Levi Maish – Colonel, United States Army Member of Congress

A Free Genealogy Biography of Hon. Levi Maish
Pennsylvania Volunteer of the Civil War

This gentleman is one of York's most distinguished sons, and one who has most heroically hewn out his own pathway along the rugged highway of life. He was born in Conewago Township, York Co., Penn., November 22, 1837. His father, David Maish, a most estimable farmer, is now deceased. His mother, Salome Nieman Maish, is still living. The Maishs were among the original settlers of York County, coming here from Chester County with the Quakers, who were among the pioneers in the red lands of the upper end of York County.

The subject of this sketch, Colonel Levi Maish, received the rudiments of his education in the common schools of his native place and afterward entered upon a course of study at the York County Academy. He was a close student and retired reluctantly from the academy to learn the trade of machinist, April, 1855. Desirous of completing his education and entering upon a professional life he abandoned his apprenticeship in the summer of 1857, and prosecuted his studies with renewed energy. For two terms he taught school in Manchester Township, York County, and also one term in York Borough. In 1861 he took up the study of the law under D. J. Williams, Esq., at the time an able practitioner at the York bar.

Being of a patriotic turn of mind, in 1861, unable to resist the call to arms, he raised and organized a company of volunteers from among the young men of his town and vicinity, which, with three other companies from York County and six from Carlisle, Penn., formed the famous One Hundred and Thirtieth Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. In the organization of the battalion, he was elected lieutenant-colonel, and August 17, 1862, went with his regiment to Washington. and was stationed in the defenses of the capital.

Very soon afterward General Pope met with disaster at Manasses and the One Hundred and Thirtieth Regiment was attached to the Army of the Potomac, and participated in General McClellan's pursuit of General Lee into Maryland. While actively engaged in the thickest of the fight at Antietam, he received a ball in the right lung, from the effects of which he suffered, terribly, and narrowly escaped death. The ball was never extracted and he still carries it in his lung as a reminder of that sanguinary conflict.

Again, at the battle of Chancellorsville, he was dangerously wounded, this time in the hip by a mini‚ ball. The colonel of his regiment, H. I. Zinn, was killed at the battle of Fredericksburg, December 14, 1862, when our subject was promoted to the colonelcy of the regiment, and for a time commanded the brigade to which his regiment was attached at the battle of Chancellorsville, the general commanding having been captured. On May 21, 1863, he was mustered out of service at Harrisburg, the period of his enlistment having expired.

Previous to resuming the study of law, he attended lectures in the law department of the University of Pennsylvania; in 1864 passed a highly creditable examination and was admitted to the bar. His talents and pleasant manners soon attracted to him a good practice. His party in October, 1866, elected him to the lower house of the State legislature of Pennsylvania, and was re-elected in 1867. He was a member of the committee of ways and means and that of local judiciary. He served also on the special committee to present the Hancock chair to the city of Philadelphia. Col. Maish on entering the political field in his county identified himself with the reform wing of the Democracy, and labored zealously with the friends of that element to attain the satisfactory results which were secured and an end put to the extravagance and corruption so flagrant at the time. In 1871, when the question of the adoption of the new constitution was being agitated, Col. Maish was a zealous advocate of this praiseworthy and desirable movement, and took no mean part in the discussion which resulted in the adoption of that constitution.

In 1872, in company with the late Hon. Thomas E. Cochran and C. B. Wallace, Esq., he was appointed by the legislature of Pennsylvania, to reaudit the accounts of all the county officers, a duty he performed with great ability, judgment and discretion, and for which he was much complimented. The duties of this appointment were very complex, and from the delicate nature of the work, liable to make a man not endowed with the capability and foresight of our subject, forever afterward unpopular with his party. In August, 1874, he was nominated by the Democracy of the Nineteenth Congressional District, composed of the counties of York, Adams and Cumberland, as its candidate for congress and was elected by a very handsome majority. He served in the forty-fourth congress upon the committee of agriculture and coinage, weights and measures, with distinction. He was re-elected in 1876 to the forty-fifth congress and was placed second on the committee of military affairs, and again on that of coinage, weights and measures. It was at this session of congress, that he especially distinguished himself, and won the respect and admiration of the leading men of the nation by the display of his abilities, honesty of purpose and devotion, not only to the principles of the Democratic party, but his great reverence for constitutional liberty and work for the best interests of the republic. We shall here briefly refer to some of Col. Maish's work in congress which brought him prominently before the country as a man of genius and ability.


