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DAVID BENNETT HILL
A PROMINENT figure in our political annals is David B. Hill, governor of the state of New York. His ancestors were of New England origin, and he was born in the beautiful and romantic village of Havana, Schuyler, then Chemung county, N. Y., on the 29th of August, 1843. His father, Caleb Hill, was a native of Windham county, Conn, but while a young man, removed to Havana, where he carried on the business of a carpenter and joiner. His mother’s maiden name was Eunice Durfey. She was a woman richly endowed with the gifts and graces of a true life. Both parents were strongly devoted to the welfare of their children and strove hard, with their very limited pecuniary means, to give them a good common-school education. These intelligent, industrious and affectionate parents, so pleasant in their lives, were not long divided in their death – Mrs. Hill died in Elmira, August, 1882. and Mr. Hill – after living to see his son elected lieutenant-governor of the empire state – followed her to the grave in December of the same year.
David, the youngest son, and the subject of this sketch, was naturally fond of books and made an excellent use of the limited educational advantages afforded him by his parents. At the Havana academy, beautifully located in the open fields a short distance from the village, the young student spent several years deeply interested in his studies and laying the foundation of a good education. On leaving the academy at the age of seventeen, he cheerfully undertook the task, on a small scale, of earning his own living. He was first employed as a clerk in a leading law office in Havana, where his youthful genius, his ambition to rise higher in mental attainments and his faithfulness and fidelity attracted the notice of several prominent persons who saw in him evidences of a bright future. One of these friendly observers was Colonel John I. Lawrence, a cousin of Judge Abraham Lawrence of New York city, who earnestly advised him to continue the study of the law. It was a wise counsel, and was speedily followed by young Hill, whose natural inclinations and ambitions were wholly in this direction, and to whom the legal profession was invested with peculiar charms. He accordingly went to Elmira early in 1863, and entered the law office of Erastus P. Hart, an accomplished lawyer of that city. And there Mr. Hill prosecuted his legal studies with such unremitting diligence and success that he was admitted to the bar in the autumn of 1864. With his characteristic energy, enterprise and self-reliance he lost no time in opening a law office in the city of Elmira, his newly-adopted home. His success was soon assured; he was appointed city attorney of Elmira; and during the first year of his residence there, his legal practice was crowned with several brilliant triumphs, and he won for himself a leading position in the bar of the southern tier. His popularity continuing to increase, he speedily acquired an extensive legal practice, not only in Elmira, but also in the surrounding country. His fine legal talents, cultivated by close application to study, were admirably displayed in many an interesting and important case. His legal efforts on such occasions were powerful – in language terse, in logic incisive, and in argument convincing.
But the activities of Mr. Hill’s legal profession were soon, in a large measure, to be exchanged for those of politics. For him the stirring arena of political life presented still stronger attractions; and entering this field of conflict as an ardent young democrat, he found a most congenial occupation for his active nature. In 1871, and again in 1872, he was elected a member of the assembly from Chemung county. In the deliberations of that body his versatile genius and forcible declamation were fully displayed, and he stepped to the front rank as a parliamentarian. True to his party organization he always advocated with great force and earnestness democracy. As a member of the democratic party he even then had few equals as a tactician in effecting its success.
In the legislature of 1872-3 he was frequently chairman of the committee of the whole. He strongly opposed the system which made penal labor a victor over the interests of honest industry in the empire state; and he also succeeded in having a bill passed by the assembly forbidding the system, but the bill was defeated in the senate. In 1877 and in 1881 he was president of the democratic state convention, the duties of which he performed with marked ability and success. In 1881, as an evidence of his growing popularity at home, he was elected alderman in the strongest republican ward in Elmira. And in the spring of 1882 he was chosen mayor of the city by a large majority. In 1882, Mr. Hill was nominated for lieutenant-governor of the state on the ticket headed by Grover Cleveland. The majority by which this ticket was elected was unprecedented in the annals of politics, Cleveland’s plurality being 192,854, and Hill’s 196,781. He presided with great ability, dignity and impartiality over the senate, the majority of which was republican.
When Grover Cleveland was inaugurated president of the United States Mr. Hill succeeded him as governor of the state of New York. He discharged the duties of this office with such general acceptability to his party that he was nominated for governor by the democratic state convention, which met in September, 1885. After a memorable and exciting contest, he was elected over Ira Davenport, the republican candidate, by a plurality of 11,134.
