Family:Whitney, William Collins (1841-1904)

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Hon. William Collins9 Whitney (James Scolly8, Stephen7, Josiah6, Josiah5, Richard4, Richard3, Richard2, John1), son of James Scolly8 and Laurinda (Collins) Whitney, was born 5 Jul 1841, Conway, MA, and died 2 Feb 1904, New York, NY.

He married firstly, 13 Oct 1869, Cuyahoga Co., OH, Flora Payne, daughter of Henry B. and Mary (Perry) Payne, of Cleveland. She was born 25 Jan 1842, Cleveland, OH, and died 5 Feb 1893, New York, NY.

He married secondly, 28 Dec 1896, New York, NY, Edith Sibyl (May) Randolph, daughter of John Frederick May, widow of Colonel Arthur Randolph of East Court, Wiltshire, England. She was born 1854, and died 6 May 1899, Aiken, SC. She was buried in Rock Creek Cemetery, Washington, DC.

William Collins Whitney was born in Conway, MA, in 1841. He comes from stanch Democratic stock. His father was Gen. James S. Whitney, for half a century a Democratic leader in Massachusetts and collector of the port of Boston under President Buchanan. Like his son, Gen. Whitney was an Independent Democrat. In 1851 he was a member of the Massachusetts house; Charles Sumner was a candidate for United States senator, and a single Democratic vote would elect him. Gen. Whitney was asked to give that vote. A Democrat could not be elected, and if Sumner should fail, then some pro-slavery Whig would probably win the prize. Gen. Whitney was a stanch friend of human freedom. He asked for time for consideration, returned to Conway, and addressed his constituents upon the question. They decided that he should vote for Mr. Sumner. He did so, and his vote gave Charles Sumner to the country for twenty-three years. Gen. Whitney survived until 1878, and was able as late as 1876 to preside over the Democratic state convention in Massachusetts and take an active part in the Tilden campaign.

William C. Whitney entered Yale college in 1859, after having been graduated from Williston seminary, Easthampton, Massachusetts. At Yale he had for a classmate William G. Sumner, since well known as a writer and teacher upon economic subjects. The two divided the prize for English essays, and Mr. Whitney delivered the class oration on being graduated. Leaving the Harvard Law school in 1865 he went to New York City and continued the study of the law in the office of Abraham R. Lawrence, now a justice of the supreme court of that state.

It was but a short time after his admission to the bar that he attracted considerable attention by his staunchness to his clients. Nothing could swerve him from what he believed to be his duty to them. This characteristic was indicated in several instances. One of them was that in which Charles H. Sweetser, a classmate of Mr. Whitney, was concerned. Sweetser founded and edited the Evening Gazette. He sold out a half interest in his property, and then, losing control of it, he started the Evening Mail. His former partner in the Evening Gazette preferred a criminal charge against him. The partner had the support of many influential men, and Sweetser found it impossible on that account to secure the services of any of the lawyers of prominence. He went to Mr. Whitney, who upon hearing his tale, offered to take charge of his case, notwithstanding that such action involved the possible unfriendliness of certain men with whom, as was quite natural, it was desirable that he should stand well. Perhaps if had lost his case the unfriendliness would have been his. It is easy to pass by on the other side of a man who is unsuccessful. But he conducted the matter so skillfully that the charge against Sweetser was dismissed. And when Charles Reade sued Sweetser for libel because of unfavorable criticisms of the novel "Griffith Gaunt," Mr. Whitney again defended him successfully. So much publicity attached to these two cases - and so far as Mr. Whitney was concerned the sort of publicity that is beneficial - that his professional position became equal to those in the foremost ranks.

