The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Tilden, Samuel Jones

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TILDEN, Samuel Jones, American lawyer and statesman: b. New Lebanon, N. Y., 9 Feb. 1814; d. Greystone on the Hudson, near Yonkers, N. Y., 4 Aug. 1886. He was educated at Yale and at New York University, being graduated from the latter in 1837. He then studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1841. He attained the first rank in his profession, being particularly successful in reorganizing corporations involved in litigation, and amassing one of the largest fortunes ever gained in the practice of law. While a student in college, he had taken an active part in politics, writing and speaking in favor of Martin Van Buren's policy; in 1845 was elected to the New York State legislature and was a member of a special committee to consider the settlement of anti-rent troubles, his report on the subject forming the basis of subsequent legislation. In 1846 he was a member of the State constitutional convention and in 1848 was one of the delegates of the Free Soil faction of the Democratic party to the National Convention, but his political activity then slackened until after the Civil War. During the war, however, he was several times consulted by President Lincoln; he believed that the war, once begun, must be carried through by the Federal government, but opposed some acts of the administration as unconstitutional. In 1866 he was made chairman of the Democratic State committee and in 1867 was a member of the State constitutional convention. As chairman of the State committee he took a leading part in the overthrow of the Tweed Ring, opposing their delegates in the State conventions and being active in collecting evidence against their leaders and bringing them to prosecution; in 1872, having been elected to the State legislature, he was the leader in the impeachment of two of the Tweed judges. (See Tammany Society; Tweed, W. M.). In 1873 he resigned as chairman of the State committee; but in 1874 was nominated and elected Governor of New York. His administration was notable for his successful exposure of the “canal ring,” an association made up of persons who obtained contracts for canal work which they never fulfilled, but for which they were paid, and their political supporters. Governor Tilden employed a skilled engineer to examine their work and then surprised the legislature by a wholly unexpected special message setting forth in detail the fraudulent methods of the “ring.” This served as a direct appeal to the people; and so aroused public opinion that the legislature was forced to authorize the governor to appoint a canal commission. The reports of this commission resulted in a marked diminution in the appropriation for canals and the indictment of several officials for defrauding the State. In 1876 Tilden was the Democratic nominee for President of the United States, and received the largest popular vote, but lacked one electoral vote neccssary for his election. As the electoral votes from several States were contested on account of aliened fraud, the matter was referred in a special Electoral Commission, which decided in favor of the Republican candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes. (See Electoral Commission). Popular excitement had run high and many Democrats still claimed Tilden's election, but he urged his supporters quietly to accept the decision of the commission. In 1880 and 1884 his party again wished to nominate him for the Presidency, but each time he declined the nomination. He bequeathed the most of his fortune to establish a public library in New York; but the will was contested by the heir, and only a part of the bequest came into the city's possession. (See Tilden Foundation). Consult ‘Writings and Speeches of Samuel J. Tilden’ (ed. by John Bigelow, 2 vols., New York 1885); ‘Letters and Literary Memorials of Samuel J. Tilden’ (ed. by John Bigelow, 2 vols., ib. 1908); Bigelow, J., ‘Life of Samuel J. Tilden’ (2 vols., ib. 1895); Haworth, ‘Disputed Presidential Election of 1876’ (Cleveland 1906).