History of Ontario Co. & Its People

Vol. 1, Pub. 1911   Pg.  97 - 107

Thanks to Deborah Spencer for transcription of these pages.

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Mr. Clark’s First Public Office,  That of Sheriff of Ontario County -- Gained Prominence in the Senate as an Advocate of the Maine Law -- Gubernatorial Nominee of the Seward Whigs, Free Soil Democrats, and Prohibitionists -- Beginnings of the Republican Party. 

As pointed out in the last chapter, the conventions held in this State in 1854, to voice the aroused sentiment of the people against slavery extension, were not called “Republican.”  The only exception to this was in the case of Allegany county, where it is claimed that, at a convention held at Friendship in May of that year, the name Republican, first suggested by Horace GREELEY, was formally adopted and at a subsequent date a county ticket was nominated and supported under that name. 

James G. BLAINE, in a speech at Strong, Maine, August 19, 1884, where and when occurred one of the several celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the organization of the Republican party, aptly said:  “The place and the time where the Republican party was first organized will, I presume, remain, like the birthplace of HOMER, a subject of unending dispute.  Seven cities claimed the latter, and seven States may claim the former.  It could hardly be doubted that a great thought, common to the minds of a million of men, would find expression at the same time at places widely separated.”  But it is pretty generally conceded now that the first Republican State convention, Republican in name as well as in fact, was that held “under the oaks” at Jackson, Michigan, July 6, 1854.  Republican conventions were held and Republican tickets nominated that year in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Maine. 

In New York State, as we have seen, as in all the Eastern States, except Maine, it was known as the Anti-Nebraska movement, and its conventions made no independent nominations, but it represented here the same coalition and voiced the same principals that in other states raised the Republican flag, and in endorsing Myron H. CLARK, and his associates on the Whig ticket, it made them in fact the first Republican candidates for State office. 

Governor CLARK recognized this in the following letter written to A. N. COLE, of Allegany county, known widely as “the Father of the Republican party” from the fact that he called the Allegany county convention above referred to: 

Canandaigua, August 12, 1884. 

Hon. A. N. COLE, Wellsville

My long time, Dear Friend: 

Your note of the 9th instant, and a copy of the Genesee Valley Free Press of the same date, were both received by me yesterday.  You request me to give my recollections about the origin and organization of the Republican party; and to corroborate your statement in relation thereto, published in the paper you send me, so far as I am able. 

It affords me pleasure to comply with your request; and to vindicate “the truth of history,” for the benefit of the present generation of our citizens; many of whom can have but little appreciation of the stirring times, politically, you and I passed through in those early days of the party.  The organization of the Republican party in this State, was effected in 1854.  It was made up of the old Whigs, in large part; Temperance men, or Prohibitionists; Free Soil Democrats; and the “Anti-Nebraska” party.  The nominating State Conventions in this State of each of those parties were held as follows:  The Whig party, September 20, 1854, at Syracuse; the Free Democratic, September 25, ‘54; the Anti-Nebraska party, September 26, and the Temperance, or Prohibition State Convention, September 27, ‘54.  The last three at Auburn.  At each of these four State Conventions, I received the nomination for Governor; each of which I formally accepted, as the platforms of principles expressed and passed by the several Conventions, taken altogether, were in accordance with my political principles.  These nominations, and my acceptance constituted, in effect, the formation and beginning of the Republican party in this State; although not then designated as such, I believe, by any of them, except the Free Democratic.  There has been no Whig State Convention or party, in this State, since that time.  The Republican name may have been, and probably was, used in local, town, or county conventions, previous to that time; but not by any State or National conventions. 

My recollection coincides with your statement, that the name for the new party, “Republican, no prefix!  no suffix; but plain Republican,” was suggested by Horace GREELEY.  The name began to be used in the papers very soon; whether in the New York Tribune first, I do not remember.  But the Evening Chronicle, a Temperance and Anti-Slavery newspaper, published at Poughkeepsie, dated October 3, 1854, six days after my nomination, published “the Republican Platform.”  upon which (in connection with the Temperance platform), I stood and was elected.  I send you a slip from that paper containing the platform, and editorial comments upon the nomination, etc. 

My political platform of principles, like your own, then and ever since has consisted, mainly, of two planks; viz: opposition to Negro Slavery in the Nation; and Anti-rum, in the State.

