Born: June 24, 1827 in Roscommon County, Ireland
Died: March 1, 1894
Married: Maria Guirado in 1852
Political Party: Lecompton Democrat
California's first foreign-born Governor, John Downey was born in Ireland in 1827. Downey came to America when he was 15 years old. In 1846, Downey owned and operated a pharmacy in Cincinnati in partnership with John Darling. In 1849, lured by gold, Downey moved to Grass Valley where he mined for a brief time. By December 1850, Downey and James P. McFarland had opened a drug store in the Los Angeles area. His businesses did very well in Southern California, where the town of Downey is named after him. He served on the L.A. Common Council prior to his election to the State Assembly.
After only five days as Lt. Governor, Downey succeeded Milton Latham who resigned the Governorship. Downey's veto of the "bulkhead" bill, which would have allowed ownership of San Francisco's waterfront by a monopoly, made Downey a hero. However, the issue remained volatile. On a visit to San Francisco, he called a man a "bulkheader" and fists began to fly. The fight was broken up when witnesses restrained Downey's opponent, crying, "you shan't strike the Governor!"
Downey was described as being of medium stature and having a square build which made him appear rotund.
Father: Denis Downey
Mother: Bridget Gately
John Downey became a citizen in 1851.
Downey was a successful business man, leaving a half million dollars when he died.
Books and Articles
Melendy and Gilbert. The Governors of California: From Peter H. Burnett to Edmund G. Brown, Talisman Press, 1965.
Schaechtele. The Governors of California and their Portraits, California State Capitol Museum Volunteer Association, 1995.
Tinkham. California Men and Events: Time 1769 – 1890, Record Publishing, 1915.