The History of New York State
Book XII, Chapter 9, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam

 

Tweed, it seems, planned not only to control the city, he was ambitious, in 1867, of controlling the State conventions. Electing Hoffman as Governor, and eventually of gripping the purse-string of the Nation, through the election of a Tammany man to the Presidency, with all the patronage that such a goof fortune could place within his reach. Fortunately, the law found a way of reaching Tweed, and placing him behind prison bars before his pilfering fingers had been able to dip into more than municipal purses.

Strange to say, the discredited ex-governor Seymour came forward at this period to save the country and obstruct the way of Boss Tweed; not because of any particular wish to stamp out corrupt political practices, but because of an overweening confidence in his own destiny. Horatio Seymour felt sure that some day he would be President; and while there was any chance of furthering his own cause, he would not let another Democrat from his own State step ahead of him. That the Democrats would soon oust the Republicans from National office he was confident; he saw very assuring signs of a turn in 1866; so he saw that he must "be up and doing."

In the Democratic State convention of 1867, Seymour and Tammany clashed. Tammany demanded that Hoffman be made president of the Democratic convention. Seymour's friends contended that this honor rightly belonged to the ex-Governor, not the defeated candidate for the Governorship. The factions finally compromised by making Seymour the president and Hoffman the temporary chairman. The convention was not otherwise noteworthy, unless it was in suspecting that Hoffman was one of the corrupt New York political ring. Hoffman condemned the State administration for enforcing the Excise law in New York City, and curbing the sale of intoxicating liquors by unauthorized persons. The police board had reported that, on May 1, 1866, there were 9,250 places where intoxicating liquors were sold in New York City, but only 754 were licensed retailers. Judge Albert Cardozo, of New York City Court, had prevented enforcement by injunction, but in 1867, early, the Court of Appeals had sustained the Excise Act. This brought an appreciable swelling of city revenue, many of the 8,500 unauthorized liquor shops paying into the city the license fee that formerly in all probability had gone into the capacious pockets of politicians of the Tweed type. Yet Hoffman condemned the act, on the ground that it violated the principle of home rule.

Of course, New York City was not the only centre of corrupt political practices. The stupendous frauds in the use of canal operations were disclosed by the Canal Investigating committee to the constitutional convention in 1867, and Democrats were not the only officials at fault. The country was passing through a period of lowered morality, such as follows every great war.

They had, however, not yet reached the point where they could quite forget the gratitude owed to the heroic men who had brought the Nation safely through the perilous period in which not only the Confederates of the south but many men of the North had done their utmost to tear the Union to pieces. Horatio Seymour, astonishing to note, was the Presidential candidate of the Democratic party in 1868; but the Republicans had at their head General Ulysses S. Grant; and the remembered his war services. The commander-in-chief of the army was to become the commander-in-chief of the nation; and New York hoped that governor Fenton would be his chief-of-staff, or vice-president.

Fenton had not been satisfactory as a political manager. Conkling was undoubtedly a stronger personality, but the Governor had shown in his executive work for the State that he was not quite the mediocre individual that one critic, already quoted, had thought him. The very qualities that one of his enemies found in him were sufficient to assure his friends that Fenton could take care of himself. Gideon Welles described Fenton as "cunning, false, selfish,' "no statesman but a shrewd politician." #10 John Russell Young, also an enemy but of kindlier outlook, wrote; "In skill, patience, tact, a recognition of the limitations of human nature, with a firm, unyielding will and a technical education in business aspects of politics, Mr. Fenton never had a superior." #11 Thurlow Weed did not like Fenton because he could not follow in the ways of that consummate politician; and those crafty men of business who were out to plunder the State and the metropolis of the State did not like him because his business instinct and training enabled him to checkmate several of their designs. Fenton would never become a political star of the first magnitude; indeed, he could not shine at all in politics; but he was a sound executive, able to conduct the business of the State in a business-like way. He had shaken up the canal administration, had prevented several "franchise grabs,' had seen the coal-black "nigger" of official corruption in several seemingly innocuous bills; and, having seen him, had not hesitated to reach for his executive rod of correction. Many measures that would have well filled the wallets of plutocrats and the "under-world" of politics never had a chance to earn a penny for their sponsors, for the veto of the chief executive took so much of the strength out of them that they could never reach the state of gainful occupation. Governor Fenton had been constructive in being, in this way, destructive. He had been directly constructive in many other ways; he had started the movement for a new State Capitol, and had seen the establishment of Cornell University. So, all in all, New York State Republicans were pleased to think of furthering Fenton's chances of Vice-Presidential recognition at Chicago in 1868. Of course, General Grant was the only candidate thought of for the Presidency. He was nominated by acclamation. On the first ballot, Fenton stood second in the voting for Vice-President. At the sixth ballot, however, Colfax was given 541 votes, and Fenton only 69; so the New Yorker had to meet defeat with the cheeriest face possible.

