Frederick Smyth

Frederick Smyth was born March 19, 1819, in Candia, Rockingham county, N. H. His ancestors were farmers, men and women of thrift and intelligence. He was trained in the hardest kind of farm labor, receiving, in addition, such education as the good common schools of that town could give, supplemented by a brief course at Phillips Academy at Andover, Mass. With a view to further education, he taught school several winters, and in 1839 found employment at the store of George Porter, Esq., in Manchester. Elm street was then a sandy and uninviting thoroughfare, with only one other store. At the end of the year Mr. Smyth's employer persuaded him to give up the idea of a college education and adopt a mercantile life. He soon became a partner in the business, which was successfully carried on until 1849, in which year he was elected city clerk,—the beginning of a long official career, local and national.

In 1852, Mr. Smyth was elected mayor, the city then containing a population of fifteen thousand. Mayor Smyth's first message contained many practical suggestions; for instance, that the police or school committee be empowered to take vagrant children from the streets and put them in school; that proper sidewalks be constructed and maintained; and that a special committee be appointed to confer with the corporations in regard to the introduction of pure water. In May of that year he set trees on Elm street, the commons, and about land owned by the city. To this matter the mayor gave his personal attention, and not only at that time but every year since, with few exceptions, has inspected the trees and given notice to the proper authorities of any lack. This thorough attention to detail, and desire for doing the work belonging to his office personally and not by proxy, was characteristic of Mayor Smyth. In March, 1853, he was re-elected by an increased majority, and the year was marked by the annexation of parts of Bedford and Goffstown to Manchester, and by the rebuilding of the Amoskeag Falls bridge.

The subject of lighting the streets with gas was first introduced to the attention of the city councils at that time, and a few lamps experimentally established. The free public library was also urged,—a recommendation then somewhat in advance of the popular sentiment. It was, however, advocated by the late Hon. Samuel D. Bell and some others, and was finally carried through both branches of the city government without serious opposition. It has resulted in the establishment of a library of which any city might be proud, and a building for its accommodation costing, with the recent annex, nearly forty thousand dollars. A special vote of the trustees at that time recorded their appreciation of Mayor Smyth's effective exertions in the matter. Having been a third time elected mayor and with still increased majority, the annual message of 1854 set forth the working plan of the library, proposed a change of city charter to allow the consolidation of school-districts, and again urged the imperative need of a supply of pure water. At the close of this term of office he declined a re-election, but was soon appointed, by the governor, chairman of a committee to locate and build a house of "reformation for juvenile offenders." His associates in this work were the late Hon. Matthew Harvey, ex-governor, and judge of the United States circuit court, and Hon. Hosea Eaton.

The first report of the commissioners was a vindication of the humane policy of the state, containing a sketch of what had been done in this and other countries for the reform of young offenders, with a full report of progress made. In May, 1858, the house was dedicated to its purpose with appropriate ceremonies, and the commissioners were complimented by Gov. Haile for the fidelity with which the task was accomplished. While engaged in the supervision of this work, Mr. Smyth represented ward three in Manchester in the legislature of 1857 and 1858. He was made treasurer of the reform school and of the N. H. Agricultural Society, holding the latter office during ten years of its greatest usefulness. It was in this time, Judge Nesmith being president, that Daniel Webster spoke at one of the annual fairs in Manchester to the farmers of his native state, and Edward Everett made one of those matchless speeches which lives in perennial beauty like the landscape it describes. Mr. Smyth was at the same time a director of the U. S. Agricultural Society, manager of the fairs held by that association at Louisville, Richmond, Chicago, and Cincinnati, and vice-president of the American Pomological Society. Such varied activities having brought him favorably to the attention of people throughout the state, he received some votes in the convention which nominated the Hon. Ichabod Goodwin for governor. The next year Mr. Smyth was made president of the convention. In 1860 he was appointed, by Secretary Chase, an agent to receive subscriptions to the national loan, and being cashier and principal business manager of the Merrimack River Bank and of the savings bank, he invested largely for them in government bonds. The bank of discount soon after became known as the "First National Bank."

