Henry Watterson.

History of the Manhattan club; a narrative of the activities of half a century online

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this edition of the

History of the Manhattan Club

printed on fabriano hand-made paper from type

during the month of december, 1915, is limited

to six hundred and fifty copies

this copy is number




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Copyright, 1916, by








A Brief Discussion of the Origin of Clubs, with some detailed
Reference to the Growth of "Political Clubs" in this Country
— The State of the Democratic Party in the Summer of 1865
— The actual Beginning of the Manhattan Club— Patriotic
Motives of the Fotmders.


The First Club-house— Early Presidents of the Club— "Prince
John" Van Buren.


"No. 96" — Customs and Laws— Douglas Taylor— The Fa-
mous Trio— "Cadaverous Ben" — Well-known Members — The
Bateman-Cranston Incident.


The Old Benkard House — Recollections of Mr. Lyons —
**Uncle Dave" Gilbert and General Martin T. McMahon
— Wilder Allen, the Practical Joker.





The Old Club— Public Dinners and Receptions— Out-of-town
Members provided for— Mortality among the Club Officials —
The Club denounces the Use of Troops in Louisiana.


The New Club — Its Articles of Incorporation — Arrangements
for the Renewal of the Leasehold— The Formal Acts of


Club Ups and Downs— Its Long and Arduous Financial
Struggle— Grievous Loss by Robbery— Final Adjustment of
its Money Affairs.


Early Years of the New Club — Many Constitutional Changes
and a Few Receptions — The Election of Grover Cleveland to
the Presidency — Deaths of Vice-President Hendricks, Gen-
eral Hancock, and Governor Seymour.


Last Years in the Benkard House — Removal to the Stewart
House, called the "Whited Sepulchre" — Memorials of Mr.
Cleveland— Death of Mr. Tilden.


The Stewart House— Money Troubles— Truax, O'SuUivan,
and Rodie— "Uncle Tom" Miller— His Tragic End— Factions
of 1896— Colonel "Bill" Brown— His famous Cleveland-Hill
Dinner — His Resignation in a "Huff" — The Reception to
Dewey — The Admiral's good Memory.


Club Proceedings in the Stewart House — A Round of Recep-
tions to Gorman, Van Wyck, and Cleveland and Stevenson —
Death of the distinguished Frederic R. Coudert.





The Stewart House a "White Elephant"— Removal to
Cheaper Quarters Imperative— Hunting for a New Club-
house—The Final Choice — A Happy Solution.


Final Proceedings — The New Century— Purchase of a Per-
manent Home — Celebration of the Club's Semi-Centenary
under Happy Auspices.


The Club Library — Mr. James Dunne, Librarian of the Man-
hattan Club, recalls Literary History — Gifts — Purchases —
Rare Volumes.


The contemporary Manhattan Club — Meeting of Old and
New — Present Governors of the Club and their Records —
The President and Ex-Presidents — Prominent Members —
Some Groups within the Club — Thirty-year and Older Mem-
bers of the Club — Notable Employees.


The Anniversary Banquet — A Memorable and Brilliant Affair
— President Britt presides and President Wilson outlines an
Administrative Programme— Speeches by Judge O'Brien,
Mr. Patrick Francis Murphy, and Mr. Frank Lawrence.




Facsimile of Original List of Members of the Club . . xxii

Woodrow Wilson 4

Samuel J. Tilden 10

Grover Cleveland 16

Presidents of the Club :

John Van Buren, 1 865-1 866 22

Augustus Schell, 1866-1874 28

August Belmont, 1874-1879 36

Aaron J. Vanderpoel, 1879-1886 44

Frederic R. Coudert, 1 889-1 899 52

Charles H. Truax, 1 899-1 906 58

John Hone, 1906-1908 64

Morgan J. O'Brien, 1908-19 10 70

Alton B. Parker, 1910-1911 76

Victor J. Dowling, 191 1-1914 82

Philip J. Britt, 1914- 88

Smith M. Weed 94

James A. O'Gorman «. . 100




William F. McCombs io6

James W. Gerard 112

Francis Burton Harrison 118

Henry Watterson 124

John T. Agnew 130

Board of Governors of Manhattan Club 136

Fiftieth Anniversary Dinner, November 4, 1915 . . . 142
Employees of the Club 152


When the Manhattan Club determined to celebrate the
semi 'Centenary of its existence, it was deemed appro-
priate to the occasion, in the view of the Anniversary-
Committee, that the history of the Club for the past fifty
years should be w^ritten.

