On February 3, 1851, Union authorities arrested Governor John A. Quitman in Jackson and took him to New Orleans to be arraigned for violating American neutrality laws in relation to his dealings with Cuban insurgents. When the Mississippian and State Gazette announced that Governor Quitman had resigned and that John Isaac Guion, as president pro tempore of the state senate, had assumed the governor’s office, the editor hailed the new governor as “a true Southron in heart and head.”
Guion, who was born in Adams County on November 18, 1802, was one of antebellum Mississippi’s most notable lawyers. After studying law in Lebanon, Tennessee, Guion opened a law practice in Vicksburg with William Sharkey, a classmate at Lebanon. After Sharkey was elected to the state supreme court, Guion formed a partnership with Seargent S. Prentiss.
From 1842 to 1846, Guion represented Warren County in the Mississippi Legislature. In 1846, he moved to Jackson and two years later was elected to represent the city of Jackson in the state senate. In antebellum Mississippi, several large cities elected representatives to the legislature. Guion was a strong states’ righter and played a prominent role in the Jackson convention of 1849, which was called to discuss the South’s response to the possibility of California’s admission to the Union as a free state.
When Governor Quitman resigned in February 1851, Dabney Lipscomb of Columbus was the president of the senate, but he was seriously ill and unable to perform his duties. Consequently, President Pro Tempore Guion became governor and served until his senate term expired November 4. There was no provision in the 1832 Constitution that would allow public officials to remain in office until their successors had been certified and commissioned. Thus, on November 4, 1851, Governor Guion vacated the office of governor.
In the general election, Guion had not run for re-election to the senate and instead had been elected a circuit judge. Since the term of the Speaker of the House had also expired with the November 4 general election, there was no one in the line of succession as established by the Constitution of 1832. The office of governor, therefore, remained vacant for twenty days until November 24. (See James Whitfield profile.)
Guion assumed his judgeship and remained on the Mississippi bench until his death at Jackson on June 6, 1855.
David Sansing, Ph.D., is history professor emeritus, University of Mississippi.
Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (1912), 63.
Rowland, Dunbar. Mississippi Comprising Sketches in Cyclopedic Form I. 811-815.