New York Genealogical and Biographical Society.

The New York genealogical and biographical record (Volume 63) online

. (page 4 of 30)
Online LibraryNew York Genealogical and Biographical SocietyThe New York genealogical and biographical record (Volume 63) → online text (page 4 of 30)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

tion, assuring the Administration a small majority. One of the members
was the Hon, I'hilemon Dickerson. The office of Justice of the United
States District Court becoming vacant bv the death of the incumbent, he
became an applicant for the position. Mr. Van Buren was not willing to
take a man away from the slender majority, when the Independent Treas-
ury bill and other measures were pending. The candidate appealed to
his brother for help. "I have an almosi insuperable objection to asking,
favors at this time in behalf of myself or family," was the reply. He did
so, nevertheless. The President would only consent to the arrangement
of appointing Mahlon Dickerson himself, but accepted his resignation the
next February and made his brother his successor. The proceeding was
distasteful to him, but he yielded his scruples in order to help his brother.

He succeeded in rescuing his business from the threatened disaster, as
well as in recovering his health. " I have never had better health than I
have had for the last three months," he wrote in April, 1840. Not only
had he attained his normal weight, but he had brought up the revenues of
his property and doubled its value. In 1840 he raised twenty-five tons of
ore each day, and during the period of sleighing sold eighteen.

His sympathy with Mr. Van Buren was warm, and their relations were
familiar. He was free in offering counsel, and we can now see that
his advice might have been taken with profit. A letter to the President,
dated May 20, 1839, relates as a wonder the reading of the message in
exactly twenty-six hours after it was delivered to both houses of Con-
gress — a celerity of despatch which he would not have dreamed of twenty
years before. He praises the document with the sagacity peculiar to a
politician, because "it makes no new question upon which the Adminis-
tration is to be sustained by a whipping-in of votes, which is sure to result
in a whipping-out of friends."

He also suggests a course which has gone out of fashion now, and
which hardly seems to have been in fashion at that time. " It is danger-
ous," says he, " to urge upon Congress any great measure resting for its
support upon Executive influence. It is unjust to the friends of the Ad-
ministration who may not be in favor o{ such a measure upon its intrinsic
merits ; and who, if Democrats, resist everythi7ig like coercion."

He then declares his confidence that Mr. Van Buren would be elected
in 1840 without the vote of New York. He grounds this belief upon the
probability that the Conservatives, who had become disaffected, would
yet vote for him, and deprecates their rough treatment by the editor of
the Washington Globe. "The greater part of those who have left us will
return," said he, "if not driven from our ranks ; and they would never
have deserted us for a moment if they had been treated with the forbear-
ance and respect due to them."

Such, however, was not the policy adopted, and the Conservatives
generally supported the Whig candidates. General Harrison was elected
President, receiving 234 out of 294 electoral votes. General Lewis Cass

28 • Mahlon Dicker son of New Jersey. [Jan.,

was then minister to Paris. Mr, Diclserson, who was warmly attached to
him, wrote him of the result and the future, November 19, 1840 :

"You will know before this reaches you that Van Ruren is defeated
horse and foot ; in fact, we are all swept by the board. Much fraud has
been practised by our opponents, and much money expended in buying
votes ; but all this will not account for the immense miajority against us.
* * * A majority of the people have decided against the measures of
the Administration, and we must submit."

" The calling of an extra session in i837was a mistake, and the attempt
to force down the Sub-Treasury Bill was a greater. The bill itself was
right enough, but the country was not prepared for it. It was known that
many of our leading men and members of Congress were opposed to it.
Blair undertook to whip them in, but instead of whipping in he whipped
out — of which we had the most decided proofs in 1838 — yet those who
deserted our ranks were considered as Federalists, not worthy of our atten-
tion, and the system of proscription was followed up with greater vigor
than ever, in ortler that the party might be made perfectly pure. It is
indeed made very pure, but inconveniently small."

He now proposes to his former colleague the policy for the future, the
leading feature of which was that General Cass should himself become a
candidate. "Before you left us," he writes, " I once mentioned to you
that had I your reputation, civil as well as military, I would push for the
Presidency — all which at that time you seemed to consider as an idle
speculation. The time has arrived, sooner than I anticipated, when you
will be called upon by the old feffersonian party to take your place at
their head as a candidate for the highest office in their gift. There is no
other man on whom we can rally."

