Alexander Henry (Philadelphia)

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Alexander Henry
Mayor of Philadelphia
In office
Preceded byRichard Vaux
Succeeded byMorton McMichael

Alexander Henry (April 14, 1823 – December 6, 1883) was the mayor of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, during the American Civil War. He was prominent in the efforts to suppress Confederate sympathizers within the city early in the war, and helped organize civilians to assist in constructing earthworks to defend the city during the 1863 Gettysburg Campaign.


Henry was born and raised in Philadelphia, and was educated in local schools. He was a son of John Snowden Henry and Elizabeth (Bayard) Henry, and a grandson of Philadelphia businessman Alexander Henry. He graduated with high honors from Princeton University in 1840. He studied law, passed his bar exam in 1844, and established a prosperous legal firm. He became active in local politics and represented the Seventh Ward on the City Council from 1856-57.[1]

In 1858, running as a member of the People's Party, he was elected mayor, defeating incumbent Richard Vaux. Henry took office on May 11. Among his platforms was strong support for the city's proposed system of public transportation, including streetcars. He also dramatically strengthened the police force.[1]

Once the Civil War began in 1861, Philadelphia's southern leanings changed, and hostility moved from abolitionists to Southern sympathizers. Mobs threatened a secessionist newspaper and the homes of suspected sympathizers. Henry responded to the growing crisis, and led efforts, along with the city police, to turn away the rioters and quell the unrest.[2] Henry aligned himself with the Republican Party and was reelected to successive terms.

During the Gettysburg Campaign in June 1863, he called out the home guard under Brig. General A. J. Pleasonton to help defend the city and encouraged citizens to help strengthen the line of earthworks and small forts ringing the main approaches to Philadelphia.[3] Henry, along with Maj. Gen. Napoleon J. T. Dana, organized a work party of 700 men for this effort.[4]

In late 1865, Henry chose not to run for another term and left office on January 1, 1866. He became a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, and was a bank director for several years. He also was a leading member of the board of directors that planned the 1876 Centennial Exposition. He retired to a stately home in the Germantown region.

Henry died in Philadelphia at age 60 from pneumonia after returning from a prolonged visit to Europe after the death of his only child, his son. He was buried in Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia's East Falls section.


Henry Avenue in the Roxborough neighborhood was named for the former mayor.[5]



  • Campbell, Sir John H., History of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and of the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Immigrants from Ireland. Philadelphia: Hibernian Society, 1892.
  • Seitter, John Reid, "Union City: Philadelphia and the Battle of Gettysburg", Gettysburg Magazine, Issue #21, Morningside Press, Dayton, Ohio.
  • Weigley, Russell F., Philadelphia: A 300-Year History, New York and London: W. W. Norton & Company, 1982, ISBN 0-393-01610-2.
  • Philadelphia in the Civil War website

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Richard Vaux
Mayor of Philadelphia
Succeeded by
Morton McMichael