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Fernando Wood (June 14, 1812 – February 14, 1881) was an American politician of the Democratic Party and the 73rd and 75th mayor of New York City; he also served as a United States Representative (1841–1843, 1863–1865, and 1867–1881) and as Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means in both the 45th and 46th Congress (1877–1881).
A successful shipping merchant who became Grand Sachem of the political machine known as Tammany Hall, Wood first served in Congress in 1841. In 1854 he was elected Mayor of New York City. Reelected in 1860 after an electoral loss in 1857 by a narrow majority of 3,000 votes, Wood evinced support for the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War, suggesting to the New York City Council that New York City secede from the Union and declare itself a free city in order to continue its profitable cotton trade with the Confederacy. Wood's Democratic machine was concerned to maintain the revenues (which depended on Southern cotton) that fed the system of patronage.
Following his service as mayor, Wood returned to the United States Congress.
Early life and career
Wood was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His Spanish forename was chosen by his mother, who found it in an English gothic novel written by George Walker, The Three Spaniards (London, 1800). He moved to New York, where he became a successful shipping merchant. He was chairman of the chief young men's political organization in 1839 and was a member of the Tammany Society, which he used as a vehicle for his political rise. As a member of the Democratic party, he was elected to Congress in 1840 and served until 1843.
Mayor of New York City
In late 1854 Wood was elected mayor of New York City. The state legislature created the New York Municipal Police in 1845, and Wood continued the efforts of his predecessor Mayor Jacob A. Westervelt to fight the massive corruption of the force, during his first term as mayor (1855–1857). He was re-elected to a two-year term in 1856, but denied a third successive term in 1858 by a narrow majority of 3,000 votes, even though the New York gang the Dead Rabbits combed the city's cemeteries for names to add to the voter rolls.
In the 1856-57 session, Republicans in control of the New York State Legislature at Albany shortened Wood's second term of office from two years to one, and created a Metropolitan Police Force, with Frederick Talmadge as superintendent, to replace Wood's corrupt Municipal Police. Talmadge demanded that Wood disband the Municipal Police, but Wood refused, even in the face of a May 1857 decision by the Supreme Court. Superintendent George Washington Matsell, 15 captains and 800 patrolmen of the Municipal Police backed Mayor Wood.
Captain George W. Walling pledged his loyalty to the new Metropolitan Police and was ordered to arrest Mayor Wood. Wood refused to submit and when Captain Walling attempted force, New York City Hall was occupied by 300 Municipal policemen, who promptly tossed Captain Walling into the street. Fifty Metropolitans in frock coats and plug hats then marched on City Hall with night sticks in hand. The Municipals swarmed out and routed the Metropolitans. Fifty-two policemen were injured in the New York City Police Riot.
The Metropolitan Police Board called out the National Guard, and the Seventh Regiment surrounded City Hall. A platoon of infantry with fixed bayonets marched into City Hall and surrounded Mayor Wood who then submitted to arrest. Mayor Wood was charged with inciting to riot, released on nominal bail and returned to his office.
The feud continued on through the summer of 1857, with constant confrontations between the rival police forces. When a Municipal arrested a criminal, a Metropolitan would come along and release him. At the police station, an arresting officer would find an alderman and a magistrate from the opposing side waiting. A hearing would be held on the spot and the prisoner released on his own recognizance.
The gangs of New York had a field day. Pedestrians were mugged in broad daylight on Broadway while rival policemen clubbed each other to determine who had the right to interfere. Soon the gangs were looting and plundering without interference, but turned on one another in turf wars, which culminated in the Fourth of July gang battle. The Dead Rabbits and several other Five Points gangs marched into the Bowery to do battle with the Bowery Boys and to loot stores. They attacked a Bowery Boys headquarters with pistols, knives, clubs, iron bars and huge paving blocks, routing the defenders. The Bowery Boys and their allies, the Atlantic Guards, poured into Bayard Street to engage in the most desperate and largest free-for-all in the city's history. The Metropolitans attempted to stop the fighting but were severely beaten and retreated. The Municipals said the battle looked like a Metropolitan problem and was none of their business.
Civil War, support for the Confederacy
Fernando Wood served a second mayoral term in 1860–1862. Wood was one of many New York Democrats sympathetic to the Confederacy, called 'Copperheads' by the staunch Unionists. During his second mayoral term in January 1861, Wood suggested to the New York City Council that New York secede and declare itself a free city, to continue its profitable cotton trade with the Confederacy.
Wood's Democratic machine was concerned to maintain the revenues (which depended on Southern cotton) that maintained the patronage. Wood's suggestion was greeted with derision by the Common Council. Tammany Hall was highly factionalized until after the Civil War. Wood headed his own organization named Mozart Hall, not Tammany Hall. New York City commercial interests wanted to retain their relations with the South, but within the framework of the Constitution.
Wood's brother Benjamin Wood purchased the New York Daily News (not to be confused with the current New York Daily News, which was founded in 1919), supporting Stephen A. Douglas, and was elected to Congress, where he made a name as an opponent of pursuing the American Civil War.
Subsequent career in Congress
Subsequent to serving his second mayoral term, Wood served again in the House of Representatives from 1863 to 1865, then again from 1867 until his death in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
On January 15, 1868, Wood was censured for the use of unparliamentary language. During debate on the floor the House of Representatives, Wood called a piece of legislation "A monstrosity, a measure the most infamous of the many infamous acts of this infamous Congress." An uproar immediately followed this utterance, and Wood was not permitted to continue. This was followed by a motion by Henry L. Dawes to censure Wood, which passed by a vote of 114-39.
Notwithstanding his censure, Wood still managed to defeat Dr. Francis Thomas, the Republican candidate, by a narrow margin in the election of that year.
Wood served as chairman for the Committee on Ways and Means in both the 45th and 46th Congress (1877–1881).
- American Police Systems (1920) by Raymond B. Fosdick (Raymond Blaine), page 66, ISBN 978-0-87585-053-5, ISBN 0-87585-053-7
- Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York, 1927
- Journal of the House of Representatives of the United States, 1867–1868, pp. 193-196
- Mr. Lincoln and New York: Fernando Wood
- Gregory Christiano surveys Fernando Wood, the rival police forces, gang wars and the Panic of 1857: 'Introduction to a turbulent period in New York City history."
- Fernando Wood's recommendation to the city council, January 6, 1861.
- Fernando Wood's Biographical Entry at the Biographical Directory of The United States Congress