About William Learned Marcy
William Learned Marcy (December 12, 1786 – July 4, 1857) was an American statesman, who served as U.S. Senator and the 11th Governor of New York, and as the U.S. Secretary of War and U.S. Secretary of State.
Marcy was born in Southbridge, Massachusetts. He graduated from Brown University in 1808, taught school in Dedham, Massachusetts and in Newport, Rhode Island, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1811, and commenced practice in Troy, New York. Marcy served in the War of 1812. Afterwards he was recorder of Troy for several years, but as he sided with the Anti-Clinton faction of the Democratic-Republican Party, known as the Bucktails, he was removed from office in 1818 by his political opponents. He was the editor of the Troy Budget. On April 28, 1824, he married Cornelia Knower (1801–1889, daughter of Benjamin Knower) at the Knower House in Guilderland, New York, and their children were Edmund Marcy (b. ca. 1833) and Cornelia Marcy (1834–1888).
He was the leading member of the Albany Regency, a group of politicians who controlled State politics between 1821 and 1838. He was Adjutant-General of the New York State Militia from 1821 to 1823, New York State Comptroller from 1823 to 1829, and an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court from 1829 to 1831.
In 1831, he was elected as a Jacksonian Democrat a U.S. Senator from New York, and served from March 4, 1831, to January 1, 1833, when he resigned upon taking office as Governor. He sat on the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary in the 22nd Congress. Defending Jackson's nomination of Martin Van Buren as minister to the United Kingdom in 1832, Marcy used the phrase "'to the victor belong the spoils," from which the term spoils system is derived.
He was Governor of New York for three terms, from 1833 until 1838. In 1838, he was defeated by Whig William H. Seward, which led to a radical change in State politics and ended the Regency.
He was a member of the Mexican Claims Commission from 1839 to 1842. Later he was recognized as one of the leaders of the Hunkers, the conservative, office-seeking, and pro-compromise-on-slavery faction of the Democratic Party in New York.
Marcy served as United States Secretary of War in the Cabinet of President James K. Polk from 1845 until 1849, at which time he resumed the practice of law. After 1849, Marcy led the "Soft" faction of the Hunkers that supported reconciliation with the Barnburners, and in this role sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1852, but was unsuccessful, in part due to "Hard" opposition led by Daniel S. Dickinson.
Marcy returned to public life in 1853 to serve as United States Secretary of State under President Franklin Pierce. According to the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, "His circular of the 1st of June 1853 to American diplomatic agents abroad, recommending that, whenever practicable, they should appear in the simple dress of an American citizen, created much discussion in Europe; in 1867 his recommendation was enacted into a law of Congress." He also resolved the Koszta Affair, and negotiated the Gadsden Purchase.
He died at Ballston Spa, New York, and was buried at the Rural Cemetery in Albany, New York.
Mount Marcy in Essex County, at 1629 meters the highest peak in New York, and the Town of Marcy in Oneida County are both named after him.