Hence I have always been opposed to the Democratic party, although occasionally I have supported Democratic candidates for local offices, when they have been better men than their Republican opponents. 

The Republican party, thus made up and organized, on the principles and platforms originally adopted, has, with the aid of Providence made good beginning and much progress in the National branch of its work; whilst it has almost wholly ignored the temperance question, in its subsequent State Conventions; which I have very much regretted, believing it to be of paramount importance to the people, and the party.  I have, however, advised against the Prohibitionist party making a National ticket, believing it would be more practical, and useful, to confine its efforts to local, municipal, and State politics.  I nevertheless hope, and trust, that the Republican nominees for President and Vice-President, may be elected.  I shall give them my vote, and influence, to bring about that result.       With sincere regard and respect.  I am, 

Very truly yours,

Myron H. CLARK 

Governor CLARK erred in saying that the Republican name had not been used prior to the time mentioned by any State convention, but otherwise his review summarizes the 1854 campaign in this State.  The cooperation of the several parties mentioned in support of his candidacy for the governorship constituted in effect the beginning of the Republican party in this State. 

Myron H. CLARK was serving his second term in the State Senate, as the representative of the 29th, or Ontario-Livingston, district, at the opening of the year 1854.  Born in Naples, October 23, 1806, and a merchant by occupation, he had been elected sheriff of Ontario county on the Whig ticket in 1837, and having become a resident of Canandaigua had been elected in 1851 and again in 1853 as State Senator.  He had gained recognition as a competent, conscientious legislator, was one of the leaders of the Seward wing of the Whig party, and as chairman of the special committee which reported the Maine bill, designed to prohibit the sale of liquor in the State except for medicinal purposes, had gained State prominence. 

The temperance question was a burning one in the State at that time, being hardly inferior in popular interest to the slavery question.  It was the subject of heated debates in both houses of the Legislature.  Senator CLARK made a telling speech in support of the Maine measure, and it was finally passed, but to the great disappointment of the mass of the people it was vetoed by Governor SEYMOUR. 

Following the adjournment of the Legislature, the press continued the discussion, and almost immediately there were suggestions that Senator CLARK would be an available candidate for the governorship. 

“The Carson League,” published in New York, an organ of a State temperance organization of the same name, strongly urged his nomination.  Not only did The Times, the local Free Soil organ, commend the suggestion as gratifying to its editor personally and as pleasing to the community in general, but the Ontario Messenger, an ultra Democratic paper, declared:  “Since Mr. CLARK has been a member of the Legislature, he has proved himself to be one of the most able, consistent, and dignified temperance advocates in that body, and has won the confidence and esteem of men of all parties.”  “Here at home,” the Messenger continued, “where Mr. CLARK is known, it need hardly be said that the compliment intended by such a nomination is fully appreciated and could not be bestowed on a more worthy and deserving gentleman.”   

The Carson League of Ontario county, which was an organization for the enforcement of the then existing excise law and was officered by Jesse CAMPBELL, of Canandaigua, as president; Hiram H. SEELYE, of Seneca, as vice president; A. D. PLATT, of Seneca; T. E. HART, of Canandaigua, and Israel WASHBURN, of Phelps, as executive committee; John RAINES, of Canandaigua, grandfather of the late Senator John RAINES, author of the present Liquor Tax law, as treasurer, and Francis J. LAMB, of Canandaigua (now of Madison, Wisconsin), as secretary and agent, sent delegates to the State temperance convention instructed to favor Senator CLARK’s candidacy. 

The Whig convention for the Second Assembly district, held at Hick’s inn, in Bristol, September 16, was presided over by Hiram ASHLEY, of Richmond, as chairman, and Alexander H. HOWELL, of Canandaigua, as secretary.

N. J. MILLIKEN, editor of The Times, was elected delegate to the State convention and Solomon GOODALE, Jr., was nominated for member of Assembly. 

The First district convention, held at Clifton Springs the same day, nominated William H. LAMPORT, up to that time a Silver Gray or anti-Seward Whig, for member of Assembly.  There is no record as to who was the delegate elected to the State convention. 