On July 29, 1876, a bill having been reported by the Committee on Pensions, providing for the payment of pensions to pensioners of the government from the time of their discharge from the service to the time at which their pensions were arbitrarily commenced by the Pension Bureau, otherwise called the Arrears of Pension Act, Col. Maish made a speech in the house of representatives, in advocacy of the bill, which speech was not only considered a very able effort, but one which attracted great attention in the house and all over the country for the originality of the views presented in it, and was also the subject of many complimentary letters from the soldiers of the Union.

By a rule of the pension office, pensions began from the time of the last material evidence furnished. This sometimes procrastinated the claim from one to ten years after the application for a pension was made, varying in accordance with the diligence of the pension office and the good luck of the claimant in expediting his claim. In extenuation of this unjust method of the pension office, Hon. John A. Casson, of Iowa, and Gen. Hurlburt, of Chicago, members of the house at the time, took the ground that the pension was a mere matter of gift or grace. Col. Maish delivered his admirable speech in reply to this proposition, and showed that the pension of the soldier from the acts of congress, under which he enlisted, was as much a contract as the promise of the government to pay its bonds to those who loaned their money to carry on the war; and the government having contracted to pay its soldiers certain pensions for disabilities incurred in the service, such pensions could not be postponed at the caprice of the pension office for an indefinite length of time. The argument was conceded to be unanswerable. The bill became a law, but subsequently similar enactments were largely extended to cases not covered by the principles advocated in the speech of Col. Maish. of the fraud of 1876, which resulted in the defeat of the people's choice: Hon. Samuel J. Tilden, and the seating of Rutherford B. Hayes, Col. Maish proposed an amendment in the house of representatives, to the Constitution of the United States, which had for its object the changing of the method of electing the president and vice-president of the United States. To guard against the evils of disputed elections, it proposed to abolish the election of electors and provide for the election of the president by a direct vote of the people.

The amendment is as follows:


Article II, Section 1, paragraph 2, to be made to read as follows: “Each State shall be entitled to a number of electoral votes equal to the whole number of senators and representatives to which the State shall be entitled in congress.” The first division of the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, ending with the words “directed to the President of the Senate,” to be struck out, and the following substituted: “The citizens of each State who shall be qualified to vote for representatives in congress shall cast their votes for candidates for president and vice president by ballot, and proper returns of the votes so cast shall be made under seal, within ten days, to the secretary of State or other officer lawfully performing the duties of such secretary in the government of the State, by whom the said returns shall be publicly opened in the presence of the chief executive magistrate of the State, and of the chief justice or judge of the highest court thereof; and the said secretary, chief magistrate, and judge shall assign to each candidate voted for by a sufficient number of citizens a proportionate part of the electoral votes to which the State shall be entitled, in manner following, that is to say: they shall divide the whole number of votes returned by the whole number of the State's electoral vote, and the resulting quotient shall be the electoral ratio for the State, and shall assign to candidates voted for one electoral vote for each ratio of popular votes received by them respectively, and. if necessary, additional electoral votes for successive largest fractions of a ratio shall be assigned to candidates voted for until the whole number of the electoral votes of the State shall be distributed; and the said officers shall thereupon make up and certify at least three general returns, comprising the popular vote by counties, parishes, or other principal divisions of the State, and their apportionment of electoral votes as aforesaid, and shall transmit two thereof, under seal, to the seat of Government of the United States, one directed to the president of the Senate and one to the speaker of the house of representatives, and a third unsealed return shall be forthwith filed by the said secretary in his office, be recorded therein, and be at all times open to inspection.”

