Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 36

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 36


This is the grave of William Marcy.

2016-06-04 17.26.36

An early doughface, or northern politician who served southern masters, Marcy was a big wig in the New York Democratic Party during the antebellum era. Born in Southbridge, Massachusetts in 1786, he graduated from Brown in 1806 and went into the law, moving to Troy, New York. He was a leader in the Albany Regency, which was a group of Democrats who controlled New York politics in the 1820s and 1830s. He was elected to the Senate in 1831 as a major supporter of Andrew Jackson’s policies. He resigned that position in 1833 to serve as governor of New York. He soon came under attack from Whigs for his doughface policies, which were not necessarily unpopular in New York because New York City was a major center of southern support in the North, thanks to its many business connections with the region. But in 1838, he was defeated for reelection by William Seward and the Regency was finished.

Marcy then went to the national stage, serving in the Cabinet for various presidents who wanted his expertise to expand the United States in order to acquire more land for slavery. James K. Polk named him Secretary of War, placing him effectively in charge of a war that stole half of Mexico for the interests of the slave power. He really wanted the 1852 presidential nomination and was a leading candidate, but because of the labyrinthine infighting of party politics of that era, instead it went to a nobody alcoholic named Franklin Pierce. Marcy then served as Secretary of State under Pierce. There, he worked closely with Secretary of War Jefferson Davis to force Mexico to sell more land to the United States in order that a transcontinental railroad could be built connecting the South to San Diego and thus strengthen American slavery even more. He also came up with the idea the Ostend Manifesto, which was a document basically demanding that Spain cede Cuba to the United States. Again, the rationale for this was the expansion of slavery, the cause to which Marcy dedicated his public service. He died in 1857, three months after leaving the Cabinet.

William Marcy is buried in Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, New York.

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  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    “Christ, what an asshole.”

    –Apt comment for most of these

    • True. But with a few exceptions of some really horrible people, most of the rest of the graves I have visited since starting this nonsense of are much less terrible people.

  • Tracy Lightcap

    I hate to keep getting on your case about Polk, but Macy was a cipher, brought on board strictly to handle the administrative details of ramping up an army to fight the war. This he did pretty well: the US Army was about 8,000 strong at the onset and two years later numbered over 70,000 regulars and volunteers. It was Macy’s job to get those people paid, keep the replacements coming in to take up the slack caused by the horrific death toll from disease, and get the whole thing trained and equipped. Most of this was wasted effort; the US never had more then 35,000 men committed to the war and that was easily enough.

    But there is no mistake that Polk made all the major decisions in the war, not Macy. From moving Taylor down to the border and provoking the whole affair to choosing the generals (he held his nose and appointed two Whigs – Scott and Taylor – because they were the best qualified) to sending Roman Catholic chaplains in with the army so the Mexicans would be less likely to see the US as an invading Protestant power to handling the entire peace negotiation himself, much to the surprise of Buchannan (you should read what Polk says about him in his diary), the whole thing was Polk all the way down. He boasted at the time that he could do any job in the government better then anyone else and he was probably the last president who could follow through on the claim. He routinely took over cabinet offices when his secretaries went on vacation; Polk never took any time off.

    Very competent man, though in service of, as Erik says, despicable policies. As I’ve said before, I think Polk was trying, like most Jackson Democrats, to keep slavery from tearing the country apart before everything else. But there was no way anyone could stop the train that led to the Civil War. Good thing, that, though the price was a high one

    • Are you a scholar of Polk? That’s a level of detail I will never have of these issues.

      • Tracy Lightcap

        When I wrote my first book on torture I used the Mexican War as a counterfactual. That meant, God help me, that I had to bone up on the war and on Polk. I really didn’t want to do that, but, if I was going to follow through with the causal mechanism I postulated, I had to include a case where almost everything was the same, but where vital linkages in the causal sequences were missing.

        So I read most all the usual lit on the run up to the war, the war itself, and on Polk. Polk’s diary is a treasure trove on this. It would be great if other presidents had the habit. He wasn’t writing to publish; it’s a real diary and full of insights.

        So, I’m not what I’d call a Polk scholar; indeed, this is the only period of 19th century US history that I know much about. I know enough to write the chapter in my book and that’s more then a lot of people know. But that’s about it.

  • Mudge

    And Mt. Marcy is the highest point in New York, his best known legacy.

  • mikeSchilling

    And after leaving public life he opened an appliance store and married Maude.

  • Manny Kant

    I feel like this could have done with more mention of factional New York Democratic politics, because they all have amazing names. When the party split in the 1840s, Marcy supported the conservative Hunker faction, who were opposed by the more radical (and anti-slavery) Barnburners, who supported the Van Buren family interest. The Barnburners, of course, soon broke with the party and supported Van Buren’s Free Soil run for the presidency in 1848. A few years later, when the Barnburners tried to rejoin the party, the Hunkers themselves split into two factions – the Hardshell faction, led by Senator Daniel Dickinson, who wanted to hold out against letting the Barnburners back in, and the Softshells, who were led by Marcy and future Governor and Democratic presidential nominee Horatio Seymour, who wanted to let them back in.

    • Derelict

      And THIS is why I love this site so much!

    • Davis X. Machina

      Where’s the love for the Loco-Focos?

      • Hogan

        Mugwumps or GTFO

  • And in Santa Fe we’re left with Marcy this and Marcy that, including among others the baseball field my son plays on. Marcy must have cut a wide swath down here when Anglos wanted to do away with Hispanic place names.

    • osceola

      There was also a Col. Randolph B. Marcy, who commanded a lot of the surveying expeditions of the newly conquered Southwest in the late 1840s-early 1850s. Maybe some of those place names could be for him?

      Col. Marcy submitted reports to Congress and also released some general interest books about the region that have been pretty useful to historians and researchers.

      • Bill Murray

        Fort Marcy was named for William Marcy by Stephen Kearney during the Mexican-American War. It was abandoned by an Andrew Johnson executive order, and torn apart after $2300 with of silver coins were found in its walls.

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