At this last named convention held in Syracuse, September 20, an informal ballot developed 10 gubernatorial candidates, but Mr. CLARK led from the first and on the third formal ballot he received a majority of the votes cast and was declared the nominee.  Henry J. RAYMOND, editor of the New York Times, was nominated to the office of Lieutenant-Governor.  The resolutions declared that in their struggles against the principles involved in the Nebraska bill, the Whigs of New York invited “the cooperation, on terms of equality and fraternity, of all sincere and earnest champions of Free Labor and Free Soil.” 

The Times, voicing the sentiment at least of the Seward Whigs of Ontario county, said this in its issue of the following week: 

Myron H. CLARK, the nominee for Governor, is a citizen of this place, with whom most of our readers are personally acquainted.  He is a man of excellent judgment, and large experience in public affairs.  Plain and unassuming in his language and deportment, he is yet possessed of great energy and decision of character--is sound to the core on all the prominent political questions of the day, and firm as a rock in support of whatever he believes to be right.  It has been truly said that he is a self-made man, but he is none the less well made for all that; and whoever has observed his course in the Senate, where he now holds a seat on his second term, will be a witness to the statesmanlike qualities he has displayed in that body, and to the enlarged and liberal views which have ever governed his legislative action.”

It is interesting to note in passing that the local Whig ticket of that year was completed by the nomination of James L. SEELEY, for member of Congress, George RICE for superintendent of poor, Lyman CLARKE for justice of sessions, and Buell S. BARTLETT for coroner. 

Mr. CLARK’s nomination to the governorship was immediately endorsed by the Anti-Nebraska convention at its adjourned session, and successively, as stated in Governor CLARK’s letter above quoted, by the Free Soil Democratic convention and the Temperance convention.

The succeeding canvass was a bitter one and doubtful to the end, the Silver Gray wing of the Whig party being in open alliance with the Know Nothings in support of the latter’s candidate, Daniel ULLMAN; the Soft Shell Democrats rallying to the support of their party candidate, Horatio SEYMOUR, and the Hard Shell Democrats having a candidate, also, in the person of Greene C. BRONSON. 

The four-cornered fight ended in the election of the Whig-Anti-Nebraska-Free Soil-Temperance candidate by a small, but sufficient plurality, the vote being as follows:  Myron H. CLARK, 156,804; Horatio SEYMOUR, 156,495; Daniel ULLMAN, 122,282; Greene C. BRONSON, 33,850.  Ontario county gave CLARK 2,431, SEYMOUR 1,280, ULLMAN 3,148, and BRONSON 348 votes.  William H. LAMPORT was elected to the Assembly in the First district by 486 plurality, but Solomon GOODALE, the Whig candidate in the Second district, was defeated by Oliver CASE, his Democratic or Locofoco opponent.  [definition of Locofoc - a member of the radical faction of the New York City Democrats, organized in 1835 to oppose the conservative members of the party.]

There was great rejoicing in Canandaigua when it was finally known that its distinguished citizen, Myron H. CLARK, had been elected Governor of the State.  A celebration, opening with a salute of 100 guns, and closing with a banquet at the Canandaigua hotel, was held on the evening of November 29.  About 100 guests participated in the affair, Orson BENJAMIN acting as toastmaster and chairman.  Speeches were made by J. J. CHAMBERS, of Albany; Emory B. POTTLE, of Naples; Stafford C. CLEVELAND, of Penn Yan, and Ira R. PECK, of East Bloomfield.  Sentiments were offered by several of the guests. 

Thurlow WEED, the great Albany politician, sent a letter of regret in which he proposed the following toast: 

Canandaigua -- A village equally distinguished for its picturesque beauties and its social refinements.  The executive honors so long anticipated by its eminent citizens have finally rewarded unostentatious personal worth and unswerving political fidelity. 

The opposition made fun of the celebration, but it may be presumed that the Woolly Heads and their friends of the coalition read the jibes with equanimity.  They had won.  Their candidate for Governor, standing on a platform declaring for Free Labor and Free Soil, had been elected.  The Republican party of New York State, in effect, had been born, though not yet named.

