John W. Forney Biography

John W. Forney   John W. Forney   John W. Forney

JOHN WIEN FORNEY (1817-1881), the namesake of our city, was a publisher, diplomat and politician. He was also a railroad official who promoted the Texas & Pacific Railroad.

John Forney was born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. At a young age, he went to work, first in a store and later as a writer for the Lancaster Journal. At the age of 20 he purchased a failing local newspaper, the Lancaster Intelligencer. Within two years, the paper had become successful enough that he merged with the Lancaster Journal.

Forney used the newspaper to promote the political career of fellow Democrat, U.S. Senator James Buchanan. When Buchanan later became Secretary of State under then President Polk, Buchanan used his influence to appoint Forney to the coveted position of Surveyor of the Port of Philadelphia.

Forney later moved to Philadelphia and became the owner and editor of the Philadelphia Pennsylvanian. In 1848, when the Democrats lost the Presidency, Forney lost his surveyorship position. He then moved to Washington, DC, where he became an editorial writer for a Democratic newspaper called the Washington Daily Union. In 1851, he was elected to the position of Clerk in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving until 1855.

James Buchanan was elected President in 1856, but could not secure a position for Forney, who himself had lost a bid for the U.S. Senate. Forney moved back to Philadelphia, starting a new paper called the Press. Political disagreements, rifts in the Democratic Party and Buchanan’s pro-slavery views led John Forney to switch his political allegiance to the newly formed Republican Party. He was re-elected as Clerk in the U.S. House of Representatives, this time as a Republican. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1861, he helped Forney gain the necessary votes to become the Secretary of the Senate, where he served from 1861 to 1868. During this time he also established the Washington Sunday Chronicle, later the daily version, the Washington Chronicle.

In 1864, Forney became friends with Andrew Johnson and strongly supported his bid for the office of Vice President and as President after the assassination of President Lincoln. But when Johnson vetoed the Freedman’s Bureau Act in 1868, Forney changed positions and campaigned for Johnson’s impeachment.

After the trial, John Forney sold his Washington newspaper and moved back to Philadelphia, where he established a weekly magazine, the Progress. It was during this time he switched sides again back to the Democratic Party.

While in Philadelphia, John Forney was a member of the board of directors of the Texas & Pacific Railway, instrumental in establishing the new railroad through north Texas.

In 1873 when the little community of Brooklyn, Texas, in Kaufman County applied for a post office, they learned that another Brooklyn, Texas existed in Shelby County. In hopes of convincing the Texas & Pacific Railway to build the railroad through the town, several prominent leaders of Brooklyn suggested naming the town after John Forney. It was agreed, and on December 29, 1873, the Forney Post Office was established.

John Wien Forney died in 1881 in Philadelphia. He was known as a generous man, and an outspoken opponent of oppression. It is not known if John Forney ever visited Forney, but the folks of Forney are proud to bear his name.

Some photos and information taken from Jerry M. Flook’s
Forney Country: A History of Northwestern Kaufman County
©1998-2009 Used by permission. Find out more here.

Other sources:

Harper’s Weekly:

Handbook of Texas Online: