A. Oakey Hall

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Abraham Oakey Hall, circa 1870
Mayor Hall. Want your place paved, you say? Certainly, Sir; how will you have it done, with good intentions or with broken promises? We will supply you with either at the City Hall. (Punchinello, April 1870.)

Abraham Oakey Hall (July 26, 1826 – October 7, 1898) was an American politician, lawyer, and writer. He served as Mayor of New York from 1869 to 1872 as a Republican. Hall, known as "Elegant Oakey" , was a model of serenity and respectability,.[1] Recent historians have disputed the older depiction of Hall as corrupt or as a front man for a corrupt political order.[2]


Early life[edit]

Hall was born in Albany, New York. His childhood was marked by poverty after the death of his father, a New York merchant, when Hall was 3 years old.[3] In 1840, he entered New York University, and wrote for many newspapers to pay his way through school. He graduated in 1844 with Bachelor and Master's degrees. He attended Harvard Law School until 1845 before dropping out to apprentice to finish his legal education.[4] Hall returned to New York in 1845, and worked in the law office of Charles W. Sandford. In 1846, he moved to New Orleans where he apprenticed at the law firm of Thomas & John Slidell.

During this period, using the nom de plume of Hans Yorkel, he served as the New York correspondent of the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin. He returned to New York, where he practiced law and was admitted to the bar in 1851. In that year, Hall authored a book, The Manhattaner in New Orleans, or, Phases of "Crescent City" Life, in which he addressed the problems and challenges of large, ethnically diverse port cities and provided important historical sketches of a young New Orleans.[5] In 1857, he authored a formerly popular Christmas poem and song, "Old Whitey's Christmas Trot".

Political career[edit]

In 1851, D.A. N. Bowditch Blunt appointed him Assistant New York County District Attorney, and after Blunt's death in 1854, Hall offered to occupy the office until the end of the year reverting the D.A.'s wages to Blunt's widow and her eight children.[6] However, Democrat Lorenzo B. Shepard was appointed by Gov. Horatio Seymour to fill the vacancy. In November 1854, Hall was elected on the Whig ticket to succeed Shepard, and served his first term as New York County D.A. from 1855 to 1857. He was not reelected partly due to his unpopularity following the Burdell-Cunningham murder trial.[7] As a Republican, Hall was elected again as the New York County D.A. in November 1861, and re-elected in 1864 and 1867. In November 1868, during his fourth term as D.A., Hall was elected Mayor of New York City. He was re-elected mayor in 1870, serving two terms from January 1, 1869 to December 31, 1872.

As mayor, Hall was unpopular for a myriad of reasons, partly due to the ongoing political clashes between Anglo "Nativists" and the Irish population. While Democrat "Boss" Tweed, Tammany Hall leaders and Hall were Anglo, their power base rested largely upon Irish immigrants. This conflict boiled over in 1869 when Hall attempted to stop the Irish Orange Order (Irish of Anglo-Saxon and Scots-Irish descent) from holding a parade, perhaps provocatively celebrating the historic Orangemen (Anglo Protestant Irish) victory over ethnic Irish Catholics. Fearing that either banning the march or allowing it to continue would both lead to violence and mayhem, Governor John Hoffman overruled Mayor Hall and allowed it to continue with increased policing. Nevertheless, riots did occur, cementing Hall's negative image on both sides and severely compromising Hoffman's political career.

Additionally, Hall backed away from supporting Republican candidates because of widespread dislike of the Nativists within the Party. He was seen as attempting to have it both ways rather than finding a middle ground.[8] In particular, Thomas Nast, who had old-line Republican leanings, took aim at "Elegant Oakey" whom he considered to be the worst of the Tweed politicians because of his high standing, education and open presidential ambitions. Nast also felt that Hall got off lightly in the affair because of his continued personal connections with reformer and prosecutor Samuel Tilden,[9] though later historians have shown that Hall and Tilden were never very close in the 1860s and 1870s and that Hall did not receive any special assistance. In fact, Tilden was the chief opponent of Tweed, Hall, et al.[10][11] Hall was tried three times and finally acquitted of all charges on the third trial.

Post-mayoral career[edit]

Some time after the last trial, Hall wrote and acted in his own play entitled The Crucible, where he played the lead part, a man falsely accused of stealing. The play was a flop, and Hall returned to his work as an attorney.[12] He subsequently suffered a nervous breakdown and lived for time in London without having knowledge of having done so.[13]

Later life[edit]

After the nervous breakdown and returning to New York, Hall traveled between London and New York, involving himself in political issues, laws, writing and business. In London he became an ardent spokesperson for municipal reform.[14] He also was a London correspondent for the New York Herald and the Morning Journal. Hall sued Viscount Bryce for defamation of character and libel, but the case was eventually dropped.[citation needed] His daughter Cara de la Montagnie Hall married Rear Admiral Thomas Holdup Stevens III, but maintained her name to honor her father.[15]

In 1894, Hall defended Emma Goldman against charges of inciting to riot in New York City. He lost the case (she was sentenced to a year in prison), but she credited him with reducing the charges against her and providing her a platform to air her anarchist views. She described him as a great champion of free speech.[16]

Hall died of heart disease on October 7, 1898 in New York City, and was buried at Trinity Cemetery located at 155th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. He was 72.


  1. ^ Clinton, Henry Lauren (1897). Celebrated Trials. New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  2. ^ Hoogenboom, Ari; Hoogenboom, Olive (September 1977). "Was Boss Tweed Really Snow White?". Reviews in American History 5 (3): 360–366. doi:10.2307/2701013. JSTOR 2701013. 
  3. ^ A. Oakey Hall is Dead in NYT on October 8, 1898
  4. ^ Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor, 2011.
  5. ^ Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor, 2011.
  6. ^ Funeral of N. B. Blunt, Esq. in NYT on July 20, 1854
  7. ^ Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor, 2011.
  8. ^ O'Connell, Edward T. "Hibernian Chronicle: The second Orange riot". The Irish Echo Online. Archived from the original on 2007-09-28. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  9. ^ "The Tammany Hall Corruption Cartoons of Thomas Nast". The Nevada Observer. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  10. ^ Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor, 2011.
  11. ^ Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor, 2011.
  12. ^ Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor, 2011.
  13. ^ Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor, 2011.
  14. ^ "The Week". The Nation. April 24, 1884. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  15. ^ "Thomas Holdup Stevens III". Arlington National Cemetery Website. Retrieved 2007-06-06. 
  16. ^ Goldman, Emma, Living My Life, p. 128ff.

Further reading[edit]

  • Rubbinaccio, Michael. Abraham Oakey Hall: New York's Most Elegant and Controversial Mayor (Pescara Books, 2011)


Legal offices
Preceded by
Lorenzo B. Shepard
New York County District Attorney
Succeeded by
Peter B. Sweeny
Preceded by
Nelson J. Waterbury
New York County District Attorney
Succeeded by
Samuel B. Garvin
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Coman
Mayor of New York City
Succeeded by
William F. Havemeyer