Horatio Seymour was
governor of New York and the presidential nominee of the
Democratic Party in 1868. He was born in Pompey Hill, New York,
to Mary Forman Seymour, daughter of a wealthy landowner, and
Henry Seymour, a businessman. Seymour was schooled at local
academies, and then studied law in Utica, New York. He passed
the bar in 1832. However, after inheriting a considerable
estate, he had no need to practice law. In 1835, he married
Mary Bleecker; they had no children.
Seymour entered politics early in life. In 1833, he moved to
Albany, where he joined the staff of Governor William Marcy
(1833-1839). Seymour made his electoral debut in 1841 when he
won a seat in the New York state legislature, followed by a
victorious run for the mayoralty of Utica in 1842. He returned
to the legislature the following year and in 1845, having gained
a reputation for effectively forging compromises between
competing Democratic factions, was elected speaker of the
assembly. Seymour became known for his tireless promotion of
improvements to the Erie Canal. He was a member of the
conservative “Hunker” wing of the New York Democracy, which
favored state government support for internal improvements and
backed the expansionist policies of President James K. Polk.
The then-retired Seymour, however, did not play a major role in
the dispute over the Mexican War and the expansion of slavery.
Seymour lost a bid for the New York governorship in 1850, but
was elected two years later by a reunited Democratic party. As
governor (1853-1855), Seymour oversaw the enactment of penal
reform and opposed prohibition and nativism. In 1854, he was
narrowly defeated for reelection in a four-way race pitting him
against candidates from the emerging Republican Party, the
nativist American Party, and a splinter Democratic faction.
Seymour retired to his farm, but worked behind the scenes in an
attempt to keep the increasingly divided Democratic Party
When his party did split in 1860, nominating two presidential
candidates, Seymour backed Stephen Douglas and the policy of
popular sovereignty for the Western territories (allowing the
voters there to decide the question of slavery for themselves).
After Republican Abraham Lincoln won the presidency, Seymour
opposed secession and worked for a peaceful compromise. When the
Civil War began, he supported the Union military effort and
distanced himself from the antiwar Peace Democrats. Elected
governor in 1862, Seymour worked hard to fill his state's
military quotas. He was a vocal critic, however, of Lincoln
administration policies, including government centralization of
power, emancipation of the slaves, the military draft, and the
suppression of civil liberties.
Governor Seymour managed to delay the implementation and
limit the scope of the draft in New York, but its commencement
in July 1863 provoked four days of violent riots in New York
City (as it did in cities across the North). As governor, he
traveled to the city, where he spoke to an angry crowd,
addressing them controversially as “My friends.” He was
attempting to quell the rioters’ violence, but Republicans would
forever after tar him as sympathizing publicly with the
perpetrators. In 1864, Seymour was defeated for reelection. Out
of office, he continued to play an active and influential role
in Democratic politics, supporting the lenient Reconstruction
policies of President Andrew Johnson and opposing the
alternative of the Republican Radicals.
After a lengthy deadlock at the Democratic National
Convention in 1868, delegates chose Seymour was their compromise
candidate for president. Despite his initial hesitation, Seymour
ran a vigorous campaign, becoming only the second presidential
nominee (after Stephen Douglas) to embark on an issues-oriented
speaking tour. During the contest, Republicans associated the
Democratic nominee with violence against blacks by reminding
voters of his alleged complicity in the Civil War draft riots in
New York City and by linking him with Reconstruction violence.
In the November election, Seymour lost to Republican Ulysses S.
Grant, a Union military hero of the Civil War.
his later years, Seymour was honored as an elder statesman of
his party. He mentored younger Democrats, such as Samuel J.
Tilden and Grover Cleveland, both of whom became governors of
New York and presidential nominees of the Democratic Party.
Seymour lived long enough to see the latter elected president,
but died in 1886 at his sister’s house in Utica, New York.