Matthew Stanley Quay

Matthew Stanley Quay (1833-1904) was a U.S. senator and Republican party boss in Pennsylvania. His political genius made "Quayism" a synonym for shrewd, even ruthless, politics in the "gilded age."

Matthew Quay was born on Sept. 30, 1833, in Dillsburg, Pa., the son of a Presbyterian minister. In 1850 he graduated from Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson) and in 1854 was admitted to the bar. He mastered several languages and boasted one of America's finest private libraries.

Quay's political career began modestly when, in 1856, he was elected prothonotary of Beaver County. His work in the gubernatorial election of 1860 gained the attention of state politicians. He served with distinction in the Civil War and won the Congressional Medal of Honor. In 1865 he was elected to the state House of Representatives.

Initially opposed to the state organization of Republican boss Simon Cameron, Quay turned from politics in 1867 to edit and publish the Beaver Radical. A twist in state politics brought him into the Cameron fold in 1872. The Cameron-Quay machine was as ruthless as the more famous Tweed organization of New York. As secretary of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (1872-1878, 1879-1881), Quay played a pivotal role in attempts to weld local organizations in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia to the state machine. An especially blatant attempt to capture Philadelphia in 1878 by making him city recorder collapsed under public protest. Although implicated in a scandal in the state treasurer's office, he was elected state treasurer by an overwhelming margin in 1885. In 1888 Quay managed the presidential victory of Benjamin Harrison but broke with Harrison over distributing patronage. Intimate knowledge of his state, control of patronage, and insistence on party loyalty made Quay supreme in Pennsylvania. Shrewdly laconic, he knew, as one observer noted, "how to keep silent in fifteen languages."

Serving in the U.S. Senate (1887-1899, 1901-1902), Quay championed the protective tariff and little else. Controversy also marked his Senate career. When the Pennsylvania Legislature failed to fill his seat in 1899, the governor appointed Quay for a third term, only to have the Senate refuse to seat him. He was reelected in 1901. His public record, as with other bosses of the period, was no measure of his great influence within the national councils of his party. He was a partisan of minority rights, defending Indian tribes and opposing Chinese exclusion. His brand of politics, under attack when he died in 1904, helped nationalize American politics during years of rapid industrial and social change.

Further Reading on Matthew Stanley Quay

In the absence of a biography, Quay's own Pennsylvania Politics: The Campaign of 1900 (1901) provides a sampling of his oratory and ideas. John Wanamaker, Quayism and Boss Domination in Pennsylvania Politics (1898), is a contemporary indictment by a Philadelphia merchant, one of Quay's chief opponents. Sylvester K. Stevens, Pennsylvania: Birthplace of a Nation (1964), and H. Wayne Morgan, From Hayes to McKinley (1969), discuss Quay in the context of state and national politics respectively.

Additional Biography Sources

Kehl, James A., Boss rule in the gilded age: Matt Quay of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1981.