Friday, May 15, 2009

I have officially declared May 16 Levi Parsons Morton Day!

But just who was he?

Morton served as vice president under Benjamin Harrison, his term ran from 1889-1893.
He also was a also a congressman, an ambassador, and governor of New York.

A minister's son, Morton was born in Shoreham, Vermont on May 16, 1824. The successful businessman began his career in commerce at the age of 14 at a New Hampshire country store. Eventually becoming a store manager, Morton later moved into banking.

In 1872, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul railroad put its mail line through a little settlement that was dubbed Morton, in honor of the man, Levi Morton, who provided the financing to the railroad. When the village was incorporated in 1895, it was renamed Morton Grove.

Which is where I live.

In 1878, Morton was elected to Congress as a Republican, representing a New York district. Two years later he turned down the opportunity to be James Garfield's running mate.

Instead he accepted President Garfield's offer to serve as ambassador to France. If "Garfield" and "ambassador to France" sounds familiar, well, you know your history. That position was the very appointment nutjob Charles Guiteau expected to receive from Garfield. Claiming God told him to pull the trigger, Guiteau, the word's most famous dissapointed office seeker, shot Garfield, who died of his wounds a couple of months later.

Had Morton said "yes" to Garfield's vice presidential offer, he would been our 21st president.

Morton was popular in France, and the ambassador placed the first rivet into the Statue of Liberty; he was the US official who accepted the gift of the statue from the French government.

After Democrat Grover Cleveland won the presidency in 1884, Morton resigned his ambassadorship, but four years later was finally elected vice president.

But by the end of his first term, Benjamin Harrison was not popular with Republican party bosses--they sought to dump the president at the Republican National Convention in favor of Ohioans William McKinley or John Sherman.

Harrison won out--in the short term--but Morton was his sacrificial lamb, Whitelaw Reid, also from New York, took his place. But the Republican ticket went down in defeat in the fall, losing to former president Grover Cleveland.

Two years later Morton was elected New York's governor, and he was a candidate for president in 1896. But McKinley's forces crushed his bid, and the 72 year-old Morton left politics.

But he didn't retire from private life. In 1899 he founded the Morton Trust Company, ten years later it merged with five major financial institutions, including J.P. Morgan and Company, where he served on the board of directors until he finally retired at the age of 85.

Morton died on May 16, 1920--his 96th birthday--in Rhinebeck, New York. He outlived every vice president except John Nance Garner, Franklin Roosevelt's first vice president, who once quipped that the office "wasn't worth a warm bucket of piss."

Happy Levi Parsons Morton Day!

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