Mr. Whitney soon showed that he had inherited his father's taste for politics. Young, handsome and ardent, he naturally took the lead among his companions. As early as 1871, in company with Peter B. Olney, Henry Havemeyer, Herbert O. Thompson, William A. Pelton, Edward L. Parris, Thomas Cooper Campbell, William C. Wickham, and others of the same sort - courageous, independent, and resourceful - Mr. Whitney established the Young Men's Democratic club of New York. This club from its very foundation took its stand in behalf of honest government and reform, and aided materially in rescuing the city from the clutches of the Tweed ring. Its members soon attracted the attention of Mr. Tilden, and Mr. Whitney and others became famous as his "boys." Mr. Whitney took and active part in the campaign which resulted in the election of Mr. Tilden as governor and William C. Wickham as mayor. The Young Men's Democratic club gave a reception to Gov. Tilden in 1874 and Mr. Whitney was one of the principal speakers. He protested against the continuance of an inflated money policy, and made a plea for "hard money." In the light of current events it is not inappropriate to give a brief extract, from this speech made almost a generation ago. He said:

"It is always easier to pay with a promise than to pay down ready cash. History shows what the fruit of such policy is and must be. This was one road: before us lay an easy path of apparent prosperity, plenty of money and good times generally. This was the path the Republican party chose deliberately and with knowledge of what the result would be.

"The other path was one of struggle and difficulty, the narrow and thorny path, if you please, of economy and taxes, of the payment of the national debt and the setting of the country as soon as might be on a firm, sound basis. When we departed from the path of virtue we were bound to lead the life of a spendthrift. This we did, and the day of reckoning has now come. Our building, firm and substantial though it appeared, was built upon a bed of sand. With the pinch of taxation came slack work. Other people saw through their burdens many things done by officials which were not in the line of their public duties.

"Both parties were chargeable with this almost universal rottenness. But in New York the Democratic party took these rogues by the throat - men in their own party - and hurled them out, while the Republicans added the crime of concealment to that of commission. A paper currency has fostered this depreciation of public virtue. The brunt of the battle of resumption has yet to be borne. It behooves all to bear a part. This question of money is not one of policy. It is one of pure honesty."

Mr. Whitney was appointed counsel to the corporation in 1875, and as such he became the barrier between the city treasury and claims growing out of ring frauds, which amounted in the aggregate to millions of dollars. When he assumed office there were pending 3,800 suits against the city, in which were involved between $15,000,000 and $20,000,000, and new suits were being brought daily. Within two years he doubled the volume of business disposed of, at the same time lessening the expenses. One of his most gratifying successes was in the contest over the claim of the widow of the architect of the new county court house. The claim was for a percentage on the actual cost of the building, or its honest cost. These commissions ranged from $100,000 to $400,000. All of the witnesses were either dead or had been forced to flee from the country, and it was thought impossible that the city could make any adequate defense. But Mr. Whitney evolved one - an ingenious one. The quality of every class of work was ascertained by employing competent experts. The history of the construction was traced, and the unnecessary substitution of iron for brick conclusively shown. As a result a verdict was secured for the city after a jury trial that took up the month of May, 1876. Mr. Whitney held the office until December, 1882, having been twice reappointed. He resigned when he had yet two years to serve. He greatly increased the effectiveness of the department by dividing it into four departments and employing capable subordinates. Through his personal efforts the Union Ferry Company was compelled to pay an adequate and substantial rental to the city instead of the nominal sum received by the Tweed ring. The expense of opening streets was reduced by an economical system. In two cases, involving Broadway and Riverside Park, the sum of $533,000 allowed by the courts, was by him lessened to $213,000. Nearly $2,000,000 was demanded from the city for printing and stationery furnished during the ring days. Mr. Whitney, with great secrecy, instituted suits for fraud against some of the claimants. He waited until those implicated could be arrested at the same time. Then his order of arrest was served on each of them, and within three weeks the claims for millions had been dismissed and settled by the payment of $50,000. Probably no corporation counsel ever administered the office more vigorously than Mr. Whitney. But work, as he has often laughingly remarked, does not oppress him; he throws it off easily. When he was at the head of the navy department, and lifting it from the slough of decay and was astonishing the naval officers and bureaucrats by doing the work of half a dozen men in a day, he used to still more astonish them by often appearing at a dinner, a reception and a ball in the evening, lively and brilliant, dancing and jesting with the young folks as if no cares were on his mind, and the navy department was an unsubstantial dream. The next morning they would find him devoted to his tasks with undiminished ardor. So when he was corporation counsel, he found plenty of time, some how or other, to attend to political affairs. In 1876 he attended the St. Louis convenetion and helped nominate Mr. Tilden for the presidency, and took an important part in the campaign. John Kelly, at the head of Tammany Hall, fought Mr. Tilden fiercely in St. Louis. Mr. Tilden was a man who provided against every adverse chance. He was not sure that Tammany Hall would support him properly election day, so, with the assistance of Mr. Whitney and the rest of his "boys," he organized a plan of campaign calculated to get the full Democratic vote of New York City in any event.