With that end in view, Colonel Henry Watterson,
the editor of the " Liouisville Courier-Journal,** w^as ap-
proached upon the subject by the representatives of the
Club. Colonel Watterson had been a member of the
Manhattan Club since 1882. He had been the personal
intimate and associate of almost all of the founders of
the organization. He w^as more familiar than any other
living man mth the circumstances and conditions w^hich
brought the Club into being; for over a quarter of a cen-
tury, w^hen in New^ York City, he had made it his home.
He was personally acquainted w^ith all of the distin-
guished men w^ho, for half a century, had been numbered
among its members. His reputation as scholar, editor,
wit, and citizen of the world was international ; while
as a commanding figure in the later history of our coun-


try he w^as wellknow^n to the public. The words which
had flow^n for a lifetime from his trenchant and graphic
pen alw^ays commanded attention, sometimes engen-
dered fear. So that, on the w^hole, if Colonel Watterson
could be induced to write the history of the Manhattan
Club, that institution, as well as the readers of the vol-
ume, were indeed to be congratulated. Colonel Watter-
son had for years been besought from many quarters to
w^rite his Manhattan Club memoirs, but had persistently
declined to do so. When the request of the Club was
presented to him, how^ever, he immediately expressed
his willingness and pleasure to undertake the w^ork —
but upon one condition only, and that w^as that his
effort should be a labor of love and a testimonial of his
interest in and appreciation of the Club, of w^hich he
has been so long an active member, and w^hich he loves
so well.

In the following pages Colonel Watterson tells the his-
tory of the Manhattan Club for the first fifty years of
its existence, and has succeeded in giving us not only an
interesting study of its life, traditions, and achieve-
ments, but has presented, in his ow^n vigorous and de-
lightful style, some personal reminiscences of a number
of the most celebrated men w^hom our country has pro-
duced, and w^ho w^ere members of this organization. Wb
feel confident, therefore, that this history will be inter-
esting and entertaining not only to the members of the
Manhattan Club, but also to those outside its circle who
may have the leisure and opportunity to peruse its


T^hese few lines are written as a public expression of
the gratitude and affection which its members feel to-
w^ard their scholarly and distinguished fellow^-member,
w^ho, in this volume, becomes the historian of the Man-
hattan Club.

Philip J. Britt,
President of the Manhattan Club.

New York,

November 15, 1915.


and adventures remain ever a sealed book. Having little, if
anything, to conceal, it is nevertheless a secret society. To
the world outside, this air of premeditated mystery has ele-
vated the commonplaces of every-day existence into a kind
of romance. "What did the general say to the judge?" the
query runs; "and what happened then?"

The world will never know. The newspapers will never
find out. There is one spot where the reporter may not enter
at will. If he seeks "a story," he will have to invent it.

In one of the London clubs a statesman once came to his
end under circumstances most tragical. His body was spir-
ited to his lodging. Nor did all the devices of Scotland Yard
and the metropolitan press suffice to get at the truth —
known to this day scarcely to a half-dozen living men, who
may be relied on to make no sign.

The Manhattan Club has not been without its adventures,
though none of them so deep and dark as to fear exposure
and shun publicity. Like the migrations of the good Vicar
of Wakefield and his wife, "they lay chiefly betwixt the blue
bed and the brown." There were those of us who used in
later life to accuse Uncle Dave Gilbert, the most unoffending
and methodical of men, of nursing some awful crime— "some
secret mystery the spirit haunting" — but dear old Douglas
Taylor would come to the rescue with : "The only explana-
tion Dave Gilbert wants to make is that I was with him, and
so were Billy Brown and Charlie Dayton and Ashbel Fitch
and — "' whereat the company, which had often heard the
quiz, evaporated to "the rooms thereunto adjoining."

