244. GOV. HORATIO7 SEYMOUR (Henry6, Moses5, Moses4, John3, John2, Richard1), born at Pompey Hill, N.Y., 31 May 1810, died at Utica, N.Y., 12 Feb. 1886; married 31 May 1835, MARY BLEECKER, born at Albany, N.Y., 12 Apr. 1812, died at Utica, N.Y., 8 Mar. 1886, daughter of John Rutger and Hester (Barley), of Albany. No children.
He attended school in his native village until he was ten years of age, when he was sent to Oxford Academy. In the spring of 1824 he entered Geneva academy (now Hobart college), and remained there a year, going thence to Partridge's Military Institute at Middletown, Conn. He studied law with Greene C. Bronson and Samuel Beardsley, and was admitted to the bar in 1832, but he never practised his profession, the care of the property he had inherited taking up much of his time. He became military secretary of Gov. William L. Marcy in 1833, and held the place until 1839. In 1841 he was elected to the state assembly as a Democrat, and in 1842 was elected mayor of Utica by a majority of 130 over Spencer Kellogg, the Whig candidate. In 1843 he was renominated, but was beaten by Frederick Hollister by sixteen votes. In the autumn of the same year he was elected again to the assembly, and in the session that began in 1844 he distinguished himself among men like John A. Dix, Sanford E. Church, and Michael Hoffman. He was chairman of the committee on canals, and presented an elaborate report, which was the basis of the canal policy of the state for many years. He advocated the employment of the surplus revenue to enlarge the locks of the Erie canal and proceed with the construction of the Black river and Genesee valley canals, and he showed thorough confidence in the development of trade with the west. He was once more elected to the assembly in the autumn of 1844, and was chosen speaker in the legislature of 1845. In 1850 he became the candidate of the Democratic party for governor, as a man acceptable to all its factions; but he was defeated by the Whig candidate, Washington Hunt, by a majority of 262, though Sanford E. Church, his associate on the Democratic ticket, was elected lieutenant-governor. In 1852 he was a delegate to the Democratic national convention at Baltimore, and did all in his power to have the vote of the New York delegation cast wholly for William L. Marcy, but failed. The same year he was again nominated as the Democratic candidate for governor, and was elected by a majority of 22,596 over his former competitor, Washington Hunt. During his term there was a strong temperance movement in the state, and the legislature passed a prohibitory law, which Gov. Seymour vetoed, declaring its provisions to be unconstitutional, and denying its good policy. In 1854 he was renominated for the governorship, and received 156,495 votes, to 156,804 cast for Myron H. Clark, the Whig and temperance candidate, 122,282 for Daniel Ullman, the “Know- Nothing” candidate, and 33,500 for Greene C. Bronson, the candidate of the “Hard-shell” Democrats. The vetoed law was again passed by the legislature, approved by Gov. Clark, and afterwards declared unconstitutional by the court of appeals. In 1856 Mr. Seymour was a delegate to the Democratic national convention at Cincinnati, and he supported the Democratic candidates, Buchanan and Breckinridge, actively in the presidential canvass of that year. In a speech delivered at Springfield, Mass., 4 July 1856, he set forth the political principles that he had previously followed and afterward adhered to. It gives the key to his whole political career. He argued against centralization and for local authority: “That government is most wise which is in the hands of those best informed about the particular questions on which they legislate, most economical and honest when controlled by those most interested in preserving frugality and virtue, most strong when it only exercises authority which is beneficial to the governed.” He argued against the attempt to reform by legislative restraint, instancing a prison as a type of society perfectly regulated and yet vicious. He argued for a liberal policy in regard to immigration, saying that it was bringing acquisitions of power, peacefully and easily, such as no conqueror had ever won in war; but he did not deny the right of the people of this country to regulate immigration or even to forbid it altogether, which he asserted many years afterward in regard to the importation of Chinese. He argued that the growth of the north was so much more rapid than that of the south that political supremacy had passed into the hands of the free states. He argued for the right of the people of the territories to settle the slavery question for themselves, assuming that under such a policy there would be a rapid increase of free states.
