) 436-68.
Cox, Jacob Dolson, Military Reminiscences of the Civil War, (New York: Scribners' Sons, 1900), 2 volumes.
Rhodes, James Ford, "Jacob D. Cox," in Historical Essays, (New York: The MacMillen Co., 1909).
Schmiel, Eugene David, "The Career of Jacob Dolson Cox, 1828-1900: Soldier, Scholar, Statesman," (unpublished dissertation, Ohio State University, 1969).
Dictionary of American Biography, Volume 4, p. 476-78
Oberlin Review, "Jacob Dolson Cox: Class of 1851," Vol. XXIII, April 22, 1896.
____________, "Death of General Cox," Vol. XXVIII, October 4, 1900.
This page is maintained by the Oberlin College Archives