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William Alfred Buckingham


WILLIAM ALFRED BUCKINGHAM is a direct descendant, in the sixth generation, from the Rev. Thomas Buckingham and his wife Hester Hosmer, who were of Hartford, Connecticut, in 1666. His father, Captain Buckingham, as he was called, was a farmer, in Lebanon, Connecticut, a shrewd manager of property, of clear mind and sound judgment, and frequently appealed to as umpire in matters of difference between neighbors. His wife was a remarkable woman, having few equals in all that was good, endowed with strong natural powers both of mind and body, indomitable perseverance and energy; with, as one of her neighbors described her, "a great generous heart."

The son of these worthy people, who was born at Lebanon, May 24th, 1804, happily partook of the strong points of both his parents. His father being absent from home, on business, during a portion of the year, much of the work and care of the farm necessarily devolved upon him, while yet a mere boy, and he thus early acquired habits of industry and self-reliance. One who knew him well at this period of his life, says, "I don't think any thing left in his care was ever overlooked or neglected." The same friend says, " he was early trained in the school of benevolence. I have often seen him sent off on Saturday afternoons, when the weather was severe, with a wagon load of wood from his father's well-stored wood-shed, and a number of baskets and budgets, destined to cheer some destitute persons in the neighborhood, and make them comfortable. 

He received his education at the common school in Lebanon, and passed a term or two at Colchester Academy evincing a peculiar fondness for the study of mathematics, especially in the higher branches. As he grew up, he developed as a lively, spirited "fast" young man, in the best acceptation of that term—his habits being excellent, and integrity being a marked feature in his character. Indeed, he was regarded as rather a leader among the young people with whom he associated.  In early manhood, he was a member of a cavalry militia company, and "trooped" with the same energy which has since characterized him in whatever he undertook—excelling in military matters, and becoming a master of the broadsword exercise.

Commencing mercantile life as a clerk in the city of New York, at the age of twenty years, he removed to Norwich, Connecticut in 1825, and entered into the employ of Messrs. Hamlin, Buckingham & Giles. A few years later he commenced business on his own account, and by enterprise, thrift, punctuality, and honorable dealing, became a most successful and widely respected merchant. He has since been extensively engaged in various manufactures; especially in the Hayward Rubber Company, of which he was treasurer for many years; and the town of Norwich has been largely indebted to his example and influence. He was one of the founders of the Norwich Free Academy, and, in 1849, was elected mayor of the city, which office he filled for two years. His eminently practical mind and great executive ability have contributed largely to the manufacturing and industrial interests of his native State; and the whole weight of his personal character and sympathies has ever been enlisted in support of religion, temperance, industry, and education. We have it on excellent authority, that the governor, at the commencement of his business career, made a resolve to set aside one fifth of each year's income to be applied to objects of religious benevolence ; and that his experience was for many years, and perhaps is still, that each year's income was so much in excess of that which preceded it, that at the year's end he always had an additional sum to distribute to objects of benevolence, to make out the full fifth of his receipts. A striking illustration this, of the declaration of holy writ: "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth." During the eight terms of his gubernatorial career, his entire salary, as governor, was bestowed upon benevolent objects; for the most part, we believe, on Yale college, in which he founded several scholarships, for worthy but indigent students. Indeed, the spirit of benevolence which he inherited from his parents, has ever remained a distinguishing feature of his character. In providing for the wants of the poor and unfortunate, and in the unostentatious performance of every good work, Governor Buckingham's life has been a record of unwearied industry.

The qualities which had gained him the respect of his fellow-citizens, as they became more widely known, commended him to the public as a candidate for higher positions of trust and responsibility. In 1858, he was elected Governor of Connecticut, and to the same office he was re-elected in 1859, and 1860. Again, on the 1st of April, 1861, he was chosen to the gubernatorial chair, by a majority of two thousand and eighty-six votes, the entire Republican State ticket being elected, at the same time, together with a large Union and Republican majority in both houses of the General Assembly. On the 15th of the same month, he received the President's call for seventy-five thousand volunteers. The Legislature was not then in session, but the governor had been among the first to see (in 1860) the rising cloud of "the irrepressible conflict."  He had long since abandoned any hopes of settling the national difficulties by compromise; he had recognized them as questions on which every citizen must decide squarely, for right or wrong, for freedom or slavery. Therefore his action, when the storm burst, was prompt and decided. He took immediate measures on his own responsibility, to raise and equip the quota of troops required from Connecticut; his own extensive financial relations enabling him to command the funds needed for the purpose. He threw himself into the work, with all the force of his energetic nature; and during that week of anxiety, when Washington was isolated from the north, by the Baltimore rising, his message—that the State of Connecticut was coming " to the rescue," with men and money, was the first intimation received by the President, that help was near at hand. The banks came to his aid, and money and personal assistance were tendered freely by prominent parties in every section of the State—so that, by the time (May 1st) that the Legislature had assembled in extra session (in response to a call which he had made upon the receipt of Mr. Lincoln's proclamation), he had the pleasure of informing them that forty-one volunteer companies had already been accepted, and that a fifth regiment was ready. Ten days later, the first regiment, eight hundred and thirty-four strong, under Colonel (afterwards General) A. H. Terry, left the State, equipped with a thoroughness—as were all the Connecticut troops—which elicited universal admiration from all who beheld them. 

