homas Bayard was a U.S. senator from Delaware, secretary of state, and
ambassador to Great Britain. From a prominent political family, he was the
grandson, son, and father of senators, James Asheton Bayard Sr. and Jr. and
Thomas Bayard Jr., respectively; his mother was Ann Francis Bayard.
In his youth, Thomas Bayard Sr. received a private-school education. At the age
of 15, he began working in a mercantile house in New York, where the family had
moved temporarily, then worked in Philadelphia during 1846-1847. In lieu of
college, he began reading law in 1850 in Wilmington, Delaware, passing the bar
the next year. He became a successful real-estate lawyer in Wilmington and
Philadelphia, and as U.S. district attorney for Delaware in 1853-1854. Bayard
married Louise Lee in 1856; they had nine children. During the Civil War, he was
a Peace Democrat, opposing both Confederate secession and the Union military
effort as unconstitutional.
In 1869, the Delaware legislature elected Bayard to succeed his father as U.S.
senator. An advocate of limited government, the new senator opposed the
Reconstruction program of the Republicans, subsidies and grants to railroad and
shipbuilding companies, and high protective tariffs. He endorsed civil service
reform, tariff reform, and resumption of the gold standard. He became
well-respected and liked on both sides of the aisle, and in 1877 was chosen as a
Democratic senate representative on the Electoral Commission, which decided the
contested presidential election of 1876. In 1880 and 1884, he was a leading
contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, but was hurt by his strong
stand on the issues and his previous position against the Civil War.
In 1885, President Grover Cleveland appointed Bayard as secretary of state.
Serving in the first Democratic administration since before the Civil War,
Secretary Bayard was flooded with requests for office, but largely abided by his
civil service principles to make appointments based on merit, not partisan
connections. Much of his time was taken negotiating with Great Britain
concerning a longstanding dispute over fishing rights. In February 1888, Bayard
and British colonial secretary Joseph Chamberlain signed a treaty defining which
Canadian waters would be open to American fishermen. The Republican-controlled
senate, however, rejected the Bayard-Chamberlain treaty in August, a few months
before the fall elections.
Although Bayard failed to get an agreement from the British to curtail their
seal-hunting practices which were threatening the herd with extinction, his
efforts set the stage for a future treaty (1893). Likewise, his negotiations
regarding a conflict between Germany, Britain, and the United States over Samoa
laid the groundwork for a future settlement.
When Chinese workers in Rock Springs, Wyoming, were attacked in 1885, killing
28, the Chinese government demanded that monetary damages be awarded by the
American government. Bayard denied the federal government's legal responsibility
for the acts of private citizens, but said that the president could make such a
request of Congress as an act of generosity. The American government paid the
Chinese an indemnity, and Bayard negotiated a treaty which banned the
importation of Chinese workers for 20 years. The Chinese government refused to
ratify the treaty, so the American Congress responded with the Scott Act of 1888
which unilaterally enacted the terms of the treaty (and extended the terms of
the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act).
Following Cleveland's loss of the 1888 presidential election, Bayard resumed his
law practice in Wilmington. His wife having died, he married Mary Clymer in
1889; they had no children. After Cleveland won reelection to a nonconsecutive
term in 1892, he named Bayard as the first U.S. ambassador to Great Britain
(previous appointments having held the title of minister). In that position,
Bayard strove diligently to improve Anglo-American relations. He caused
controversy, however, when he publicly denounced the American government's
policy of trade protectionism as a form of state socialism. Infuriated
Republican congressman called for his impeachment before settling on official
censure from the House of Representatives. In his last year in office, Bayard's
health declined, and he died in 1898 in his daughter's home in Massachusetts.