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Biography of John Boyd Thacher
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JOHN BOYD THACHER
HON. John Boyd Thacher was born at Ballston Springs, N. Y., September 11 1847. He is the eldest son of the late George H. Thacher, who was for many years mayor of Albany, and his mother was Ursula J. Boyd, daughter of David Boyd, Esq., of Schenectady. His first American ancestor was Rev. Thomas Thacher who was the first pastor of the old South church of Boston. His father’s maternal grandfather, Judge Hornell, was the founder of the important town of Hornellsville in this state.
To ex-Mayor George H. Thacher it is needless to allude in this connection, more than to pay, in passing, a tribute of respect to one who was one of the most prominent business men of Albany, and who has been referred to as ” that old war-horse of the democracy, who, in years gone by, so often led the party to victory.” In nothing the elder Thacher ever did, did he show sounder common sense than in the education he gave his son, the subject of this sketch, an education so practical as to fully inform him upon the little understood conflicting claims of capital and labor. After the usual preparatory course, Mr. Thacher entered Williams College, from which institution he graduated with honor in 1869. Far too many college graduates and far too many fathers of college graduates imagine that with a diploma and a degree the work of education comes to a full stop. The Thachers, father and son, made no such mistake. Throwing off the broadcloth and fine linen of the student, the son entered his father’s car wheel works where he was taught the trade of a molder. He learned iron as he had previously learned books and became as industrious a workingman as he had been a diligent student. His evenings were passed in taking a thorough course of book-keeping and accounts at Folsom’s Business college. Having mastered his father’s business in all its details he became a member of his father’s firm. The business is now conducted by Mr. Thacher and his brother George H. Thacher. It is their proud boast that in all the years of its existence there has never been a word of dispute between their house and their employees, and today, twenty-five years after the war, they are paying their skilled molders the same rate of wages which prevailed during that period of inflation.
Mr. Thacher’s first active connection with public affairs was as a member of the board of health of Albany. In that capacity he compiled the rules and regulations under which that board is still working.
In 1883 Mr. Thacher was elected to the state senate from this district. Here it became his duty to look after the necessary appropriations to carry on the good work of building the capitol. Each year he secured large sums and hundreds of stone-cutters and laborers found constant employment. Since that time it has been the policy of the legislature to withhold appropriations, and as a consequence the magnificent capitol, magnificent even in its imperfect state, remains unfinished and incomplete Mr. Thacher was active in having contract work in the prisons abolished, and he made some strong arguments in behalf of the labor interests which were imperiled by that objectionable system. While serving on the senate cities committee, charged with investigating the government of the city of New York, Mr. Thacher became interested in the subject of tenement-house reform and introduced a bill appointing a commission, which was afterward organized with the late Joseph W. Drexel as chairman, and from whose good labors has resulted much valuable remedial legislation. Mr. Thacher led the fight in the legislature of 1885 in behalf of the constitutional requirement for an enumeration of the inhabitants. The majority in the legislature favored an elaborate and expensive census similar to that taken five years before by the general government. Mr. Thacher’s argument was, first, that the enumeration of the inhabitants as required by the constitution was for the specific purpose of reapportioning the various senatorial and assembly districts, that each should have as nearly as possible an equal number of inhabitants; second, that since the last state census of 1875, the state has established bureaus and departments which annually gathered all that minute and statistical information sought by an elaborate census.
While General Grant lay ill and slowly dying in the late winter of 1885, the congress of the United States was with much feeling and bitterness discussing the propriety of placing him again upon the retired list of generals of the army and affording him a proper pension. The party to which Mr. Thacher belonged was then in power in the House of Representatives and the indications were not favorable to the reinstatement of the General. Mr. Thacher saw very plainly that should death come to General Grant before the act of justice and propriety was accorded him, everlasting disgrace would attach to the democratic party, and on the evening of February 11, 1885, against the advice of three of the most prominent democrats in the nation, he introduced into the senate and had placed a concurrent resolution calling upon the New York representatives in congress to immediately act in favor of pensioning the illustrious soldier. He made on that occasion a short but notable speech, and upon the sending of the resolutions to the members of congress, he himself went on to Washington and successfully labored with his party friends in favor of that righteous measure. In less than six months the nation’s warrior died, and in the universal respect and honor paid his memory was manifested the wisdom of that congressional action. It is said that Mr. Thacher is prouder of his part in these proceedings than in any other act of his legislative career.