In 1857 Mr. Seymour received from President Buchanan the offer of a first-class foreign mission, but declined it; and he took no prominent part in politics again until the secession movement began. He was a member of the committee on resolutions at the convention held in Tweddle hall, Albany, 31 Jan. 1861, after the secession of six states, to consider the feasibility of compromise measures; and he delivered a speech designed mainly to show the peculiar dangers of civil war. When the war began in 1861, Mr. Seymour was in Madison, Wis., and the Democratic members of the legislature, then in session, called him into consultation as to the proper course of political action. He counselled the simple duty of loyalty, to obey the laws, and maintain the national authority, and he was active in raising one of the first companies of Wisconsin volunteers. When he returned home in the autumn he spoke at a Democratic ratification meeting held in Utica, 28 Oct. 1861, saying: “In common with the majority of the American people, I deplored the election of Mr. Lincoln as a great calamity; yet he was chosen in a constitutional manner, and we wish, as a defeated organization, to show our loyalty by giving him a just and generous support.” He was an active member of the committee appointed by Gov. Edwin D. Morgan to raise troops in Oneida county, and he contributed liberally to the fund for the volunteers. In the following winter he delivered at Albany an address on the state and national defences; at a meeting of representative Democrats, held in the state capital in the disastrous summer of 1862, he introduced a resolution that “we were bound in honor and patriotism to send immediate relief to our brethren in the field”; and, at the request of the adjutant-general of the state, he became chairman of the committee to take charge of recruiting in his own neighborhood. On 10 Sept. 1862, the Democratic state convention nominated him for governor. In his address to that body, accepting the nomination, he intimated that compromise measures might have prevented the war, justified the maintenance of party organization, criticised the spirit of Congress as contrasted with that of the army as he had found both during a visit to the national capital and the camps, and argued that the Republican party could not, in the nature of things, save the nation. After a canvass in which he asserted on all occasions the right of criticising the administration and the duty of sustaining the government, he was elected, defeating Gen. James S. Wadsworth by a majority of 10,752 votes. Perhaps the fairest statement of his position in regard to the war at that period is to be found in the following passage from his inaugural message of 7 Jan. 1863: “The assertion that this war was the unavoidable result of slavery is not only erroneous, but it has led to a disastrous policy in its prosecution. The opinion that slavery must be abolished to restore our Union creates an antagonism between the free and the slave states which ought not to exist. If it is true that slavery must be abolished by the force of the Federal government, that the south must be held in military subjection, that four millions of negroes must for many years be under the direct management of the authorities at Washington at the public expense, then, indeed, we must endure the waste of our armies in the field, further drains upon our population, and still greater burdens of debt. We must convert our government into a military despotism. The mischievous opinion that in this contest the north must subjugate and destroy the south to save our Union has weakened the hopes of our citizens at home and destroyed confidence in our success abroad.” This argument against the probability of success along the path that finally led to it was of course supplemented by an unequivocal declaration in favor of the restoration of the Union and the supremacy of the constitution. On 23 March 1863, President Lincoln wrote to Gov. Seymour a letter seeming to suggest a personal pledge of co-operation, and the governor se nt his brother to Washington to convey assurances of loyal support, but along with them a protest against the policy of arbitrary arrests. On 13 April 1863, Gov. Seymour sent to the legislature a message suggesting a constitutional amendment as a necessary preliminary to a law allowing soldiers in the field to vote; and on 24 April he vetoed a bill “to secure the elective franchise to qualified voters of the army and navy of the state of New York,” on the ground that it was unconstitutional. The amendment that he had recommended was afterward adopted. In everything pertaining to the raising of troops Gov. Seymour's administration showed conspicuous energy and ability, but especially in the effort to meet Lee's invasion of the north in the early summer of 1863. On 15 June the secretary of war telegraphed to Gov. Seymour asking for help, and within three days 12,000 state militia, “well equipped and in good spirits,” were on their way to Harrisburg. The good-will for such an achievement was not rare during the war, but it was not often joined with the necessary executive ability, and President Lincoln and Sec. Stanton both sent their thanks to Gov. Seymour for his promptitude. On 2 July, Gov. Curtin, of Pennsylvania, telegraphed for aid, and on the two following days troops were sent to his assistance.