He then predicted the return of the Conservatives from the Whig
party: "A large portion of those who have deserted our ranks have been
governed by honest motives, and will rejoice at the opportunitv of return-
ing to our party when they can do it without what they consider a sacri-
fice of principle."

In a letter to General Cass a year later he foreshadowed the failure of
the Whig administration. " The people," he says, " disapprove of much
that took place in '38, '39 and '40, inasmuch as they were not relieved of
their pecuniary distress." He does not scruple to impute this distress to
the want of a protective tariff, and to hold Henry Clay to account.

' ' When the people are in distress, " said he, ' ' they consider any change
for the better. No system of administration can be permanent unless the
country is prosperous, and in this there is some justice, as the prosperity
of the country depends entirely upon those who have the administration
and the making of the laws in their hands. Heaven has showered down
its blessings upon us, but we have been cursed with legislation. In four
years after Mr. Clay's Compromise Bill the excess of our imports over our
exports amounted to more than $125,000,000."

The nephew of Mr. Dickerson, Captain Augustus Canfield, of the
U. S. Army, had married a daughter of General Cass. He writes her father,
November 28, 1841, expressing his gratification.

" Nothing could give me greater pleasure," says he, "than the con-
nection that has taken place between your family and mine. Hitherto I
have been your warm and sincere friend from the time of my first
acquaintance with you. I rejoice in a circumstance that brings me

1 89 1.] Mahlon Dicker son of Netv Jersey. 20

nearer to you ; and the more so, as I have long entertained the most
sincere attachment and esteem for all your family." After a warm praise
of Captain Canfield, the son of his dead sister, he concludes with the
assurance that the young wife will be cherished by him rather as a daugh-
ter than a niece.

In the same letter he implores General Cass to draw a line between
himself and the Whig party. He assures the General that the Democratic
leaders in Pennsylvania had promised, in that event, to forego their prefer-
ences for Mr. Buchanan, and to support him instead. From the pro-
nounced opinions of these men in favor of high protective duties, it was
necessary to have such a caution.

In a letter to the Hon. William Cost Johnson, a leading Whig member
of Congress from Maryland, December 5, 1842, Mr. Dickerson reiterates
these sentiments, advocating a stated annual distribution to the States,
and preparing a system of commercial reciprocity :

" I would have such a revenue from commerce as would enable the
Government, with the proceeds of the public lands, to divide $ 10,000,000
a year among the States. This would enable the States to carry on public
improvements, or would relieve the people from local taxation largely.

" I perceive you are in favor of such a system of duties upon imports
as will insure us a reciprocity of commerce with the powers of Europe.
Let such a system be adopted, and our country must prosper."

"Our imports of sugar and molasses in 1841 amount to more than
$11,000,000 — prostrating the Slate of Louisiana. Our imports of iron
for '41 amount to more than $8,500,000. You mention the fact that in
ten years we have paid England alone $85,000,000 for the article of iron.
We are the most stupid nation in Christendom, except the Portuguese."

He further unfolds his views respecting reciprocity :

"I hope you will persevere in your efforts to enforce a perfectly
reciprocal commerce — not with one nation, but with all nations — and
that by legislation, not by negotiation. Let this be done by the House
of Representatives, the Senate, and the President — not by the Executive
alone, with the advice of the Senate. The House of Representatives of
the people should never submit to any infringement of their constitutional
powers to regulate commerce."

Mr. Dickerson was destined to meet a sad disappointment. At the
meeting of the Democratic National Convention in 1844 a majority of
the delegates were in favor of Mr. Van Buren as the candidate. The
adoption of the famous two-thirds rule enabled .the friends of other candi-
dates to prevent his nomination ; but that rule proved then and always a
two-edged sword for the beheading of statesmen and the exalting of
mediocrities. General Cass was also defeated, and James K. Polk bore
off the prize. In a letter written to the General, February 7, 1845,
Mr. Dickerson freely unbosoms himself:

." Since our horrible Democratic Convention at Baltimore in May last
I have felt but little disposition to write political letters to any one."

