Thomas W. Ferry

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Thomas White Ferry
President pro tempore of the United States Senate
In office
March 9, 1875 – March 17, 1879
Preceded byHenry B. Anthony
Succeeded byAllen G. Thurman
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1883
Preceded byJacob M. Howard
Succeeded byThomas W. Palmer
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 4th district
In office
March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1871
Preceded byFrancis William Kellogg
Succeeded byWilder D. Foster
Member of the Michigan Senate
In office
Member of the Michigan House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born(1827-06-10)June 10, 1827
Mackinac Island, Michigan Territory
DiedOctober 13, 1896(1896-10-13) (aged 69)
Grand Haven, Michigan, US
Political partyRepublican
ProfessionPolitician, Merchant

Thomas White Ferry (June 10, 1827 – October 13, 1896), or T.W. Ferry, was a U.S. Representative, U.S. Senator, and acting Vice President of the United States[1] from Michigan. He was one of four United States senators from Michigan to have served as president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate, and Ferry is the only U.S. senator from Michigan to hold the position for multiple Congresses (44th and 45th).[2]


Thomas's birthplace, Old Mission House on Mackinac Island.

Birth and early life[edit]

Ferry was born in the old Mission House on Mackinac Island in the Territory of Michigan.[3] The community on Mackinac at that time included the military garrison, the main depot of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company, and the mission. His father, Rev. William Montague Ferry, was a Presbyterian pastor, and his mother was Amanda White Ferry. His parents ran the mission school on the island.

William Ferry also was the pastor of the Protestant church on the island. Thomas moved in 1834 with his parents to Grand Haven, Michigan, attended the public schools.[3] He worked as a store clerk in Elgin, Illinois, for two years from 1843 to 1845 before returning to Michigan. At the age of 21 he was elected clerk of Ottawa County.[4]

In addition to English, Ferry was fluent in Ottawa, Chippewa, and French.[5]

Political career[edit]

State legislator[edit]

Ferry was a member of the Michigan State House of Representatives from 1850 to 1852 and a member of the Michigan State Senate in 1856. On January 26, 1857, Ferry, along with his father, platted the village of Ferrysburg, Michigan.

Years between state and federal office[edit]

In 1862 Ferry became a director of the new Grand Haven Union High School and was superintendent for ten years. He went into the lumbering business with his brother, Edward Payson Ferry. Before the Civil War he served on the Republican State Central Committee for eight years and was delegate-at-large and one of the vice presidents of the national convention that nominated Abraham Lincoln. Upon President Abraham Lincoln's death, he was appointed by the U.S. Senate to a committee that accompanied Lincoln's body to Springfield.[4]

United States Representative[edit]

He was a delegate to the Loyalist Convention at Philadelphia in 1866. He was elected as a Republican to the United States House of Representatives for the 39th, 40th, and 41st Congresses, serving from March 4, 1865 to March 3, 1871. He was re-elected to the U.S. House for the 42nd Congress in the general election of November 8, 1870. The Michigan Legislature subsequently elected him to the U.S. Senate on January 18, 1871, and Wilder D. Foster was elected in a special election on April 4, 1871, to fill his vacancy in the House.

On April 2, 1868, he testified in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, having been called as a witness by the prosecution.[6]

One of Ferry's lasting legacies in the house is the clearing of the floor prior to the start of a session. On March 31, 1869, Ferry moved that the House adopt a rule which required the House Doorkeeper to clear the floor of visitors and non-privileged employees ten minutes before the start of a session. The rule was later changed to fifteen minutes.[7]

United States Senator[edit]

Ferry was re-elected to the Senate in 1877, and served from March 4, 1871 to March 3, 1883. He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1882. Ferry was the first person from Michigan to have served in both houses of the Michigan State Legislature and in both houses of the United States Congress.

During the "Panic of 1873", economic deflation caused serious problems and Ferry became a face of the Republican inflationist movement.[citation needed] Congress hoped inflation would stimulate the economy and passed the Ferry Bill (introduced by Senator Ferry), which became known as the "Inflation Bill" in 1874. Many farmers and workingmen favored the bill, which would have added $64 million in greenbacks to circulation, but some Eastern bankers opposed it because it would have weakened the dollar.[8] The bill passed the Senate and House of Representatives, but was vetoed by President Grant. An override attempt failed 34–30 in the Senate. This is one of the few bills vetoed by a member of the same party as a bills sponsor.[9][10]

While senator, Ferry was chairman of the Committee on Rules and the Committee on Post Office and Post Roads (46th and 47th Congresses), as well as President pro tempore of the Senate during the 44th and 45th Congresses.

