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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 811

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This is the grave of George Wetmore.

Born in 1846 in London, Wetmore grew up wealthy. His parents weren’t English. They were just traveling in Europe when he was born. His father was a big time merchant in the China trade, which is where a lot of the Newport wealth originated. Here’s a George Alexander Healy portrait of George and his brother when they were little.

He grew up in the Newport elite, avoided serving in the Civil War, and went to Yale, where he graduated in 1867. A man like Wetmore wasn’t going to slum it at Brown. He then went to Columbia Law, finishing his degree there in 1869. He was admitted to the bar. But he never practiced. He didn’t need to. He was too busy being rich. He was however interested in politics.

Now, in the Gilded Age, it wasn’t super common for super rich guys to go into politics. They usually bought their politicians. If you look at the leading politicians of the era, certainly the presidents but really most of the major figures, they didn’t come from super elite background. They were middlers, hustlers trying to rise in society. They certainly might well get rich. But they weren’t Wetmore. There were, however, a few guys like Wetmore who decided to sully themselves with politics instead of working in business or the law. It goes without saying that he was a Republican. Please, like there was any other option for the super rich of Newport during these years. He was an elector for the 1880 and 1884 elections. Then in 1885, he became governor of Rhode Island. There was no special career there. He helped push through the building of the statehouse that dominates the skyline of Providence (from some angles at least) today.

In 1894, Wetmore went to the Senate. He wanted to be sent there in 1888, but did not get the nod. He was elected again in 1900. But in 1906, the Rhode Island legislature was deadlocked when Samuel Colt, the gun capitalist, challenged Wetmore. This divided the Republican vote and potentially opened the door for the Democrat Robert Goddard. The shenanigans in the state legislature went on for months (not the last time that’s happened in the Ocean State). Finally, the state just sent Wetmore back in January 1908 after not having representation at all for 10 months.

Wetmore was nothing more than a reliable Republican vote. He was a leader in no real way. He was chair of the Committee on Manufacturers for a bit and then was moved to…..Joint Committee on the Library, which oversaw the Library of Congress. He was interested in bringing pork home to Rhode Island, primarily through naval installations in Newport and along Narragansett Bay. He was also super interested in historical memorialization and thus was the go-to guy in Congress to place on committees to oversee monuments, including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial, and Grant Memorial. He was also a rich guy who loved the arts and so both in and out of Congress he promoted funding for fine arts. In other words, this was the ultimate Newport rich guy with Newport rich guy interests.

Wetmore left the Senate after the 1912 election, when he retired. He died in 1921 in Boston, at the age of 75.

George Wetmore is buried in Island Cemetery, Newport, Rhode Island.

If you would like this series to visit other senators who were elected in 1894, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Lucien Baker is in Lansing, Kansas and Knute Nelson is in Alexandria, Minnesota. Previous posts are archived here.

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