Soon after he pronounced his conviction, in an official communication to the Washington cabinet, that "this is no ordinary rebellion," that it "should be met and suppressed by a
power corresponding with its magnitude," that the President "should ask for authority to organize and arm a force of half a million of men, for the purpose of quelling the rebellion, and for an appropriation from the public treasury sufficient for their support," "that legislation upon every other subject should be regarded as out of time and place, and the one great object of suppressing the rebellion be pursued by the Administration, with vigor and firmness." " To secure such high public interests," said the governor, "the State of Connecticut will bind her destinies more closely to those of the General Government, and in adopting the measures suggested, she will renewedly pledge all her pecuniary and physical resources, and all her moral power." It will be seen, therefore, that Governor Buckingham took an accurate and comprehensive view of the extent, the probable course and the power of the war just inaugurated--and better would it have been for our country, if others of our leading statesmen had manifested, at that critical hour, the same calm, clear insight and broad statesmanship. There was nothing undecided in his thought or action. His suggestions upon every point relative to the prosecution of the war, and the policy of the State, were full of patriotic, far-seeing wisdom. He was nobly seconded by a loyal Legislature, and though "peace men" tried to intimidate the Unionists, their attempts recoiled upon their own heads. By the 1st of March, 1862, fifteen Connecticut regiments were in the field, and by November following, 28,551 soldiers had been furnished to the defence of the Union, by the little " Wooden Nutmeg State."

In April, 1862, Governor Buckingham was re-elected and his efforts were as untiring as ever. No amount of disaster in the field, of hesitation in council, or of depression in the public mind, seemed to affect him. He was always ready to make greater sacrifices; always full of hope and determination; and, with the late lamented John A. Andrew, the noble governor of the sister State of Massachusetts, he was among the earliest to urge the necessity of an Emancipation Proclamation upon President Lincoln. When that great step had at length been taken, he wrote to the President these cheering and congratulatory words:

"Permit me to congratulate you and the country that you have so clearly presented the policy which you will hereafter pursue in suppressing the rebellion, and to assure you it meets my cordial approval, and shall have my unconditional support. The State has already sent into the army, and has now at the rendezvous, more than one half of her able-bodied men between the ages of eighteen and forty-five years, and has more to offer, if wanted, to contend in battle against the enemies of our Government."

The spring campaign of 1863 was an exciting one; emboldened by the ill-success of the national arms, the Democracy rallied around the standard of " no more war!" while the Re-publicans, with equal ardor, advocated a more vigorous prosecution of the war, and were cordially seconded by the Connecticut soldiers in the field. Buckingham, however, was re-elected by a majority of 2637, in a total vote of 79,427, in which had been polled 9000 more votes than the year previous, and 2000 more than the aggregate presidential vote of 1860.  

In April, 1864, Governor Buckingham was re-nominated by the Republicans, against Origen S. Seymour, Democrat, and was elected by a majority of 5,658, in a total vote of 73,982. Again, in 1865, he was re-elected governor over the same opponent by a majority of 11,035, in a vote of 73,374.

In his annual message he strongly advocated giving soldiers in the field the privilege of the ballot, and national legislation for the abolishment of slavery.  With 1865, closed Governor Buckingham's long gubernatorial career of eight years, of which five were "war years, fully tasking his every physical and mental power, and loading him with an incessant burden of responsibility and care. His course, during this arduous term of service, had commanded the universal respect of his fellow-citizens, and the admiration of all loyal hearts throughout the Northern States. Prominent among that noble circle of loyal governors who rallied around the President, in his darkest hours, with brotherly advice and encouraging words, Governor Buckingham's relations with Mr. Lincoln strongly remind us of those between President Washington and Governor Trumbull, the "Brother Jonathan" of the Revolutionary war.

After the close of his last term of service, in April, 1866, he returned to Norwich, where he quietly engaged again in mercantile affairs.

In the National Republican Union Convention which met at Chicago in May, 1868, his name was strongly supported, though against his will, for the Vice-Presidency. On the 19th of May, in the same year, he was elected by the Legislature of Connecticut United States Senator from that State for six years from March 4th, 1869, succeeding Hon. James Dixon in that office. As a Senator Governor Buckingham has maintained the high and spotless reputation which has so long marked his character. He seldom makes speeches, but is one of the most untiring workers in the Senate; and even the foul breath of slander has never dared to sully by the slightest whisper, his pure and immaculate fame.

Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872

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