Acting Vice President[edit]

The 1877 Electoral Commission which Ferry presided over as Acting Vice President. He can be seen in the lower left of this picture.

Vice President Henry Wilson died on November 22, 1875. Ferry, being President pro tempore of the Senate, was next in the line of presidential succession, and remained so until March 3, 1877.[11] The title of "Acting Vice President" is not defined in the Constitution, but was widely used at the time (including by Ferry himself).[12][13][1]

Ferry presided over the 1876 impeachment trial of U.S. Secretary of War William Belknap and the meetings of the Electoral Commission created by Congress to resolve the disputed 1876 presidential election.[3] Still president pro tempore at that time, he would have temporally become the acting president had the Electoral College vote not been certified by March 4, 1877. Congress certified Rutherford B. Hayes as the winner of the Electoral College vote on March 2.[14]

On July 4, 1876, the United States celebrated its 100th anniversary with a ceremony in Philadelphia at Independence Hall. President Grant was supposed to attend and lead the ceremony, but instead sent Ferry (as acting vice president) in his place. While Ferry was officiating, five women, headed by Susan B. Anthony, walked onto the platform and handed their "Declaration of Rights" to Ferry. As they were being taken off the stage, they threw out copies to the crowd. Anthony also read the Declaration to a large crowd and invited everyone to a National Woman Suffrage Association convention nearby.[15][16]

1882 election[edit]

Ferry's 1882 election saw national attention. Political opponent Jay Hubbell, created the "Grand Army Journal" newspaper. This libelous publication was almost universally denounced.[17] Its sole purpose was to defame Senator Ferry. Hubbell sought to take his place in the Senate by throwing slanderous headlines in his "Journal" which he mailed out by the thousands.[18]

Word of this fake publication took its toll on both men. Thousands of Michiganders had read this publication and, though untrue, it had tarnished Ferry's image. Hubbell was despised by many Michiganders for fabricating lies about Michigan's most powerful politician. Hubbell withdrew from the election.[19]

Hubbell was not the only one waging war with Ferry. The Grand Rapids Times published a story labeling Ferry as unfit for office. They accused Ferry of drunkenly insulting patrons of a Washington DC Hotel. There were no first hand accounts that this took place. The Hotel proprietor, staff, and many colleagues on both sides of the aisle disputed the story and claimed Ferry did not drink and had been the perfect guest for the 12 years he had spent there.[20]

It was said in the Chicago Inter-Ocean newspaper that, "A more malignant and unscrupulous campaign has never been conducted against any man, and whether Ferry wins or losses, the effect of this contest will be felt in Michigan for some time to come."[20] The story continues to say, "If Michigan withdraws him and sends a new man, the State will thus surrender its standing on committees in Congress, much of its relative influence there; and what Michigan thus loses other States will gain."

After these personal attacks, Ferry could see his political life coming to an end. He withdrew from the election and advocated for the nomination of close friend Thomas Palmer. Palmer went on to replace Ferry in the Senate, much to the dismay of Ferry's political rivals.[21]

Later life and death[edit]

Ferry's grave

Following his political defeat, Ferry travelled in Europe for three years to recover his mental and physical health. When he returned to Grand Haven in 1886 he worked to manage his businesses and repay his debts.[22]

Ferry had interests in mining, lumber, and iron businesses. Towards the late 1800s the west Michigan lumber Industry had dried up. This along with political foes targeting his Ottawa Iron Works business caused Ferry's companies to declare bankruptcy. Along with liquidating business assets, Ferry spent over $1,250,000($36,000,000 in 2021 dollars) to pay his personal debts.[23]

Ferry never married, but was engaged on multiple occasions.[24] Ferry was considered to be one of Washington's most eligible bachelors. He was described as being wealthy, charismatic, handsome, and powerful.[25] One Philadelphia newspaper called him the "lady-killer" of his day who "never fails to gather a harvest of hearts during their proper season."[26]

