October 15: From Connecticut Governor to Russian Ambassador


On this day in 1853, Thomas H. Seymour, one of Connecticut’s most accomplished — and controversial — 19th century politicians, resigned his role as Governor in order to accept his nomination by President Franklin Pierce to become the United States’ next minister to Russia.  It was the latest in a long list of prestigious accomplishments for Seymour, whose political popularity was then at its peak.

Born in 1807, Seymour’s political career began at the age of 30 when, as a newly-elected Hartford probate court judge and captain of the Hartford Light Guard, he became editor of The Jeffersonian, a Democratic newspaper.  In 1843, he served a single two-year term as a Democratic U.S. Congressman before declining his party’s nomination for reelection in order to focus on military interests.  During the Mexican-American War, Seymour served as a major in the 9th U.S. Infantry regiment and served with distinction at the Battle of Chapultepec in 1847.  After the war, he was welcomed back to Connecticut as “the hero of Chapultepec,” and the politically-savvy Seymour rode his popularity straight into the Governor’s office, winning the first of four consecutive terms as Connecticut’s chief executive in 1850.  (Until 1875, Connecticut governors were elected annually.)

In October of 1853, President Franklin Pierce, who had first taken office earlier that year, chose the popular Connecticut governor — and fellow Democrat — to serve as the new American minister to Russia.  Seymour was eager for the chance to try his hand at diplomacy, and formally resigned as Governor of Connecticut on October 15 in order to accept his new position, which he kept for the entirety of Pierce’s presidency.

Upon returning to Connecticut in 1858, Seymour found that the American political landscape had shifted and become more volatile than ever, as tensions between northern and southern states reached the breaking point on the eve of the Civil War.  Following the outbreak of hostilities in 1860, Seymour became an outspoken advocate for a peaceful reconciliation with the Southern states and a fierce critic of President Abraham Lincoln’s military strategies.   Seymour, and the northern Democrats like him, called themselves the “Peace Democrats,” but their critics preferred the term “Copperheads” — a reference to a type of poisonous snake found in Connecticut forests and a term Republicans closely associated with treason.  While Connecticut was home to plenty of Southern sympathizers during the Civil War, there weren’t enough of them to vote Seymour back into political office during his two failed gubernatorial campaigns in 1860 and 1863.   After he tried in vain to obtain the national Democratic nomination for President in 1864, Seymour retired from politics and lived the final years of his life out in Hartford, where he died in 1868.

Further Reading

Thomas Henry Seymour (1807 – 1868),” Cedar Hill Cemetery Association

Matthew Warshauer, “The Complicated Realities of Connecticut and the Civil War,” connecticuthistory.org