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Biography of Elliot Danforth
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AMONG the notable men connected with the service of the state in an official relation, is the Hon. Elliot Danforth, state treasurer.
Born at Middleburg, Schoharie County, N. Y., on the 6th of March, 1850, he spent his earliest years amidst the rural scenes of his native place, and under the care of loving parents. He is the youngest son of Judge Peter S. Danforth of Middleburg, who was born on the 19th of June, 1816, in the village of Middleburg, and who in his declining life is enjoying the happy consciousness of having served his country faithfully in civil, educational and religious matters. He was fitted for college at the Kinderhook academy, N. Y., where he won a prize for proficiency in the classics when only fourteen years old. In 1837 he was graduated from Union college, under the presidency of Dr. Eliphalet Nott, who was then in the zenith of his fame and usefulness as an educator. He studied law in the office of the Hon. Robert McClellan, at that time member of congress from Schoharie county; and also in the office of Marcus T. Reynolds of Albany, one of the most eminent lawyers of this city. He formed a partnership with Judge Lyman Sanford of Schoharie, which existed for fourteen years.
Among the offices he has held are those of district attorney for Schoharie County in 1845; state senator from Delaware and Schoharie in 1853; judge-advocate of the 18th brigade for fourteen years, and a justice of the Supreme Court, a position to which he was appointed in 1872, by Governor Hoffman. The father of Judge Peter S. Danforth was George Danforth, who was born in Albany, on the site of the new capitol, and who was a lawyer of marked ability. He died at Savannah, Ga., in the midst of his active duties, at the comparatively early age of forty-two. It has been well said of the Danforth family, that it is one whose history, as a family, is interwoven with the history of other lands than this, and Edward Danforth Curtis, of Andover, Mass., in an address which he delivered at the third family reunion, after some allusions not wholly complimentary to King Arthur and his famous “Knights of the Round Table,” forcibly and poetically says of his ancestry: “As for our lineage, the blood of a sterner, sturdier race flows in our veins. The Danforth family tree strikes its top-root down into the subsoil of the conquering Teutonic race of Central Europe, whose God was Woden, whose heaven was Walhalla, whose fierce valor overcame the disciplined armies of Rome, and whose onrush swept away like a flood the mighty structure of the Imperial power and civilization.”
From his youth, Elliot Danforth, the subject of our sketch, manifested a great desire for the acquisition of knowledge, and his parents were determined to foster the boy’s genius in this respect. At the public schools he was noted for his studious habits, and his fine literary tastes were thus early formed. After receiving a liberal education he sought to improve his mind still further by travel, believing with Goldsmith that “the volume of nature is the book of knowledge; and he becomes most wise who makes the most judicious selection.” Accordingly he turned his face towards the west as the principal field of his observation, and made two trips through that interesting, picturesque and romantic region, going as far as the Pacific coast, carefully studying the manners and customs of the people, and gazing with unbounded admiration upon the many grand, natural objects along the route of his travels. Returning to his native village, refreshed in body and invigorated in mind, he commenced the study of the law in the office of his father. And so closely and successfully did he devote his time and attention to the great writers on legal science, that in January, 1871, he was admitted to the bar. Well grounded in the principles of the law, as well as in general literature, and possessing an earnest and forcible delivery, his success as a brilliant professional man was now fully assured. Many emoluments and honors were in store for him. But, in the meantime, he turned his attention to another interesting subject of a social nature. In 1874, he married Miss Ida Prince, an accomplished young lady, the only child of Dr. Gervis Prince, president of the First National bank of Bainbridge, N. Y. The union was one of the happiest ever formed, and the home of Mr. Danforth is brightened and cheered by all that elevates and ennobles the calmer walks of a true domestic life.
Removing to the village of Bainbridge in the summer of 1878, Mr. Danforth formed a law partnership with the Hon, George H. Winsor of that place. Considerable business was done by this well-known firm, and young Danforth was not long in achieving a widely-extended reputation in the successful performance of his professional duties. His eminent services were soon called into requisition by public bodies. He was chosen a member of the committee on prizes of the New York Bar association, and for three years held the office of president of the corporation of Bainbridge – his fine literary tastes, strict integrity and acknowledged ability marking him for such positions of honor and trust.
Mr. Danforth now entered with great enthusiasm into the broad field of politics. From the first his affiliations were with the Democratic Party, and he came before the people as a staunch representative of the young democracy of the Jacksonian school. In 1880 he was a delegate to the national democratic convention which met at Cincinnati and nominated Gen. Hancock for the presidency. He was the youngest member of the convention, and a good story is told of him on that occasion. When about to enter the hall, where none but delegates were admitted, his youthful appearance was so striking and his right to be admitted into the assembly so apparently questionable, that the sergeant-at-arms stepped up to him, and touching him on the shoulder, said: ” Boys are not admitted here.” But when his right was asserted and established, the sergeant-at-arms was not .a little embarrassed, and with a suitable apology, and as bland a smile as could be expected under the circumstances, told the youthful member to go in just as soon as he pleased.
Mr. Danforth entered the arena of political conflict to remain there; while at the same time he has continued to gather gems of truth, wisdom and beauty from the wide range of literary investigation as opportunity offers. In the fall of 1880 he was unanimously nominated as the candidate for congress from his district, but declined the honor. At the same time his name was presented as a candidate for state treasurer, and he received a very flattering support from his friends. In 1884 he was also a delegate to the democratic national convention at Chicago, which nominated Grover Cleveland for president; and it need scarcely be added that he was an ardent supporter of Cleveland’s election, delivering many stirring addresses in different parts of the state during that memorable and exciting campaign.
