John Bigelow

John Bigelow

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John Bigelow was an American lawyer and statesman.


Born in Malden-on-Hudson, New York, John Bigelow, Sr.graduated from Union College
Union College
Union College is a private, non-denominational liberal arts college located in Schenectady, New York, United States. Founded in 1795, it was the first institution of higher learning chartered by the New York State Board of Regents. In the 19th century, it became the "Mother of Fraternities", as...

 in 1835 where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Society and the Philomathean Society
Philomathean Society
The Philomathean Society of the University of Pennsylvania is a collegiate literary society, the oldest student group at the university, and a claimant to the title of the oldest continuously-existing literary society in the United States.This claim is disputed between the Philomathean Society and...

, and was admitted to the bar in 1838. From 1849 to 1861, he was one of the editors and co-owners of the New York Evening Post. On June 11, 1850, Bigelow married Jane Tunis Poultney and they had nine children.
  • Poultney Bigelow
    Poultney Bigelow
    Poultney Bigelow was an American journalist and author.He was born in New York City, the fourth of eight children of John Bigelow, co-owner of the New York Evening Post, and his wife Jane Tunis Poultney....

     was a lawyer and a noted journalist and editor.
  • John Bigelow, Jr.
    John Bigelow, Jr.
    John Bigelow, Jr. was a United States Army Lieutenant Colonel. He was the subject of many articles on military frontier life in Outing Magazine published by his brother Poultney Bigelow and with sketches drawn in the field by the then young and obscure Frederic Remington...

     (May 12, 1854 to February 29, 1936) graduated from the United States Military Academy
    United States Military Academy
    The United States Military Academy at West Point is a four-year coeducational federal service academy located at West Point, New York. The academy sits on scenic high ground overlooking the Hudson River, north of New York City...

     at Westpoint, New York in 1877. He served in the United States Army
    United States Army
    The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

     in Texas with the Buffalo Soldiers, taught at West Point, served again in the West then fought and was seriously wounded in Cuba. He retired in October 1904. From 1905-1910 he was a professor at M.I.T. During World War I he was recalled to active duty and served in Washington. He traveled and wrote until his death in 1936.

Political career

Bigelow began his political career as a reform Democrat, working with William Cullen Bryant
William Cullen Bryant
William Cullen Bryant was an American romantic poet, journalist, and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post.-Youth and education:...

 in New York. In 1848, his antislavery convictions led him to leave the party, and he joined the Free Soil Party, supporting the candidacy of John C. Fremont
John C. Frémont
John Charles Frémont , was an American military officer, explorer, and the first candidate of the anti-slavery Republican Party for the office of President of the United States. During the 1840s, that era's penny press accorded Frémont the sobriquet The Pathfinder...

 for President in that year. In 1856, he led other former Democrats into the new Republican party. After the party's nominee,
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

, was elected President in 1860, Lincoln appointed him American Consul in Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 in 1861, progressing to Chargé d'Affaires
Chargé d'affaires
In diplomacy, chargé d’affaires , often shortened to simply chargé, is the title of two classes of diplomatic agents who head a diplomatic mission, either on a temporary basis or when no more senior diplomat has been accredited.-Chargés d’affaires:Chargés d’affaires , who were...

, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Napoleon III. In this capacity, working together with Charles Francis Adams
Charles Francis Adams
Charles Francis Adams may refer to:* Charles Adams , grocery magnate and founder of the Boston Bruins* Charles Francis Adams, Sr. , grandson of John Adams, son of John Quincy Adams, U.S. congressman, ambassador...

, the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Bigelow helped to block the attempts to have France and the United Kingdom intervene in the American Civil War in favor of the Confederacy
Confederate States of America
The Confederate States of America was a government set up from 1861 to 1865 by 11 Southern slave states of the United States of America that had declared their secession from the U.S...

, and thereby played a material role in the Union victory. In 1865, he was appointed American Ambassador to France. After leaving this position, he went to Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, where he lived for three years, through the period of the Franco-Prussian War
Franco-Prussian War
The Franco-Prussian War or Franco-German War, often referred to in France as the 1870 War was a conflict between the Second French Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. Prussia was aided by the North German Confederation, of which it was a member, and the South German states of Baden, Württemberg and...

