Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Whitney, William Collins

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WHITNEY, William Collins, secretary of the navy, b. in Conway, Mass., 15 July, 1841. His father, James S. Whitney, was at one time collector of the port of Boston, and in 1860 was a delegate to the Charleston convention. The son was graduated at Yale in 1863 and at Harvard law-school in 1865, and continued the study of law under Abraham R. Lawrence, in New York city, where he was admitted to the bar and practised his profession. In 1871 he assisted in the organization of the Young men's Democratic club, and was subsequently brought into notice by his active measures in the movement against the Tweed ring. He was made inspector of the city schools in 1872, and was defeated the same year as the candidate of the reformed Democracy for district attorney. In the following year he took an active part in the Tilden canvass. He was appointed corporation counsel of New York city in 1875, 1876, and 1880, and is credited with having saved the city several minions of dollars by his opposition to claims against the city treasury. He also put in practice a system for the protection of the legal rights of the corporation, which has proved of permanent value. He resigned this office in 1882, and on 5 March, 1885, was appointed secretary of the navy. Yale conferred the degree of LL. D. upon him in 1888. His administration has been marked by the completion of several vessels that form the nucleus of a new U. S. navy, in whose development he has taken much interest. Secretary Whitney's residence, at the corner of 5th avenue and 57th street, New York, is one of the finest in the city.