The political pot had boiled furiously in 1854.  While party leaders clung to the old names, they participated in coalition movements.  The party voters divided into antagonistic and openly recognized factions -- the Democrats into Hard Shells and Soft Shells, as they resisted or acquiesced in the disposition manifested by their party organization to yield to the demands of the Southern slave power--the Whigs into Woolly Heads and Silver Grays, the former being the appellation derisively given those who sympathized with William H. SEWARD in his opposition to slave power aggressions, and the latter that which was applied to those who, following the lead of Francis GRANGER of Canandaigua, from whose beautiful silver gray hair the faction derived its name, deprecated any reopening of agitation over slavery questions.  The masses of the people thoroughly aroused by the heated discussions in Congress and in the press over the passage of the Fugitive Slave law and that admitting slavery to the territories of Kansas and Nebraska, had learned to exercise the right of bolting the “regular” party nominations.  But, as we have seen, the men who in New York State opposed the aggressions of the slave power, and who in 1854 had united to elect Myron H. CLARK to the governorship on a Free Soil and Free Labor platform, had not as yet been willing to admit that they were anything but Whigs or Democrats or Prohibitionists. 

The year 1855 was to see another step in advance taken by the New York State Free Soilers -- a step already taken, as we have seen, in several other Northern States.  Mr. CLARK, for political reasons, did not resign the office of Senator until the close of the year, and then a county “People’s Convention” of electors who were “in favor of restricting slavery” was called to elect delegates to a district convention which would nominate his successor.

It will be noted that the Free Soilers had reached a point where they were ready to stand up and be counted independent of former party affiliations. 

This “People’s Convention” was held in Canandaigua, January 20, 1855.  Officers were elected as follows:  President, Charles H. LOOMIS; vice presidents, Dr. WEBSTER, of East Bloomfield; George DUNKLE, of Hopewell; Elnathan W. SIMMONS, of Bristol; E. BLODGETT, of Gorham; and E. S. GREGORY, of Canandaigua; secretaries, Harvey STONE, Charles B. JOHNSON, and Sereno FRENCH.  Eighteen delegates were elected “to confer with a like number from Livingston county,” as follows:  First district--Staats GREEN, of Hopewell; Lebbeus KNAPP, of Hopewell; Harry GREGORY, of Hopewell; Thomas J. McLOUTH, of Farmington; Cornelius HORTON, of Phelps; Dr. J. H. HOWELL, of Phelps; E. DICKINSON, of Seneca; Samuel MORRISON, of Seneca; Hiram AXTELL, of Manchester.  Second district--Nathan J. MILLIKEN, of Canandaigua; Henry WILSON, of Canandaigua; Ira R. PECK, of East Bloomfield; Lyman HAWES, of Richmond; Francis MASON, of Bristol; Asahel GOODING, of Bristol; William C. DRYER, of Victor; Emory B. POTTLE, of Naples; Silas C. BROWN, of West Bloomfield. 

This county convention was held on Saturday.  On the following Monday, January 22, the 29th District convention to nominate a candidate to the vacancy was held, this also in Canandaigua.  Owing to a misunderstanding, the other county of the district, Livingston, was not represented by delegates, but S. C. BROWN, William CARTER, and Ira GODFREY, of that county, present as spectators, were invited to take seats in the convention.  Lyman HAWES, of Richmond, was elected chairman, and J. Q. HOWE, of Phelps, and Ira R. PECK, of East Bloomfield, officiated as secretaries. 

An informal vote for candidates for the State senatorship resulted as follows:  Chester LOOMIS received 7 votes; S. FOOTE, 2; E. W. SIMMONS, 4; Charles J. FOLGER, 1; blank, 1.  On a second ballot, Judge LOOMIS received 11 votes, Dr. SIMMONS 3, and Judge FOLGER 1. 

Judge LOOMIS was thereupon declared the nominee, and upon motion the following resolution was adopted: 

Resolved, That we regard all secret political organizations as anti-Republican in their tendency and dangerous to the institutions of our country, and that we will not hold political fellowship with those whom we have reason to believe are connected in any way with such orders; nor will we support for office any candidate who holds any connection with such organization.

The resolution thus adopted by the People’s convention was an indication of the local revulsion against the secret methods of the American or Know Nothing party, which had  then reached the culmination of its strength as a National political organization.  This party had its origin in 1852, under the name of “The Sons of ‘76,” or “The Order of the Star Spangled Banner,” and was an oath-bound society designed to exclude Roman Catholics and all foreigners from public office.  Its real name and object were not revealed to a member until he took the higher degrees, and as a result when asked questions regarding the order he naturally and invariably replied, “I don’t know.”  So in common parlance the members of the organization were called Know Nothings.  The order increased with wonderful rapidity.  The general political unrest, the widespread disgust with the management of the Whig and Democratic parties, and the innate love of man for the mysterious, contributed to its growth.  It became a power in 1854 in local and State elections, a fact that was evidenced by the 122,282 votes cast for Daniel ULLMAN, its candidate for Governor of New York, in that year.  But the slave power was destined to be the cause of its disruption, as it had been that of other parties.  When its National council at Philadelphia, June 5, 1855, adopted resolutions supporting the Fugitive Slave law and the Southern contentions generally, its fate was sealed. 

