Henry D. Cooke
|Henry David Cooke|
|Henry D. Cooke|
|1st Governor of the District of Columbia|
February 28, 1871 – September 13, 1873
|Preceded by||None (office created)|
|Succeeded by||Alexander Robey Shepherd|
November 23, 1825|
|Died||February 24, 1881
Henry David Cooke (November 23, 1825 – February 24, 1881 ) was an American financier, journalist, railroad executive, and politician. He was the younger brother of Philadelphia financier Jay Cooke. A member of the Republican political machine in post-Civil War Washington, D.C., Cooke was appointed first territorial governor of the District of Columbia by Ulysses S. Grant.
Born in Sandusky, Ohio in 1825, Cooke studied at Allegheny College, Meadville, Pennsylvania, and Transylvania University, Lexington, Kentucky. For a time he settled in San Francisco but a fire there left him burdened with debts. He returned to Ohio, joined the Sandusky Register as a journalist, and by 1856 had become the newspaper's sole editor and proprietor. That same year he became a presidential elector for John C. Fremont, the first Republican candidate for President of the United States.
By 1860 Cooke was the proprietor of the Ohio State Journal, a Republican newspaper. Although it was unprofitable, it made him a favorite of such important Washington officials as Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase, Senator John J. Sherman, and General Ulysses S. Grant. These alliances made Cooke a particular asset to his brother Jay - Chase's friendship allowed the Cookes to become war profiteers during the Civil War, selling bonds and establishing the sale of government loans. To ensure his continuing political influence, Jay Cooke opened a Washington branch of his Jay Cooke & Co. financing firm in 1862, making Henry the partner in charge of that office.
Sherman's position on the Commission of Ways and Means allowed Henry Cooke to gain a profitable contract for government binding, and in 1862 helped to make him President of the Washington and Georgetown Street Railroad Company. He also became President of the First Washington National Bank. In addition, Cooke became the Congressional Radical Republicans' factotum in maintaining power over the District of Columbia, financing (along with fellow Republican Alexander Robey Shepherd) the election of Sayles J. Bowen as Mayor of Washington, D.C.
In 1870, the national capital was in dire financial straits, with both Congress and local government more involved with racial integration and civil rights policies for former slaves than with fiscal solvency or basic city services. With popular sentiment behind him, Republican political boss Alexander Shepherd convinced the Congress to unite the governments of Washington, Georgetown, and Washington County under a single territorial government for the District of Columbia, with the governor of the District to be appointed. Congress passed the bill in January 1871, and in the following month, President Ulysses S. Grant made Cooke, his friend (and an ally of Shepherd), governor of the District.
As governor, however, Cooke was only nominal. He was uninterested in the day-to-day running of the city, preferring his business interests and lobbying for his brother. Although he was chief executive officer of the city's Board of Public Works, he did not even bother to attend the meetings, allowing the board's vice president—Shepherd—to take over. In truth, even in his other duties, Cooke was largely an agent for Shepherd's agenda. A joke then in circulation asked "What do Governor Cooke and a sheep have in common? They are both led around by A. Shepherd." 
Cooke was widely predicted to stay in power only until the formerly independent District sections of Washington, Georgetown, and Washington County had eased their factional tensions and accepted unified rule over the District, upon which the universally beloved Shepherd would become governor. As expected, Cooke resigned in September 1873, on which Shepherd rose to power. Cooke returned to his duties as bank president and financier, suffering serious setbacks when Jay Cooke & Co. failed in the Panic of 1873 but continuing as the president of the First Washington National Bank until his death in 1881.
- Civil War and Reconstruction, Series One: Parts 1 to 5
- University of Delaware: FINDING AID TITLE
- DC ALMANAC: Little known or suppressed facts about the colonial city of Washington DC A-M
- Untitled Document
- Ames, Mary Clemmer. Ten Years in Washington: Life and Scenes in the National Capital, As a Woman Sees Them. Hartford: A.D. Worthington & Co., 1873, p.78
|Governor of the District of Columbia