Once an immensely wealthy man, Ferry fell into financial disaster following his political defeat. He spent his final years hidden from the national spotlight.[27][28] Ferry died in Grand Haven, Michigan, at age 69.[13] He is interred in Grand Haven's Lake Forest Cemetery in the Ferry family plot.[29] His epitaph reads, “I have done what I could to extend our commerce over the world for the security of life and property along our seacoast, upon our great inland seas. T.W.F. The Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Friend. For 62 years a citizen of Grand Haven, Mich.” [4]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Michigan Historical Commission, and S. D Bingham (1924). Michigan biographies, including members of Congress, elective state officers, justices of the Supreme Court, members of the Michigan Legislature, Board of Regents of the University of Michigan, State Board of Agriculture and State Board of Education. The Michigan Historical Commission. pp. 453–454.
  2. ^ "About the President Pro Tempore". United States Senate. Archived from the original on March 12, 2023. Retrieved March 12, 2023.
  3. ^ a b c "Ferry, Thomas White," Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, retrieved February 28, 2021.
  4. ^ a b c Harrison, J. L. (1950). Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774–1949: The Continental Congress, September 5, 1774, to October 21, 1788, and the Congress of the United States from the First to the Eightieth Congress, March 4, 1789, to January 3, 1949, Inclusive (Page 1143). United States: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  5. ^ Ewing, Wallace K. (2017). NORTHWEST OTTAWA COUNTY ENCYCLOPEDIA OF HISTORY Volume I People.
  6. ^ Extracts from the Journal of the United States Senate In All Cases of Impeachment Presented By The United States House of Representatives (1798-1904). Congressional serial set. Washington Government Printing Office. 1912. p. 239.
  7. ^ "A House Rule Requiring the House Floor be Cleared Prior to the Start of a Session | US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved July 28, 2021.
  8. ^ Chernow, Ron (2018). Grant. New York: Penguin Books. p. 779. ISBN 978-0-14-311063-7.
  9. ^ Smith, Jean Edward (2001). Grant. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-0-684-84927-0.
  10. ^ "U.S. Senate: Vetoes, 1789 to Present". Retrieved December 17, 2021.
  11. ^ Feerick, John D.; Freund, Paul A. (1965). From Failing Hands: the Story of Presidential Succession. New York City: Fordham University Press. p. 116. LCCN 65-14917. The New York Herald of November 23, 1875, noted that as President pro tempore, Senator Thomas W. Ferry* of Michigan "would act as President in case the present incumbent of the office should die before the expiration of his term . . . . " In an editorial on the following day, the New York Herald viewed Ferry's possible succession as cause for alarm: "According to his record he [Ferry] is a fanatical inflationist. ... If President Grant should suddenly be taken away Thomas W. Ferry, of Michigan, would be his successor. The country has reason to shudder at the possibility .... [I]f Mr. Ferry is still an inflationist it would be inexcusable for the Senate to retain him in his present position, when only a single life stands between so dangerous a man and the Presidency of the United States."
  12. ^ "Biography of Thomas White Ferry". Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  13. ^ a b "THOMAS WHITE FERRY DEAD.; Once a Senator, Acting Vice President, and a National Figure". The New York Times. October 15, 1896. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  14. ^ Bomboy, Scott (August 11, 2017). "Five little-known men who almost became president". Constitution Daily. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: National Constitution Center. Retrieved July 18, 2018.
  15. ^ Bacon, Margaret Hope, Mothers of Feminism (1986), Harper and Row, New York, pp. 132–133
  16. ^ "The "Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States" (U.S. National Park Service)". Retrieved December 16, 2021.
  17. ^ "Jay Hubbell and Senator Ferry". Baltimore Sun. July 28th 1882.
  18. ^ "Hubbell and Ferry". Fitchburg Daily Journal. July 22, 1882.
  19. ^ "Michigan Muddle". St. Joseph Daily Herald. February 15, 1883.
  20. ^ a b "Wasting Legislative Time". The Daily Inter Ocean. March 2, 1883. p. 4.
  21. ^ "Senator Thomas W. Palmer". The Brooklyn Union. March 2, 1883. p. 2.
  22. ^ "Ex-Senator Ferry Home Again". Detroit Dispatch to the New York Times. June 1, 1886.
  23. ^ "Tom Ferry's Forgery The Story of Michigan Leader's Political and Financial Bankruptcy. How He Has Paid off His Old Debts of Honor". Chicago Herald Spring Lake Michigan Correspondence. August 14, 1887.
  24. ^ "27 Feb 1877, 1 - The San Francisco Examiner at". Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  25. ^ "21 Feb 1878, 1 - Helena Weekly Herald at". Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  26. ^ "23 Mar 1875, Page 2 - The Times at". Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  27. ^ "Image 1 of The Wichita daily eagle (Wichita, Kan.), February 11, 1897". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  28. ^ "Image 1 of The evening times (Washington, D.C.), October 14, 1896". Library of Congress. Retrieved May 6, 2021.
  29. ^ "Ferry, Thomas White (1827–1896)," The Political Graveyard, retrieved 28 February 2021.


External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 4th congressional district

March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1871
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from Michigan
March 4, 1871 – March 3, 1883
Served alongside: Zachariah Chandler, Isaac P. Christiancy, Henry P. Baldwin, Omar D. Conger
Succeeded by
Preceded by President pro tempore of the United States Senate
March 9, 1875 – March 3, 1879
Succeeded by