After relating his engagements at the convention to revise the Consti-
tution of New Jersey, and mentioning the rebuilding of his house, he
plunges into the topic near his heart :

"But as to the Baltimore convention. It is true their nominee has
been elected, and the ascendency of our party maintained for the present;
but this forms no apology for the atrocious conduct of the convention.

■jQ Mahloti Dicker son of New Jersey. [Jan.,

They were appointed to select one of the leading candidates for the Presi-
dency, whose characters were known, and whose claims had been the sub-
ject of discussion for many months. It was soon discovered that the
contest was between you and Van Buren, and that it was the duty of the
convention to nominate one of you ; and so thought the majority of
the convention, till it was clear that you would be nominated in one or two
ballots more, when the Van Buren clique, to prevent this, determined to
blow up the ship. * * * Yet, had you been nominated, you would
have been elected in spite of them. * * * 'Yo gratify the malignant
passions of a few members of that convention, the Democratic party were
placed in this predicament — they must support the nomination or be
totally defeated. It was an outrage upon the Democrats of the country. "

He then proposes a policy for General Cass to pui%ue :

"I hope you are not to be of Polk's cabinet. * * * Your game
will be a plain one. Pursue the couise you adopted immediately on the
nomination ; and let Calhoun, Wright, Benton, and Buchanan do the
rest for you, and 1 think without doubt you will take the trick."

If any one thinks Mr. Dickerson too strong in his language, or too
outspoken, it may be well to bear in mind that he expressed a sentiment
which was for a time quite general. Even General Cass himself declared
in a letter, that the Democratic party was not obliged to support Mr.
Polk's nomination.

Mr. Dickerson employed himself during the political campaign of
1844 in building over his house at Siiccasanna. It was the period when
a furor for decentralization raged over the North, and many of the States
held constitutional conventions. JMr. Dickerson was chosen that year a
delegate to the convention held in New Jersey. It detained him till July,
when he plunged into the excitement and confusion incident upon the
rebuilding of his house. He gives as his reason for this, that he might
not die of spleen at the action of the Democratic National Convention.
The "torments of building " assuaged that of disappointment. From
August till the end of November he was constantly occupied amidst the
din of hammers, and saws, and trowels. "I have so enlarged and altered
my house," he wrote to General Cass, "as to make three times as much
room as I had before, and a good deal more than I want. My building
will be finished about the beginning of May, when I shall be at leisure
for a few months, and what I shall do with myself then I know not —
perhaps visit you and make a tour through the Western States ; perhaps
make a short visit to Europe."

The house and estate was named by him Ferramonte. Here Captain
Canfield and his wife made their abode, and Mr. Dickerson meanwhile
carried out his proposition of a tour over the Western States. Never for
a moment did he abate in zeal for the nomination of (jeneral Cass. He
kept up a frequent correspondence, advised him in regard to great meas-
ures, and employed himself diligently to prevent any extensive movement
in behalf of Mr. Polk's renomination. The free-trade views then in
vogue met his ardent disapproval.

In 1846 he became president of the American Institute, and in his
addresses warmly upheld the policy of protection to domestic industries.
He held the office a second term, and took pains to enforce the same
views when he found the opportunity.

Writing upon the subject to General Cass, in 1846, he took strong

1 89 1.] Mahlon Dicker son of New Jersey. -3 1

ground against the Tariff bill of that year. "Should Mr. Walker's bill
be adopted," says he, "I have no doubt the next President will be elected
by the Whigs."

His letters upon political matters at that time are yet full of interest
as giving an intelligent view of the policy then pursued. The question
of terminating the joint occupation of Oregon had been prominent in
the canvass of 1844. Mr. Dickerson favored giving notice of the termi-
nation at the end of a year, opposing any warlike measure without such
notice. But he writes : "At the expiration of the year take possession
of the whole, if we are willing to fight for it ; and up to latitude 49°, if
we mean to be at peace. "

The war with Mexico was in progress, and the acquisition of territory
became certain. Mr. Dickerson 's views sound queerly now.