The council thereupon split, and though the order lived to embarrass Republican candidates in the National campaign of the next year and at various local elections intervening, it rapidly disintegrated.

As before stated, the election of a successor to Senator CLARK in the Ontario-Livingston district took place at the time when the Americans, Know Nothings, or Hindoos, as they were variously known, were at the height of their power.  Elisha W. GARDNER, of Canandaigua, who was an active participant in the exciting political events of that year and assisted in the organization of the bogus lodges that were instituted to break the strength of that most un-American of parties and to disclose to the people the true inwardness of its promoters, states that the convention or “council” at which it nominated a candidate in opposition to Judge LOOMIS was held in secret, the Saturday before the Tuesday on which election was held.  He recalls that this council, as was the case with all meetings of the party, was called, not by public notice, but my means of pieces of paper cut in cabalistic [meaning, occult] forms, whose meaning was known only to members of the order, and posted or scattered on the streets. 

Judge LOOMIS, the People’s candidate, had already served one four-years’ term, 1835-1838, in the State Senate, as one of the representatives of the old Seventh district, under the constitution of 1821, and was a well known and highly respected citizen. 

The Know Nothing candidate was Rev. William H. GOODWIN, a Methodist Episcopal clergyman then living at Geneva, and though the Ontario Messenger, the Democratic organ, and The Times, speaking for the Seward Whigs, united in hurling hot shot at his candidacy, he was elected over Judge LOOMIS.  The Repository, as the local organ of the Silver Grays, supported the Know Nothing candidate, and it is manifest that most of that wing of what had been the Whig party voted for him.  In Ontario county, Mr. GOODWIN received 3,337 votes as against 2,257 for Judge LOOMIS. 

This special election was held on Tuesday, January 30, 1855, and under authority of a special act of the Legislature the vote was canvassed and Senator GOODWIN took his seat in time to vote against the reelection of William H. SEWARD to the United States Senate. 

On the night preceding this election, at a public meeting in the court house in Canandaigua, Elbridge G. LAPHAM, then a prominent Democrat, but destined to rise to prominence in the Republican party, made a strong speech in support of the People’s candidate, the beginning, if we are correctly informed, of the custom that he afterward followed as a Republican campaigner in making the closing speech of each succeeding campaign to his own townspeople.

In the town elections held in this county in April of that year, the issue presented by the surprising growth of 'Know Nothingism' united with the ever insistent question of slavery extension to make an extremely exciting campaign.  As an indication of the trend of public sentiment at that time, it is interesting to note that the call for the Cheshire, or No. 9, caucus, to be held at the home of N. R. BOSWELL, March 28, was for a meeting of “all citizens opposed to the violation of solemn compromises to the extension of slavery, and to all secret and irresponsible societies.” 

The calls for caucuses to nominate candidates for town offices in other towns were couched in equally significant language.  The "Know Nothings", won out in Canandaigua, their nominee, Ebenezer HALE, being elected, but the “Antis”, carried eight of the towns of the county as compared with a Know Nothing, or Hindoo, list of six.  In Bristol the vote on supervisor was a tie, and Francis MASON, the Whig incumbent, held over. 

The county board of supervisors of that year was as follows: 

Anti-Hindoos--Thomas R. PECK, West Bloomfield; Henry W. HAMLIN, East Bloomfield; Francis MASON, Bristol; David A. PIERPONT, Richmond; Nathaniel G. AUSTIN, Canadice; David COYE, South Bristol; David PICKETT, Gorham; Daniel ARNOLD, Farmington; N. K. COLE, Manchester. 

Know Nothings -- Ebenezer HALE, Canandaigua; William S. CLARK, Victor; A. T. NELSON, Naples; Robert CHAPIN, Hopewell; S. B. POND, Phelps; James M. SOVERHILL, Seneca.


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