The Manhattan was from the first a simple homelike club.
We played most games for small stakes. A little group
actually played draw-poker, forbidden in most clubs, with-
out the usual consequences of fuss or scandal. The standard
play now is, and for years has been, dominoes chiefly for
drinks, "wasting the midday oil," as was once observed by
Sylvester O' Sullivan, in that great voice of his, crossing the



living-room into the "library," — as he called the bar, — "and
impoverishing themselves and their families instead of im-
proving their minds, as I am about to improve mine."

In perusing the pages which follow the reader must con-
tent himself with a crude narrative of the Club's visible and
official life. It will be found valuable only as a register —
interesting solely in a suggestive way. No claims of author-
ship are, or could be, advanced in its favor. It has not been
composed, but compiled and edited, albeit with fidelity and
painstaking. It records a half-century of honorable and not
undistinguished service. It reminds the present, and will
advise the future, of the past. If it undertook to do more, it
would exceed the requirement, passing quite beyond the
province of such a digest.

The Manhattan Club ranks second to no club in America.
To the veteran member who, as a labor of love and duty,
has framed these chapters and put these pages together, it
doubtless appears, through the magnifying haze of years,
greater — certainly dezirer — than any. But with the Union
Club and the Union League — its contemporaries — and the
Century, its senior — it links the life of primitive old New
York with that of the wondrous great metropolis ; marks im-
pressively the progressive revolutions of modern times; and
tells us that, in spite of tide and chance, of time and change,
we are Americans, one and all, whether we call ourselves
Republicans or Democrats, the party label but a trade-mark
stamp, "the man a man for a' that."

At the request of the committee having the celebration of
the semi-centenary of the Club in charge, I have added a
concluding chapter of personal reminiscence, whose unin-
tentioned egotism may be forgiven if its subject-matter be
found worth while. The period of the Tilden domination in
the Empire State, beginning with the election of the Sage of
Gramercy Park to the governorship in 1875, and not ending
imtil his death in 1886, marked the rise of the Democratic



Party from the deeps of political adversity to the firm, high
ground of its former prestige and influence — a Democrat in
the White House at Washington, and in the executive man-
sion at Albany, all the result of the wise leadership of Samuel
Jones Tilden, one of the founders and always a loyal mem-
ber of the Manhattan Club. It is hoped the space given to
this will not appear disproportioned. It forms an important
part of the Club's history, and recalls an almost forgotten
chapter of national history.

I have taken for an Introductory Chapter a sketch written
by Mr. Edward G. Riggs, a member of the Club, and printed
in the New York "Sun" some twenty-three years ago, which
is so graphic as a contemporary picture and so vivid as a
personal reminiscence as fitly to precede the more detailed

I have had from members of the MeUihattzui both assist-
ance and sympathy in collecting the data needful to an
adequate record of the Club's activities; but from Mr. Alex-
ander Konta a direct personal interest and an actual division
of labor which have been invaluable. In every way and at
each turning his literary training, artistic perception and
critical judgment, his constant support and loyal zeal, have
made that easy which otherwise would have been hard in-
deed. This prelude would be neither sufficient nor just with-
out my most grateful acknowledgment to Mr. Konta.


We. the iniifo'Mu/md. luninnlhi (njrrr to Itccrnnc Mvmhcrs of the

" .Mamiaitan Club,'

in conformity to the Constitution heretofore adojtted, and to pay to Wilson G. Hunt,
Trcfisurer. or his order, an demand, the >//«/ of 7)ro Hundred Dollars each, for the

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HE Manhattan Club, at Fifth Avenue and
Thirty-fourth Street, is the home of the
swallowtail Democracy. To the Demo-
cratic Party it is what the Union League
Club is to the Republican Party. The mem-
bers wear fine linen, have many changes of
raiment, are partial to patent-leathers and
silk-woven goloshes. There are brains and culture in the
Club. The Club building is the marble house erected by the
late Alexander T. Stewart. It cost $1,000,000. It is marble
throughout. It is just as solidly marble inside as outside.
The Club has a twenty-one years* lease on the building —
$35»ooo a year for the first five years, $37,500 a year for the
next five years, and $40,000 a year for the remaining eleven
years. The house is still owned by the Stewart estate.