The Democratic National Convention held in New York City in July, was presided over by Horatio Seymour. It was not until the fourth ballot that his name came into the list, with nine votes; and he then protested so emphatically that it disappeared entirely until the twenty-second ballot when Ohio led a stampede to him. It was thought that Chief Justice Salmon P. chase, who HD presided over the Court of Impeachment in the trial of President Andrew Johnson and had earlier been a cabinet minister, would be the Democratic choice, notwithstanding his Republican antecedents; but Seymour's rock-bound democracy ultimately sent the delegates headlong toward him, and he had to go on to a comparison by the people of his own merits and those of General Grant. The popular vote in November was: Grant, 3,015,068; Seymour, 2.709,633. The Electoral College vote eventually showed 214 for Grant and Colfax, and 80 for Seymour and Blair.

So Seymour passed into the shade; and we may as well leave him there, ringing down the curtain on his public career in the paragraph penned by Ellis H. Roberts, who was of that period of New York politics but not of Seymour's party. Editor Roberts writes: "Mr. Seymour, who was never afterward a candidate for public office, although he appeared on the platform and in the press as the advocate of his party, devoted himself in larger measure to two departments in which he had already performed efficient labor. He became the zealous champion of the Erie Canal, and devoted much time and effort to protect and promote its interests, and, to the day of his death, exhibited in its behalf the same enthusiasm that gave him distinction more then forty years before. To the topography and history of the commonwealth he gave study; and in many occasional addresses, and hardly less in conversation with the many visitors who thronged to his home in Deerfield, he dilated on the imperial significance of the natural features of the domain, and on the distinct and strongly marked currents of the history of the empire State. When he died, February 12, 1866, he was lamented, even more than as a politician, as an orator of sign charms and power, as a citizen beloved in private life and as a New Yorker who loved his State, and delighted to praise its beauties and to eulogize its greatness." #12

Horace Greeley was not in an amiable mood at election time in 1868. Again he had been cheated of a chance of office. Fenton, in whom he had implicit confidence, had not been strong enough to bring the State Republican convention to see that Editor Greeley was the man best fitted to succeed him as Governor. The convention had been carried off its feet by Chauncey M. Depew, who used all his brilliant powers of speech in Greeley's behalf; delegates--almost the whole house--stood upon chairs, benches, desks, any eminence, in fact, and endorsed Depew's words with such hearty cheers that it seemed almost futile to even suggest the name of any other man than Greeley for the chief office; yet, at the first roll call, Griswold received 247 votes and Greeley only 95. Woodford trailing behind with 36 votes. One can well understand that Greeley's friends were stunned. The puzzled Depew "wondered how there could be so much smoke and so little fire." #13 Many reasons for the utter rout were put forward, but none more feasible than that suggested by the "Nation." "In public," said this Journal, "few members of conventions have the courage to deny his fitness, for any office, such are the terrors inspired by his editorial cowskin; but the moment the voting by ballots begins, the cowardly fellows repudiate him under the veil of secrecy." Greeley's ill-tempered editorial seared many men, but none so painfully as himself. Indeed, this editorial lion, in his scratching and pawing, had splintered and smashed the very piers of his own bridge to public office. So Griswold, not Greeley, held the Republican banner aloft in the State election in 1868. He id not hold it high enough, however, for Hoffman did better for the Democrats than in 1866. He was to be the next governor, Hoffman's majority over Griswold being 27,946. #14

"Boss" Tweed was now reaching out for control of the State. He was himself in the State Senate, and at the same time held seventeen city offices; and he could hear the state keys jingling in the hands of his agent, Hoffman. Soon, he would hear the jingle of public money, as it passed from the public treasury into private coffers. The Tweed "ring" had carried the State by fraudulent practices in the New York City constituencies, the naturalization of aliens of short residence being again resorted to; and its members were preparing to carry away the State purse. For the time being Tweed had to forget his national designs, for the Republicans in the State legislature still had a workable majority, on joint ballot; and they used it early in 1869 to send ex-governor Fenton to the United States Senate. However, the State was a big field, and Governor Hoffman was quite satisfactory to Tammany. Maybe, Greeley was not quite right in his estimation of John T. Hoffman, but certainly he was a Tammany man. In enumerating the staff officers of Boss Tweed, the "Tribune" said; "Then we have John T. Hoffman, who is kept by Tammany hall as a kind of respectable attaché. His humble work is to wear good clothes and be always gloved, to be decorous and polite; to be as much a model of deportment as Mr. Turvy-drop; to repeat as often as need be, in a loud voice, sentences about 'honesty' and 'public welfare,' but to appoint to rich places such men as Mr. Sweeney. Hoffman is kept for the edification of country Democrats, but all he has or ever can have comes from Tammany Hall." #15