In 1880 Mr. Whitney went to Cincinnati, and in 1884 to Chicago, where he was Mr. Cleveland'S most influential and conspicuous adviser. All of the Democrats in the state were gratified when Mr. Cleveland chose Mr. Whitney for his secretary of navy, and the review of the great work which he accomplished in making possible the splendid squadron of evolution, which was given, shows that he merited their appause. At the time the Democratic party came to power it was well understood that the great mass of the people of the country demanded the construction of a new navy. The party which had just gone out of office had attempted in a measure to appease this demand. To do this they had given out in contracts to the shipbuilding firm of John Roach & County, the construction of four vessels. These vessels were in process of building when Secretary Whitney, assumed office. It was determined at once to ask for appropriations for a large number of vessels and set on foot in earnest the task of building up the navy. The appropriations from the previous Republican administration, together with the large amounts received by the new administration were already available. The designs for the new ships were under consideration, and with their selection all that remained was the awarding of the contracts to the individual firms. Investigation set on foot by Secretary Whitney, however, disclosed the doleful fact that the steel manufacturers of this country were wholly unable to cope with the proposed work. Not a single plant existed in the country which could be put in service in turning out material of the kind called for in the specifications. Not only was the United States in March, 1885, "without a vessel of war which could have kept the seas for one week as against any first-rate naval power," but it was dependent upon English manufacturers for the forging of guns, for armor, and even for secondary batteries, resorting in the case of rapid-fire guns to purchases from French manufacturers in the main. At the very outset it became evident that the policy of the government must be outlined, and a decision at once rendered as to whether the navy department should call in foreign shipbuilders to build our new war vessels or place our own manufacturers in a position which would render them capable of doing the work.

Secretary Whitney early came to the conclusion that the United States ought to be independent of all other countries. He referred to the matter in his report for 1886 as follows:

"At the present time, and for many years to come, in the event of a conflict with either a first or a second-class naval power, it would be quite impossible for the United States as at present situated to produce within its territory either the armor required for armored ships or the guns necessary for their armament. Nor would it be possible for the navy of the United States to protect such articles in transit across the ocean in time of war. As at present situated, the country would be entirely defenceless in the absence of any ability to produce armor or the larger high-powered guns. It is a most lamentable circumstance that a country like ours, with its immense products of iron and steel, should be content to be dependent upon the manufacturers of any other nation for the fabrication of armor and high-power guns, both of which are now essential and in indispensable parts of a modern fighting ship. Whatever its commercial policy may be, in the production of its necessary implements of war it should certainly be independent. This policy involves delay in the construction of the first vessels authorized, but at the end of five years the country would, by pursuing it, be independent, and in a much stronger position in every respect than would result from any other course."

