Thurlow Weed

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Thurlow Weed
Thurlow Weed - Project Gutenberg eText 13160.jpg
Born (1797-11-15)November 15, 1797
Cairo, Greene County, New York
Died November 22, 1882(1882-11-22) (aged 85)
New York City, New York
Signature Thurlow Weed (signature).jpg

Thurlow Weed (November 15, 1797 – November 22, 1882) was a New York newspaper publisher and Whig and Republican politician. He was the principal political advisor to the prominent New York politician William H. Seward and was instrumental in the presidential nominations of William Henry Harrison (1840), Henry Clay (1844), Zachary Taylor (1848), Winfield Scott (1852), and John Charles Frémont (1856).

Early life[edit]

Weed was born into a family of farmers in Cairo, Greene County, New York, and received little formal schooling. He spent much of his youth working on boats on the Hudson River. Although he was quite young at the time, Weed served in the War of 1812 as Quartermaster-Sergeant of the 40th Regiment, New York State Militia; after the war he ran the printing presses for the Albany Register.[1]

Weed became interested in politics while working with the newspaper, and was an early supporter of DeWitt Clinton. In 1824, he was a strong supporter of the presidential bid of John Quincy Adams, and used his influence for Adams' victory in New York.[2] Weed was himself elected that year to the New York State Assembly, representing a district in the Albany area.[1] In the assembly, he met and befriended William H. Seward.

Weed was a vocal member of the Anti-Masonic movement. In 1825, he bought the Rochester Telegraph, but was forced out in 1828 by Masonic interests. Subsequently, he founded the Enquirer, which became the voice of the Anti-Masonic movement in New York. That year, Weed again supported John Quincy Adams and worked to align the strong Anti-Masonic movement in New York with the national Adams organization.


In 1829, Weed was elected to the State Assembly as an Anti-Mason. He also started the Albany Evening Journal (its first number was issued on March 22, 1830). The Evening Journal was the largest Anti-Masonic newspaper; Weed was editor, chief reporter, proof reader, and political expert.

In 1832, Weed supported Adams' ally Henry Clay, who ran for President as a "National Republican". He was a strong advocate of Clay's "American System" for economic development, including a national bank, "internal improvements" such as roads and railroads, and a protective tariff.

By 1834, the Adams-Clay organization was forming into the Whig Party. The Whigs absorbed the New York Anti-Masons, giving Weed a new home in a larger and more orthodox political organization. His Evening Journal was from 1834 on the main Whig newspaper. In the 1840s it had the largest circulation of any political newspaper in the United States.

Weed skillfully blamed the Panic of 1837 on Martin van Buren and the Democrats. In 1838, he pushed his friend and fellow Whig Seward for the governor's race, and was largely credited with Seward's victory. Seward thus owed Weed favors throughout his governorship. Weed then backed William Henry Harrison's successful presidential bid in 1840. By this time, Weed had the power to bend the Whig party to his will.


Weed was a masterful political organizer.

He controlled the New York Whig Party totally, using patronage and political favors to keep order, reinforced by the voice of the Evening Journal. He gave the New York Whigs a degree of discipline that was then the hallmark of the Democrats under leaders like Andrew Jackson, while remaining a popular and likeable fellow. He knew well how to manipulate the press—a task made easier by remaining an active newspaper editor even while in the State Assembly. Under Weed's leadership, the Whig Party became the dominant force in New York state politics for several years, and Weed as leader of the State Assembly and close friend of Seward became arguably the most powerful man in New York for at least a decade. [2] Weed was also a strong pragmatist; while he shared the idealistic views of most of his fellow Whigs, he never strongly supported any controversial Whig positions lest they prove upsetting to the voters on election day.

Weed was, however, strongly opposed to slavery,[2] and did not shy from anti-slavery statements. However, he did not endorse the views of the radical abolitionists.

After the triumph of Harrison's election, Harrison died only a month after taking office. He was succeeded by John Tyler, a former Democrat, who abandoned Whig policies to Weed's disappointment. Weed's frustration in national politics continued with the narrow defeat of Clay in the 1844 election. But after the Mexican-American War, Weed became enamored with Zachary Taylor and supported his successful bid for President. Once again, however, a Whig President died in office. His successor, Millard Fillmore, though a former Weed protegé, rejected Weed's influence.

Fillmore's presidency and the Compromise of 1850 convinced Weed that the Whig Party was on its last legs as a national force, though his New York organization remained as strong as ever.

In 1852, Weed opposed Fillmore's nomination by the Whigs for re-election to a full term as President. He instead worked to secure the nomination of General Winfield Scott.

Weed played a leading role in the passage of New York's Consolidation Act, which created the New York Central Railroad, at the time the largest corporation in the United States. Weed did this largely as a favor to his friend Erastus Corning, though Corning was a Democrat.

Weed circa 1860

Trip to Europe[edit]

In 1852, he took an extended trip to Europe, visiting England, France, and Germany among other places and remaining abroad for over a year.

Republican Party[edit]

Thurlow Weed illustration in the November 21, 1861 issue of Harper's Weekly

When Weed returned to the U.S., he found that the Whig Party had splintered over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and that opponents of the Act, including his friend Seward, were forming the Republican Party. Weed also became a Republican, and Evening Journal became a leading Republican newspaper.

He supported Seward's re-election to the Senate in 1854, and the nomination for President of Frémont by the Republicans in 1856.

Weed worked for the nomination of Seward for President in 1860, which most observers thought was certain, and would be followed by Seward's election. But Seward had weaknesses, one of which was Weed's history as a strong-arm Whig political boss - offensive to many former Democrats in the new party. Abraham Lincoln's managers cleverly exploited these weaknesses to get him nominated instead. It was the supreme disappointment of Weed's career.

Nonetheless, Weed worked hard for Lincoln in the 1860 election. and throughout his administration. During the Civil War, Weed served as an unofficial envoy to Britain and France.[3]

But then in 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Weed criticized the Proclamation as too radical and controversial; he favored more gradual emancipation. He soon lost favor with the administration. After the end of the war and Lincoln's death, Weed allied with President Andrew Johnson against the Radical Republicans, endorsing Johnson's conservative and white-supremacist Reconstruction policies. This essentially ended Weed's political career in the Republican Party.

He retired from public life at this time, and moved from Albany to New York City in 1867. There he briefly edited a newspaper, but while he remained peripherally engaged in politics, he never sought or held another elective or party office, and never exerted the sort of influence he had had in the past. Beset with blindness and chronic vertigo in his final months, Weed died in New York in 1882.[1] He is buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.[4]




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