Paris Chipman Dunning was born on March 15, 1806 in Guilford County, North Carolina. After the death of his father in 1823, Paris, one of his five older brothers, and their mother, moved to Bloomington, Indiana. Soon after arriving in Bloomington, Paris met and married Sarah Alexander. The two were married on July 5th, 1826. Paris and Sarah went on to have six children; Martha, Mary, Rachel Josephine, Paris, James, and Alice.
After moving to Bloomington, Paris went to Louisville, Kentucky, to study medicine. After finishing school, he set up a practice in Rockville, Indiana, only to discover his passion was in law. He came back to Bloomington and studied law under James Whitcomb -- future Governor of Indiana. This initial connection with politics led Paris to successfully run for state legislature in 1833. He was elected to represent Monroe County in the state house of representatives from 1833 to 1836. Paris went on to be elected to state senate from 1836 to 1839. After his run with state politics, Paris returned to Bloomington in 1840 to continue practicing law.
In 1846, the Indiana Democratic Party chose Paris to run with James Whitcomb as Lieutenant Governor. After serving in office for almost two years, Governor Whitcomb successfully ran for U.S. Senator, making Paris the Governor of Indiana from December 26, 1848 to December 5, 1849. Paris acquired an important political position during a critical period in American history. The U.S. was caught in an argument over slavery that would lead to a civil war between the North and the South. In the midst of this turmoil, although Paris believed the U.S. should not interfere with the constitutional rights of the Southern states, he also felt Congress should do everything in its power to prevent the spread of slavery to the territories of the United States. Paris suggested the passage of a joint resolution which would state the concerns of the people towards the spread of slavery. Paris stated, "...it is our imperative duty to assert our rights as members of the same great family, and manfully resist, by all legal and constitutional means, the further advancement of slavery into territory belonging to the General Government..."
As Governor, Paris was also known for his strong support of free common schools. He believed education was a necessity for the "peace and prosperity" of the United States. During his time in office, Paris also worked to better the public education system. He promoted the idea of free common schools for all children, and he also held progressive views on educational opportunities for women.
After Paris' short term in Governor, he returned to Bloomington to practice law. When the Civil War broke on in 1861, Paris sided with the Union and worked throughout the war to increase Indiana's share of Union troops. In 1861, he was elected to the state senate, and was elected as a state senator in 1862 after being endorsed by both the Democrat and Union parties. He became the president of the senate in January 1863. After serving out his term, Paris was asked to run again for the state senate but declined. He returned to Bloomington to practice law and focus on his family after the loss of his wife, Sarah, in 1863. In 1865, Paris married widow Ellen Lane Ashford who remained his wife until his death in 1884. Paris and Ellen had one son, Smith. Paris remained active in the public affairs of Indiana and Bloomington, although he never held public office after 1863. He continued to practice law in Bloomington until immediately prior to his death on May 9, 1884. He is buried at Rose Hill Cemetery next to his first wife, Sarah Alexander.