The policy indicated by the secretary would, if put in operation, involve a delay in the construction of all classes of armored ships of at least three years, but in the face of this policy, says the secretary, "was determined upon without hesitation as the only course consistent with a proper regard for our national pride and dignity." Secretary Whitney immediately devolved the efforts of the department to the problem of domesticating in this country the industries for the making of armor and of forging for high-power guns. It became necessary to prepare factories for the construction of steel forgings for the heavier guns, armor for iron-clad vessels, and secondary batteries of machine and rapid-fire guns. Just how to go about it was the perplexing problem. The first step taken was the issuance of an order stopping the purchase of all armor and steel abroad. Contracts were pending in March, 1885, for armor and gun steel purchased in England amounting to $227,365.20. The final payments upon these contracts made subsequent to that date amounted to about $100,000 and it is needless to say that no further purchases were made of armor or gun steel abroad after March, 1885. Mr. Whitney called in conference the representative firms of the country and made known his intention of giving every possible help to the home industry. Contracts were drawn up drawn up for different portions of the work desired and a condition imposed on the bidding calling for the erection of a plant in this country adequate to the manufacture of both armor and gun steel up to the highest standard of European requirements. The experiment consolidated in one advertisement all its requirements for armor and gun steel for the then authorized war ships, stipulating that it should be of domestic manufacture and giving an average of two and a half years in which to produce and deliver it, which covered the time necessary for the procurement of a plant. A period of about seven months was allowed for submission of bids, in order to afford an opportunity for full investigation by the expected bidders. Throughout the whole of the seven months every influence which could with consistency be brought to bear was used by Mr. Whitney to stir the manufacturers of the country up to a realizing sense of the importance of the endeavors. And when the bids were opened no difficulty was found in making a contract with the Bethlehem Iron Company, under which the erection of a plant was stipulated for the production of armor and gun steel. At the very outset Mr. Whitney received the warm support of the naval appropriation committees of both houses, the sum of $4,000,000 having been inserted in the appropriation act for this very purpose. The bids were opened March, 1888, and "coming," says Mr. Whitney, "at a time when the failure of congress to make provision for the country's defence was being generally regretted, caused a feeling of quite universal congratulation throughout the country. It marked a most important step in the progress toward national independence, most sincerely, it is believed, by the larger portion of our people."

The policy which had thus been successfully pursued in the matter of armor and gun steel was also followed in the matter of secondary batteries and with a like result. This question of rapid-fire guns came up next. One of the largest manufacturing establishments of these weapons in the world was that of Hotchkiss & County. Hotchkiss was an American inventor who offered his new type of guns for the exclusive use of this government. But the ill-timed parsimony and prejudice against all innovations which characterized previous administrations was experienced by Hotchkiss. He took his machine-gun to France, offered it to the French government and his offer was taken up. He established works in France, aside from the original ones in this country, and began the manufacture of the guns on a large scale. It was not until the guns had passed out of the hands of this government that their importance was recognized at the department, and orders were issued to make some purchases. It was found, however, that three times the price originally asked by Hotchkiss must be paid for the weapons, and it is needless to say that this fact caused considerable regret in the department. Mr. Whitney would not pay the extra price for the guns, and made it understood at the outset that if Hotchkiss guns were to be bought for the new war vessels they must be made on American soil and not first sent to France. By the accumulation of orders, sufficient inducement was given to Hotchkiss to bring about the desired results. It was found by the representatives of the Hotchkiss company, to the decided gratification of Mr. Whitney, that with the superior tools in use in this country the secondary batteries of our ships could be produced at prices much cheaper than those manufactured by any foreign government. In this manner the contracts for armor and gun steel were made at prices within 25 per cent. of the European prices for the similar articles, not greater than the difference in labor between the two countries, notwithstanding the heavy outlay for plant (estimated at $2,500,000) necessary to be made to undertake the contract.

With the gratifying results brought about by Mr. Whitney's efforts and stimulated by the shipbuilders of the country, it is now believed that the private ship yards of this country can produce war ships equal and probably superior to any produced abroad. At the same time that Mr. Whitney stimulated into full growth a new industry in the United States, he did not fail to stipulate that the material furnished should be of the very highest standard. To effect this the inspection tests were necessarily severe - more severe than ever experienced by a shipbuilding firm working for private parties. It is safe to say, however, that the class of material obtained is superior to any ever produced for any similar purpose. Not only in one section of the country, but throughout its whole extent has the influence of the new steel industry been felt. On the Pacific coast the quality of steel produced has been so notable for its excellence that the construction of cruisers there may mark an important event in its industrial history. There is still another point worthy of notice. Early in the eighties the rank of the United States in the naval powers of the world was hardly in keeping with the standing of some of the South American republics. But as a result of Mr. Whitney's efforts he was able to make the following statement regarding the new cruisers: The department is able to report that when the ships in the course of construction and those authorized shall have been completed, the United States will rank second among the nations in the possession of unarmored cruisers, or "commerce destroyers," having the highest characteristics, viz., of a size of 3,000 tons and upward and possessing speed of nineteen knots and upward. The achievements of the ships then "in course of construction and those authorized" are familiar to all who read the newspapers.

