Smith, Gerrit

Smith, Gerrit,

1797–1874, American reformer, b. Utica, N.Y. He spent much of his fortune in various reforms, most notably abolition. He was an organizer of the Liberty party and was candidate for governor of New York in 1840. A congressman in 1853, he resigned in 1854. He again ran for governor in 1858. He is thought to have aided John BrownBrown, John,
1800–1859, American abolitionist, b. Torrington, Conn. He spent his boyhood in Ohio. Before he became prominent in the 1850s, his life had been a succession of business failures in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and New York.
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 in planning the Harpers Ferry raid.


See biographies by O. B. Frothingham (1878, repr. 1969) and R. V. Harlow (1939, repr. 1972).

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Smith, Gerrit

(1797–1874) philanthropist, reformer; born in Utica, N.Y. Born into a wealthy family (with money from the fur trade and in land dealings), he studied law but would spend most of his life managing the family fortune. He was active nationally as a leader of the antislavery Liberty Party (1824–74), was vice-president of the American Peace Society (1830s), and from 1835 on was a well-known abolitionist (his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad). Elected to one term in the U.S. House of Representatives as an independent (1853–55), he ran unsuccessfully for governor of New York on the People's Party ticket (1858), advocating temperance, abolition, and land reform. Although he had supported John Brown's 1859 raid on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, he denied doing so. He supported the Union and campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1864. Although he later backed giving the vote to African-Americans, he also advocated moderate policies toward Southern whites. He donated much of his fortune to building churches and theological schools, as well as to various colleges.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
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