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justice of the United States supreme court.

The Clintons. — The Clintons were less numerous
but certainly not less influential than the families al-
ready mentioned. Charles Clinton, grandfather of
Governor George and General James Clinton, came
from England in 1729 and founded a settlement in
Ulster county, which he called " Little Britain ".
General James Clinton (see page 272), served his
country faithfully during the entire revolutionary
war, and was a member of the court before which
jor Andre was tried.

The most conspicuous man in New York during

The Cli;n^tons 505

this period was probably general, afterward governor,
George Clinton (see page 260). He was a member of
the second continental congress, and entered the mili-
tary service in 1775, serving until peace was declared.
Elected first governor of the State in 1777, he still
continued his military duties, leaving the army only
when pressing civil affairs called him away from his

He was retained as governor for 18 years, was presi-
dent of the State convention which ratified the national
constitution (which he opposed), was re-elected gov-
ernor in 1801, and in 1804 became vice-president.

DeWitt Clinton (see page 366), son of General
James Clinton, served in the legislature from 1798 to
1802. From 1803 to 1811 he was mayor of JS^ew York
city. He was governor of the State from 1817 to
1822 and again from 1824 to 1828, but will always be
best known as " the father of the Erie canal ", which
his faith and enterprise carried through, from concep-
tion to completion.

In these families were represented Holland, Ger-
many, England and Scotland, a fair example of that
union of races which in New York ^made a people
strong, proud, enterprising, lovers of freedom, but
always submissive to righteous law.

Distinguished Citizens

Baron Steuben. — Among the titled soldiers of
Europe who cast in their f or-
^;. "'^gs*^ tunes with the young repub-

lic, none will be held in more
grateful remembrance than
Frederick William Augustus,
Baron Steuben. Steuben had
seen much service in Europe,
^ ■■ ^. -■':^gmgr '^^^ ^^^ been aide-de-camp
' ^^rSk i^mi ^^ Frederick the Great of

'^ih^£^^ Prussia. He came to this

BARON STKVBEN, 1730-1794 country in 1777, and was
immediately attached to the staff of General Wash-
ington as inspector-general of the army. In this
position his abilities and his faithfulness to his chief
soon made him of great service.

At the close of the war, Steuben having determined
to make America his future home, the State of New
York granted him a quarter of a township (16,000
acres) in the tract purchased of the Oneida Indians.
Here he built for himself a log house, and here he
spent the remainder of his days, dying November 28,
1794. Over his grave in the town of Steuben, Oneida
county, a plain monument has since been erected.
The national government gave him an annuity of

12,500 during his life.


Peter Cooper 507

Having no family, he bequeathed a part of his
estate to two of his former aids, and divided the
remainder among his tenants.

Peter Cooper was both an inventor and a philan-
thropist. Born to severest poverty, at seventeen
apprenticed to a coach-maker, his schooling was lim-
ited to half-days of attendance during one year.

Though successful in almost every undertaking of
his life, he evinced the warmest sympathy for those
who, like himself, had been denied the advantages of
early education. He invented a machine for shearing
cloth which was in use for many years, and built the
first locomotive engine ever used in this country. He
was extensively engaged in iron manufacture and in
the production of glue.

His greatest benefaction was the building and en-
dowment of Cooper Institute in New York city. To
this he gave nearly one million dollars, and in his will
devoted it by a deed of trust to the working classes of
New York. The courses are free and furnish instruc-
tion in the applied sciences. To the original plan
there was added, later, a school of design for women.

Gerrit Smith (see page 419) was born in this State
in 1797, and during his long life was constantly con-
tributing of his large fortune to a variety of benevo-
lent objects. He was graduated from Hamilton college
in the class of 1818 and subsequently studied law. He
lectured much, often preached to his tenants, and
served one term in congress. In his early life he be-
came deeply impressed with the great wrong of human
slavery, and contributed large sums to the American

508 Gerrit Smith

colonization society. Later, he became a convert to
abolition principles, and thereafter gave as bountifully
to the American abolition societ3^ ilt his death his
entire estate went to various benevolent institutions.
His wealth was largely in real estate, of which he in-
herited mere than 200,000 acres. A large part of this
he gave to his tenants in small farms.

