Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/O'Conor, Thomas
O'CONOR, or O'CONNOR, Thomas, journalist, b. in Dublin, Ireland, 1 Sept., 1770; d. in New York city, 9 Feb., 1855. He came to this country in 1801, and was shortly afterward associated with William Kernan, father of Francis Kernan (q. v.), and others, in establishing a settlement on a tract of 40,000 acres in Steuben county, N. Y. He eventually abandoned the enterprise, returned to New York city, and spent the rest of his life there. He devoted himself largely to literary pursuits, contributing to the journals, writing and publishing books, and editing various periodicals, including the “Military Monitor,” established in 1812, the “Shamrock,” and the “Globe,” founded in 1819. He also published several pamphlets on Irish or Roman Catholic questions, and volumes entitled “Selections from Several Literary Works” (New York, 1821), and “The Inquisition examined by an Impartial Observer” (1825). —
His son, Charles, lawyer, b. in New York city, 22 Jan., 1804; d. in Nantucket, Mass., 12 May, 1884, modified the spelling of the family name to conform to the ancient usage. At the age of sixteen he began to study law, and in 1824, before he had attained the statutory age of twenty-one years, he was admitted to practice. From this period till within a few years of his death his life was devoted to the pursuit of his profession. The Forrest divorce case, which, contending against John Van Buren and other eminent counsel, he brought to a successful issue, securing for his client, Mrs. Forrest, a liberal alimony, brought him more than ever into national reputation. Two silver vases were presented to him in its commemoration. One was the gift of thirty ladies of New York; the other was presented by sixty members of the bar. These he bequeathed to the Law institute of New York city, and they are now preserved in the library of the institute in the post-office building. In the same library are preserved the bound records of his cases and opinions — a unique collection that was made by himself, and also bequeathed in his will to the institute. These fill over 100 volumes. Others of his celebrated private cases were the Slave Jack case in 1835, the Lispenard will case in 1843, the Lemmon slave case in 1856, the Parrish will case in 1862, and the Jumel suit in 1871, involving the title to $6,000,000 in real estate. In 1848 he became a member of the “Directory of the Friends of Ireland,” a society that was organized in anticipation of a rising in Ireland, and he presided at some of the meetings in the same year. In this year he was also a candidate on the Democratic ticket for lieutenant-governor of New York, but was defeated, although he received several thousand more votes than the other candidates of his party. When the civil war was impending he was extremely anxious to avert it. During the contest and after it he felt that, in the motives and conduct of the war, a departure had been made from the original principles of the confederation of states. He sympathized throughout with the southern states, and at the conclusion of the war became senior counsel for Jefferson Davis when he was indicted for treason. He also appeared upon Mr. Davis's bond when the latter was admitted to bail. The suits against William M. Tweed, which were begun in 1871 and which eventually destroyed the ring that was then at the height of its power in New York city, were largely his work. In the original cases he was associated with William M. Evarts, James Emott, and Wheeler H. Peckham. These suits were brought in the attorney-general's office, a special branch of which was established for the purpose, and named by him the bureau of municipal correction. In 1875 the court of appeals decided that the cases should have been brought by the city. Mr. O'Conor immediately drafted the Civil remedies act, which was enacted at the next session of the legislature, and under which new suits were at once begun. Disheartened with the issue of the first cases, he published an account of them, entitled “Peculation Triumphant, being the Record of a Five Years' Campaign against Official Malversation, A. D. 1871-1875” (New York, 1875). He declined any compensation for his services in these cases. In face of his absolute refusal, he was nominated at the Louisville convention for president, in 1872, by the branch of the Democratic party that opposed the election of Horace Greeley. His electoral ticket received 21,559 votes in the succeeding November. In 1869 he was elected president of the Law institute of New York. In the electoral contest of 1876 he appeared as advocate for the claims of Samuel J. Tilden before the commission. He erected a house at Nantucket, Mass., in 1881, with a fire-proof library adjoining it, and resided there until his death. In 1854 Mr. O'Conor married Mrs. McCracken, formerly Miss Cornelia Livingston. She died on 12 May, 1874, just ten years before her husband. His portrait in oil, by Benjamin F. Reinhardt, hangs in the rooms of the Bar association of New York. On 16 April, 1867, his bust was presented to the supreme court of the state of New York, and now stands in the court-room in this city. He would not permit its public display during his lifetime. See memorial presented before the New York law institute by James C. Carter.