, and became a friend of Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

After the war's conclusion, he returned to New York, where he assisted his old friend Samuel J. Tilden
Samuel J. Tilden
Samuel Jones Tilden was the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency in the disputed election of 1876, one of the most controversial American elections of the 19th century. He was the 25th Governor of New York...

 in opposing the corruption that flourished in New York City under William Marcy Tweed. Because of the universal respect in which Bigelow was held in New York, he was offered nominations by both political parties for state office in 1872. Under the influence of Tilden, Bigelow decided to rejoin the Democratic party, accepted its nomination, and was elected Secretary of State
Secretary of State of New York
The Secretary of State of New York is a cabinet officer in the government of the U.S. state of New York.The current Secretary of State of New York is Cesar A...

, a position he held until 1876. When the Democrats nominated Tilden for President in 1876, he served as Tilden's campaign manager, and in that capacity advised Tilden in the famous dispute over the result of the presidential election. Tilden died shortly after the dispute was decided in favor of his rival, Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford B. Hayes
Rutherford Birchard Hayes was the 19th President of the United States . As president, he oversaw the end of Reconstruction and the United States' entry into the Second Industrial Revolution...

, and Bigelow then acted as one of Tilden's Estate Trust Executors. He carried out Tilden's wishes, over several years, to develop the New York Public Library
New York Public Library
The New York Public Library is the largest public library in North America and is one of the United States' most significant research libraries...

He was a staunch proponent of the development of the Panama Canal
Panama Canal
The Panama Canal is a ship canal in Panama that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Built from 1904 to 1914, the canal has seen annual traffic rise from about 1,000 ships early on to 14,702 vessels measuring a total of 309.6...

. He was a friend of Philippe Bunau Varilla, who brought Panama's declaration of Independence to Bigelow's home. Panama
Panama , officially the Republic of Panama , is the southernmost country of Central America. Situated on the isthmus connecting North and South America, it is bordered by Costa Rica to the northwest, Colombia to the southeast, the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. The...

's first proposed flag, made there by Mrs. Bunau Varilla, was rejected by the Panamanians, who made their own.
Bigelow's writing career, begun with Bryant on the New York Evening Post, included several books. He was one of the first Americans to visit Haiti with an open mind, and published "The Wisdom of the Haitians," which, before the Civil War, was one of the few American works to take a positive view of Haitian independence. He published an edition of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin
The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is the traditional name for the unfinished record of his own life written by Benjamin Franklin from 1771 to 1790; however, Franklin himself appears to have called the work his Memoirs...

in 1868, and "The Life of Samuel J. Tilden" in 1895.


On August 8, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed a bill adding the name "John Bigelow Plaza" to the intersection of 41st Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, directly in front of the famous main branch of the New York Public Library. His estate
Estate (house)
An estate comprises the houses and outbuildings and supporting farmland and woods that surround the gardens and grounds of a very large property, such as a country house or mansion. It is the modern term for a manor, but lacks the latter's now abolished jurisdictional authority...

 at Highland Falls, New York
Highland Falls, New York
Highland Falls, formerly named Buttermilk Falls, is a village in Orange County, New York, United States. The population was 3,678 at the 2000 census. The village was founded in 1906...

, known as The Squirrels
The Squirrels (Highland Falls, New York)
The Squirrels is a historic estate located at Highland Falls in Orange County, New York. It was built about 1845 and is a two story frame and clapboard structure with a multi-gabled roof. A two story frame wing was added to the original farmhouse about 1856 and the house redesigned by noted...

, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places
National Register of Historic Places
The National Register of Historic Places is the United States government's official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects deemed worthy of preservation...

in 1982.


  • "The Life Of Samuel J. Tilden", Written by John Bigelow, 1895. Revised and edited by; Nikki Oldaker 2009: ISBN 978-0-9786698-1-2 Samuel
  • Mr. Lincoln and Friends: John Bigelow
  • Retrospections of an Active Lile. 3 volumes. New York: Baker & Taylor Co., 1909.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.(1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Daville,Ill.:Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1563281554. OCLC 42970390.
  • at Bigelow Genealogy
  • Bigelow and Union College, in NYT on May 18, 1913
  • Clapp, Margaret A. (1947). Forgotten First Citizen: John Bigelow.
  • John Bigelow Papers, The New York Public Library.