The Whitneys Indiana. Social Life. - Royal entertainers, they were popular with all classes of people. Socially, Mr. and Mrs. Whitney were delightful. They entertained elaborately in New York, and during their residence in Washington, their country house at Grasslands was a suburban retreat for all the Washington beaux and belles. The house was kept open all the year around, and all visitors were welcome, whether Mr. and Mrs. Whitney were there or not. Priscilla, the oldest servant in the Whitney household, was always in charge at Grasslands during her mistress' absence. Although a full-blooded negro, Priscilla could speak French like a native, and she was invariably pressed into service as interpreter when the diplomats were present. But whether a foreign ambassador, in the bravery of court medals and gold lace, called or a congressman from the backwoods, Priscilla always smiled and bade them enter, telling them they could have a bowl of fresh milk or a glass of punch, just which they liked. The hallway at Grasslands was twelve foot square. Its floor was of polished Georgia pine, and the furniture was old-fashioned mahogany seats. A tall Dutch clock, with a solemn brass face and a massive pair of antlers formed a hat and cloak rack. Grasslands was furnished entirely with antique furniture. Mrs. Whitney said it was chosen because it was in keeping with the old farm house. The fireplace in the dining-room was wide enough to burn great logs of wood. The old mahogany table looked as if it might have come over with the Pilgrims, and the dining-room chairs were wide enough to make the fattest man in congress perfectly comfortable. Mr. Whitney's city home in Washington was more admired than any other house in the capital. The receptions given by Mrs. Whitney were more elaborate than those of anybody else, and the house was always filled with guests. The ball-room in the Washington house is almost historic. Many notable courtships began there. It was in this room that Mrs. James Brown-Potter made herself famous by reciting "Ostler Joe."

A society writer who was in Washington during Mr. Whitney's residence there, described the size of this room by saying that a two-horse wagon load of hay could be turned around in it without touching the walls. These walls were covered with brocaded satin, and its furnishings were beautiful and unique. It had little couches of brocaded Venetian velvet, several dainty sedan chairs, and the fireplace was large enough to roast a whole ox.

Mrs. Whitney always distinguished herself as a hostess. She inherited much of the political ability of her father, Senator Henry B. Payne. She was bright and witty, handsome and sensible. She was one of the very few women who knew how to be a society woman without being snobbish, and who could condescend to entertain people on a lower social level without making them feel that she was patronizing them.

The New York home of the Whitneys at Fifty-seventh street and Fifth avenue was presented to Mrs. Whitney by her brother, Oliver Payne, of the Standard Oil Company. It cost $700,000. It is one of the most splendid houses in New York.

In 1892, when presidential candidates were being discussed in the newspapers, a prominent paper had this to say: "There seems to be no lack of candidates for the presidency from which to make a choice, but what that choice will be never was a more problematic question than at this time. Mr. Whitney has many stanch admirers, and were his name to be brought prominently forward in the convention he would be strongly supported. And there is no question but that he, as is the case with every other ambitious and patriotic citizen, would like to be chief magistrate. But it is doubtful if he would care to make any personal attempt to secure the nomination. He is stanch and strong in his loyalty to Mr. Cleveland. In fact he is quoted as having said that if he were perfectly certain of securing the nomination, he would not allow his name to be used if thereby the nomination of Mr. Cleveland was jeopardized."

Mr. Whitney is a most genial, likeable and approachable man. It would almost be safe to say that every one who knows him, no matter of what political belief, admires him. He is a handsome man. His fifty years rest lightly upon him. He looks at least ten years younger that he really is. He is tall, straight and agile, ruddy-cheeked and keen-eyed. He enters as keenly into the enjoyment of horseback riding and outdoor games as any boy. One of his enthusiastic friends once remarked that he would always be a boy, even if he should become chief justice of the United States. But with this light-heartedness and faculty for enjoying himself he combines the attributes of dignity, sterling judgment and executive efficiency of a high order.

He is a witty conversationalist and a clever and ready platform speaker.