" Our schemes of unbounded ambition alarm all Europe, " says he.
"When we extend our views to Texas, Mexico, California, Cuba, and
Canada, connected with the foolish declaration of Mr. Monroe in 1824,
and repeated by Mr. Polk, we are inviting Great Britain, France, and
Russia against us. I would sooner have quiet possession of Cuba than
of all Oregon and California together, and would snoner go to war with
Europe immediately than see her in possession of it."

To a friend he writes : "I am for Cuba, Canada, and Cass."

He could never excuse or extenuate the nomination of Mr. Polk in
1844. In a letter written two years later he makes this charge : " The
General was defeated at the Baltimore Convention by the miserable
intrigues of rival candidates, who were willing to prostrate the Democratic
party rather than witness the success of a man whose superior merits
excited their jealousy and hatred."

His letters to General Cass himself point out the intrigues of the
nomination in 1848. Writing January 26, 1846, he says :

" By the steps you have taken in the Senate, I think you have gained in
public estimation ; but be assured you have enemies at Washington.
Men dislike to be honest upon compulsion. Those who reluctantly
voted in favor of your resolutions will, if possible, make you feel the
effects of their spleen.

" Polk, be assured, wishes again to be a candidate for the Presidency.
Van Buren still hopes that he is a favorite. Wright is looking forward
with great confidence. Calhoun, Benton, Buchanan, Dallas, and Walker,
etc., etc., are in full chase ; not one of these but would willingly put
you out of the way — they would even combine to do it."

Again, writing in May of the same year :

" A great effort is now making to enlist the West under Mr. Calhoun's
banner by adopting the principles of free trade. He may be able to
defeat any other Democratic candidate for the Presidency, although not
able to secure his own election. For a free-trade Nullifier never can be
elected President of the United States."

Mr. Dickerson's efforts were successful. The Democratic National
Convention of 1848 made General Cass the candidate. Mr. Polk with-
drew his name in advance. Mr. Dickerson was in close communication
with the candidate during the canvass, and at the solicitation of Mr.
Lewis Cass, Jr., made diligent endeavor to secure the electoral vote of
New Jersey. All in vain. The refusal of Mr. Van Buren's friends to
support the nominations lost the States of New York, New Jersey, and

■5 2 Mahlon Dicker son of New Jersey, [Jan.,

Pennsylvania to the Democrats, and General Zachary Taylor was elected

This was the end of Mr. Dickerson's active participation in politics.
He was now an old man. Yet he never faltered in public spirit, or in
any way became soured by defeat. He was friendly to all alike, and
wherever known he was generally respected and beloved. So generally
were his name and residence familiar, that a letter from Ireland, directed
to "John Murphy, care of General Dickerson, North America, " reached
its destination without delay.

An interesting sketch of him was given to the writer by Mr. White-
head, of Morristown.

"I remember Mahlon Dickerson well," says Mr. Whitehead. " He
was in advance of me, being quite an old man when I commenced my
public career. He was tall, well-made, of excellent proportions, of dark
complexion, and with a kindly dark eye. His manners were those of a
gentleman of the olden time. He was a bachelor, but fond of the society
of young people, and particularly delightful in his deportment toward

" My wife remembers with great pleasure a visit she made, when quite
a young woman, to his country seat near Succasanna, which he named
Ferramonte. He put all the young people, of whom there were quite a
number visiting at his house, perfectly at their ease, and played the host
in the most charming manner.

" He was of the very best Revolutionary ancestry, and was himself a
decided patriot. He was a firm Democrat at a time when the politics of
the country was divided between the two great parties — Whig and Demo-
cratic. I was an ardent Whig, which fact he well knew, but it never
interfered between us in social intercourse.

"1 mentioned as one of his characteristics his fondness for young
people. Although he never married, yet he always manifested a liking
for children. I remember now very vividly an occurrence which has
always lingered with me. I met him accidentally in the omnibus in
the streets of Newark. My oldest daughter, then quite a small child, was
with me. After the ordinary salutation, and a few remarks such as will
be made between acquaintances when meeting, he turned to the child
and said to her: 'Are you a Democrat?'

