Thurlow Weed

Thurlow Weed

Weed, Thurlow, 1797-1882, American journalist and political leader, b. Cairo, N.Y. After working on various newspapers in W New York, Weed joined the Rochester Telegraph and was influential as a supporter of John Quincy Adams. For a short time he published the Anti-Masonic Enquirer and as a leader of the Anti-Masonic party opposed Martin Van Buren. He wielded much political influence as editor of the Albany Evening Journal after 1830 and was a staunch opponent of the Albany Regency. Becoming a Whig, Weed in 1840 helped secure the election of William H. Harrison as President. In 1844 he helped bring about the presidential nomination of Henry Clay, and in 1848 he backed Zachary Taylor. Though paying lip service to various reforms, notably the abolition of slavery, Weed was more at home with the problems of patronage and lobbying and came to be regarded as the silent boss of the Whig party. After the Whig party disintegrated over the slavery issue, Weed joined (1855) the new Republican party and worked in close cooperation with William H. Seward. Seward was his close personal friend as well as political ally, and Weed carefully shepherded Seward's career as state legislator, governor of New York, and U.S. senator. He failed, however, to secure for Seward the Republican presidential nomination in 1860. Both Weed and Seward nevertheless came to be President Lincoln's staunch supporters. During the Civil War, Weed went on a special diplomatic mission to France and England. His political power in the Republican party was destroyed by his support of the Reconstruction policies of Andrew Johnson in 1866, and he was never again able to exert great political influence. His travels were turned to account in his Letters From Europe and the West Indies (1866).

See The Life of Thurlow Weed (2 vol., 1883-84, including his autobiography and a memoir by his grandson); biography by G. G. Van Deusen (1947, repr. 1969).

Thurlow Weed (November 15, 1797November 22, 1882) was a New York political boss. While he never held national office himself, 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), John Charles Frémont (1856) and Abraham Lincoln (1860).

Early life

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. He served in the War of 1812, though he was quite young at the time; 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 was able to use his influence to ensure Adams' victory in New York. Weed himself also sought and won election that year to the New York State Assembly. 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 Antimasonic Enquirer, which became the voice of the Antimasonic 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. Adams' political supporters were key players in the development of the Whig Party, and that party soon absorbed the Anti-masonic movement in New York, giving Weed a new home in a more mainstream and larger political organization.


In 1829, Weed was an Anti-Masonic member of the New York State Assembly, and also started production of the Albany Evening Journal, the first number was issued on March 22, 1830. The Evening Journal was first the main Anti-Masonic newspaper, and from 1834 on the main Whig paper and had in the 1840s the largest circulation of any political newspaper in the United States. After 1856, it was one of the Republican newspapers. As the Evening Journal's editor, proof reader, political manager and main reporter, he was a vocal advocate for economic development, supporting new banking measures, internal improvements such as roads and railroads, and the rest of Henry Clay's American System.

Weed skillfully blamed the Panic of 1837 on Martin van Buren and the Democrats, and 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, which increased Weed's power in the state. Weed then put the power of the New York Whig party behind William Henry Harrison's 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 Whig Party totally, giving 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--and readily used patronage and political favors to keep order in the party. 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. Weed was also a strong pragmatist; while he shared the idealist 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, and did not shy from anti-slavery proclamations; however, he also discounted the views of the more radical abolitionists.

Weed was disappointed in John Tyler's actions as president after the death of Harrison, and throughout much of the 1840s felt stymied in his attempts to bend national politics to his will. After the Mexican-American War, however, Weed became enamored with Zachary Taylor and supported his successful bid for the White House. Once again, however, a Whig general proved unable to survive a presidential term and the presidency of Millard Fillmore and passage of the Compromise of 1850 convinced him that the Whig party was on its last legs. In 1852, he took an extended trip to Europe, visiting England, France, and Germany among other places and remaining abroad for over a year.

Trip to Europe

Before his departure for Europe, Weed played a leading role in the passage of the Consolidation Act through the state legislature; the Act 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 and had not supported Seward's gubernatorial bid or Taylor's quest for the presidency.

Republican Party

When Weed returned to the United States, he found that the Republican Party had been formed largely in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and that his friend William Seward had already joined. Weed soon became an influential member of the party and pushed Seward's name for the 1860 Presidential nomination of the party. However, Weed's reputation as a strong-arm political boss and his staunch opposition to Democrats in his earlier years caused the Republican delegates in Chicago--some of whom were former Democrats--to distrust him; Weed's support may have ultimately cost Seward the nomination. Nonetheless, Weed was a strong supporter of nominee Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election and throughout his administration. During the Civil War, Weed served as an unofficial envoy to France.

In 1863, Weed came out against the Emancipation Proclamation on the grounds that emancipation should be more gradual. He soon lost favor with the administration. Then he threw in with Andrew Johnson and his Reconstruction policies, which essentially ended Weed's political career in the Republican Party. He retired from public life not long after the Civil War and moved to New York City in 1867. There he briefly edited a newspaper, but while he remained engaged in politics he never sought or held another office and never exerted the sort of influence he had had in the past. He died in New York in 1882.

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