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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,111

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This is the grave of Outerbridge Horsey.

Born in 1777 in Little Creek Hundred, Delaware, the almost impossibly named Horsey rose quickly in the Early Republic. He moved to Wilmington and studied law under James Bayard, one of the leading Federalists in the Senate. He was admitted to the bar in 1807 and became a staunch Federalist like his mentor. By this point, he was actually already Delaware’s Attorney General. In fact, he first was elected to the state legislature in 1801 and then became AG in 1806.

In 1810, while still attorney general, Senator Samuel White died. The state legislature selected Horsey to replace him. He was still the good Federalist and thus opposed the War of 1812. In some ways, Delaware was the last southern state to have a strong Federalist presence, largely due to the combination of its conservative landed class and its strong trade ties to the British. However, despite his initial opposition to the war, once the U.S. engaged in it, Horsey came to support it. He was definitely not down with the Hartford Convention secessionists. He was actively engaged in the defense of Delaware ports and was on the Senate Committee on Safety. Horsey was sent back to the Senate in 1815 for a full term of his own.

During that full term, Horsey’s big agenda was to promote the nation’s desperately needed internal improvements. When Albert Gallatin released his Report on the Subject of Public Roads and Canals in 1808, it was largely ignored. But Horsey knew of it and pushed the Senate to pay for printed copies of it and to distribute it. This is the sort of minor thing that needed its own bill in these days. Anyway, Horsey made it happen and it proved quite popular. Many of his recommendations ended up in the Bonus Bill of 1817, which took the profits from the Second Bank of the United States and committed them to internal improvements. Given that Andrew Jackson and his ilk hated both centralized banking and federally-controlled internal improvement projects, this sort of project became a critical difference in the development of the second party system that would begin to dominate politics about a decade later. In fact, James Madison vetoed the bill on the last day of his term, fearful that this blew up the Constitution by having the government do all sorts of things that weren’t specially mentioned in the already out of date document, but much of it got placed in other bills and pushed through.

Horsey also strongly refuted Madison’s foreign policy. He believed Madison and Jackson’s invasion of Florida was a violation of the Constitution’s stated position that only Congress had war powers (remember when Congress took this even remotely seriously….). Horsey believed the occupation of West Florida was illegal and was the kind of thing an awful evil European nation would do, which given that this happened shortly after the fall of Napoleon, was a very intentional slap at the Jeffersonians’ relationship with the French. It didn’t matter in the end, as the U.S. was not going to give Florida back to the Spanish and the Adams-Onis Treaty soon settled the matter, but it was Horsey who led the Federalists’ charge on the issue. Henry Clay led the attack defending Madison and claiming that it was a spontaneous uprising for freedom by American settlers living in Florida. Uh huh.

The issue that ended Horsey’s political career was slavery. Horsey was a slaveholder, as was most of the landed class of Delaware. It’s a bit hard to remember that Delaware was a committed slave state but it sure was, all the way to the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. It’s believed Horsey owned at least 36 slaves, though he did eventually free some of them. Always this must be discussed when exploring these histories. The man bought and sold human beings and did God knows what else to them. Toward the end of his term, the Missouri issue came to dominate American politics. The Delaware General Assembly, despite having plenty of slaveholders in it, passed a resolution telling its representatives in Washington to not support any bill that would explicitly extend slavery into the territories. Horsey, other than being a slaveholder himself, thought that this violated the Constitution. He thus supported the Missouri Compromise. This made him impossible to reelect in 1821 and so he did not stand for it.

In the last twenty years of his life, Horsey concentrated on his own land investments. He moved his primarily residence from Delaware to Frederick, Maryland. He died in 1842, at the age of 65.

Today, there is an architectural firm in DC named for Horsey, or specifically Outerbridge Horsey VII, who is well-known in his field. The family remained among the American elite. His son became known as one of the greatest producers of rye whiskey in the nineteenth century, with a reputation for high quality. A much later Outerbridge Horsey would be the extreme right-winger diplomat who was First Secretary Consul to Italy and Ambassador to Czechoslovakia during early Cold War, where he was known for his open admiration of Franco. Remember again that all of this money came from slavery. Henry Clay told a story that discussed Horsey. Evidently Horsey bought a big sugar plantation in Louisiana, where he worked his slaves to the bone. He bragged that one of his slaves gave birth while working in the fields. This was used by anti-slavery advocates as a symbol of the evil of the institution. But hey, discussing this stuff is Critical Race Theory and should be banned, amirite? Harriet Beecher Stowe used this story to inform Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which is a terrible novel but is also one of the most important works of fiction from American history from a political perspective.

Outerbridge Horsey is buried in Saint John’s Cemetery, Frederick, Maryland.

If you would like this series to visit other senators sent to the Senate for full terms in the 1814-15 cycle, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Samuel Dana is in Middletown, Connecticut and Isaac Tichenor is in Bennington, Vermont. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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