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William L. Marcy
11th Governor
1833–1838
During the War of 1812, William L. Marcy (1786– 1857) served as a militia lieutenant and later as Adjutant General of New York. As governor, Marcy created the State Geological Survey, the forerunner of the New York State Museum. Marcy later served as Secretary of War from 1845 to 1849 under President James Polk, and as Secretary of State from 1853 to 1857 under President Franklin Pierce. The highest peak of the Adirondack Mountains is named in his honor.
Portrait: Samuel L. Waldo (1783–1861) opened his art studio in Hartford, Connecticut in 1803, before traveling to London in 1806 bearing letters of introduction to Benjamin West and John Singleton Copley. In 1809, he established himself in New York City and began painting portraits of prominent New Yorkers. He painted this portrait while Marcy was governor. There is a map in the lower left corner, depicting the counties along the Erie Canal. On loan from the Albany Institute of History & Art Permanent Deposit by the City of Albany.

More Information

Marcy, William L(earned) (b Southbridge, Mass, 12 Dec 1786; d Ballston Spa, Saratoga Co, 4 July 1857). Governor and US senator.

Raised in Massachusetts, Marcy graduated from Brown University in 1808, moved to Troy (Rensselaer Co), and was admitted to the bar in 1811. After becoming active in local politics and serving as city recorder (1816–18, 1821–23), he became a leader of the political faction known as the Albany Regency, which made key Bucktail Republican patronage decisions. He served as state comptroller (1823–29), associate justice of the New York State Supreme Court (1829–31), and US senator (1831–33). Marcy defended Martin Van Buren’s appointment as minister to England by claiming that to “the victor belong the spoils of the enemy”; the speech contributed to the rise of the term “spoils system.” Marcy resigned his senate seat on 1 Jan 1833 after his election as governor of New York State and served three terms as a loyal Jacksonian Democrat before he was defeated by William H. Seward in 1838. During his administration, the New York State Geological Survey (1836) was created, and Mt Marcy in the Adirondacks was named in his honor.He served as an efficient secretary of war under Pres James K. Polk (1845–49) and successfully prosecuted the Mexican War. Marcy, who always tried to avoid committing himself to a definite position on the slavery question, was briefly the leading presidential candidate of the deadlocked Democratic National Convention of 1852 before the nomination went to dark horse Franklin Pierce. Marcy served Pierce as secretary of state (1853–57). Only four months after leaving office, Marcy died suddenly while vacationing.

Mattina, Benjamin.“The Early Life of William Learned Marcy, 1789–1832” (PhD diss, Georgetown Univ, 1949)

Spencer, Ivor. The Victor and the Spoils: A Life of William L.Marcy (Providence, RI: Brown Univ Press, 1959)

Jon Sterngass

Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 957].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.

Timeline of NY Governors

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