Thurlow Weed

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Thurlow Weed

Although he held only a few minor offices, American politician Thurlow Weed (1797-1882) was a leading figure in the Whig party and later in the Republican party. He was a master behind-the-scenes manipulator and a skilled lobbyist.

Thurlow Weed was born in Greene County, N.Y., on Nov. 15, 1797. His farm family was so impoverished that he had to begin working at the age of 8. Except for a few years of primary schooling, he was self-educated. After serving as apprentice and journeyman on several newspapers, he became foreman of the Albany Register and in 1821 moved to Rochester as editor of the Telegraph. In 1822 he married Catherine Ostrander.

Weed soon made the Telegraph one of the most important newspapers in western New York; he became part owner in 1825. His strong anti-Jackson feelings led him to participate in the Anti-Masonic party, whose leaders helped him establish the Albany Evening Journal in 1830. After the Anti-Masonic movement collapsed in 1836, Weed threw the weight of the Journal to the new Whig party. His enormous political influence was based upon his vigorous editorials, his friendship with William H. Seward, and his great personal charm. Warm, affable, and good-natured, he entertained generously and had a host of friends. His contacts made him such a potent lobbyist that his enemies dubbed him the "Lucifer of the Lobby."

In politics Weed was a moderate. Thus he equally condemned abolitionists and nativists. However, in spite of his antipathy for the abolitionists, he shared Seward's antislavery views and opposed the extension of slavery into the territories acquired during the Mexican War. When he joined the ranks of the Republicans in 1854, he continued advocating moderate policies.

As a loyal supporter of Abraham Lincoln and Seward, Weed was sent to Europe in 1861 as a special agent to counteract Confederate propaganda. Returning in 1862, he became increasingly concerned about what he termed abolitionist influence over Lincoln. So strongly did he object to the Emancipation Proclamation that he contemplated supporting the Democratic candidate during the presidential election of 1864, but he considered Gen. George B. McClellan unacceptable. At the end of the war he threw his support to President Andrew Johnson and the National Union party. Although the failure of the Union party marked the end of his influence, he continued active in state politics. He died in New York on Nov. 22, 1882, leaving an estate of over a million dollars in stocks and bonds.

Further Reading

Weed's autobiography, with a memoir by his grandson, is The Life of Thurlow Weed (2 vols., 1883-1884). An excellent biography is Glyndon G. Van Deusen, Thurlow Weed: Wizard of the Lobby (1947). Also useful are De Alva S. Alexander, A Political History of the State of New York (4 vols., 1906-1923), and New York State Historical Association, History of the State of New York, edited by Alexander C. Flick (10 vols., 1933-1937; new ed., 5 vols., 1962). □

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Thurlow Weed (thûr´lō), 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).