NYC Jails Governor &
Civil War Mayor ©
Chapter 3 of 7

NYC's 76th mayor
Gunther's candidacy in 1861 took enough votes from Fernando Wood that George Opdyke became NYC's first Republican mayor.
NYC's 73rd & 75th mayor
1855-58, 1860-62
As a Tammany Haller, he was elected to Congress in 1840 at the age of 28, served one term and lost his seat in 1842 due to redistricting.

Wood was a perennial candidate for mayor: 1850, defeated; 1854, elected; 1856, elected; 1857, defeated; 1859, elected; 1861, defeated.

Wood was again elected to Congress in 1862 but in 1864 lost his reelection bid. He was returned as a Representative in 1866 and served in Congress until his death in 1881.

C. Godfrey Gunther thwarted Fernando Wood's mayoral re-election bid in 1861.

In 1856, the year after C. Godfrey Gunther had been elected Alms-House governor, Tammany Hall named him one of its Sachems; this is, a trustee. But in late 1857, the year Gunther became Alms-House board president, forces in Tammany opposed to Mayor Fernando Wood attempted unsuccessfully to oust Gunther as sachem because he was perceived to be a Wood supporter.

Wood, a virulent anti-abolitionist and shady political wheeler-dealer virtuoso, had lost the 1857 mayoral election running as Democratic Tammany Hall's official candidate. He was beaten by Alms-House governor Daniel F. Tiemann, a Free Soiler, running as an independent Democrat with strong support from anti-Wood forces within Tammany and from Republicans who did not field a candidate of their own party.

When he could no longer control Tammany Hall, Wood formed his own organization known as Mozart Hall, the name being derived from the building where he and his followers met. In the 1859 mayoralty, Wood was returned to City Hall running as a Mozart Democrat against Tammany candidate William F. Havermeyer, a former mayor, and Republican George Opdyke.

But Wood's bid to win re-election in 1861, again as a Mozart Democrat, was thwarted by Gunther running as Tammany's candidate, outpolling Wood by 600 votes and thereby enabling Opdyke to win by 613 votes, thus becoming the city's first Republican mayor. The most notable event during Opdyke's term was the Draft Riot during which His Honor did not particularly distinguish himself. Neither did Democrat Gov. Horatio Seymour. But the Metropolitan Police, especially the 35th Pct., and Gunther's beloved volunteer firemen, especially Engine Co. 18, performed with great courage and dedication. The officers and firefighters' rescue of the boys and girls in the Alms-House Department's Colored Orphan Asylum on West 44th Street and 5th Avenue has long been regarded as one of New York Finest and Bravest's finest hours. The mob burned the orphanage but its 237 children were saved just in time.

A member of Democrat Gov. William Marcy's staff, Seymour was elected to the state Assembly in 1841 and the next year won the Utica mayoralty. In 1845, he was chosen as Assembly Speaker. A conservative "Hunker," Seymour lost the governor race in 1850 because of party disunity, but was elected two years later with a united front. As governor (1853-1855), Seymour oversaw enactment of penal reforms. In 1854, he was narrowly defeated for reelection in a four-way race involving a splinter Democratic faction. Elected governor in 1862, Seymour criticized Lincoln's emancipation policy and military draft. While attempting to quell the July 1863 draft rioters' violence in NYC, he addressed the angry mob as "my friends." With frequent GOP reminders, that phrase came back to haunt him politically, contributing to his 1864 loss of the governorship and his 1868 loss as the Democrat Presidential candidate against Ulysses S. Grant.

In 1863, Tammany named as its mayoral nominee a politico of such low reputation, Francis I. A. Boole, that a new reform group emerged in opposition. Known as the McKeon Democracy, it fielded Gunther as mayoral candidate. While these reformers included many Republicans, the Republican Party organization nominated Orison Blunt. Gunther won with 29,121 votes -- more than 6,000 over Boole and nearly 10,000 more than Blunt. In considering those tallies, one needs to remember that the city consisted of New York County (that is, Manhattan and part of what is now the Bronx), that its counted population was about 900,000, many of whom were immigrants not yet citizens and that neither women nor African Americans were permitted to vote.

Frugal, independent, and honest, although a bit contentious, Gunther acquitted himself fairly well as the city's 77th mayor. He was credited with significantly relieving the city's traffic congestion and playing a leading role in the drive to remove slaughterhouses from the center of the city.

In mid-19th century, livestock often was driven on hoof through the streets to slaughterhouses whose methods and waste products created health hazards, not to mention adding to the stench arising from the leavings of horses that pulled conveyances of every size and description through those same streets. Cyclists, carters and pedestrians (looking carefully where they stepped) also contributed to clogging New York streets. Largely forgotten now is the fact that back then the city was the nation's leading meat processing center as well as its leading center for the production of horse-drawn vehicles, including trolleys on tracks.

Mayor Gunther's penchant for keeping a tight lid on municipal expenditures became one of the hallmarks of his one-term administration. He once vetoed a Washington's Birthday celebration as a "reckless extravagance." But his veto of another proposed celebration sprang from political, not fiscal considerations. The Common Council -- the mid-19th century equivalent of today's City Council -- had proposed that a "public demonstration and illumination" be held to celebrate then-recent victories of the Union forces in the Civil War, especially Gen. Sherman's Army taking Atlanta and Gen. Sheridan's successes in the Shanandoahs.

The mayor's Sept. 29, 1864, message rejecting the Council's resolution alluded to the Presidential election campaign then in progress between Lincoln and his former General George McClellan, the Democrats' nominee:

Taking into consideration that a canvass is now in progress, of the most exciting character, I am forced to regard the proposed demonstration as one of a political nature, and according to the rule which I laid down for my guidance on entering upon the duties of Mayor, I cannot give it my official endorsement.

But even while criticizing the resolution as a political ploy, Gunther got off a few political shots of his own against Lincoln's war policies, especially the Emancipation Proclamation:

I yield to no man in my attachment to "the Union, as it was, and the Constitution, as it is," but as the President demands of the Southern people to abandon the rights which the Constitution confers, I do not see how those who have always held that the Federal Government has nothing to do with the domestic institutions of the States can be expected to rejoice over victories which, whatever they may be, surely are not Union victories.

*Copyright on text. © 2001 by the New York Correction History Society and Thomas C. McCarthy. Noncommercial use of text permitted with citation of the society and/or its web site www.correctionhistory.org.

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