Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Horatio Seymour

One whose name and deeds are familiar to the people of the whole Union was Horatio Seymour, the most eminent and notable of the later Governors of New York. Born May 31st, 1810, at Pompey, Onondaga county, New York; a hamlet in what was then almost a wilderness.

When he was nine years of age his parents moved to Utica. His school education was obtained at the academies of Oxford and Geneva, New York, and Partridge’s military school, Middletown, Connecticut. He studied the science of law, and fitted himself for the profession, being admitted to the bar in 1832, but the death of his father devolved upon him the settlement of a large estate. This withdrew him from his intended calling, but enabled him to give ample time and attention to reading, for he had an intense thirst for knowledge.

His public life began with his appointment as military secretary to Governor Marcy. Martin Van Buren is said to have seen with his keen eye the valuable qualities in the young man, and the appointment was made at his instance. Seymour held this place through Marcy’s three terms, 1833-39, and being very young, he became enamored with public life. In 1841 he was elected to the State Assembly as a Democrat, was re-elected three times, and in 1845 was chosen speaker, which office he filled with dignity and courtesy toward all. In 1842, while in the assembly, he was elected Mayor of Utica for one year, and was especially interested in all public matters pertaining to the welfare of that city.

In 1850 Mr. Seymour was an unsuccessful candidate for governor of his native State, being defeated by his personal friend, Washington Hurt, by a plurality of only 262 votes. Considering the hopeless condition of the Democratic party at that time, and his majority of 20,000 over the same competitor two years later, we can imagine something of his popularity at this early period. His first term as the executive of New York was marked by his veto of the prohibitory law which had been passed by the legislature, but his action in regard to the speedy completion of all public works then in progress and the interest he manifested in the diffusion of public education was very exemplary. However, in the ensuing election he was defeated by a plurality, this time, of only 309 votes. In 1862 Mr. Seymour was again elected governor over Wadsworth by nearly 11,000 majority.

The breaking out of the civil war found Mr. Seymour allied to that element of the Democratic party which made its views formally known at what has passed into history as the “Tweedle Hall” meeting. He was one of the principal speakers at this memorable peace convention and employed his eloquence in behalf of concession and conciliation, and pointedly inquired: “Shall we compromise after war or without war?” His position was analogous with many of the great men in both parties at this time. When hostilities had really begun his tone changed, and in his inaugural address, January 1st, 1863, his position was clearly defined as follows: “Under no circumstances can the division of the Union be conceded. We will put forth every exertion of power; we will use every policy of conciliation; we will guarantee them every right, every consideration demanded by the constitution and by that fraternal regard which must prevail in a common country; but we can never voluntarily consent to the breaking up of the union of these States or the destruction of the constitution.”

President Lincoln telegraphed Mr. Seymour asking if he could raise and forward forthwith 20,000 troops to assist in repelling the threatened invasion by Lee, of Maryland and Pennsylvania. Within three days 12,000 soldiers were on their way to Gettysburg. The draft riots next occupied his attention. The National government passed a conscription act, March 3rd, enrolling all able-bodied citizens, between twenty and forty-five years ofage, and in May the President ordered a draft of three hundred thousand men. The project was exceedingly unpopular, and was bitterly denounced on every hand, says Barnes. The anti-slavery measure of the administration had already occupied widespread hostility to the war.

While Pickett’s noble southern troops were assaulting Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg, inflammatory handbills were being circulated in New York city, which brought on a riot July 13th. The mob rose in arms, sacked houses, demolished the offices of the provost-marshal, burned the colored orphan asylum, attacked the police, and chased negroes; even women and children, wherever found, were chased, and if caught hung to the nearest lamp-post. Two millions of dollars’ worth of property was destroyed. The Governor immediately went to New York, and on the 14th he issued two proclamations; one calling on the rioters to disperse; the other declaring the city in a state of insurrection. He divided the city into districts, which were placed under the control of military men, who were directed to organize the citizens; and 3,000 stands of arms were issued to these and other organizations. Boats were chartered to convey policemen and soldiers to any point on the shores of the island where disturbances were threatened. The Governor visited all the riotous districts in person, and by persuasion, as well as by the use of the force at his command, aided in quelling the disturbance.

During his term Governor Seymour commissioned more than 13,000 officers in the volunteer service of the United States. In August 1864 he presided over the Democratic National Convention at Chicago which nominated General McClellan for the presidency. Four years later, much against his will, he was nominated for the presidency himself and was defeated by General Grant, as any nominee of the Democratic party at that time would have been. He then retired to private life, dwelling in elegant repose at his pleasant home near Utica, New York, until his death which occurred February 12th, 1886.

His occasional addresses were charming to the hearer, and no man could deliver a more edifying speech at any celebration. He was an ardent lover of American history, particularly the history of his native State, and on all State topics he discoursed with learning and a charm peculiarly original. Notwithstanding the high position held by Mr. Seymour among the great men of his time his funeral was very simple. Rev. Dr. A. B. Goodrich offered a prayer at the residence of ex-Senator Roscoe Conkling, his brother-in-law, after which the regular services were conducted at the old Trinity Church. After the services the body was borne to Forest Hill Cemetery and placed in the Chapel of Roses.