In 1861, Mr. Smyth was appointed by government a commissioner to the International Exhibition at London, and was then made one of the jurors. The favorable exhibit made by the textile fabrics of Manchester was in no small degree owing to the care with which he looked after their disposal. His appointment gave him unusual facilities for study and observation in the highest circles of London and England, and he was also accredited from the various associated bodies with which he was connected at home to the Royal Agricultural Society. Upon these and kindred topics he wrote some interesting letters, which were published in the N. H. Journal of Agriculture. He also took a trip on the Continent, accompanied by C. L. Flint, Esq., secretary of the Massachusetts board of agriculture. The gathering proportions of the war at home, however, led him to cut short his travels, and he arrived at New York, via London, in September. He now gave his time to the care of the banks, encouraging subscriptions to the national loans, and taking active part in measures calculated to strengthen faith in the administration.

In May, 1863, a fair was held in Smyth's Hall in aid of the sanitary commission, at which nearly four thousand dollars were raised. Mr. Smyth gave the use of the hall and his personal efforts as chairman of the committee, sparing no pains to make the occasion successful; and his enthusiasm and zeal stimulated that of others. After the battle of Gettysburg and of the Wilderness, he went to the front and gave efficient aid in caring for the sick and wounded. One result of exposure to the burning sun and malaria of the battle-field was the first serious illness of his life. In that same year, when the importance of good municipal government was felt to be superior to partisan considerations, at the solicitation of men prominent in both parties, Mr. Smyth allowed his name to be used as a candidate for mayor the fourth time. He was elected practically without opposition, and his election had the desired effect, to give confidence to all classes and stability to the financial standing of the city.

It has been noticed that he was thought of before this as a possible candidate for governor, and the feeling had so strengthened that in 1865 he was nominated for that office, his chief competitor in the convention being the late Hon. Onslow Stearns. The nomination proved a very popular one, and after an active canvass he was elected by a majority of over six thousand, the highest given to any man for twenty-four years. Such support was very gratifying to the governor-elect; but, nevertheless, he felt that he had undertaken no light task. The state debt, which heretofore in times of peace seldom exceeded a few thousands, had now arisen to millions. Moreover, loans must be made in competition with other states and with the general government. State bonds were hard to sell at any price, and all the time expenditures were going on. In less than three months from Governor Smyth's inaugural message he had raised, by personal solicitation, largely from banks at Manchester, over one million of dollars, and the credit of the state, strained but not impaired by its patriotic efforts, was firmly re-established. Much time in this year was occupied in the reception and discharge of returning soldiers, and from June until Christmas day, when the last regiment was mustered out, the state echoed to the tread of the home-coming veterans.

Governor Smyth's correspondence at this time reveals great care taken for the needs of the men, for inmates of military hospitals, or for companies unnecessarily detained in camp. In this busy period he found time to make brief practical speeches at Portsmouth, Milford, and various other places, each of them calculated to draw attention to the resources and credit of New Hampshire, and to foster a healthy confidence in our ability to overcome every difficulty. He also delivered in Concord the annual address before the New England Agricultural Society, the late Govs. Andrew of Massachusetts and Buckingham of Connecticut, with other N. E. governors, being present, and highly commending the address. This year Governor Smyth was made one of the corporators of the national asylums for disabled soldiers, and served on the committee whose duty it was to arrange the working details, with Gen. Grant, Admiral Farragut, Gen. Butler, Surg.-Gen. Barnes, Hon. H. J. Raymond, ex-Gov. Todd, and Admiral Davis.

