William E. Chandler by Jacob H. Ela

William E. Chandler, the second son of Nathan S. and Mary A. Chandler, was born in Concord, N. H., December 28, 1835, and educated in the public schools of that city and the academies of Thetford, Vt., and Pembroke, N. H. He began the study of the law in the office of George & Webster and George & Foster in 1852; graduated from the Harvard Law School as LL. B. in 1855; and in 1856, before coming of age, began practicing in Concord with Francis B. Peabody, Esq., now of Chicago.

Mr. Chandler has, from early childhood, fulfilled all the expectations of his friends. At the Harvard Law School he was librarian, and graduated with prize honors for an essay on "The Introduction of the Principles of Equity Jurisprudence into the Administration of the Common Law." He developed an early taste for policies, and a desire to aid in philanthropic movements. He delivered an address, in 1857, before the Concord Female Benevolent Association, in the Unitarian church, which at once proved him a clear and vigorous writer and thinker. The writer's first recollection of him as a lawyer was in the management of an election case before the state legislature, for the Republicans of Moultonborough, when it seemed imprudent to employ one almost a boy to manage a case such as was generally committed to lawyers of large experience; but the result justified the selection. In June, 1859, he was appointed, by Gov. Ichabod Goodwin, law reporter of the New Hampshire supreme court, and published five volumes of the reports. He entered the service of the Republican party with great earnestness at its beginning, in 1856, and gave much of his time in the office of the state committee, to assist the movement during its early campaigns, becoming secretary first, and afterwards chairman in 1864 and 1865. The election of 1863 took place during the darkest period of the war, following the battle of Fredericksburg, when gloom and almost despair overshadowed every town in the state. It was evident to all that a draft was impending, and it seemed as though the ability of the towns and the state had been exhausted, and no more money could be raised or volunteers be found to enlist. All those opposed to the war were united and active in the Democratic party, and were aided by those Republicans who were alarmed by the burden of debt, and by those who would compromise the safety of the Union sooner than expose themselves to be drafted to save it. It was the most important political campaign ever conducted in the state, and brought the executive ability of Mr. Chandler prominently into view, and led to his future advancement. It was the first campaign in which a woman took a leading part. Miss Anna Dickinson was employed as one of the speakers in the canvass, and there commenced her career on the platform. She had before often spoken in anti-slavery meetings. President Lincoln watched this campaign more closely, probably, than any other outside his own state. It was the opening election of the year following a depressing defeat, and he felt that to lose it at such a critical time would be as disastrous in its effects upon the army and the country as the loss of a great battle. It was his interest in this election which first brought Mr. Chandler to his attention, and there is no doubt that he noted when, in the New Hampshire Republican state convention, in 1864, Mr. Chandler offered the following resolution, which was unanimously and by acclamation adopted:—

"Resolved, That Abraham Lincoln, by the exercise, during the severest and most dangerous crisis in the nation's history, of unequaled sagacity and statesmanship, and that moderation and prudence which experience has shown to be the highest wisdom; by his spotless integrity of personal character, above reproach and above suspicion; and by his slowly formed yet unalterable determination that the triumph of the constitution and the Union over secession and rebellion shall be the final triumph of liberty throughout the nation,—has received and merited the abiding confidence of the people to an extent never awarded any other public man since Washington; that the best interests of the country demand that the complete destruction of the rebellion and the restoration of peace, prosperity, and the Union, should be achieved under his administration of the government; and that we therefore declare Abraham Lincoln to be the people's choice for re-election to the presidency in 1864."

The adoption of the resolution, and the conduct of the canvass in the spring of 1864 on the basis of Mr. Lincoln's renomination, resulted in a very large Republican majority; and Mr. Chandler, who had been a member of the legislature of 1862, and, at the age of twenty-seven, had been elected speaker of the house of representatives, in 1863, was again chosen speaker; and in August, 1864, presided over the legislature in which occurred the eventful conflict and riotous disturbances over the veto by Governor Gilmore of the bill allowing soldiers in the field the right to vote. Mr. Chandler gained his earliest reputation for persistency, coolness, and moral courage in this celebrated conflict, so well remembered by the Republicans of the state.