Among these tenants, at one time, was John Brown
of Ossawatomie (see page 419). At the time of
Brown's Harpers Ferry raid, he had received some
assistance from Gerrit Smith, who was ignorant of the
plan of operations finally adopted*. The loss of life
which finally resulted so disturbed Mr. Smith, that
for a time his reason was affected.

His tastes were so simple, his manner so friendly, his
life so upright, that when it was not safe, even in
New York, for other men to give utterance to anti-
slavery sentiments, Gerrit Smith spoke freely every-
where, even in congress. It is difficult, at this day, to
appreciate the courage then required to champion that
cause; one incident will illustrate it.

In October, 1835, Mr. Smith attended a meeting at
Utica, N. Y., where it was proposed to organize an
anti-slavery society. The meeting was broken up by a
mob of "respectable citizens", and the office of a
democratic newspaper that spoke a good word for the
society was demolished f, whereupon Mr. Smith in-
vited the delegates to his o^vn house at Peterboro,

* Brown's first conception was that the slaves would
leave their masters in large numbers, if they could be
assured of a safe journey to Canada.

f Greeley's "American conflict".

Martin Yak Buren 509

Madison county, and there the organization was com-

Martin Van Buren, — Martin Van Buren (see page
387) was in every sense a genuine Xew Yorker.
Born at Kinderhook in 1782, he maintained his resi-
dence there until the day of his death, July 24, 1862.

It might truthfully be said that his life was spent in
politics, for he became interested in public affairs
when a mere boy, and while he lived never lost his
keen interest in the great political game in which he
had been a most expert player.

His career is almost without a parallel. At 24 he
was elected to his first office, — surrogate of his county.
At 30 he was a State senator ; at 33 attorney-general of
his State; at 39 a United States senator; at 46 gover-
nor ;^at 47 vice-president; at 49 minister to England;
and at 54 president of the United States.

During many years he was the leader of the demo-
cratic party of his State. His private life was above
reproach, and by his kindly, almost courtly manners
he easily won the good will of his neighbors as well
as of his political associates.

His ability to conciliate his opponents often created
the impression that he was insincere, but the charge
was hardly just. It was the natural outcome of the
friendly spirit of the man. He received the flattery
of his admirers and the fierce attacks of his political
enemies with the same unfailing good humor.

While he may have been ambitious for political
preferment, and may have advanced his own interests
by every honorable means, he was not devoid of prin-
ciple. He thoroughly disbelieved in the United States

olO Martin Van Buren

bank, and risked his own popularity and promotion in
support of President Jackson's measures against it.

Believing with most northern democrats of his time
that slavery was recognized by the constitution, he
insisted that it should not be disturbed where it ex-
isted; but, also believing it to be a wrong, he was un-
alterably opposed to its further extension.

Martin Van Buren has often been called " a north-
ern man with southern principles", because he was so
slow to disturb existing conditions. But in justice to
him it should be remembered that opposition to slavery
was a matter of slow growth until the demands of the
80uth for its extension and protection roused resistance
at the north. When this time came, Mr. Van Buren
refused to follow the "hunkers" in their surrender
to the slave-power and cast in his lot with the barn-
burners. This, in 1848, made him logically the first
candidate of the free soil party for the presidency.

It cannot be supposed that he expected to be elected,
but he drew off enough votes to insure the defeat of
Lewis Cass and his " hunker " following.

When this campaign was over, he retired to his
home, where, unembittered by defeat, he passed the
remainder of his days in quiet and comfort.

The student of Mr. Van Buren's character will find
in it much to admire and emulate, but he can not fail
to discover that the man was too careful of his own
standing ever to venture far into the debatable ground
of advanced thought or to be a successful leader in
any great moral or political revolution.

Silas Wright. — Among the men particularly promi-
nent in Xew York during " Jacksonian times ", was

Silas WrictHT 511

Silas Wright (see page 403). He was born in Massa-
chusetts in 1795, but came to New York when only a
boy, and entered political life in 1820. In this field
his rise was rapid. He became State senator in 1823,
member of congress in 1827, State comptroller in
1829', United States senator in 1833, and governor
in 1844.

Mr. Wright's career proves that even in politics, a
man may rise to prominence by sheer merit and by
force of character, rather than by brilliancy of intellect.

