Morgan, Edwin D(enison) (b Washington, Mass, 8 Feb 1811; d New York City, 14 Feb 1883). Governor and US senator.
In 1822 Morgan’s family moved from Massachusetts to Connecticut, where he received a minimal formal education before beginning work as a clerk at his uncle’s general store in 1828. A year later Morgan entered Hartford politics. In 1837 he moved to New York City, where he founded a successful mercantile firm before moving gradually into banking and brokerage services. He refused to flee New York City during the 1849 cholera epidemic, instead remaining to help those stricken with the disease. The popularity Morgan accrued from this helped him win election as a Whig to the state senate, where he served from 1850 to 1855. As senator he introduced and shepherded through the legislation that created Central Park in New York City. In 1855 he played a crucial role in the formation of the Republican Party; Morgan was the New York Republican state chair (1856–58) and the first chair of the Republican National Committee (1856–64). He also served as a commissioner on the New York State Board of Emigration (1855–58) and as president of the Hudson River Railroad.
In 1858 Morgan was elected governor,winning a four-way race by a plurality of 17,000 votes. In his first term he helped reduce the state debt, increased the revenue from the Erie Canal tolls, successfully advocated for a voter registry law, and vetoed a group of corrupt railroad bills. He supported William H. Seward’s failed bid for the presidential nomination in 1860, though he campaigned for Abraham Lincoln’s election.
Morgan himself was reelected in 1860 by a wide margin. He took a moderate position in the secession crisis, but after the assault of Fort Sumter he rallied New York State to support the Union and focused his energies on recruiting soldiers.
When the state was made a military department in 1861, Lincoln commissioned Morgan as a major general of volunteers (1861–63). Morgan declined to run for reelection in 1862, instead pursuing election to the US Senate, where he served from March 1863 until March 1869. In 1865 he declined Lincoln’s offer of a cabinet position as secretary of the treasury.
Morgan voted for the Wade-Davis bill, an act that attempted to install control of Reconstruction in the hands of Congress, and initially tried to work with Pres Andrew Johnson. But Morgan supported black citizenship and voted to override Johnson’s veto of the 1866 civil rights bill.
Morgan usually voted with the more progressive Republicans, passing the Military Reconstruction Acts and supporting New York State’s attempt to enfranchise Blacks through constitutional revision in 1867–69.He also voted against Johnson during the president’s impeachment trial in 1868.After he was defeated for reelection to a second term in the Senate,Morgan returned to his home on 5th Ave and to his private business and philanthropic concerns in New York City. He ran for governor in 1876 but was defeated by Lucius Robinson. In 1881 Morgan turned down the secretary of the treasury position offered by Pres Chester A.Arthur, one of his old New York friends and protégés. In an age famous for political scandals, Morgan was noted for his personal integrity and charity, giving especially large sums to the Union Theological Seminary and Williams College in Williamstown, Mass, and serving on the boards of several New York City hospitals.
Booraem, Hendrik. The Formation of the Republican
Party in New York (New York: New York Univ Press,
Rawley, James. Edwin D.Morgan, 1811–1883: Merchant in Politics (1955; repr New York: AMS Press, 1968)
Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 1009].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.