John Bigelow

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John Bigelow
United States Minister to France
In office
April 23, 1865 – December 23, 1866
Preceded byWilliam L. Dayton
Succeeded byJohn Adams Dix
Secretary of State of New York
In office
January 1, 1876 – December 31, 1877
Preceded byDiedrich Willers Jr.
Succeeded byAllen C. Beach
Personal details
Born(1817-11-25)November 25, 1817
Malden-on-Hudson, New York, U.S.
DiedDecember 19, 1911(1911-12-19) (aged 94)
New York City
Political partyDemocratic
SpouseJane Tunis Poultney
ChildrenJohn Bigelow Jr.
Poultney Bigelow

John Bigelow Sr. (November 25, 1817 – December 19, 1911) was an American lawyer, diplomat, and historian who edited the complete works of Benjamin Franklin and the first autobiography of Franklin taken from Franklin's previously lost original manuscript. He played a central role in the founding of the New York Public Library in 1895.

Early life[edit]

Born in Malden-on-Hudson, New York, he graduated in 1835 from Union College,[1] where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Society and the Philomathean Society and was admitted to the bar in 1838. From 1849 to 1861, he was one of the editors and co-owners of the New York Evening Post.[2]

Political and literary career[edit]

Bigelow began his political career as a reform Democrat, working with William Cullen Bryant in New York. In 1848, his antislavery convictions led him to leave the party, and he joined the Free Soil Party. In 1856, he led other former Democrats into the newly formed Republican Party and wrote a campaign biography of John C. Frémont, who won the Republican presidential nomination that year.[3] In 1861, President Abraham Lincoln appointed him American consul in Paris, and Bigelow progressed to Chargé d'Affaires and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Napoleon III. In this capacity, working together with Charles Francis Adams, the United States minister to the United Kingdom, Bigelow helped to block the attempts to have France and the United Kingdom intervene in the American Civil War in favor of the Confederacy and thereby played a material role in the Union victory. Bigelow also negotiated with Emperor Napoleon III over withdrawing France's troops from Mexico, which were supporting Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico.[4] On March 15, 1865, Lincoln appointed Bigelow ambassador to France. After leaving this position, he went to Germany, where he lived for three years, through the period of the Franco-Prussian War, and he became a friend of Otto von Bismarck.

After the war's conclusion, he returned to New York, where he assisted his old friend Samuel J. Tilden in opposing the corruption that flourished in New York City under William Magear Tweed. Because of the universal respect in which Bigelow was held in New York, he was offered nominations by both political parties for state office in 1872. Under the influence of Tilden, Bigelow decided to rejoin the Democratic party, accepted its nomination, and was elected Secretary of State of New York, a position he held until 1876. When the Democrats nominated Tilden for President in 1876, he served as Tilden's campaign manager, and in that capacity advised Tilden in the famous dispute over the result of the presidential election. Tilden died almost a decade after the dispute was decided in favor of his rival, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Bigelow then acted as one of Tilden's Estate Trust Executors. He carried out Tilden's wishes, over several years, to develop, design, and establish the New York Public Library and served as its first president from May 27, 1895, until his death on December 19, 1911.[5]

He was a staunch proponent of the development of the Panama Canal. He was a friend of Philippe Bunau-Varilla, who brought Panama's declaration of Independence to Bigelow's home. Panama's first proposed flag, made there by Mrs. Bunau Varilla, was rejected by the Panamanians, who made their own.

Bigelow's writing career, begun with Bryant on the New York Evening Post, included several books. He was one of the first Americans to visit Haiti with an open mind, and published The Wisdom of the Haitians, which, before the Civil War, was one of the few American works to take a positive view of Haitian independence.

Bigelow published an edition of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, in 1868, the first publication taken from Franklin's original, and nearly complete, manuscript, which had been lost sometime after Franklin's death. After haggling over the price, he finally agreed to pay the original asking price of 25,000 franks and purchased the manuscript from William Temple Franklin, Benjamin's Franklin's grandson.[6] Since the manuscript ended at age 51, in 1757, Bigelow re-worked it, incorporating Franklin's extensive correspondence, into the three-volume The Life of Benjamin Franklin, Written by Himself, first published in 1874.

In 1895 Bigelow wrote and published The Life of Samuel J. Tilden.

Personal life[edit]

On June 11, 1850, Bigelow married Jane Tunis Poultney and they had nine children. They included:


On August 8, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed a bill adding the name "John Bigelow Plaza" to the intersection of 41st Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, directly in front of the New York Public Library Main Branch. His estate at Highland Falls, New York, known as The Squirrels, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Schlup, Leonard C.; Ryan, James Gilbert (2003). Historical Dictionary of the Gilded Age. M.E. Sharpe. p. 40. ISBN 978-0-7656-2106-1.
  2. ^ Stahr, Walter (2021), Salmon P. Chase: Lincoln's Vital Rival, New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 182.
  3. ^ Memoir of the Life and Public Services of John Charles Fremont, New York: Derby & Jackson, 1856.
  4. ^ Peraino, Kevin, Lincoln in the World: The Making of a Statesman and the Dawn of American Power. New York: Crown Publishers, 2013, p. 292.
  5. ^ Clapp, 1947, pp. viii, 295, 302
  6. ^ Clapp, 1947, p. 261
  7. ^ Kinevan, Marcos E., brigadier general, USAF, retired (1998). Frontier Cavalryman, Lieutenant John Bigelow with the Buffalo Soldiers in Texas. Texas Western Press, The University of Texas at El Paso. ISBN 0-87404-243-7.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.


External links[edit]

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by United States Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Secretary of State of New York
1876 - 1877
Succeeded by