Tuesday, November 4, 2014

MILHOLLAND | 5C. NY's GOP Platt Machine

Thomas C. Platt, NY Governor-Maker
John E. Milholland worked with and against
him in 1881-97.
In the last quarter of the 19th Century, the Platt Machine largely controlled the New York State Republican Party and had a lot to say about who would be the next Governor.

John E. Milholland was at times a loyal ally and on occasion led a rebel group. In June 1885, the Milholland group created a new club, the Republican State Club of the State of New York. The club itself seems to have attracted a great deal of support throughout the state, but it was not long-lived.

Boss Platt

Thomas C[ollier] Platt was U.S. Senator from New York in 1881 and 1897-1909.  He was born July 15, 1833 in Owego, NY and died March 6, 1910 in NYC. He was a two-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1873–1877) and a three-term U.S. Senator from New York (see below for explanation of the short first term).

He was best known as "Boss Platt", leader of the Republican Party in NY State in the last quarter of the 19th Century, until 1902. When he died in 1910, the NY Times reported that "no man ever exercised less influence in the Senate or the House of Representatives than he," but "no man ever exercised more power as a political leader."

Platt considered himself the "political godfather" of Republican governors of the state, including Theodore Roosevelt. He also played a significant part in the creation in 1898 of the City of [Greater] New York, incorporating four boroughs - Kings, Queens, Richmond and Bronx counties - with that of New York County (Manhattan).

Platt was born to William Platt, a lawyer, and Lesbia Hinchman in Owego, New York on July 15, 1833. State Senator Nehemiah Platt (1797–1851) was William Platt's brother. William Platt was both a successful attorney and strict Presbyterian, and had his son pegged for the ministry, sending him to Owego Academy and Yale College (1850–1852) to study theology.

However, young Platt left Yale early, marrying Ellen Lucy Barstow and then serving for 20 years a pharmacist. For a short time he edited a local newspaper, and then was appointed President of the Tioga National Bank. With an interest in the lumber business, and the rapid growth of the railway business, he was appointed President of the Southern Central and other railways. He became Secretary and a director of the United States Express Co. in 1879, and President in 1880. He was appointed a member and President of the Board of Quarantine Commissioners of New York in 1880-1888. He was President of the Tennessee Coal & Iron Company for several years.

With his first wife he had three sons: Edward T. Platt, Frank H. Platt, and Henry B. Platt. Two years after his first wife died in 1901, he married Lillian Janeway, but they were separated five years later. He died four years after the separation, in New York City, and he is buried in Owego.

Platt's political involvement began with the creation of the Republican Party and the campaign of the first GOP presidential candidate, John C. Fremont. Running as a Republican, Platt was elected clerk of Tioga County for 1859-1861. He was elected as a Republican to the 43rd and 44th U.S. Congress, serving 1873-1877.

His influence on statewide politics began on his return from Congress in 1877. He aligned with the "Stalwart" faction led by U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling at the party's New York State convention, and against the "Half-Breed" faction loyal to President Rutherford B. Hayes. In January 1881 he was elected with the support of the Stalwart faction as the junior Senator from New York.

However, President James Garfield did not reward his New York supporters with federal appointments and Conkling was outraged. The last straw was Garfield's appointment of Half-Breed faction leader William H. Robertson to the plum job of Collector of the Port of New York. Conkling resigned. Platt joined him at Conkling's insistence, earning him the nickname of "Me Too" Platt.

Soon thereafter, however, Garfield's assassination by Charles J. Guiteau, a self-proclaimed Stalwart who claimed friendships with Platt and Conkling, ended their faction. When Platt and Conkling ran in the special election to fill the vacancies created by their own resignations, they both lost.

Chastened but determined to bounce back, Platt worked on improving his relations with his colleagues. During the next 15 years, he was both strongly supported and then challenged by John E. Milholland. Platt started regaining control of the GOP after 1887 as an "easy boss." His control fully restored by 1896, a full 16 years after his resignation, Platt was again elected to the U.S. Senate and he was reelected six years later. This time, he served out his two terms, from 1897 to 1909 and served dutifully as Chairman of the Committee on Transportation Routes to the Seaboard, and a member of the Committees on Printing, on Cuban Relations and on Interoceanic Canals. He also served on the Republican National Committee.

On January 21, 1897, Platt's photograph appeared in the New York Tribune as the first half-tone reproduction in a mass circulation daily paper. With the aim of expanding his power as a political boss, Platt organized for passage of the Greater New York bill in 1898.

Platt and Teddy Roosevelt

Platt reluctantly supported Theodore Roosevelt's candidacy for Governor of New York in 1898, in the immediate aftermath of Roosevelt's fame leading the Rough-Riders in the Spanish-American War. Once elected, Governor Roosevelt crusaded against machines and corruption.

Peeved, and seeking a way to isolate Roosevelt, Platt found a way when President William McKinley's original vice president died in office.

At the 1900 Republican National Convention, Platt and President McKinley's political ally Mark Hanna nominated Teddy Roosevelt for vice president. Roosevelt was chosen by acclamation, played a major part in McKinley winning the re-election, and became president in September 1901 after McKinley was assassinated.

Platt therefore got what he wanted but did not want what he got. His control over the NY State Republican Party in ended in 1902 when Teddy Roosevelt's successor as Governor, Benjamin Barker Odell Jr.,  took over from Platt as leader of the party. After Platt tried, and failed, to block Odell's renomination as Governor and Odell was re-elected, the era of a separate "boss" from the Governor was over.

See also: Post on John E. Milholland's father's death.