In 1864, when the idea of such a club was first promul-
gated, the present splendor of the Club would have been a
fatuous dream. The Democracy was at its lowest point in
the history of the nation. It was not fashionable to be a
Democrat. The glory of Lincoln and the Republican Party
was shining like a midday sun. A Democrat was nothing

1 Edward G. Riggs in the New York "Sun," April 23, 1892.



but a copperhead. He was considered little less than a
traitor. Innumerable instances are on record where he was
shunned as a most unwholesome person. The bitterness
was intense. The memories of those days are still fresh in
the minds of some of the old members of the Club, including
Douglas Taylor, who, more than any other man, must be
considered the original founder of the Club ; Manton Marble,
John T. Agnew, George Ticknor Curtis, Andrew H. Green,
Henry Hilton, and Edward Cooper.

It may be said truthfully that but for the Union League
Club, the Manhattan Club would perhaps never have been
organized. The Union League Club was fairly on its way
to prosperity when the Democratic Party nominated Mc-
Clellan and Pendleton to oppose Lincoln and Johnson. The
Union League Club was Republican in every fibre. The ap-
plications of Democrats to join it were distastefully received.
It is true that in a spasm of generosity it accepted James T.
Brady, Charles P. Daly, and William Butler Duncan. Judge
Daly, however, quickly retired from the Union League. The
atmosphere was not pleasant to him. He and Mr. Brady and
Mr. Duncan were as loyal as any three men on earth. The
Union Leaguers, though, were shy of such company. The
three leading clubs of New York at the time — the Union,
the Union League, and the Century — had for presidents
pronounced Republicans like William M. Evarts, Hamilton
Fish, and William H. Seward. The famous Century Club
was opposed even to Gulian C. Verplanck. Radical notions
abounded. Sturdy old Democrats resented the harsh senti-
ments of the Republicans. An abortive attempt to organize
a Democratic club similar to the Union League was made
in 1864, just prior to the McClellan-Pendleton campaign.
General McClellan and his associate on the ticket were
greatly interested in the project. Their headquarters were at
the New York Hotel. The McClellan Executive Committee
occasionally met at Delmonico's, and it was there, in the



presence of the candidate, Manton Marble, John T. Hoffman
(Recorder at the time), Douglas Taylor, Augustus Schell,
George W. McLean, Henry Hilton, and others, that the
project received its first inspiration. The overwhelming
defeat of McClellan and Pendleton followed, and the idea of
a swell Democratic club was shattered for the moment. The
Democratic Party was poverty-stricken. Democrats who
had voted for McClellan and Pendleton were flouted and
malignantly dubbed copperheads.

But there were energetic spirits behind the club move-
ment. The spring of '65 was ushered in, and with it the club
project was taken up again. The little band of Democrats
had various meetings at the residence of George W. McLean,
at the New York Hotel, in the office of Manton Marble, and
at the office of Douglas Taylor, then commissioner of jurors.
In the latter place, in April, 1865, a meeting was held at
which a number of judges and leading Democrats were pres-
ent, including Mayor Gunther and Recorder Hoffman, and
a committee consisting of Chief Justice Charles P. Daly of
the Common Pleas, Clerk Nathaniel Jarvis of that court, and
Mr. Taylor was delegated to visit Democrats and secure sig-
natures for the proposed club. The initiation fee and dues
were fixed at two hundred dollars. This was a staggerer, to
begin with. It was a problem as to how many Democrats
in New York City would put their hands in their pockets and
pay two hundred dollars to join a club, the representative of
a party consisting of "copperheads and traitors." Things
ran along until the following June, when a meeting of the
Club's pioneers was held in Augustus Schell's law office,
then at 40 Wall Street. It was there that Mr. Marble sug-
gested that the new Club should be known as the Manhattan
Club ; and at a subsequent meeting at the same place the fol-
lowing twenty-five Democrats were selected as permanent
managers of the organization : Gulian C. Verplanck, Augus-
tus Schell, John A, Dix, William F. Allen, August Belmont,



John Van Buren (son of Martin Van Buren), Horace F.
Clark, George W. McLean, S. L. M. Barlow, Charles
O'Conor, Samuel J. Tilden, George Ticknor Curtis, Andrew
H. Green, William Butler Duncan, Henry Hilton, Anthony
L. Robertson, Manton Marble, William C. Prime, James T.
Brady, Edwards Pierrepont, Wilson G. Hunt, Edward
Cooper, Douglas Taylor, John T. Hoffman, and E.L.Corliss.
General Dix, who had sat in Buchanan's cabinet, was nomi-
nally a Democrat, but declined to serve as one of the mana-
gers. In fact, he switched over to the Union Leaguers.

