- Thurlow Weed
Thurlow Weed (
November 15, 1797– November 22, 1882) was a New Yorkpolitical boss. While he never held national office himself, he was the principal political advisor to the prominent New York politician William H. Sewardand was instrumental in the presidential nominations of William Henry Harrison(1840), Henry Clay(1844), Zachary Taylor(1848), Winfield Scott(1852), John Charles Frémont(1856) and Abraham Lincoln(1860).
Weed was born into a family of farmers in Cairo,
Greene County, New York, and received little formal schooling. He spent much of his youth working on boats on the Hudson River. He served in the War of 1812, though he was quite young at the time; after the war he ran the printing presses for the Albany "Register".
Weed became interested in politics while working with the newspaper, and was an early supporter of
DeWitt Clinton. In 1824 he was a strong supporter of the presidential bid of John Quincy Adams, and was able to use his influence to ensure Adams' victory in New York. Weed himself also sought and won election that year to the New York State Assembly. In the assembly, he met and befriended William H. Seward.
Weed was a vocal member of the Anti-Masonic movement. In 1825, he bought the Rochester "Telegraph", but was forced out in 1828 by Masonic interests. Subsequently, he founded the Antimasonic "Enquirer", which became the voice of the Antimasonic movement in New York. That year, Weed again supported John Quincy Adams and worked to align the strong anti-Masonic movement in New York with the national Adams organization. Adams' political supporters were key players in the development of the Whig Party, and that party soon absorbed the Anti-masonic movement in New York, giving Weed a new home in a more mainstream and larger political organization.
In 1829, Weed was an Anti-Masonic member of the
New York State Assembly, and also started production of the " Albany Evening Journal", the first number was issued on March 22, 1830. The "Evening Journal" was first the main Anti-Masonic newspaper, and from 1834 on the main Whig paper and had in the 1840s the largest circulation of any political newspaper in the United States. After 1856, it was one of the Republican newspapers. As the "Evening Journal"'s editor, proof reader, political manager and main reporter, he was a vocal advocate for economic development, supporting new banking measures, internal improvements such as roads and railroads, and the rest of Henry Clay's American System.
Weed skillfully blamed the
Panic of 1837on Martin van Burenand the Democrats, and in 1838, he pushed his friend and fellow Whig Seward for the governor's race, and was largely credited with Seward's victory. Seward thus owed Weed favors throughout his governorship, which increased Weed's power in the state. Weed then put the power of the New York Whig party behind William Henry Harrison's presidential bid in 1840. By this time, Weed had the power to bend the Whig party to his will.
Weed was a masterful political organizer. He controlled the Whig Party totally, giving the New York Whigs a degree of discipline that was then the hallmark of the Democrats under leaders like
Andrew Jacksonwhile remaining a popular and likeable fellow. He knew well how to manipulate the press--a task made easier by remaining an active newspaper editor even while in the state Assembly--and readily used patronage and political favors to keep order in the party. Under Weed's leadership, the Whig Party became the dominant force in New York state politics for several years, and Weed as leader of the state Assembly and close friend of Seward became arguably the most powerful man in New York for at least a decade. Weed was also a strong pragmatist; while he shared the idealist views of most of his fellow Whigs, he never strongly supported any controversial Whig positions lest they prove upsetting to the voters on election day. Weed was, however, strongly opposed to slavery, and did not shy from anti-slavery proclamations; however, he also discounted the views of the more radical abolitionists.
Weed was disappointed in
John Tyler's actions as president after the death of Harrison, and throughout much of the 1840s felt stymied in his attempts to bend national politics to his will. After the Mexican-American War, however, Weed became enamored with Zachary Taylorand supported his successful bid for the White House. Once again, however, a Whig general proved unable to survive a presidential term and the presidency of Millard Fillmoreand passage of the Compromise of 1850convinced him that the Whig party was on its last legs. In 1852, he took an extended trip to Europe, visiting England, France, and Germanyamong other places and remaining abroad for over a year.
Trip to Europe
Before his departure for Europe, Weed played a leading role in the passage of the Consolidation Act through the state legislature; the Act created the
New York CentralRailroad, at the time the largest corporationin the United States. Weed did this largely as a favor to his friend Erastus Corning, though Corning was a Democrat and had not supported Seward's gubernatorial bid or Taylor's quest for the presidency.
When Weed returned to the United States, he found that the Republican Party had been formed largely in opposition to the
Kansas-Nebraska Act, and that his friend William Seward had already joined. Weed soon became an influential member of the party and pushed Seward's name for the 1860 Presidential nomination of the party. However, Weed's reputation as a strong-arm political boss and his staunch opposition to Democrats in his earlier years caused the Republican delegates in Chicago--some of whom were former Democrats--to distrust him; Weed's support may have ultimately cost Seward the nomination. Nonetheless, Weed was a strong supporter of nominee Abraham Lincolnin the 1860 election and throughout his administration. During the Civil War, Weed served as an unofficial envoy to France.
In 1863, Weed came out against the
Emancipation Proclamationon the grounds that emancipation should be more gradual. He soon lost favor with the administration. Then he threw in with Andrew Johnsonand his Reconstruction policies, which essentially ended Weed's political career in the Republican Party. He retired from public life not long after the Civil War and moved to New York City in 1867. There he briefly edited a newspaper, but while he remained engaged in politics he never sought or held another office and never exerted the sort of influence he had had in the past. He died in New York in 1882.
* [http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/nyhs/weed.html Thurlow Weed Miscellaneous Manuscripts,1818-1882] New-York Historical Society
* [http://www.mrlincolnandnewyork.org/inside.asp?ID=67&subjectID=3 Mr. Lincoln and New York: Thurlow Weed]
* [http://www.mlwh.org/inside.asp?ID=40&subjectID=2 Mr. Lincoln's White House: Thurlow Weed]
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