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263. Gov. Thomas Hart Seymour

Note: See also: Thomas H. Seymour (Wikipedia).

263. Gov. THOMAS HART7 SEYMOUR (Henry6, Thomas5, Thomas4, Thomas3, John2, Richard1), born at Hartford, Conn., 29 Sept. 1807, died there 3 Sept. 1868, unmarried. He was certainly named Thomas Henry Seymour, but his name appears in most reference works as Thomas Hart Seymour, and he may have changed his middle name. A discussion of this question will be found in Appendix X.

He was educated in the public schools of Hartford, and in 1829 was graduated from Capt. Alden Partridge’s Military Institute, Middletown, Conn. He became editor of a Democratic paper, The Jeffersonian, as early as 1832, but was at the same time studying law, and was admitted to the Bar about 1833. He was also active in military affairs and was chosen Captain of the Hartford Light Guard.

His attractive personality, said to have been without equal in the State, and his popular manners and address, soon threw him into politics, and he was elected as a Democrat to the Twenty-eighth Congress (4 Mar. 1843 to 3 Mar. 1845). He declined renomination.

He was commissioned Major of Conn. Infantry, 16 Mar. 1847, and of the 9th U.S. Infantry, 9 Apr. 1847. The latter was the New England regiment of volunteers raised for service in the Mexican War, with Col. Truman Bishop Ransom of Vermont as its commander. On 13 Oct. 1847, Col. Ransom fell in the assault on Chapultepec. This was a fortress, the key to the City of Mexico, built upon a rock 150 feet high, impregnable on the north, and nearly so on the eastern and most of the southern face. Only the western and portions of the southern sides could be scaled. At a council of the commanders, two picked American regiments were selected to perform this task. One of them was “Tom” Seymour’s, and they pushed up the rugged steeps in the face of a withering fire. The walls at the base of this castle fortress had to be mounted by ladders. When Col. Ransom fell early in the assault, Seymour led the troops, scaled the heights and, with his command, was the first to enter the supposedly impregnable fortress.

Seymour, who had been promoted to Lieut.-Colonel, 12 Aug. 1847, was promoted to command of the regiment, brevet Colonel “for gallant and meritorious conduct in the battle of Chapultepec,” and took part in the capture of Mexico. He was honorably mustered out, 25 July 1848.

His popularity enhanced by his conduct in the Mexican War, the “Hero of Chapultepec” was nominated for Governor of Connecticut in 1849, but though gaining largely over the Democratic vote the preceding year, was not elected. In 1850 he was again a candidate and was elected by a handsome majority; and he was re-elected in 1851, 1852, and 1853. In 1852 he was Presidential Elector on the Pierce and King ticket, and in 1853 President Pierce appointed him U.S. Minister to Russia. Resigning the governorship, he accepted that post and filled it for four years. He formed a warm personal friendship for both the Czar Nicholas and his son, and received from them many costly tokens of their regard, including a handsome malachite table, which the author recalls viewing with awe when it was in the rooms of the Connecticut Historical Society. A pair of small, delicate, silver spurs, worn by “Governor Tom,” are preserved by the author with many souvenirs of the Hale Family at the “Birthplace” in Coventry, Conn.

While Minister to Russia, his Attache was the Hon. Andrew D. White, from whom we obtained the following anecdotes in 1905. Mr. White was greatly attached to Gov. Seymour, whose rare charm of manner, warmth of heart, and eagerness to serve others, had made a deep impression on him. He told of one occasion when an American gentleman and his wife, to whom Gov. Seymour was under no obligation, found themselves stranded in St. Petersburg. Gov. Seymour took them into his house, and on the lady’s account surrendered to them his own apartment, moving himself into a small, uncomfortable room in the back of the house, and not permitting any of his staff to give up their rooms. At one time, it was proposed that Mr. White should be initiated into some of the degrees of Masonry, Seymour and the rest of the company present being Masons. Gov. Seymour fell in with this proposal until he remembered that Masonry was forbidden in Russia, whereupon he took a firm stand and declined to participate, as he would not contravene the laws of Russia even though the house of the U.S. Minister enjoyed diplomatic immunity.

After nearly a year of foreign travel, Seymour returned to the United States in 1858. When the Civil War began, he opposed military measures against the South, and throughout the War was > the leader of the Connecticut Peace Democrats. He declined an invitation to act as vice-president of a war meeting held in Hartford 10 July 1862, and his remarks in his letter of refusal were used to injure him politically. He declined because the meeting “is one which ignores peaceful remedies of any sort as a means of restoring the Union, and calls loudly for men and means to aid in the subjugation and consequent degradation and overthrow of the South.” His attitude made him the object of bitter attack, and in 1862 Orville H. Platt, then a member of the Lower House, climbed a step- ladder and turned his portrait in the Senate Chamber to the wall. It so remained turned to the wall until after the end of the war. Platt by this act acquired the name of “Portrait Platt.” Years afterwards he had a notable career as one of the U.S. Senators from Connecticut. This identical portrait, illustrated herein, now hangs in the Memorial Hall in the State Library in Hartford, in its appropriate place in the line of Governors of Connecticut.

Seymour ran as Democratic candidate for Governor in 1863, and one opposition newspaper went so far as to print in parallel columns passages from Arnold’s “Proclamation” of 1780 and passages from the Democratic Platform of 1863 and from a speech of Seymour’s, with the comment, “Benedict Arnold and Thomas H. Seymour are alike in expression of their desire for peace.” A bitter campaign ended in his defeat by the Republican candidate, William A. Buckingham.

Mr. Seymour did not again enter the political arena. Although the popularity of the “Hero of Chapultepec” with the masses was in large measure sacrificed as a result of his attitude of conciliation with the South during the Civil War, many devoted friends remained loyal to him. He was firm and sincere in his convictions, even though it meant the end of his public career. Who can say, whether or not his was the wider vision? Or whether a spirit of compromise and conciliation on both sides might not have restored a united country, without the scars left by the defeat of the South? History can tell only what occurred, not what might have been. Perchance it took more courage for “Governor Tom” to swim against the tide of popular passion during the Civil War than was required to first scale the heights of Chapultepec.

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book/263.thomas_hart.txt · Last modified: 2014/11/01 15:00 (external edit)