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, a son of Congressman Eleutheros Cooke, Henry D. Cooke studied at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and Transylvania University in Lexington, Kentucky, where he graduated in 1844. He began to study law, but soon turned his attention to journalism. In 1847, he sailed for Valparaiso, Chile, as an attaché to the United States consul there, but was shipwrecked. He was detained after the wreck at St. Thomas, where he conceived the idea of a steamship line from New York to San Francisco via the isthmus of Panama, and wrote about his idea to the Philadelphia United States Gazette and the New York Courier and Enquirer. Consul W. G. Moorhead told other State Department officials about the idea, and in about two years the Pacific mail steamship company was organized. Cooke afterward lived in San Francisco, where he was connected with shipping interests. He was the first to announce to the authorities at Washington, through a despatch from the military governor of California, the discovery of gold in the Sacramento valley. Becoming involved by suretyship for a reckless speculator, he lost his fortune. (Another source says a fire in San Francisco 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 various Washington officials, including 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. In 1862, Jay Cooke opened a Washington branch of his Jay Cooke & Co. financing firm, 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, Cooke 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 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.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1900). "Cooke, Eleutheros". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton
- Civil War and Reconstruction, Series One: Parts 1 to 5
- University of Delaware: FINDING AID TITLE
- DC ALMANAC: Little known or suppressed facts about Washington, D.C.
- 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
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