In 1866 he was unanimously nominated for re-election as governor, and, as before, chosen by a handsome majority. Some events of the second year are of much interest. The appointment of Dr. Bouton as state historian, resulting in the preservation and publication of the Provincial Records, was a peculiarly fitting act; laws in regard to the river fisheries were carried into effect; and initial steps taken toward the foundation of the Agricultural College, of which Gov. Smyth is at this date a trustee and the treasurer. The financial and executive report of the two years' work is very concisely given in the valedictory address of June 6, 1867. On two occasions the governor spoke briefly at the annual dinner of the sons of New England, at Delmonico's in New York, and was very warmly received. Some of the most influential and respectable papers of the state advocated his nomination for a third term; he, however, definitely declined the honor in a letter to the Statesman. He was a delegate at large to the Republican national convention which renominated Gen. Grant, and was also a member of the last constitutional convention of New Hampshire. In 1866 he was chosen, by vote of congress, one of the managers of the military asylums for six years, other members of the board being Hon. R. J. Oglesby of Illinois, Gen. B. F. Butler, Hon. L. B. Gunekel of Ohio, Jay Cooke of Philadelphia, and Gen. Martindale of New York, with the President, Secretary of War, and Chief-Justice, ex officiis, any one of whom had authority to admit to the Homes on application being made in due form. The proper discharge of these duties involved a vast amount of correspondence, much travel, and constant care. Gov. Smyth was re-elected for a second six years' term in 1872, and was vice-president of the board. In 1878, the house being Democratic and the senate nearly a tie, Gen. Shields was proposed as his successor, but failed of an election. Two years later, however, the Democracy were able to unite on a successor.

Since the close of his term as governor, he has delivered addresses on several occasions,—one before the Vermont State Agricultural Society, another at the dedication of a soldiers' monument at Washington, N. H., and, later, the "Oration to the Unknown Dead," delivered on "Decoration Day" before Louis Bell Post No. 3, G. A. R., in 1880; and in 1881, an address on a similar occasion, at Rochester, N. H.

In 1878 he was appointed, by President Hayes, honorary commissioner to the International Exposition at Paris. Accompanied by Mrs. Smyth, he left New York, April 24, in the steamer Russia, for Liverpool. Visiting London and some English cities by the way, they reached Paris at the grand opening. Soon after they left Marseilles for Alexandria, Egypt, and from thence made a tour of the Holy Land, via Cairo, Ismailia, and the Suez canal, afterward journeying to the Levant, stopping at Constantinople, Smyrna, Athens, and other points of interest. They were received with uniform courtesy and attention by officials at the U. S. legations, and particularly spoke of the interest manifested in their welfare by Ministers Noyes at Paris, Maynard in Constantinople, Reed at Athens, Consul-General Fairman at Cairo. Nearly everywhere they seem to have found friends to smooth the roughness of the traveler's path; and on their return to Paris, which they did by way of Rome, Switzerland, and most of the continental cities, it was regarded as an exceptional piece of good fortune to be present at the memorial celebration in honor of M. Thiers. Ex.-Gov. Smyth was there also received as a member of the Stanley club. While thus absent, he wrote a series of interesting letters, which were published in the Mirror and American, and read with pleasure by a large circle of acquaintances. Since returning from the East he and Mrs. Smyth have made an extended trip into Mexico, touching at Cuba by the way. Their experience in that land of the sun appears to have been equally pleasant with that in other places.

The ex-governor, frequently if not always accompanied by his wife, has visited almost every nook and corner of our own land except, possibly, Alaska, and is therefore well qualified to make comparisons. This long and varied experience in affairs, in acquaintance with men, and in travel, has made him a very interesting man in conversation whenever he chooses to indulge in the reminiscences of a not distant past. His house abounds in tokens of travel, curious and rare bits from many lands, and he has entertained there, from time to time, many distinguished guests. Before local associations and to personal friends he has given some familiar and delightful talks on what he has seen in these vacations of a busy life. He also pays the penalty of success in other ways, which, if flattering, are not always agreeable. His advice is daily sought, not only, as is natural, in financial and political matters, but on matters more remote from his habits of thought. But, whatever it may be, he gives cheerfully, and no man more readily lends a hand to those who are trying to help themselves.

Offices of trust also flock to one who has proved himself capable of taking good care of his own affairs, and among appointments which he holds at this date, not before named, are: 'director of the Concord, Suncook Valley, and Boston & Acton railroads; director and treasurer of the Manchester Horse-Railroad; vice-president of the New England Agricultural Society; president and director of the Northern Telegraph Company; treasurer of the Elliot hospital; cashier and manager of the First National Bank of Manchester; trustee and treasurer of the Merrimack River Savings Bank: vice-president of the American Pomological Society. In 1866 the faculty of Dartmouth College conferred on him the degree of A. B.