Before passing on we must pause a moment to mote the passing of one of the greatest statesmen New York ever had. Secretary Seward made his last appearance upon a political platform during the campaign of 1868 in his home State. He spoke at Auburn, but so palpably spent in political energy was hem so jaded in public effort, that his uttered thoughts trailed along wearily, convincing nobody. No doubt many agreed with Mr. Cornell who, when giving thought to the suggestion of Andrew D. White that Mr. Seward be invited to speak at the annual commencement at Cornell University, said: "If you call him you will show to our students the deadest man that ain't buried in the State of New York." #16 Seward was soon to be buried as well as dead, but the Nation may consider itself fortunate that this great New Yorkers was alert as well as alive in 1867, at a time then Russia was willing to sell Alaska. Most Americans looked upon Alaska as "a barren, worthless, God-forsaken region," which, besides, "icebergs, and polar bears." Yielded only "a few wretched fish." Secretary Seward contrived to steer the purchase through the Congress and Senate, but for long Alaska was known as "Seward's Folly" or as "Johnson's Polar Bear," or by other less appreciative names. Not even Seward, great as was his faith in Alaska, could have imagined the great wealth it possessed. For this land "of icebergs and polar bears" Seward pledged the treasury of the United States to the extent of $7,200,00, in 1867. The exports from Alaska to the United Stated during one fiscal year, 1925-26, amounted to $534,426,419. Certainly, it was fortunate for the United States that the jaded Seward "deadest man that ain't buried," was still above ground in 1867. After completing this profitable real estate transaction--which by the way brought him little but ridicule--Seward laid down his public responsibilities, and spent most of few remaining years in foreign travel. Death came to him on October 10, 1872.

It hardly seems fitting to speak of Seward in the same breath with Tweed, though it seems unavoidable, in following chronologically the course of government history in New York. Tweed, in 1868, was king--king of the courts, of the council, of the Government. The courts, at his behest, were keeping the naturalization mills grinding at tenfold capacity, not even asking to see the men they naturalized, but taking the word of persons present in the courtroom that there were such men. One judge had worked the science of accelerated naturalizations up to such a high point that he could examine applicants in thirty seconds; elections judges could tally votes so rapidly that the aggregate of Democrat votes cast soon exceeded the total registration. Tweed merely smiled and went on with his work of governing. "He gave or refused nominations, not only in the city but in the State. He put his creatures on the benches of the courts of the metropolis, he advanced or crushed political aspirants, and from the taxpayers he drew plunder equal to the revenue of an empire," writes Roberts. In 1868 Tweed decided that New York City needed a new courthouse. One was ordered, but with a limit of cost. Eventually, it was found that the contractors of the $250,000 courthouse drew from city funds more than $10,000,000, as much as eighty-five per cent of their drafts being handed over to the agents of Tweed. In 1870, seemingly to give the taxpayers greater protection, the Tweed ring obtained from a willing, or napping, State legislature a new municipal charter, which conferred almost absolute control of the city upon four city officials, one of whom was Tweed, and all of when were his following. The constituted a board of audit, with control over all appropriations, and unlimited right to borrow money. Only one meting this board held, but at it fraudulent bills to the extent of $6,000,000 were passed. Later, the board delegated its power to one man, the auditor, who acted for Tweed.

So the ruthless robbery went on. The facility with which the election sheets could be wrongly tallied returned Hoffman to the Executive mansion in Albany in 1870. His majorities were no longer insignificant; the boss was now so expert in vote manufacture that his cohorts could have any number of excess votes they wished for. In 1870 Tweed found for Hoffman a majority of 52,277 in the city of New York, and 33,116 in the State.

By this time, "Tweedism had reached out for more complete mastery, by purchasing of Senators and Assemblymen. It gave sinecures on the municipal rolls to its creatures in the country as well as in the several wards; and while it imposed a toll on everything on which it was called to act, it exhibited a princely liberality to those who served it in official station, or in controlling legislation."