The first meeting of the Managing Committee was at Del-
monico's. Fourteenth Street and Fifth Avenue, on Tuesday
evening, July i8, 1865. At this and subsequent meetings in
the same month, Mr. Augustus Schell acting as chairman,
Mr. Marble was requested to frame a constitution. Judge
Hilton and John Van Buren were appointed a committee to
secure a permanent home for the Club, and Mr. Taylor and
Mr. McLean hustled around to get members. A list of one
hundred and twenty Democrats was secured. They were
ready to pay the two hundred dollars each.

The next thing was to get a home. The Moffatt mansion
in Union Square, at that time next to the Everett House,
was rejected. The committee finally purchased the old
Parker or Benkard mansion, at Fifth Avenue and Fifteenth
Street, for $1 10,000. Half of this money was to be raised on
bonds. A fund for preliminary expenses was made neces-
sary, and August Belmont subscribed $10,000; Augustus
Schell, $5000; Judge Hilton, $5000; S. L. M. Barlow, $5000;
Horace F. Clark, $5000; William Butler Duncan, $5000;
Samuel J. Tilden, $5000; and Mr. Marble and others made
up the sum to $55,000. The Democracy was not dead yet.
As a matter of fact, none of that $55,000 was ever required.
The membership list rapidly rose to three hundred, and this
gave the Club $60,000 to start with, so the subscriptions were
not called in.



The first officers of the Club were: John Van Buren, presi-
dent; Augustus Schell, vice-president; Manton Marble,
secretary; and Wilson G. Hunt, treasurer. Mr. Hunt soon
retired. Old Dean Richmond was elected a manager in his
place, and when he died, shortly afterward, Horatio Sey-
mour accepted the place. The first House Committee com-
prised Mr. McLean, Mr. Hilton, and Hiram Cranston,
proprietor of the New York Hotel. All worked like beavers
to fix up the home of the Club. The "house-warming" was
on December i6, 1865.

The first president of the Club, John Van Buren, was
known as "Prince John." He was the son of Martin Van
Buren, the Kinderhook statesman, who was governor of the
State in 1828, secretary of state under Jackson in 1829, min-
ister to England in 1831, vice-president under Jackson in
1833, and eighth President of the United States in 1837.
John Van Buren was attached to the American Legation in
London imder his father. The present Queen of England
was then Princess Victoria, daughter of Edward, Duke of
Kent, fourth son of George III. John Van Buren, at a grand
state ball at which the ambassadors of that day were present,
had the honor of dancing with Princess Victoria. He opened
the quadrille with the future Queen of England, and the
American newspapers got to calling him Prince John. The
title remained with him until his death on October 13, 1866.
His successors as president of the Club, in their order from
that day to this, are: Augustus Schell, August Belmont,
Aaron J. Vanderpoel, Manton Marble, and Frederic R.


The Club has always been a factor in Democratic politics.
Its first venture in national affairs, though, was not success-
ful. This was an effort, practically, to capture President
Andrew Johnson and make him a full-fledged Democrat. It



was a strategic move, and at one time the managers of the
Club thought it would be successful. President Johnson
was not pleasing the Republicans, by any means. The
Democracy was at such a low ebb that the Manhattan
strategists believed that any effort, no matter how difficult,
should be attempted to revive the party's fortunes in the
nation. The scheme was started when this letter was sent
to President Johnson on March 12, 1866:

To the Hon. Andrew Johnson,

President of the United States.

Sir: The undersigned members of the Managing Commit-
tee of the Manhattan Club beg leave to apprise you that you
were this day elected an honorary member of the Club, and
to request your acceptance of the same. They enclose a
copy of their Constitution and By-Laws, with a list of mem-
bers of the Club, which will be found to include a fair

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Online LibraryHenry WattersonHistory of the Manhattan club; a narrative of the activities of half a century → online text (page 1 of 14)