The New International Encyclopædia/Marcy, William Learned

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The New International Encyclopædia
Marcy, William Learned
Edition of 1905. See also William L. Marcy on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

MARCY, William Learned (1780-1857). An American statesman, born December 12, 1780, at Southbridge, Mass. He graduated at Brown University in 1808, and soon entered upon the practice of law at Troy, N. Y. At the opening of the War of 1812 he entered the volunteer service as a lieutenant, and on October 22, 1812, led a successful attack upon Saint Regis, a Canadian post. For this he was soon afterwards promoted to he captain. Before the end of the war he returned to Troy, where he was active as a newspaper writer and politician, supporting the Tompkins faction against the Clintonians, and allying himself with the ‘Albany Regency’ (q.v.). After filling several minor offices, and after a service of six years as Comptroller of the State, he was made an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court in 1829. In 1831 he was elected Senator of the United States by the Democratic Party, but resigned the office upon being chosen Governor of New York in 1832. In the Senate he served as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and gained distinction by his defense of Martin Van Buren against the attacks of Henry Clay. In the course of a speech on the question of appointment to office, he upheld the right of the President to bestow the offices upon his political supporters, saying, “We can see nothing wrong in the maxim that to the victors belong the spoils,” thus associating his name in history with the spoils system. He served as Governor for three terms, and was nominated for a fourth term in 1838, but was defeated by William H. Seward (q.v.). He was appointed a commissioner on claims against the Mexican Government in the same year, and served in that capacity until 1842. In 1845 he became the Secretary of War in President Polk's Cabinet. His ability in this position was severely tested by the Mexican War. In the Presidential campaign of 1848 he supported General Cass. The last and most important public station in which he served was that of Secretary of State during Pierce's administration (1853-57). Among the foreign complications or treaties which demanded action on his part in this capacity were the settling of the Mexican boundary, the Canadian reciprocity treaty, Commodore Perry's negotiations with Japan, the British fishery dispute, the Ostend Conference, and the so-called ‘Koszta Affair’ (q.v.), which added much to his popularity. In these and in other matters Marcy successfully defended the interests of his country, and displayed the qualities of a trained statesman and accomplished diplomat. One of his notable diplomatic papers was his instructions to the American ministers abroad to appear at Court in the simple dress of an American citizen when this could be done without detriment to the interests of the United States. Marcy's death occurred at Ballston Spa, N. Y., but a few months after the expiration of his term of office. He is entitled to high rank as a statesman, while as a shrewd politician he was at his time almost unsurpassed. A short and incomplete biography was printed in the Lives of the Governors of New York, by Jenkins (Auburn, 1851).