Thurlow Weed

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Thurlow Weed, editor, politician, and close friend of William H. Seward, was born in 1797 in upstate New York. His father was a farmer of very modest means, and Weed attended school only briefly. At an early age, he took on various jobs, such as working at the blacksmith's, the printer's, or on Hudson River boats. When his family moved to central New York, he apprenticed to a printer, served for a short time in the War of 1812, and then in 1817, became foreman of the Albany Register.

During the early 1820s, Weed learned the interconnected worlds of local politics and journalism. He attached himself to the fortunes of DeWitt Clinton, and, in the election of 1824, to John Quincy Adams. He was elected to the Assembly, and in the follo wing year, 1825, bought the Rochester Telegraph. When the anti-Masonic movement erupted in New York shortly after, Weed became active in its cause. But he also shrewdly sought to align anti-Masonic politics with the National Republican organization supporting John Quincy Adams in 1828.

Weed was elected to the Assembly again in 1829, but more significantly, he was able to establish the Albany Evening Journal, the first issue of which appeared in February 1830. Weed was its editor, reporter, proof-reader, and political manager. An advocate of economic development, he supported banking, internal improvements, and other measures associated with Henry Clay's American System. He also skillfully tightened the organization of the newly formed Whig Party, and with the arrival of hard times following the Panic of 1837, he was instrumental in creating the Whig victories in the New York gubernatorial election of 1838 and William Henry Harrison's presidential campaign of 1840.

Weed brought to the Whig Party the organization and discipline generally associated with the Jacksonians. He achieved an extensive reputation as a political manager and manipulator, using patronage, favors, and the press on behalf of the Whig Party. Generally operating behind the scenes, he was closely identified with his personal and political friend, Seward.

Although Weed shared the idealism and humanitarian views of many Whigs, such as in his opposition to slavery, he remained a pragmatist, who shunned unpopular positions that jeopardized victory on election day. His charm, generosity, and good nature we re disarming, and Seward once wrote that he had "no idea that dictators were such amiable creatures."

After a number of political setbacks during the 1840s, Weed's fortunes improved after the Mexican War. He supported the prohibition of slavery in the newly acquired territories, and promoted the presidential prospects of Zachary Taylor. Once again, h owever, he was disappointed when Taylor's death brought the succession of Millard Fillmore and passage of the Compromise of 1850. Like Seward's, Weed's opposition to the Compromise contributed to the disruption of the Whig Party. Weed, realizing that Whig prospects for success were nil in 1852, left the country. When he returned, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had brought about the birth of the Republican Party, and Weed soon joined. He pressed for the nomination of Seward as the party's candidate in 1860, but his ambitions for Seward were dashed. Ironically, Weed's own reputation as a political boss and his longstanding opposition to Democrats damaged Seward's chances at the Republican Party's national convention in Chicago.

Lincoln acknowledged Weed's political acumen by consulting with him during the campaign of 1860. And following the election, Weed advised Lincoln on patronage and undertook an unofficial diplomatic mission to Europe. However, his conservative views on emancipation and other issues brought a steady decline in his influence. During the war, he gave up the Evening Journal to move to New York City where, in 1867, he briefly edited another paper and remained interested in public affairs. He died in November 1882.

Bibliography: Helen C. Boatfield, "Thurlow Weed," DAB, 19: 598-600; Van Deusen, Weed.