November 15, 1797|
Cairo, Greene County, New York
|Died||November 22, 1882
New York City, New York
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).
Weed was born into a family of farmers in Cairo, Greene County, New York on November 15, 1797. He received little formal schooling, and spent much of his youth working as a cabin boy on boats that traveled the Hudson River, as a blacksmith's helper, and as an errand boy in a print shop. After his family moved to central New York Weed was apprenticed to a printer.
Although he was quite young at the time, Weed served in the War of 1812 as quartermaster sergeant of the 40th Regiment of the New York State Militia, working under quartermaster officer George Petrie during operations in and around Sackets Harbor. After the war he ran the printing presses for the Albany Register.
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. Weed was elected that year to the New York State Assembly, representing a district in the Albany area. While serving in the Assembly, he met and befriended William H. Seward, whose legal and political careers were just beginning.
Weed became a leader of the Anti-Masonic Party, which he helped become the main opposition at the state level to the Albany Regency organization of Martin Van Buren, and to Andrew Jackson at the national level. In 1825, he bought the Rochester Telegraph, but was forced out in 1828 by Masonic interests. He subsequently 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 again elected to the Assembly, this time 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. Most Anti-Masons joined the Whigs, regarding the new party as the best alternative to Jackson and Van Buren, and enabling Weed assume a leadership role in a larger and more orthodox political organization. His Evening Journal became the main Whig newspaper, and by the 1840s it had the largest circulation of any political newspaper in the United States.
Weed and other Whigs worked to blame Van Buren and the Democratic Party for the Panic of 1837. In 1838, he was one of William H. Seward's main supporters in Seward's successful campaign for governor, and was largely credited with Seward's victory. Weed was also a main supporter of William Henry Harrison's successful presidential bid in 1840, in which Harrison defeated Van Buren to become the first Whig president.
Weed was generally seen as the "boss" of New York's Whig Party, using the same tactics as the Regency—patronage and political favors—to attract supporters and keep order in the ranks, efforts he was able to reinforce through the Evening Journal. Under Weed's leadership, the Whigs became the dominant force in state politics for several years, and Weed was arguably the most powerful politician in New York. 
As a practical politician, Weed was a pragmatist, rather than an idealist, always taking care to avoid controversial issues and positions that would decrease Whig support on election day. One exception was the issue of slavery, a subject on which Weed made public statements in opposition while trying to avoid the most radical language of those seen as uncompromising abolitionists.
Harrison died only a month after taking office, and was succeeded by John Tyler, a former Democrat, who disappointed Weed by abandoning Whig policies. Weed's frustration continued with Clay's narrow defeat in the 1844 presidential election.
Following the Mexican-American War, Zachary Taylor emerged as a likely Whig candidate for president, and Weed supported his successful effort. But Taylor, like Harrison, died in office. His successor, Millard Fillmore, though a former Weed protegé, rejected Weed's influence. Fillmore's presidency was generally regarded as a failure, and that plus Whig support for the unpopular Compromise of 1850 convinced Weed that the Whig Party was on its last legs. In 1852, Weed opposed Fillmore's nomination by the Whigs for election to a full term as President, and worked to secure the nomination of General Winfield Scott. Scott was nominated, but lost the general election to Democrat Franklin Pierce, after which the Whig Party died as a national organization.
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's role is noteworthy in that he worked for approval of the Consolidation Act largely as a favor to his friend Erastus Corning, one of the financial backers of the project, though Corning was a Democrat and opposed to Weed politically.
Trip to Europe
Recognizing that the Whigs would not fare well in the 1852 elections, Weed took an extended trip to Europe, visiting England, France, and Germany among other places. He remained abroad for over a year -- well after the November, 1852 election and Pierce's inauguration in March, 1853.
When Weed returned to the United States, the Whig Party had splintered over the Kansas-Nebraska Act, with southern Whigs leaving the party to join the Democrats, and northern Whigs including Seward, forming the Republican Party as an anti-slavery party and the main opposition to the Democrats. Weed joined the Republicans, and the Evening Journal became a leading Republican newspaper.
Weed supported Seward's re-election to the Senate in 1854, and the Republican presidential nomination of Frémont in 1856.
Frémont lost the 1856 election to James Buchanan. Buchanan's failed administration and the fracturing of the Democrats over the slavery issue made likely a Republican victory in 1860. Weed worked for Seward's nomination, which appeared to most observers to be a foregone conclusion. But Seward's strong anti-slavery views and reputation as a Whig political boss offended many former Democrats in the still new Republican party. Abraham Lincoln's managers exploited these vulnerabilities to obtain Lincoln's nomination. Though disappointed, Weed and Seward both supported Lincoln in the general election. After his inauguration, Seward became Secretary of State, and Weed served as an unofficial envoy to Britain and France, with both men providing critical support to Lincoln and the Union during the American Civil War.
Weed was critical of Lincoln's decision to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, regarding it as too radical and controversial and unsuccessfully arguing for a system of gradual emancipation. After Lincoln's death and the end of the war, Weed and Seward allied with President Andrew Johnson against the Radical Republicans, endorsing Johnson's more conservative approach to Reconstruction.
Retirement and death
In 1867 Weed retired from public life and moved from Albany to New York City. He briefly edited a newspaper and remained peripherally engaged in politics, but did not exert the same level of influence that he had had in the past. Weed became ill in his final months and suffered from blindness and vertigo. He died in New York City on November 22, 1882 and was buried at Albany Rural Cemetery.
- "Weed, Thurlow". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). 1911.
- Wilson, James Grant; Fiske, John, eds. (1889). "Weed, Thurlow". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.