Today in 1853, Thomas H. Seymour, one of Connecticut’s most accomplished — and controversial — 19th century politicians, resigned as Governor to accept nomination by President Franklin Pierce as the United States’ minister to Russia. It was the latest in a long list of prestigious accomplishments for Seymour, whose popularity was 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 U.S. Congressman before declining his party’s nomination for reelection to focus on military interests. During the Mexican-American War, Seymour was a major in the 9th U.S. Infantry regiment and earned distinction at the 1847 Battle of Chapultepec. When the war ended, he was welcomed home 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, beginning in 1850. (Until 1875, Connecticut governors were elected annually.)
In October of 1853, President Franklin Pierce, who had taken office earlier that year, chose the popular Connecticut governor as the new American minister to Russia. Seymour was eager to try his hand at diplomacy and formally resigned as Governor of Connecticut on October 15 to accept his new position, which he kept throughout Pierce’s presidency.
Returning to Connecticut in 1858, Seymour found the American political landscape had shifted and become more volatile, as tensions between northern and southern states neared the breaking point of Civil War. Following the start of hostilities in 1861, 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 northern Democrats like him, called themselves the “Peace Democrats,” but their critics preferred the term “Copperheads” — a reference to a poisonous snake found in Connecticut forests. “Copperhead” became a term Republicans closely associated with treason. While Civil War Connecticut was home to plenty of Southern sympathizers, there weren’t enough to vote Seymour back into political office during 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 his final years in Hartford, where he died in 1868.
“Thomas Henry Seymour (1807 – 1868),” Cedar Hill Cemetery Association
Matthew Warshauer, “The Complicated Realities of Connecticut and the Civil War,” connecticuthistory.org