Soon after the election of the Hon. Lawrence J. Fitzgerald as state treasurer, in 1885, Mr. Danforth was appointed deputy state treasurer – an office whose duties he discharged with such ability and success that Treasurer Fitzgerald, on his re-election, re-appointed him as deputy for the term of two years, from the 1st of January, 1888. Li the presidential and New York state gubernatorial campaign of 1888, Mr. Danforth delivered nearly thirty speeches in various parts of the state in advocacy of the principles of democracy, and in favor of the election of Cleveland and Thurman, Hill and Jones. He is one of the most ardent personal and political admirers of Gov. Hill, from whose incisive, bold and outspoken utterances he derives inspiration, and with undaunted courage and firmness follows him through all the skirmishes and contests of political warfare.
Mr. Danforth is one of the directors and also the attorney of the First National bank of Bainbridge, and a member of the board of education in that village, where he now resides. He is not only one of the most popular state officers at Albany – urbane, genial and sunny – but he is one of our politicians, too few in number, whose love of literature, science and the fine arts is a predominant trait of character. Among the perplexing and pressing duties of public life he has found time occasionally to deliver a number of lectures on literary, scientific and legal subjects before various societies and organizations in different parts of the country. And in these efforts he has displayed the fine taste and finished composition of the man of letters, and the love of all that is beautiful and sublime in nature, science and art.
Among the popular addresses which he has delivered with gracefulness and effectiveness, before select and appreciative audiences, are those on “Orators and Oratory,” ” Self Made Men,” “Young Men in Politics,” and “From Quebec to the Golden Gate.” His patriotic fervor has also been poured forth in Decoration Day addresses, and Fourth of July orations.
The veterans of the Union army have no warmer, truer friend than Mr. Danforth in the whole country. When the rebellion broke out he was a boy of eleven, but if he had been old enough, he would in all probability have been among those who rallied around the dear old flag and marched to the front in defense of the Union. As it is, he has shown every mark of respect and admiration both for the living and the fallen brave in the glorious army of freemen. On many occasions, public and private, his feelings and sentiments have been fully expressed regarding the Union veterans and the sacred cause for which they fought and bled on many a hotly contested battlefield. We select one of these occasions as illustrative of the patriotic zeal of Mr. Danforth. At the thirteenth reunion of the One Hundred and Fourteenth regiment, in the village of Bainbridge, he gave expression to his feelings in what has been regarded as one of the most fervid, patriotic and eloquent of his speeches. In that address, which we regret we can not reprint here in full he said:
“Soldiers of the One Hundred and Fourteenth: You remember the time when you were with glorious Phil Sheridan in the valley. You recall Bisland, Port Hudson, Winchester and Cedar Creek. None of you will ever forget that memorable 14th of June, 1863, when Tucker and Corbin fell, and your gallant colonel in command of Weitzel’s daring old brigade, fell at its head mortally wounded, leading in the charge. No braver, truer patriot ever lived than Col. Elisha B. Smith. His mantle fell on worthy shoulders, and Col. PerLee has been spared to be with us today.
” We see around us today, on every hand, emblems of mourning. The world is racked with grief because of the death of our great chieftain. His memory is enshrined in every heart. His career is without a parallel in the history of the world’s great men. A brave and successful soldier, he was also a generous adversary. With the same heroism with which he met the enemy in the field, he also met the dire enemy of an insidious disease, and for many weary weeks and months, looked into the face of the angel of death who was slowly but surely approaching as if even he were reluctant to lay his icy hand on the brave, great heart which is now at peace.
” Every man who wore the nation’s blue, who patiently marched under the midday sun, and paced at midnight the lonely sentinel’s beat; who stood unblanched in the waves of battle, and bore the flag in the fiery rain of shot and shell; every soldier in the ranks, is found upon the muster roll of the nation’s heroes and upon the tablet of the nation’s affection.
” Soldiers of the Grand Army, it is your proud distinction to have fought in the war for the Union. The badge you wear is more honorable by far than the gaudy emblems of chivalry. Your country honors those brave heroes that lie beneath the sod, but in honoring them she would not forget those who survive. You have gone unmoved through storms of fire, but in your faces I read the deep emotion which agitates you to day.
“It is the proud boast of Bainbridge that her sons were loyal to the old flag in the dark days of our country’s history. In behalf of the people of this town, I extend to you a cordial, hearty, heartfelt welcome. Welcome, thrice welcome to our hearts and homes.”
Mr. Danforth takes great pleasure in gathering around him standard books, illustrative of general history, biography and literature, as well as in the collection of rare and valuable autographs and manuscripts. He is the owner of one of the original drafts of the Declaration of Independence, in the handwriting of Thomas Jefferson. It was recently discovered in a garret, down south, and is a priceless treasure. He is also one of the few fortunate collectors who have succeeded in acquiring a complete set of autograph letters and documents of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. And now, at the age of thirty-nine, with a mind already richly stored with the treasures of learning, especially in his chosen profession, he has still a brilliant future before him in the higher walks of a useful, refined and cultivated life.
On the 1st of October, 1889, Mr. Danforth was unanimously nominated, by the democratic state convention, at Syracuse, for state treasurer, and was elected by the large plurality of nearly 15,000 over Gen. Ira M. Hedges.
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