Hamilton Fish: The Inner History of the Grant Administration - Vol. 1

By Allan Nevins | Go to book overview
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Chapter II The Great Whig Battles

FOR six years after his marriage Hamilton Fish devoted himself to his business, his family, and civic affairs. Not until 1842 did he seek political office. New York was a robust, cheerful, fast-growing city, and he and his wife took a robust, cheerful, and increasingly important place in its life. He watched with interest the passing events: the rapid rebuilding of the area burned down in 1835; the rise of the penny press; the on- slaught of the panic of '37; the visits of Captain Marryat, Ellen Tree, and Fanny Ellsler; the opening of the Union Club, the Merchants' Exchange, and Wallack's National Theatre; the arrival of the Great Western; the semi-centennial of Washington's inauguration, with J. Q. Adams as orator; and the grand reception to Martin Van Buren, New York's first President. Fish knew most New Yorkers of note.1 He was well acquainted with the leaders of the bar, from Daniel Lord and Ogden Hoffman down. He knew the great bankers, like Samuel Ward; the chief merchants, like Gardiner G. Howland and Moses H. Grinnell; the editors, like Bryant and James Watson Webb, and even the city's proudest son, Irving. Few men had better opportunities to enjoy all that the city offered.

His tastes were quiet. Every Sunday found him and his wife in their pew at St. Mark's, listening to Dr. Henry Anthon's sermon?2 Every weekday morning saw him striding down Stuyvesant Street to the Bowery, or a block farther west to Broadway to catch the downtown omnibus. At noon he strolled with some fellow-attorney to the restaurant of Clarke & Browne on Maiden Lane, or to Downing's at 5 Broad Street, famed for its oysters. He worked long hours. Every duty was discharged precisely; the books were balanced every day to a penny. Once he gave a young friend some long-remembered advice:3"If you never break a promise, if you always pay the money you owe exactly on the day due, nobody will know but that you are worth a million. And you will be just as good a risk as a man worth a million."

For New York in this period see Abram C. Dayton, Last Days of Knickerbocker Life; J. M. Mathews, Recollections of Persons and Events; Dr. John W. Francis, Old New York; and my edition of the Diary of Philip Hone.
Fish's papers contain more than a score of letters from Dr. Anthon, 1840-72, indicating a warm friendship. Cf. Memorial of St. Mark's Church, 84 ff.
A. B. Farquhar, The First Million the Hardest, 10.


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