A man of retiring habits, and unassuming manners,
of unimpeachable integrity, but of most decided con-
victions, he seems rather to have impressed himself
upon the people than to have sought their favors.

His most conspicuous trait as a politician was his
close scrutiny of public expenditures. He was in
everything a rigid economist, and as such had early
opposed Mr. Clinton's plans for internal improvements.
Unlike most of his associates he opposed Jackson's
bank schemes, voted for a protective tariff, opposed
the extension of slavery, and voted against the admis-
sion of Texas.

For these failures to follow his party he incurred
the hostility of its leaders.

When President Polk offered him a seat in his cabi-
net, as secretary of the treasury, he declined the honor
because he was not in sympathy with the president's

He sympathized with the " anti-renters ", favored
the "commutation of rents" and the abolition of
"fee-simple titles", but recommended the enforce-
ment of the law against all agrarian outrages.

512 Thuelow Weed

At the close of his term of service as governor, Mr.
Wright retired to private life, carrying with him the
strong personal regard of all who were so fortunate as
to be admitted to the circle of his acquaintance.

Thurlow Weed, 1797-1882.— If there ever was a
" self-made man", Mr. Weed (see page 384) was one.
He was born in 1797 of humble parentage and passed
his early life in obscurity. At an age when Martin
Van Buren was making campaign speeches, young
Weed was cabin boy on a North River sloop. Later,
he learned the printer's trade at Catskill, N. Y., and
in 1812 was a volunteer private soldier in a N^ew York
regiment where he served until the peace of 1815. He
was then alone in the world, without money or friends,
but with some habits, acquired in the army, which did
not favor his immediate advancement. Fortunately
he soon secured work as a journeyman printer. In
this position he developed a taste for reading and then
a reputation as a writer.

Removing to Rochester, he edited a small paper in
the interest of Governor Clinton. Here his talents
were recognized and in 1824 he was elected to the
assembly from Monroe county.

When the " Morgan affair" (see page 384) came
out in the papers, he warmly espoused the cause of
the anti-masons.

In 1830 he founded the Albany Evening Journal in
the interest of the anti-masonic party. The party
never became more than a disturbing element in poli-
tics, but the man and the paper remained factors in
State and national affairs long after "anti-masonry"
had ceased to be mentioned in politics.

Millard Fillmore 513

Few men have ever equalled Thnrlow Weed in the
power to write an editorial on almost any subject,
especially any political subject, full of short, sharp,
telling paragraphs that went straight to their mark.

Never until Horace Greeley founded the Xew York
Tribune did Mr. Weed find a " f oeman worthy of his
steel". The occasional "open letters" which these
two veterans addressed to each other in their respec-
tive journals were enjoyed by men of all parties.

In politics Mr. Weed was first a whig, and then, as
the anti-slavery agitation came on, a republican; but
he would not be bound by party ties, and no public
man in any party failed to dread what Mr. Weed might
say of his course if he went far afield from a straight
path. After his early experience in the State legisla-
ture, he would accept no office from either party,
but his reputation for straightforward, fearless truth-
fulness caused Mr. Lincoln to ask him, in 1861, to
go on a private mission to Europe. He accepted this
trust, but as soon as the duty was discharged returned
to his place as a private citizen.

Millard Fillmore (see page -410) was born in the
town of Summer Hill, N. Y., Jan. 7, 1800. His early
education was very limited. At fifteen he was a bound
apprentice to the draper's trade.

While thus engaged, he applied himself to reading
and study with such profit that he attracted the atten-
tion of a lawyer, who, seeing his industry and evident
ability, took him into his office as a student.

He was soon able, even while prosecuting his legal
studies, to support himself by teaching. In his
twenty-first year he removed to Buffalo where he com-


Millard Fillmore

pleted his studies and was admitted to the bar, and
there also he was in 1829 elected to the legislature.

While in the assembly, the remembrance of his own
early struggles led him to advocate the repeal of the
law allowing imprisonment for debt, and to him the
State is in large measure indebted for the removal of
that ancient wrong from our statute books.

In 1832 he was elected to congress as a whig, serv-
ing two terms.

In 1847 he became comptroller of the State and in
1848 he was nominated for vice-president on the whig
ticket with General Taylor.

