The Honorable Darwin A. Finney was the son of tavern owner and militia colonel Levi Finney and the former Orpha P. Clark, born in Shrewsbury, Rutland County, Vermont on November 30, 1814. He attended public schools, graduated from Rutland Military Academy, and moved to Meadville, Pennsylvania about 1830. In 1834, he clerked in a Kingsbury, New York law office, returned to Meadville and graduated from Allegheny College. An honored alumnus, a lampooning Finney delivered a graduation colloquy entitled “The Encyclopedia of Humbuggery.” His classmates included Justice Henry Baldwin and future Congressman Hiram L. Richmond. Darwin married Marion Johns of Erie, Pennsylvania, read law under Richmond, and joined the bar in 1842. Darwin published (1841) the Whig Statesman and People’s Free Press for seven years, was an 1848 Meadville burgess, and Governor Johnston’s deputy attorney general. He served in the state Senate, 1856 through 1861, elected Speaker on May 21, 1857. An accomplished legislator, Finney’s leadership and negotiating skills cooled political passions during the 1857 “Bank Panic” Extraordinary Session; he supported Kansas Governor John Geary’s veto of the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution; opposed the Dred Scott ruling; backed the 1858 sale of the state’s canal mainline to the Pennsylvania Railroad Company, but rejected the “Road’s” attempt to repeal the tonnage tax. He was a high-tariff Whig-Republican; supported the Free Banking Bill of 1860; the Philadelphia consolidation plan; and legislation assuring the fair payment of coalminers in the Anthracite region. The senator cosponsored the February 1861 Washington Peace Conference Resolution and drafted the Penal Code of 1860.
A Curtin partisan, Darwin and Aleck McClure blocked an attempt by Tom Scott’s Pennsylvania Railroad to repeal the tonnage tax. Scott then called on Simon Cameron to initiate a smear campaign, charging the Curtin administration with corruption and military ineptitude during the first year of the Civil War. Cameron complied, and the lies were promoted by Democratic and Republican papers. Finney, Curtin’s choice for Attorney General, was also on a short list of Lincoln’s recommendations for a cabinet post – over Cameron.
To counter the baseless corruption charge, Curtin appointed Cameron choice Samuel Purviance to the position, an unpaid debt for Cameron’s begrudging, last-minute campaign support, agreeing with Simon on a temporary one-year term, to be followed by Finney in 1863. Purviance, however, liked the position and lobbied to keep it. Cameron felt a deal was a deal, but political hay might be made if Purviance retired, claiming the corrupt environment of Curtin’s administration had left him no moral choice but to step down. With newspapers again taking the bait, poisoning the political well for Finney, the senator reluctantly decided to decline Curtin’s appointment, recommending GOP moderate W. M. Meredith. Curtin and Cameron agreed to the proposal, Finney, who had dropped out of contention for his senate seat under the false impression that he would be Attorney General, returned to his law practice in Meadville, continued his support for Curtin and Lincoln, and bided time while the Curtin-McClure caucus planned his return to politics as an 1866 candidate for Congress.
Finney served as a member of the Meadville Railroad Company in 1857 and as an original incorporator of the Meadville Cemetery. He represented the town and Crawford County in the 1866 Fortieth Congress, serving through mid 1868. Suffering from Bright’s disease, he died abroad during a recuperative trip to Brussels, Belgium on August 25, 1868. His widow, Marion, married Governor Carstensen of Copenhagen, Denmark in 1875.
Biographical Dictionary of the United States Congress, 1774-Present; Ernest Ashton, Allegheny College – A Century of Education, 1815-1915 (Meadville, The Allegheny College History Company, 1916), 123; Davis, 85-86; Erwin Stanley Bradley, Simon Cameron: Lincoln’s Secretary of War (Pittsburgh: Pittsburgh University Press, 1966); Alexander W. Myers to Abraham Lincoln, Meadville, Pa., January 31, 1861, the Letters of Abraham Lincoln; Boyd M. Farrelly, Crawford County History and Biography: The Bar (Meadville, Pennsylvania: the Tribune and Republican, 1888), 135.