In 1894 Mr. Whitney, on his return from Europe, was met by a delegation from the Democratic state convention, then in session at Saratoga, and unanimously tendered the nomination for governor of New York. He most respectfully declined the honor, though strongly urged by the representative men and journals of the party throughout the state. In company with his daughter he soon left for the continent, and at this time, June, 1895, has just returned from Europe.

Mrs. Flora Payne Whitney was the daughter of Henry B. Payne, of Cleveland, recently United States senator from Ohio. She was the youngest of the family. While a very young girl she showed a great fondness for books. She had tutors at home and attended the best schools of New York, afterward devoting a year to study in Europe. She was an enthusiastic student, and devoted herself to sciences and languages with great fidelity. On her return home her father offered her a brilliant social introduction in either Cleveland or New York, but she chose instead a course of several years of scientific study at Cambridge under the personal instruction of Prof. Louis Agassiz. During her residence in Europe the young girl was in constant correspondence with her father. Her letters to him cover a large range of topics. He regarded them as worthy of publication, but it was without her knowledge that the volume was issued. Soon after the completion of her scientific course at Cambridge, while yet scarcely out of her teens, she married William C. Whitney, then a young lawyer. That was about twenty years ago. Her life since, until her death, was devoted to her husband and her children, but she found time to make and to hold a leading place in society in New York and Washington, and to establish a local reputation as a linguist, as an authority in archaeology and as a judge and critic of literature. Her career as one of the leaders of society in New York began in 1879. At that time Mrs. Frederick Stearnes announced that her large residence at the corner of Fifth avenue and Fifty-seventh street was for sale, and Colorado. Oliver H. Payne, Mrs. Whitney's brother, bought it for his sister. The Whitneys then began to entertain, and were soon after recognized as social leaders. When Mr. Whitney became secretary of the navy in Mr. Cleveland's cabinet, Mrs. Whitney made their home in Washington second only to the White House in social importance. They occupied the old Frelinghuysen house on I street, transforming it into one of the most luxurious homes in Washington. Ex-Senator Payne, Mrs. Whitney's father is still living. When Mrs. Whitney's first child was born he gave the young mother $1,000,000. Colonel Oliver H. Payne, her brother, is also a millionaire. Resided 57th St. and 5th Ave., New York, NY.

Children of William Collins9 and Flora (Payne) Whitney:

i. Pauline10 Whitney, b. 1875.
ii. Dorothy Payne Whitney.
iii. (child) Whitney; d. 3 Feb 1883.
iv. Henry Payne Whitney; "Like father, like son," has been exemplified in the course of Harry Payne Whitney, son of Hon. William C. Whitney. During his three years at Yale Harry Whitney has made a brilliant record, socially and politically. Although he is the son of a millionaire, and one of the most prominent statesmen in America, young Whitney is as popular and unassuming a man as there is on the campus. He has a liberal allowance, but makes no show of spending it, and in this has always shown the true "Yale spirit." His rooms in Lyceum, one of the "old brick row" buildings, are comfortable and well located, that is all. He prepared for college at Groton, Massachusetts, and will graduate from Yale next year. He was on the sophomore german and junior promenade committees and lead the junior german last winter with his sister, Miss Pauline Whitney, who had recently made her debut in New York society. Whitney was also floor manager of the junior "prom." This shows his ability as a society leader, but that doesn't make a popular Yale man alone, or the New Haven college would not be the manly place it is said to be. Whitney is not a hard student, but he has the reputation of being the brightest man in his class, and wears the coveted Phi Beta Kappa key, which is bestowed on the highest stand men, after the scholarship is computed on the first three years' work. He is also an editor of the Yale Daily News, a position which requires six months of hustling competition to obtain. Whitney is a member of the Psi Upsilon Fraternity. These social honors which have been named in connection with Yale men are not of importance in themselves, except that they are all awarded by popular vote, and show how a man is estmated by 250 of his fellows. Harry Whitney is one of the best polo players in the country, and has played on the Newport team for several summers. He has just returned to college after a two-months' absence owing to his mother's death last winter. [1893]
v. William C. Whitney.

Census

  • 1870: not found.
  • 1880: not found.

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