By the early death of President Taylor he succeeded
to the presidency, July, 1850. Here he had an oppor-
tunity to perform a great service for his country. In
the next congress came up the odious " omnibus bill "
and the "fugitive slave law". Mr. Fillmore could
have withheld his signature, but he signed both bills,
and the act took him to his political grave. In the
course which he took, he had the support of Henry

Hkmiy Clay. 1777-1853 Daniel Webster. 1783-1852

Clay and Daniel Webster; but his own State, while

Horace Greeley 515

never questioning the purity of his motives, repudi-
ated the act.

Mr. Fillmore lacked those stern qualities which make
a man able to do an unpopular act because it is right.

The author of a recent school history of the United
States justifies Mr. Fillmore's act by quoting Mr. Lin-
coln's declaration, made when a candidate for the presi-
dency, that, if elected, he should feel bound to support
the fugitive slave law. The enactment of an unwise
or unjust law, and its enforcement while it remains on
the statute books, are two very different matters.
Laws must be enforced and a president by his oath of
office binds himself to their enforcement because they
are laws. General Grant was right when he said, "I
know of no way to make an unwise law so odious as to
enforce it." But the president is entrusted with the
veto power solely that he may, on occasion, rebuke the
impudence of party leaders.

At the close of his term as president Mr. Fillmore
visited Europe, and in 1856 accepted the nomination
for the presidency from the " know-nothing " party,
after which he resumed the practice of law in Buffalo.

Horace Greeley. — Horace Greeley (see page 447),
the veteran editor of the New York Tribune, cam-
paign speaker, essayist, author, and philosopher was
personally known to more people than any other citi-
zen of the State.

His careless but always characteristic dress, his
quaint figure, his benevolent countenance everywhere
attracted notice and comment, while his many ad-
dresses in almost or quite every county of the State

516 Horace Greeley

brought him before the people as no other man has
ever been brought. He had hosts of admirers, and
hosts of enemies, but all classes turned out to hear
him speak. In his day, not to have heard Horace
Greeley argued one's self a New Yorker unknown.

Mr. Greeley was born of Scotch-Irish parents on a
small, rocky New Hampshire farm, Feb. 5, 1811. As
the third of seven children in a family where intense
poverty seemed their only birth-right, his opportuni-
ties for an education were of the most limited sort.

When he was but 15 their little home was sold for
debt, and the family removed to Vermont. Here he
attained the one strong desire of his boyish heart — an
opportunity to learn the printer's trade in the office
of a small weekly paper. But even this boon was not
long continued to him.

Again the family moved; this time to Erie county,
Pennsylvania. In that vicinity the lad worked for
some years wherever he could find employment, mean-
while reading everything that came within his reach.

With a memory which retained almost perfectly
whatever he read, he soon became known as the best-
informed young man of every town in which he lived.

When he was twenty years of age he determined to
try his fortunes in New York city. With only ten
dollars in his pocket he started to traverse the State
on foot, reaching the city with money still on hand.
There he worked in various offices.

In 1833, in company with Francis Story, he started
" The Morning Post ", the first penny paper ever pub-
lished. This was soon changed to " The New Yorker ",

Horace Greeley 517

a paper which attracted much attention by its vigorous
editorials, the work of Mr. Greeley.

While doing this editorial work, Mr. Greeley was
also constantly contributing to other papers, and he
soon became widely known as one of the most ready
and trenchant writers in the country. His omnivorous
reading and his remarkable memory for data of all
sorts placed at his command a vast fund of available

By this means he was ready wherever he happened
to be to write on a wide range of subjects as fluently
and as accurately as though he had a library of refer-
ence at hand.

In 1841 he founded " The Xew York Tribune ",
through which he became still more widely known.
His most prominent characteristic as a writer was his
absolute fearlessness. He early espoused the anti-
slavery cause, and no other paper did so much to edu-
cate the masses to a genuine hatred of the slave power
as did the Tribune.

When the country came face to face with actual
war, Mr. Greeley's kind heart relented, and he favored
every effort, no matter how futile, for the preservation
of peace. When the war actually began, he was im-
patient of every delay and criticised Mr. Lincoln so
unsparingly that at last the president said of him,
" Mr. Greeley is in favor of putting down the rebel-
lion, but is opposed to all possible means of doing it."

