Why Some Succeed While Others Fail: Thurlow Weed

Who indeed has not heard of Thurlow Weed, “The king maker,” born at Cairo, Greene County, New York, November 15, 1797. His father was a teamster and farmer. The reader can get some insight into the seemingly mysterious power he held for so many years, when it was known that so great was his thirst for knowledge that he was glad to wrap bits of a rag carpet about his feet and thus shod walk through the snow two miles to borrow a history of the French Revolution, which he mastered at night, stretched before ‘the sap bush fire.’

The more one investigates the character and lives of those men whom we so often envy, the more we are forced to see that it was will-power rightly directed that overcame all obstacles. Certain it is to this that Thurlow Weed owes his everlasting fame as the ‘American Warwick’; for knowledge is power. He first left the farm work as a cabin boy on a Hudson river steamboat bound for New York, but being born a journalist he soon drifted into a printing office where he became a good journeyman.

When the second war with Great Britain broke out he enlisted, and served on the Northern frontier, where by faithfulness he became Quartermaster Sergeant. When the war was over he returned to the printing office, being at one time in the same establishment with the late James Harper. Finally he started a paper at Oxford, New York, in 1818. He afterward became connected with the Onondaga Times, which he finally changed to the Republican. For the next few years he is connected with several different papers until we find him in Rochester at the head of the Anti-Masonic Enquirer.

About this time the body of a man who had drowned in Lake Ontario was found, and it was claimed that his name was Morgan; if so, he was a renegade mason. A question of identity was raised, but as his murder was boldly asserted to have been the work of Masonry, it caused a great excitement for the time being. This excitement divided the political parties into Mason and Anti-Mason factions. Anti-Masonry was the political fertilizer which produced the astonishing growth of the assiduous Weed, he being sent to the Assembly twice, mainly on that issue. While at Albany his ability as a party leader becoming so apparent he was decided upon as the proper person to assume the party leadership against the obnoxious ‘Albany Regency,’ the great Democratic power in New York State at the time. He accordingly moved to Albany and assumed the editorship of the Albany Evening Journal. Weed was one of the men who consolidated the Anti-Jackson, Anti-Mason and old Federal factions into the Whig party. The ‘Regency’ with which he had to deal consisted of such men as Martin Van Buren, Silas Wright, Willian L. Marcy and others of equal ability. Such were the men with whom he was pitted, but they soon found him in every way worthy of their steel. No one, when speaking of this great political warrior ever thought or spoke of him as a millionaire. Seemingly no one cared how much he was worth; but what did worry them was,—what will be the outcome of this secret conclave which we now suspect to be in progress at the headquarters of the opposition of the ‘Albany Regency.’

He went to battle fearlessly, and his terse pen dealt stinging blows straight in the face of the opponent. Indeed, as an editor he has been rarely equaled. While Greeley would devote a column to an article, he would take the same subject and in a few words put the argument in such shape as to carry far more conviction. His two terms in the State Assembly wound up his career as a legislator, although he could have had any place within the gift of his party from 1830 to 1860. His ambition was not to hold office but to rule men, and it is well-known that his desires were accomplished. He was a great dictator, being largely instrumental as an independent advisor in the selection of Harrison, Taylor and Scott. His first trial of personal strength in this line was when he secured the nomination and election of his personal friend, William H. Seward, as the first Whig Governor of New York. Mr. Seward, who was an unobtrusive man, was one time riding with the driver on a stage when that dignitary asked the stranger his name and business, as was customary when people did not volunteer the information. The answer was, “Why, I’m William H. Seward, Governor of the State.” This was too good for the driver, whose answer was a loud laugh, plainly implying that he considered that the gentleman had given a most cute but evasive answer. “Don’t you believe me?” asked Seward. “Of course not,” replied the driver. Mr. Seward, who was acquainted with the proprietor of the next hotel they came to, agreed to leave it to him. In time they arrived and the driver, calling out the landlord, immediately said, “This man says he is Governor of New York State and we have left the matter to you.” “Yes,” broke in Seward, “am I not Governor of this State?” The answer came quick and sharp; “No, but Thurlow Weed is.” “There,” exclaimed the ignorant driver, who could not see the point at once; “I knew you weren’t Governor of New York State.”

In 1864 Mr. Weed sold the Journal, but never entirely suspended literary work. He afterward assumed the editorship of the New York Commercial Advertiser, and often sent letters to the Tribune. In 1882, shortly before his death, the country was set in a flutter by his publishing the whole details relating to the Morgan matter, which he had kept all this time claiming it would injure certain parties, but as the last had died, it was now made public. On November 23rd of the same year one more great journalist passed away. He left a large estate, but a larger host of friends.