Henry B. Metcalf

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Henry Brewer Metcalf (1829–1904) was a noted prohibitionist in the United States, who was the Prohibition Party nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1900. Along with Presidential candidate John G. Woolley, the ticket garnered approximately 210,000 votes in the general election.

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Woolley and Metcalf button, 1900

Born in Boston on 2 April 1829, Metcalf attended public schools in that city. When only 15, however, to aid his family’s finances, he was apprenticed to a dry goods importing and jobbing company in Boston. From the skills he learned in this business, Metcalf was a business leader for the remainder of his life. In 1856, he received an A.M., or Master of Arts, degree from Tufts College (now Tufts University) in Massachusetts. In 1867, he helped to form the Boston Button Company as the firm’s senior partner, and about 1874 he removed to Rhode Island where he established the Pawtucket Haircloth Company. He later formed the Campbell Machine Company in Boston, a concern which made the machinery to make shoes.

For the last 25+ years of his life, Metcalf was a Trustee of his alma mater, Tufts College. For many of these years, he also served as President of the Trustees of Tufts College.

In politics, Metcalf appears to have been a Republican until 1872, when he broke with the liberal wing of the party to support New York Tribune editor Horace Greeley for President. Two years later, an active member of the community of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, he assisted in the reorganization of that city’s government, being elected to the Winchester city council. In 1886 he was elected to a seat in the Rhode Island state Senate, but his ardent stand for prohibition led the liquor industry to oppose his re-election, and he was defeated after only one term in office.

Despite the defeat, Metcalf was a leader in pushing for a constitutional amendment to ban the sale of liquor in Rhode Island. To this end he also served as the president of the Rhode Island Temperence Union. In 1893, Metcalf was the Prohibition Party’s candidate for Governor of Rhode Island, winning some 7% of the total vote.

A delegate to the Prohibition National Convention at the First Regiment Armory in Chicago in late June 1900, Metcalf aided in the nomination of noted prohibitionist and attorney John G. Woolley for the party's presidential nomination. (Woolley had nearly been nominated for the office in 1896, but he had declined the honor.) The convention then nominated Metcalf for second place on the party’s ticket, despite the fact that he was 71 years old and was the party’s nominee for Governor of Rhode Island. A history of the 1904 election, published that same year, noted on the contest of four years earlier, "The convention of the Prohibitionist [sic] party met at Chicago, June 27, 1900, and nominated as their candidates in the Presidential contest of 1900, John G. Woolley of Illinois for President, and Henry B. Metcalf of Rhode Island for Vice President. The platform adopted was on the usual lines of policy or sentiments of that organization." The Prohibition Party had split into “gold” and “silver” wings in 1896, but in 1900 these two factions healed their divisions and ran as one party. Whereas voting for both tickets only brought in some 145,000 votes in 1896, Woolley and Metcalf, after a spirited campaign, garnered some 209,000 votes, an increase, but less than the 271,000 the party’s ticket got in 1892.

In the last four years of his life, Metcalf continued his business opportunities, and served as a member of the American Protective Tariff League of New York, and as vice president of the American Anti-Imperialist League.

Metcalf suffered a horrific series of strokes on 4 October 1904 which culminated in his death the following day at the age of 75. His wife and children, unnamed in any of the sources on his life, predeceased him, and he was survived by a sister and a nephew, both of Boston.

References[edit]

Morris, Charles; and Edward Sylvester Ellis, “Our National Leaders of 1904, Containing Intimate Biographies of the Presidential Candidates and Leading Statesment of All the Parties, With the Party Platforms and Proceedings in Full of the Various Conventions” (Springfield, Massachusetts: Hampden Publishing Co., 1904), 400.

“Of Paralysis. Hon. Henry B. Metcalf Dies at Pawtucket. Prohibition Candidate for Governor of R.I. Born in Boston and Began Business Here,” The Boston Globe, 9 October 1904, 6.

“Capen’s Tribute. Memorial Service for Henry B. Metcalf. `Omitted No Effort to Attain the Ideal,’ He Says at Tufts,” The Boston Globe, 17 October 1904, 2.