Name:  Horatio Seymour

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Born:  May 31, 1810
Died:  February 12, 1886
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Horatio Seymour was the 1868 Democratic presidential nominee and twice governor of New York (1853-1855 and 1863-1865). He was born to Mary Forman Seymour and Henry Seymour, a storekeeper, in Pompey Hill, New York. He attended local academies, then moved with his family to Utica, where he studied law. He passed the state bar in 1832, but, having inherited a considerable estate, never had a need to practice law. In 1833, Seymour moved to Albany and became involved in Democratic state politics, serving as military secretary to Governor William Marcy. In 1835, Seymour married Mary Bleecker; they had no children.

Seymour made his electoral debut in 1841 when he won a seat in the New York state legislature, followed by a victorious run for the mayoralty of Utica in 1842. Defeated for reelection as mayor, he returned to the state assembly in 1844. As chairman of the canals committee, he gained recognition as a persuasive advocate for upgrading the Erie Canal. Having built a reputation for effectively forging compromises between competing wings of the Democratic party, he was elected speaker of the assembly in 1845.

Seymour and Marcy were leaders of the "Hunker" faction, which supported government-funded internal improvements, liberal chartering of state banks, and opposed the anti-slavery movement. They battled for control of the New York Democracy against former president Martin Van Buren's "Barnburner" faction, which favored free enterprise and opposed the expansion of slavery. Frustrated by the in-fighting and disappointed with the legislative session, Speaker Seymour did not seek reelection.

The Hunker support of President James Polk's policy of territorial expansion, partially aimed at extending slavery to the West, provoked the Barnburners to bolt from the Democratic party and to nominate Van Buren for president on the Free-Soil ticket in 1848. With the Hunkers in control of the Democratic party, Seymour decided to seek the governorship. In 1850, he lost to Washington Hunt, the Whig nominee, by less than 300 votes, but defeated Hunt in 1852, 50% to 46%. As governor (1853-1855), Seymour oversaw the enactment of penal reform and opposed prohibition and nativism.

During Seymour's gubernatorial term, the New York Democratic party once again divided; this time over the presidential administration of Democrat Franklin Pierce. In the four-way gubernatorial race of 1854, Seymour, nominated by the pro-Pierce "Hard" faction, faced nominees of the anti-Pierce "Soft" faction (led by Daniel Dickinson), the Republican party, and the nativist American party. Seymour lost by just over 300 votes to Republican Myron Clark, and returned to private life. He continued to participate behind the scenes in Democratic party politics, switching to the "Soft" side, which supported Senator Stephen Douglas of Illinois against President James Buchanan.

When the Civil War began, Seymour guardedly supported the Union war effort, and was not aligned with the anti-war "Peace" Democrats. As the war progressed, he increasingly spoke out against what he believed were the misguided policies of the administration of President Abraham Lincoln, especially government centralization, emancipation, the military draft, and violations of civil liberties.

In 1862, Seymour was again elected governor, and worked hard to fill his state's military quotas. He fought against the Lincoln administration's attempt to censure and harass Peace Democrats. When draft riots erupted in New York City in July 1863, Seymour traveled there in an attempt to pacify the situation. In a controversial speech, he addressed the rioters as "My Friends." Since the rioters had destroyed property, lynched blacks, burned the Colored Orphan Asylum, and resisted federal policy, Republicans were infuriated and would forever link him with the riots.

In 1864, Seymour lost his bid for reelection as governor to Republican Reuben Fenton, but became one of the national spokesmen for the Democratic party. After the Civil War, Seymour opposed Radical Reconstruction and urged the nation to move forward to other issues, such as monetary policy.

In 1868, a deadlocked convention turned to a reluctant Seymour as its presidential nominee. Running against Civil War hero General Ulysses S. Grant, Seymour stood little chance of victory. During the campaign, Republicans "waved the bloody shirt" by tarring the former New York governor as a Confederate sympathizer and a callous supporter of the draft rioters. Cartoonist Thomas Nast of Harper's Weekly demonized the Democratic standard-bearer by continually exaggerating the candidate's wavy hair into demonic horns and, on one occasion, by presenting him as Satan. The shoot-from-the-lip antics of Seymour's running-mate, Frank Blair Jr., further undermined the chances of the Democratic ticket. Although losing the election, Seymour garnered 47% of the vote, the highest tally for a Democratic presidential nominee since 1852.

In his final years, Seymour participated in Democratic politics as an elder statesman, mentoring Samuel Tilden, Grover Cleveland, and other rising party leaders. Seymour was again nominated for governor in 1876, but declined the offer. He died in 1886 in New York.

Sources consulted: American National Biography; Stewart Mitchell, Horatio Seymour of New York.











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