Plundering, which was protected by courts and legislatures, had become so respectable a business that Auditor Watson, Tweed's treasurer, kept accurately ledgered account of all robberies. More astounding, still, the other side of the ledger showed exactly how the spoil had been divided. Under the heading of "county liabilities," Auditor Watson "put down the shares of each of the robbers as carefully as if the proceedings were as regular and commendable as equity could dictate."

Of course, such an audacious system of pillage could not continue for very long, but Tweed thought his reign would be much longer than it was, and when forced to abdicate, he could not do so without disgorging. He was so well entrenched, and the plunderings were so inconceivable, that scores of millions were stolen before the crash came. As is so often the case, however, the exposure came from the least expected source. A clerk in the Comptroller's office discovered and bared the frauds. The New York "Times" was only too glad to make the exposure widely known. Prominent citizens now came forward in great numbers to free the city of the octopus that was strangling it and reaching out its tentacles to all State agencies of government. Samuel J. Tilden was prominent in the attack upon the monster; Evarts was one of the crusaders, and a committee of seventy, under Henry G. Stebbins, pursued investigations with relentless determination. Charles O'Conor became the deputy of the Attorney-General for the purpose of prosecution; and finally, comptroller Connolly found himself in jail there he rested for some time, in default of bail for $500,000, which Tweed apparently could not find. Tweed had to find $1,000,000 bail bond for his own person. Sweeney managed to escape overseas. But not until 1873 was Boss Tweed brought to trial, and retrial. In the latter he was found guilty. Sentenced to imprisonment for twelve years, he was out again in 1875, but was immediately re-arrested. A civil suit for recovery of $6,537,117 was pending, and Tweed was incarcerated in the debtor's prison, Ludlow Street jail. He escaped, but was finally traced to Vigo, in Spain, and brought back. Little of the money that he had pilfered was ever collected by New York, but it profited the thief little, for he died in prison in 1876. The corrupt judges were also swept from the bench, two by legislative impeachment.

Thus it took New York more than a decade to clean itself of the aftermath of war, and it was cheering, at least, to be able to think that the State and nation could begin its second century purged of two curses, slavery and corruption, which had threatened to destroy the democracy our forefathers and fathers had risked their lives to secure for themselves and for American posterity. "Graft" has raised its ugly head many times since the days of Boss Tweed, but never so shamelessly, and never with such colossal effect.

Greeley's Last Years--During the years of the Tweed furor, all other political and governmental issues seemed of minor importance, but much of consequence had happened. The fuel between Fenton and Conkling has split the Republicans and brought another party into the Presidential campaign of 1872. Conkling gained the upper hand, and Greeley and Fenton were left out in the cold, so far as State politics went. The followers of Conkling and Cornell were looked upon as Republicans and the supports of Fenton and Greeley as "Tammany Republicans." In 1871, one or more of the Tammany Republican leaders took orders from Tammany's Grand Sachem, Tweed, thought the New York "Times." "These men are receiving the devil's pay, and consequently, it is to be presumed, are doing the devil's work." The enemies of Greeley never had a more effective cry than "Tammany Republicans" with which to assail him. The great journalist was honorable, but some politicians he supported were not; and generally it was believed that any association with Tammany spelt corruption. The Republican State Committee, dominated by Conkling, ordered the dissolution of the Republican Committee of New York City, dominated by Greeley. Greeley was willing to obey, but his followers were not. So war between the Greeley Republicans and the Conkling Republicans--the city versus the State--began. Greeley called Conkling the "Pet of the petticoats"; and the Senator said worse things of the editor. At the State Republican convention of September, 1871, Cornell for Conkling took firm grip of the proceedings. Conkling defended the action of the State committee in dissolving the City committee, because "a horde of Tammany ballot-box stuffers, pirates and robbers had controlled and debauched the Republican organization in the city of New York"; nevertheless, in order to close Republican ranks, he proposed that both city committees be seated. Greeley, however, rebuked the Senator. If Tammany Republicans were corrupt, Conking should not consort with them. "If he believed what he said, he was guilty of party treason in the offer; if he did not, he added the folly of insult to the crime of four slander," said Greeley. Whereupon his followers spurned Conkling's offer and at once withdrew from the hall.

They did not fall down on their knees before Tammany. Greeley thought himself strong enough to fight for control of Republicanism. While Greeley was making plans to carry the fight between himself and Conkling into national channels, an ardent Democrat was bringing Tammany Democracy and Tweed to the ground. Samuel J. Tilden, just before election week of 1871 traced the participation of Tammany's Grand Sachem, Tweed, in the plundering of the city; and, as wholesale naturalization of aliens--or of name lists--was no longer possible, the Democrats failed to meet the emergency of a large up-State Republican majority by grinding out of the naturalization mill an overwhelming city Democrat majority. G. Hilton Scribner, a Conkling Republican, became Secretary of State, and the Republicans in the Legislature of 1872 had a majority of seventy-nine on joint ballot.