When the long contest closed, he favored complete
amnesty and lost friends by offering himself as bonds-
man for Jefferson Davis.

518 Samuel Jones Tilden

The worst enemy the democratic party ever had, he
was endorsed by them when in 1872 he had been nom-
inated for the presidency by the liberal republicans,
in opposition to General Grant. He was defeated, of
course, and never recovered from the disappointment.

Exhausted by the long canvas, and by the care of a
sick wife to whom he was a most devoted husband, he
died soon after the election, Nov. 29, 1872.

Mr. Greeley's best known writings are his " History
of the Struggle for the Extension of Slavery", "The
American Conflict", " Recollections of a Busy Life",
and " What I know about Farming".

Samuel J. Tilden (see page 449) was born at K^ew
Lebanon, N. Y., in 1814. He early became a disciple
of Martin Van Buren whose political career he greatly
admired and whose fortunes he followed. He studied
law with Benjamin F. Butler of New York (see page
409), and early became prominent in his profession, par-
ticularly as a corporation attorney. In this practice he
soon acquired a fortune, and his residence at Gramercy
Park became the resort of aspiring politicians who
sought his advice .

From this fact he became known as " the Sage of
Gramercy Park ".

In his political forecasts he had the shrewdness of
Van Buren. Li his legislative career he was a follower
of Silas Wright, a veritable " watch dog" over public
expenditures — a cautious and able financier.

He had not the graceful manners which attracted ta
Mr. Seymour so large a circle of friends even from
among his political opponents; but he possessed a
faculty for organization that made the democratic party

Samuel Jones Tilden 519

of his day a solid, compact body, such as no other
leader has been able to rival. He was not a general
who could rally and lead men; he was a field marshal
who could plan a campaign and select the leaders who
could carry it through to success.

Two events gave him national prominence: the
Tweed trials, and his contest with Mr. Hayes for the
presidency. For the first, he has probably received
more credit than was his due, for he did not enter the
case until the Xew York Times had published the
whole affair, and a public meeting of citizens had
resolved to prosecute the " ring ". Even the Times
did nothing until a clerk in the comptroller's office
had exposed the frauds, and there was good " copy "
in sight.

The steps by which Mr. Tilden reached the presi-
dential nomination were these : He had been a member
of two constitutional conventions, those of 1846 and
1867, in which the accuracy of his legal knowledge had
made him prominent, while in the State legislature in
1846 and 1872 he had rendered his party invaluable
service. These made him the leader of the democracy
of his State and only his services in the Tweed and
" canal ring " cases were needed to bring him before the
country and make him the logical candidate of his
party for the presidency in 1876.

The result of this election was dangerously close.
Several of the southern States were in a political con-
dition that invited fraud, and each party accused the
other of practising it. There is reason to fear that
both charges were true. Certainly the colored popu-
lation were disfranchised in many districts.

520 James Kent

The accepted returns gave Mr. Tilden 4,284,885
votes, and Mr. Hayes 4,033,950. The contest was not
decided until two days before the inauguration, when
the commission appointed by congress decided that
Mr. Hayes had received 185 electoral votes and Mr.
Tilden 184.

The decision was never satisfactory to Mr. Tilden,
nor to his party, but it seemed the only possible solu-
tion and the country, generally, accepted it. Mr. Til-
den was never afterward a candidate for any office.
He was suggested for the presidency in 1880, but de-
clined to be a candidate. His death in 1886 revived
the story of this historic contest, and exceptional
honors were paid to his memory.

In his will he left large bequests to libraries and
other institutions in which his name will be honored.

James Keiit^ whose "Commentaries" are among
the most famous of legal
books, was like his father
and his grandfather a gradu-
ate of Yale, and was one of
the founders of the Phi Beta
Kappa society. He entered
the law-office of Egbert Ben-
son, and soon rose to emi-
nence in the profession. He
was professor of law in Co-
james Kent, 1763-1847 lumbia collegc, whcii in 1798
he was appointed justice of the supreme court, and
was from 1804 to 1814 chief justice, and from 1814 to

Online LibraryWilliam Reed PrenticeHistory of New York state (Volume 1) → online text (page 28 of 34)