" 'Tell Mr. Dickerson your name,' said I,

" 'Frances Pennington Whitehead,' came very distinctly from the lips
of the girl.

"'Ah,' said Mr. Dickerson, laughing quite heartily, 'no chance for
any Democracy there ! ' "

The Rev. Mr. Whitaker, pastor of the First Church at Southold, New
York, also gives a description of Mr. Dickerson during the last year of
his life.

" Mahlon Dickerson, fifty years since, excelled in hearty, unpretentious,
and generous hospitality at his home in Morris County, New Jersey. His
house was remarkal)le, especially in this respect : that even the hall and
passages were more or less lined and obstructed by wagon-loads of books
and public documents which he kept for reference, and which he gave
away freely. A very intimate friend of mine, fifty years since (1840), was
never weary of acknowledging Mr. Dickerson's kindness and generosity.

" Mr. Dickerson came to Southold in the summer of i85i_or 1852, and

1 89 1.] The Family of Thompson, Suffolk Co., A\ F. ^-^

put up a costly marble monument to the memory of his Southold ancestry.
He ordered it to be made in New York, and had it made so that it would
stand, as he thought, for a thousand years. The exact point where the
first Philemon was buried could not be ascertained. He set up the
monument very near the spot where it is most probable that his ances-
tors were buried, in the oldest part of the cemetery of the First Church.

"At the time he set up this monument he was no longer a young
man, for it had been near forty years since he became the owner and
intelligent worker of the famous Succasanna Iron Mine, three miles from
Dover, New Jersey ; but he was erect and tall. His hair was abundant
and gray, not white. His movements were deliberate, and he was rather
slow of speech than otherwise. He had the bearing and manners of an
aged man of business, not specially the air of a venerable statesman.
He mani(ested a kindly interest in the welfare and usefulness of the
young pastor of the church in whose communion his Southold ancestors
were members, and the pastor cherishes the most pleasant and grateful
recollections of this worthy descendant of one of Southold's earliest citi-

Mr. Dickerson was passionately devoted to tree -culture, as his
grounds at Ferramonte afforded abundant evidence. He was also an
amateur of science, and his cabinet contained numerous geological and
other specimens showing his tastes. A rubellite presented to him was
gratefully acknowledged, and duly labelled in his collection. He was
always a student, and eager for all kinds of knowledge.

He was never connected with any religious communion, though a
man of profound convictions. As he lived, so he passed from this stage
of existence, serene, hopeful, and placid. He was eighty-eight years of
age. His body reposes in the churchyard at Succasanna, where a plain
monument marks the spot, with the following inscription :

" Mahlon Dickerson, son of Jonathan and Mary Dickerson ; born
April 17, 1770, died October 5, 1858. His biography is written in legis-
lative records. ' Mark the perfect man and behold the upright : for
the end of that man is peace. ' "

Whether we consider him as a citizen, a public man, or as a friend
and neighbor, Mahlon Dickerson was alike grand and unexceptionable.


By Frederick Diodati-Thompson.

Arms : Or on a fesse dancette azure three estoiles argent ; on a canton of the
second the sun in his splendour.

Crest : A cubit arm erect or vested gules, cuff argent, holding in the hand five
ears of wheat proper.

Motto : In lumine lucem.

There is, perhaps, no part of this country where exists at the present

day so much conservatism in all things as on Long Island, and this is

especially true of the easternmost part which is comprised in the county of

Suffolk. The people here have always been thought to be " behind the



The Family of Thompson, Suffolk Co., N. V.


age," they are so loath to change any of their customs or habits; and,
indeed, until a few years ago, when the extravagant period subsequent to

the civil war altered to some extent
their primitive manners, they made
.^, no attempt to keep up with the times.

.I^a;; ~ The family names of the first settlers

^^ are still found in the different vil-

^^^i;i(^If=!^ 'ages, and in many instances the

A-^^ ■ . . : 'T'^^'^^^'^ViS) same farms are held by persons whose

^ ||C-*^ . •;^■ •■.•;-;->yltQ ancestors lived there in the days of

Online LibraryNew York Genealogical and Biographical SocietyThe New York genealogical and biographical record (Volume 63) → online text (page 4 of 30)