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Hamilton Fish
16th Governor
1849–1850
Named for his parents’ friend Alexander Hamilton, Hamilton Fish (1808–1893) was the son of Revolutionary War Colonel Nicholas Fish. Hamilton Fish served in the United States House of Representatives and was as appointed lieutenant governor to John Young. Governor Fish pushed for a legislative endowment for a state agricultural college, revised the state’s tax laws and criminal code, and improved school systems. Afterward, he was a United States Senator and served as Secretary of State under President Ulysses S. Grant. His son, grandson, and great-grandson were all named Hamilton Fish and all represented New York in Congress.
Portrait: Charles Loring Elliott (1812–1868) began his career as an itinerant, untrained portraitist who worked throughout Central New York. After 1839, he opened an art studio in New York City, eventually becoming the city’s premier portraitist. Among his famous subjects was James Fenimore Cooper.

More Information

Fish, Hamilton (b New York City, 3 Aug 1808; d Garrison, Putnam Co, 7 Sept 1893). Governor, US senator, and secretary of state.

Born into an elite family and son of Nicholas Fish and Elizabeth Stuyvesant, Hamilton Fish graduated from Columbia College in 1827 and was admitted to the bar in 1830. An ardent Whig, he served New York State as a member of the House of Representatives (1843–45) from New York City, lieutenant governor (1847–48),governor (1849–50), and US senator (1851–57). Only mildly opposed to slavery, Fish deplored the disintegration of the Whig Party and lost national standing because he belatedly and only reluctantly joined the Republicans.

Although he supported Abraham Lincoln in 1860, he advocated compromise with the South right up to the beginning of hostilities in 1861. He held only minor positions during the Civil War. Although Fish was friendly with Pres Ulysses S. Grant, his appointment by Grant to succeed Elihu Washburne as secretary of state in 1869 came as a complete surprise. Fish accepted reluctantly and expected to serve briefly, but remained through both Grant administrations.

His greatest achievement, the Treaty ofWashington (1871), led to the settlement of the Alabama claims and several other disputes with Great Britain. Fish carefully negotiated difficult issues with Spain, pressing Grant not to recognize the belligerency of Cuba and successfully obtaining reparations in the Virginius affair (1873).

He supported American expansion into the Caribbean but did not expend much effort on Grant’s unsuccessful project to annex the Dominican Republic. Fish retired from national political life after Grant’s presidency but remained prominent in civic activities in New York State and served as president of the Society of the Cincinnati, the Union League Club, and the New-York Historical Society. The one-time congressman was the progenitor of a unique political dynasty.His son, grandson, and great-grandson, all named Hamilton Fish, served as representatives from New York State in the US Congress.

Cook, Adrian. The Alabama Claims: American Politics and Anglo-American Relations, 1865–1872 (Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press, 1975)

Corning, Amos. Hamilton Fish (New York: Lanmere, 1918)

Nevins, Allan. Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration, 2 vols (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1936)

Jon Sterngass

Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 568].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.

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