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 on Thurlow Weed

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).