In the spring of 1886 Mr. Thacher was elected mayor of Albany. It was the bi-centennial of that ancient city, and the ceremonies incident to a proper recognition of the occasion laid severe strains upon the young municipal officer. It is unnecessary to speak of the success attending that celebration, a goodly share of which may fairly be attributed to the zeal and enthusiasm of the mayor. During the four days of the celebration Mayor Thacher made nearly a dozen addresses on as many different subjects, and each attracted the attention of the people of the state, particularly those addressed to the Indians and to the representatives from Holland and which were prepared on a few hours’ notice and in the confusion of the moment.
Mayor Thacher’s two years of administration were marked with the lowest tax rate since the first year of the war when his honored father was mayor. For two hundred years the citizens of Albany had maintained a free market site on State street, the broad thoroughfare leading to the capitol. The manifest impropriety of using so grand a street for such purposes led the mayor to recommend the removal of the market and the purchase by the city of an adequate site elsewhere. While this step met with much opposition it was carried to a successful issue and now the farmers who bring to the new market their produce and the people who purchase it are all delighted with the change.
In the winter of 1887 public notice was given that Judge A. J. Parker, who as trustee of the Harmanus Bleecker fund, had nearly a year before offered it to the Young Men’s Association contingent upon their raising $50,000, would give only to the 1st day of January, 1888, for the accomplishment of the task. But a little over two weeks of that probationary period remained, and a meeting was called on December 14, 1887, at which Mayor Thacher presided, and at which it was determined to make a last expiring effort to raise the money and secure the Bleecker fund. Committees were organized throughout the city, representing every walk and condition in life and daily meetings were held. By the evening of December 31, 1887, there had been subscribed the magnificent sum of $56,518, and thus the Bleecker fund amounting to above $130,000 was secured for an excellent institution and the erection of a large public hall assured. Considering the time given and the amount required the task seemed superhuman.
In the month of February, 1888, Mayor Thacher organized and successfully inaugurated a winter carnival, the first of its kind ever held south of Montreal. It lasted three days, and so perfect was the weather and so smoothly ran all the proceedings that the people attributed it all to “Thacher’s luck.”
Following the expiration of his mayoralty term came the presidential contest of 1888 and, having been chosen president of the state league of democratic clubs, Mr. Thacher conceived the original idea of making a canal-boat canvass from one end of the state to the other. The canal boat Thomas Jefferson was fitted up and speakers of national renown accompanied the boat from Buffalo to Albany. The enthusiasm aroused by this unusual means of campaigning was very great, but the candidates of the party for national election were defeated. Had there remained two weeks more of the campaign it is believed the result would have been different. Immediately after the election, in accordance with a long-cherished plan and to afford a needed rest, Mr. Thacher and his wife went to the far east and spent the winter in Turkey and Egypt.
Mr. Thacher has been called a man of hobbies. He devotes most of his spare time to the collection of fifteenth century printed books and the gathering of autographs. This last is not to be confounded with the ordinary collecting of persons’ signatures in albums. Mr. Thacher’s collection covers the principal personages of the world for the last four hundred years, and is probably the most important in America. He has the largest known collection of fifteenth century printing, illustrating the different presses. To collect these as a pastime and to his manufacturing interests as a business, Mr. Thacher gives all his time. He married in 1872 Miss Emma Treadwell, and the charms and comforts of his home are recognized by all its visitors.
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