Article II, Section 1, paragraph 4, to be made to read as follows: “The congress may determine the time of voting for president and vice-president and the time of assigning electoral votes to candidates voted for, which times shall be uniform throughout the United States.” Strike out the words “electors appointed,” where they occur in the twelfth amendment to the Constitution, and insert in their stead the words “electoral votes.”

Again at the following session of congress in October, 1877, Col. Maish introduced his amendment. In the N. American Review of May and April, 1877, ex-Senator Charles R. Buckalew reviewed at length the amendment proposed by Col. Maish, and advocated its adoption in a very able article. The amendment was reported favorably by a committee of the house, but the report was made so near the end of the session that its final consideration was not reached. The proposition received very general approval and endorsement by the press of the country, and the colonel received many compliments for his introduction of the measure.

The glaring defects of our present system of electing a president and vice-president was called into view at the presidential election of 1884; the contest, having resolved itself upon the issue in the State of New York, her entire electoral vote, was, after many days of uncertainty and doubt (which disturbed the business of the country, after a heated contest, and rekindled the embers of bitter strife), finally declared to have been cast in favor of Grover Cleveland, by a majority of a little over 1,000, in an aggregate vote of nearly 1,000,000. This circumstance revived the interest in the necessity for a change in our general method of election, and Col. Maish's amendment found many friends and warm advocates in the newspapers of the country. Ex-Senator Buckalew, during the contest, in an able interview, published in the Philadelphia Times, presented its merits very forcibly, and the Pittsburgh Post, shortly after the election, in a long and able editorial, zealously advocated its adoption.

It was during the closing days of the forty-fourth congress that Col. Maish made himself especially popular and prominent by his arduous duties upon that important committee of “powers and privileges of the house.” This committee was the one which investigated and exposed the frauds of the Louisiana Returning Board, of which the notorious James Madison Wells was the president. Hon. J. Proctor Knott, now governor of Kentucky, was the chairman of this committee, and he assigned to our subject the laborious duty of preparing a very large portion of the testimony taken during the investigation of those frauds. It is also a well-known fact and much to the credit of Col. Maish, that in a great measure it was owing to his shrewdness and sagacity, that J. Madison Wells' attempt to sell the vote of Louisiana was discovered.

At the close of the forty-fifth congress, in 1878, his term having expired and, under the rules of the district, the nomination going to Cumberland County, he was succeeded by the Hon. Frank E. Beltzhoover, of that county. After leaving congress, Col. Maish devoted himself to the practice of the law, which he temporarily abandoned to take his seat in congress, and has ever since devoted himself assiduously to the interests of the large clientage he enjoys, and is at present the counsel of the board of commissioners of York County.

On October 31, 1883, Col. Maish was married to Miss Louise L. Miller, of Georgetown, D. C., daughter of Benjamin F. Miller, who, prior to the war of the Rebellion, was a very successful merchant of Winchester, Va. A son has blessed this union, who at this time is but an infant.
Source: York County, Pennsylvania Biographical History, John Gibson, Chicago: F.A. Battey Publishing Co., 1886.

Courtesy of the U.S. House of Representatives:

Representative from Pennsylvania; born in Conewago Township, York County, Pa., November 22, 1837; attended the common schools and the York County Academy; taught school in Manchester Township and in York; during the Civil War recruited a company for the Union Army in 1862, and with it joined the One Hundred and Thirtieth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; was promoted to lieutenant colonel; promoted to colonel after the Battle of Fredericksburg; mustered out with his regiment at the expiration of its term of service May 21, 1863; attended lectures in the law department of the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, and was admitted to the bar in 1864; member of the State house of representatives in 1867 and 1868; appointed by the legislature in 1872 one of a commission to reexamine and reaudit the accounts of certain public officers of York County; elected as a Democrat to the Forty-fourth and Forty-fifth Congresses (March 4, 1875-March 3, 1879); was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1878 to the Forty-sixth Congress; elected to the Fiftieth and Fifty-first Congresses (March 4, 1887-March 3, 1891); was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1890 to the Fifty-second Congress; engaged in the practice of law in Washington, D.C., until his death there on February 26, 1899; interment in Arlington National Cemetery.

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