During the absence of the New York militia the draft riots began. They had their pretext, if not their origin, in two grievances, which were afterward abolished. One was the commutation clause in the draft law, which provided that any drafted man might obtain exemption by paying the government three hundred dollars. The poor regarded this as a fraud upon them in the desperate lottery of life and death. The other was a discrimination against New York state, and especially New York city, in the allotment of quotas. Gov. Seymour had been anxious to have this injustice corrected, and to have the draft postponed; but it began in the metropolis on Saturday, 11 July 1863. On Sunday the names of those drawn were published, and on Monday the rioting began. The rioters stopped at no outrage, not even the murder of the innocent and helpless. That night the governor reached the city, and the next day he issued two proclamations, the first calling upon all citizens to retire to their homes and preserve the peace, and the second declaring the city in a state of insurrection. The same day he took measures for enrolling volunteers and gathering all available troops. On Tuesday he also spoke to a mob in front of the city-hall. Then, and ever afterward, his impromptu speech was the subject of bitter criticism. It seems clear, from various conflicting and imperfect reports of it, that he promised the crowd that if they had grievances they would be redressed, declared himself their friend, and urged the necessity of obedience to law and the restoration of order. The design of the speech was twofold-to persuade the crowd to disperse, and, in any event, to gain time for the concentration of the forces within reach to suppress the riot. Under the direction of Gen. John E. Wool, with but slight aid from the National forces, order was restored within forty-eight hours The rioting lasted from Monday afternoon until Thursday evening, cost about a thousand lives, and involved the destruction of property estimated at from half a million to three million dollars in value. Shortly afterward Gov. Seymour wrote to President Lincoln, pointing out the injustice done in the enrolment, and asking to have the draft stopped, in order that New York might fill her quota with volunteers. The president conceded that there was an apparent unfairness in the enrolment, but refused to stop the draft. A commission, appointed by the war department to investigate the matter, declared that the enrolment under the act of 3 March 1863, was imperfect, erroneous, and excessive, especially with reference to the cities of New York and Brooklyn. On 16 April 1864, a Republican legislature passed a resolution thanking Gov. Seymour for his “prompt and efficient efforts” in pointing out the errors of the enrolment and procuring their correction. He took an active part in the state canvass of 1863, making many speeches in defence of his own record and the principles of his party, and attacking the policy of the administration; but in the election the state gave a Republican majority of about 29,000. On 22 April 1864, the governor sent to the legislature a message urging the payment of interest on the state debt in gold; and this action was construed by political opponents as a covert attack on the national credit. On 3 Aug. 1864, the Democratic national convention met in Chicago, and Gov. Seymour presided, refusing to be a candidate for the presidential nomination. But he became a candidate for the governorship that year, and was defeated by Reuben E. Fenton, Republican, by a majority of 8,293.
After the close of the war Mr. Seymour remained a leader in politics. He made speeches in the state canvasses of 1865, 1866, and 1867, opposing strongly the reconstruction policy of the Republican party, and criticising sharply its financial methods. He presided over the state conventions of his party, 3 Oct. 1867, and 11 Mar. 1868, and over the national convention that met in New York city, 4 July 1868. In spite of previous declarations that he would not be a candidate before that body, and in spite of his protestations during its proceedings, the convention nominated him for the presidency, and he allowed himself, against his better judgment, to be overpersuaded into accepting the nomination. In the election of 3 Nov. 1868, he carried the states of Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Oregon; Mississippi, Virginia, and Texas did not vote; and the rest of the states voted for Gen. Grant, the Republican candidate. The electoral vote stood 214 for Grant and 80 for Seymour; the popular vote, 3,015,071 for Grant and 2,709,213 for Seymour. This defeat virtually closed Mr. Seymour's political career, for, though mentioned in connection with the presidency regularly every four years, offered the senatorship, and nominated for the governorship, he refused steadily to have anything more to do with public office. The remote origin of his last illness was a sunstroke, which he suffered in 1876 while overseeing the repairing of the roads in Deerfield, near Utica, where he had settled in 1864. Mr. Seymour was of fair stature, lithely and gracefully built, and had a refined face, lighted up by dark, glowing eyes. In social intercourse he was simple in manner and considerate in spirit. As an orator he was easy, agreeable, and powerful, plausible and candid in ordinary argument, and yet rising often into true eloquence. He made many speeches on other than political occasions; he loved farming, and often delivered addresses at agricultural gatherings: he was a member of the Protestant Episcopal church, and frequently took part in its conventions as a lay delegate; he was a member of the commission for the state survey, and was in an especial way the champion of the canal system. It may be said broadly that he was master of everything connected with the history, topography, and institutions of New York.