David C. Broderick, U.S. Senator

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David Colbreth Broderick

Birthdate: (39)
Birthplace: Washington, District of Columbia, DC, USA
Death: 1859 (39)
San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA (mortally wounded in a duel with David S. Terry)
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Son of FNU Broderick

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About David C. Broderick, U.S. Senator


David Colbreth Broderick (February 4, 1820 – September 16, 1859) was a Democratic U.S. Senator from California. He was a first cousin of Andrew Kennedy and Case Broderick.

Early years

David C. Broderick was born in Washington, D.C., the son of an Irish stonecutter who had immigrated to the United States in order to work on the United States Capitol. Broderick moved with his parents to New York City in 1823, where he attended public schools, and was apprenticed to a stonecutter.

Political career

Broderick became active in politics as a young man. In 1846, he was the Democratic candidate for U.S. Representative from the 5th District of New York, but lost the election with 38% to 42% for the winning Whig candidate.

Mining career

In 1849, Broderick joined the California Gold Rush. He moved to San Francisco, where he engaged in smelting and assaying gold. Broderick began the minting of gold coins, with less value of gold in them than their face value. His $10 coins, for example, only had $8 worth of gold in them. He used the profits to finance his political aspirations.

State senator career

He was a member of the California State Senate from 1850–1851, serving as its president in 1851. From then on, he was effectively in absolute control of San Francisco, which under his "utterly vicious" rule soon became notorious for vast municipal corruption. In the words of his biographer Jeremiah Lynch:

In San Francisco he became the dictator of the municipality. His political lessons and observations in New York were priceless. He introduced a modification of the same organization in San Francisco with which Tammany has controlled New York for lo! these many years. It was briefly this. At a forthcoming election a number of offices were to be filled; those of sheriff, district attorney, alderman, and places in the legislature. Several of these positions were very lucrative, notably that of the sheriff, tax-collector, and assessor. The incumbents received no specified salaries, but were entitled to all or a certain proportion of the fees. These fees occasionally exceeded $50,000 per annum. Broderick would say to the most popular or the most desirable aspirant: 'This office is worth $50,000 a year. Keep half and give me the other half, which I require to keep up our organization in the state. Without intelligent, systematic discipline, neither you nor I can win, and our opponents will conquer, unless I have money enough to pay the men whom I may find necessary. If you agree to that arrangement, I will have you nominated when the convention assembles, and then we will all pull together until after the election.’ Possibly this candidate dissented, but then someone else consented, and as the town was hugely Democratic, his selections were usually victorious.

Enriched by the vast income earned from this, Broderick was elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate and served there beginning March 4, 1857.

Later life and death

At that time, just prior to the start of the American Civil War, the Democratic Party of California was divided between pro-slavery and "Free Soil" factions. Broderick led the Free Soilers. One of his closest friends was David S. Terry, formerly the Chief Justice of the California State Supreme Court, an advocate of the extension of slavery into California. Terry lost his re-election bid because of his pro-slavery platform, and he blamed Broderick for the loss.

Terry, considered even by his friends as caustic and aggressive, made some inflammatory remarks at a party convention in Sacramento, which Broderick read. He took offense, and sent his former friend, Terry, an equally vitriolic reply which proclaimed:

'Terry to be a "damned miserable wretch" who was as corrupt as President James Buchanan and William Gwin, California's other senator. "I have hitherto spoken of him as an honest man--as the only honest man on the bench of a miserable, corrupt Supreme Court--but now I find I was mistaken. I take it all back. He is just as bad as the others."'

Passions escalated, and on September 13, 1859, Terry and Broderick, both considered expert marksmen, met outside of the San Francisco city limits at Lake Merced for a duel.

The pistols chosen for the duel had hair triggers, and Broderick's discharged prior to the final "one - two - three" count, firing prematurely into the ground. Thus disarmed, he was forced to stand as Terry shot him in the right lung. Terry believed the shot to be only a flesh wound, but in fact, it proved mortal. Broderick died three days later. He was buried under a monument erected by the state in Lone Mountain Cemetery, San Francisco.



Edward Dickinson Baker, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, spoke at Broderick's funeral and expressed the widely held belief that Broderick was killed because of his anti-slavery stance:

"His death was a political necessity, poorly veiled beneath the guise of a private quarrel...What was his public crime? The answer is in his own words; 'I die because I was opposed to a corrupt administration and the extension of slavery."

Some maintain that his death made him a martyr, and the episode represents another small contribution to the spiral towards civil war.

The town of Broderick, California and Broderick Street in San Francisco were named in his honor.

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David C. Broderick, U.S. Senator's Timeline

Washington, District of Columbia, DC, USA
Age 39
San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, USA