Marcy, William Learned

Marcy, William Learned,

1786–1857, American politician, b. Southbridge, Mass. He settled in Troy, N.Y., where he practiced law and, after serving in the War of 1812, held local offices. A Democrat and a partisan of Martin Van BurenVan Buren, Martin,
1782–1862, 8th President of the United States (1837–41), b. Kinderhook, Columbia co., N.Y. Early Career

He was reared on his father's farm, was educated at local schools, and after reading law was admitted (1803) to the bar.
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, Marcy entered the political group known as the Albany RegencyAlbany Regency,
name given, after 1820, to the leaders of the first political machine, which was developed in New York state by Martin Van Buren. The name derived from the charge that Van Buren's principal supporters, residing in Albany, managed the machine for him while he
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, of which he soon became a dominant figure. He served as state comptroller (1823–29) and as justice of the state supreme court (1829–31) before he entered (1831) the U.S. Senate. There he made a famous speech supporting the nomination of Van Buren as minister to England: his defense of Van Buren's methods of patronage with the claim that "to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy" supposedly gave rise to the term "spoils system." Marcy served (1833–39) as governor of New York for three terms and was a member (1840–42) of the Mexican Claims Commission. He was Secretary of War (1845–49) under President Polk and conducted that office efficiently during the Mexican War. He had drifted into opposition to Van Buren and headed the HunkersHunkers,
conservative faction of the Democratic party in New York state in the 1840s, so named because they were supposed to "hanker" or "hunker" after office. In opposition to them stood the radical Democrats, or Barnburners.
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, a faction of the New York Democratic party. The peak of Marcy's career was reached when he served as Secretary of State (1853–57) under President Pierce. He handled many delicate problems, including the Gadsden PurchaseGadsden Purchase
, strip of land purchased (1853) by the United States from Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) had described the U.S.-Mexico boundary vaguely, and President Pierce wanted to insure U.S.
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, negotiations concerning the Black WarriorBlack Warrior,
merchant steamer that plied between New York City and Mobile, usually stopping at Havana, Cuba. Her seizure on Feb. 28, 1854, by Spanish authorities at Havana and the imposition of a $6,000 fine on the grounds that she had violated customs regulations nearly
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 affair with Spain, and the trouble arising from the filibustering expedition of William WalkerWalker, William,
1824–60, American filibuster in Nicaragua, b. Nashville, Tenn. Walker, a qualified doctor, a lawyer, and a journalist by the time he was 24, sought a more adventurous career.
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 in Nicaragua. He condemned the Ostend ManifestoOstend Manifesto,
document drawn up in Oct., 1854, at Ostend, Belgium, by James Buchanan, American minister to Great Britain, John Y. Mason, minister to France, and Pierre Soulé, minister to Spain. William L.
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, but he managed to maintain a neutral attitude in the rising dispute over slavery.
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Marcy, William Learned

(1786–1857) lawyer, public official; born in Southbridge, Mass. Instrumental in the powerful "Albany Regency" Democratic machine, he was New York comptroller (1823–29), state supreme court justice (1829–31), U.S. senator (1831–32), and a capable governor of New York (1833–39). As senator he coined the phrase, "to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy." He served as President James Polk's secretary of war (1845–49) during the Mexican War. As secretary of state under President Franklin Pierce (1853–57), he negotiated 24 treaties and various other delicate international cases, including the Gadsden Purchase (1853–54). His reputation as one of the nation's ablest public officials has survived the test of time.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.