Republicans throughout the country had been differing seriously as to treatment of the South. President Grant's approval of the Ku Klux Act of 1871 and other pandering to the "carpet-baggers" of the South, to the detriment of the former Southern aristocracy, brought him considerable criticism. Most of the Southern States had been financially destitute at the end of the Civil War, but government by strangers and incompetents had made the reconstruction period even more disastrous. Florida's State debt had increased forty-five times in a decade, Georgia owed fifteen times as much as in 1860, and Alabama's debt had increased from six millions to forty millions. Tilden, who had been fighting Tweed, saw enough in the home situation to stagger any honest man, but New York was not the only seat of corruption. "I say today, in the face of Heaven and before all mankind," he said, "that the carpet-bag governments are infinitely worse than Tweed's government of the city of New York." #17

In January, 1872, the Republican faction that differed from Grant in some of the fundamentals of Southern reconstruction determined to go further. They met in convention at Jefferson City, Missouri, on the 24th of that month. From that convention a call was issued to all Republicans who differed with the administration to meet in national mass convention at Cincinnati on May 1. In New York State, the Liberal Republicans found a responsive group in the so-called Tammany Republicans. Fenton had had Presidential aspirations; but Fenton with Greeley, had been put into very dark shade by Conkling. "For more than a year," said Greeley, in may, 1872, "to be an avowed friend of Governor Fenton was to be marked for proscription at the White House." So Greeley intended to do all he could to prevent Grant from getting a second term. Hence, he and his New York City Republican malcontents attended the Cincinnati convention. Although the fight was long and sanguinary, Greeley emerged as the candidate of the Liberal Republicans for the Presidency. He ran a good race against General Grant, for he had the support of the Democrats also. #18 Even if he had defeated Grant he would still find Fate barring his way to office--for the last time. Death came to the great man of letters on November 29, 1872, within a month of the death of his wife.

His life had been a steady progression to premier place among newspaper men; he had had every reason to be pleased wit his professional success; but in what seem to have been the chief desire of his life--advancement in public office--his hopes, time after time, had been dashed to the ground. He died pining for what was just beyond his reach. Public favor had come easily to many men less talented than Greeley.

General Dix as Governor--The most surprising evolution of the State campaign of 1872 was the selection of a Democrat to head the Republican State ticket. Conkling had hoped to secure the nomination of Judge William H. Robertson, of Westchester, for the Governorship; but Weed at the last moment, through his agent, suggested General Dix to the convention. They stampeded to him. Had they had a little more time to look into his public record they would have seen that Dix had been most fluctuating in affiliation. His war record was very good, but in political life he seemed to be not nearly to stable. During his lifetime, however, [political parties had at time undergone rapid change; and Dix was not the only man who had been unable to follow his original party through all its changes of platform. Weed, Seward, Greeley, Seymour, Van Buren, Fillmore, and many other great New Yorkers come into the Dix category on this respect.

Undoubtedly, Dix was a good executive. There was, moreover, a chance that he could draw to the Republicans the small band of conservative Democrats who had been unable to follow radical Democrats into coalition with Greeley's liberal Republicans. So Dix held aloft the Republican standard, another soldier, General John A. Robinson, of Broome, being his side partner for Gubernatorial office. The Democrats nominated Francis Kernan, of Oneida, with Chauncey M. Depew, a Liberal, for second place. Governor Hoffman, of course, would not stand for re-election. In any event the Tweed case had swept away whatever chance he might otherwise have had. Kernan also had little chance, the voters spreading their condemnation of Tweed to all New York Democrats. General Dix carried the State by 55,451 plurality. #19

Dix was not to have a second term. He was, indeed, then a very old man, though still vigorous. Roberts, who was as well able to judge as any other political writer of that period, had a high opinion of Dix. "As Governor," he writes, "General Dix deserves to rank with the best trained and most competent of the distinguished men who have occupied the executive chair." #20 He lost very many votes in 1873, however, when he vetoed a bill which would have given municipalities local option in liquor licensing. His party could not refuse him re-nomination in 1874, for his executive record had been excellent, General Dix bringing into State department a much higher standard of efficiency, and infinitely better moral tone.

 

The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Debbie Axtman

You are the [an error occurred while processing this directive] Visitor to this USGenNet Safe-Site™ Since September 5, 2004.

2004

[Index][Book Index][NY][AHGP]