In the autumn of 1888, Governor Hill was renominated for governor, his opponent being the Hon. Warner Miller. Every inch of ground was hotly contested for in that campaign, both candidates delivering public addresses night and day through the state in advocacy of the special claims of their party. The result was the reelection of Governor Hill by a plurality of 19,171, while President Harrison carried the state by 14,373.
While striving to administer the affairs of the state government on strictly democratic principles, Governor Hill has delivered several addresses set forth in strong, vigorous language, and containing passages of more than ordinary eloquence. One of these was on the occasion of the centennial banquet at the Metropolitan opera house, New York, on the 30th of April, 1889, commemorative of the inauguration of George Washington as the first president of the United States and the establishment of the constitution of our country. In delivering the address of welcome Governor Hill happily said: ” As the governor of the state, within whose borders were heard the acclaims which greeted the first president’s oath of allegiance to the constitution, I extend a welcome to all here assembled. Welcome to you, President Harrison, latest of the line of those distinguished men who have given the same guarantee of obedience to the charter of our liberties and faithfulness to the rights of the people. Welcome to your honored cabinet, and to those chosen representatives of all the sister states, whose presence here speaks anew the grandeur and greatness of our United States. Welcome to all in authority – legislative, executive or judicial, civil and military – who, in their station, with honor and justice, are daily serving our common country. Welcome to all the ambassadors of other nations who participate with us in these festivities. Welcome, strong and brave men, sons of fathers who yielded life, who sacrificed fortune, who endured severest privation, that we might rejoice in liberty. Welcome, fair and true women, daughters of mothers who gave patriotic encouragement in days of darkest distress; who willingly devoted themselves to suffering that the infant republic might be sustained. Welcome those from whatever clime who have become part of our people, and who have contributed their share in maintaining the purposes and increasing the glory of our commonwealth. Welcome to all – citizens – strangers – friends.
” Our display upon the ample waters of this harbor; our parades in the broad streets of this city; our rejoicings in this banqueting hall, commemorate not only the fame of a great prince among nien; not only the victories of a great captain among warriors; not only the deeds of a great statesman among patriots. These exultant sights and triumphant sounds commemorate such fame and victories and deeds, but they commemorate far more. They commemorate the nativity of a heaven-born republic among the nations of the earth. They commemorate not a government founded on a Magna Charta extorted from a King John by a compelHng band of nobles, not a government founded upon a written freedom bestowed by an emperor on an emancipated race of slaves, but a new and complete creation of government, resting strong and secure upon foundations that shall last as long as virtue, honor and courage live among our people; a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, which shall not perish from the earth.
” What visions of future greatness and prosperity for this broad land of ours open up before us as we contemplate the growth of our free institutions, since they were founded by the patriots of a century ago. Generations yet unborn will share the glories and blessings of the beneficent and imperishable government transmitted to us and them by our revolutionary sires.
” What glorious memories cluster around this centennial day:
Day of a hundred days.
Day of a hundred years,
One cry of welcome all our voices raise
As the young century appears.
Hail greatness yet to come,
Hail millions yet to be.’
” The heroes of the American revolution are now departed. That age of preeminent creative genius has passed away. But the country which their valor, statesmanship and patriotism saved and established still proudly exists, enjoying the blessing of civil and religious liberty, augmenting in population, increasing in resources, strengthening in power.
” It is a prosperous, happy, indivisible union. Its contented people are reaping the advantages of laws made by themselves, well and honestly administered.
” The sentiments of every true American are expressed in the hope that faction may not destroy, that pride may not injure, that corruption may not undermine, and that sectionalism may not divide this fair republic; but that its borders may still further be extended, its commerce may float upon every sea, the stars upon its flag may be trebled, its free institutions may live on and flourish, and its liberty-loving people may continue to work out the problem of self-government so long as freedom itself exists, and until time shall be no more.
‘Keep, God, the fairest, noblest land that lies beneath the sun – Our country, our whole country, and our country ever one.’”
In the administration of public affairs Governor Hill seems to be actuated by a fine sense of equity, and a just regard for the welfare and prosperity of the masses of the people. Himself a self-made man, he is a true friend of the laboring-class, whose just claims he seeks to advance by every laudable means. He is a hater of oppression in every form, and a lover of liberty, justice and humanity at home and abroad.
His political career has been one of steady and successful advancement during a period of twenty years.
Possessing abilities of a high order, a lawyer of great reputation; a parliamentarian of inexhaustible resources; a ready and accomplished orator and statesman, David B. Hill stands before the country as a distinguished leader and expounder of the true Jeffersonian principles of democracy, and as an able advocate of good government.