Fernando Wood: A Political Biography

By Jerome Mushkat | Go to book overview

ONE
The Beginning

I N 1856, a curious publication appeared on the shelves of New York City bookstores. It was the biography of Fernando Wood, the city's "Model Mayor," in office barely fifteen months, but already the era's most controversial politician. Author Donald MacLeod portrayed Wood as a brilliant descendant of a respectable colonial family, a man with a deep sense of public service, destined for greatness, perhaps the presidency. But MacLeod was hardly objective. What the public did not know was that the "Model Mayor" had not only subsidized MacLeod, but had probably ghost-written substantial sections.1

MacLeod's stress on respectability, the idea that the Wood family had progressed until it touched the heroic with Fernando Wood, formed one of the mayor's obsessions. His compulsion revealed more than he realized. The Woods were actually not distinguished. They worked and died as ordinary people. But when a person became famous, his background became fertile ground for imaginary greatness. So it was with Fernando Wood. What he stressed about his heritage, however, reflected deep-seated needs, largely because many New Yorkers questioned his integrity, feared his megalomaniacal tendencies, and suspected he had his hand in the public till. Wood sought a more luminous image. He fabricated an eminent lineage and courted the public as a man of honor deserving of respect for his talents, achievements, and promise as a principled public man.2

Part of MacLeod's biography was accurate. The Wood line in America began around 1670 when Henry Wood, a Welsh Quaker and carpenter, arrived at Newport, Rhode Island, with his wife Hannah and four young children. In 1678, they moved to West Jersey, where he purchased seven hundred acres, including part of the future city of Camden, and built a homestead called Peashore fronting on Coopers Creek and the Delaware River. By the time of his death in 1694, Henry Wood numbered among the local gentry.3

Over the course of the next three generations, his descendants scattered, sparking a history of family decline that became Fernando Wood's true

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Fernando Wood: A Political Biography
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface vii
  • One - The Beginning 1
  • Two - Foundations 13
  • Three - First Victory 31
  • Four - The Model Mayor 41
  • Five - The Political Mayor 63
  • Six - The Southern Candidate 82
  • Seven - The Southern Mayor 98
  • Eight - The Politics of Loyalty 116
  • Nine - The Peace Democrat 133
  • Ten - Political Exile 152
  • Eleven - The Politics of Frustration 170
  • Twelve - Congressional Leader 190
  • Thirteen - An Uncertain Majority 221
  • Fourteen - The Man and His Career 243
  • ABBREVIATIONS USED IN NOTES 248
  • Notes 249
  • Bibliography 293
  • Index 313
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