In November, 1864, he was employed by the Navy Department as special counsel to prosecute the Philadelphia navy-yard frauds, and on March 9, 1865, was appointed, by President Lincoln, the first solicitor and judge-advocate-general of that department. On June 17, 1865, he was appointed first assistant secretary of the treasury, with Secretary Hugh McCulloch, and held the office over two years, resigning November 30, 1867. After his resignation, he practiced law in New Hampshire and in Washington, and was solicitor of the National Life Insurance Company, and counsel and one of the proprietors of the Washington-Market Company, and engaged in some mining and railroad enterprises.

It has been at various times falsely charged that Mr. Chandler received large fees for prosecuting cotton claims before the department in which he had been an officer. This charge is entirely false. He has never prosecuted, before any forum, any such claims, and the following letter to him, written at a time when Hon. George G. Fogg made such charges against him, proves the correctness of his conduct:—

Washington, D. C., January 25, 1868.

Hon. Hugh McCulloch, Secretary of the Treasury,—

My Dear Sir:—It has been stated in public prints and otherwise, in a form designed to injure me, that since leaving the Treasury Department I have taken employment against the government as agent or attorney for cotton claims.

As you know that such statements are false, I desire that you will be kind enough to inform me in writing of the understanding that exists as to my relation to such cases.

Very truly yours,


Treasury Department, January 28, 1868.

Dear Sir:—Your favor of the 25th instant is received. It was arranged between us, before you resigned your office of Assistant Secretary, that you were not to act as counsel or otherwise against the government in relation to cotton claims, either at this department or before the court of claims. The arrangement was entirely voluntary on your part, and was considered prudent and judicious in view of your connection with this class of claims in the department. I regarded it as a very honorable one as far as you were concerned, as it was unaccompanied by any retainer or employment of yourself as counsel for the government in such cases, and was without any assurance on my part, or, as I supposed, any expectation on yours, that you should be so employed.

The understanding has not been, so far as I am advised, directly or indirectly violated by you.

Very truly yours,

HUGH McCULLOCH, Secretary.

Hon. Wm. E. Chandler, Washington, D. C.

Mr. Chandler did not keep out of politics, but was elected as a delegate-at-large from New Hampshire to the national convention of 1868, and subsequently was chosen secretary of the national committee. He held this position during President Grant's administrations, and devoted himself to the successful conduct of the campaigns of 1868 and 1872. In 1876 he declined to occupy the position longer, but still contributed much of his time to assist in the conduct of the canvass. He had, during this time, become the owner of the largest interest in the New Hampshire Statesman and the Monitor, the leading weekly and daily Republican papers in the state, at Concord, and he was elected, in November, a member from Concord to the constitutional convention which amended the constitution of the state.

After voting in Concord at the presidential election in 1876, Mr. Chandler left for Washington, reaching the Fifth-Avenue Hotel, New York, in the early hours of the morning. The other managers of the national campaign had retired for the night, believing they were defeated; but, coincident with Mr. Chandler's arrival, news reached the committee-rooms that Oregon had been carried by the Republicans, which would elect Hayes and Wheeler by one vote. Mr. Chandler at once comprehended the situation and the points of danger, and, without waiting for consultation, sent dispatches warning against defeat by fraud, to Oregon, Florida, South Carolina, and Louisiana. At the urgent solicitation of prominent members of the party, he was prevailed upon to start immediately for Florida, to protect the interests of the Republican party. He there became counsel for the Hayes electors before the canvassing board of the state, and it is universally admitted, by Republicans and Democrats alike, that to him more than to any other man is due the preservation to the Republicans of the fruits of their victory in that state. When the contest was transferred from the states to congress, and, finally, before the electoral commission chosen to arbitrate and decide who had been elected president, Mr. Chandler acted as counsel, and assisted in preparing the case as presented to the commission.

In the report of the special committee sent by the senate to investigate the election in Florida, made January 29, 1877, by Senator Sargent, of California, is contained a full statement of what the committee considered to be the law with reference to the conclusiveness of the declaration by a state canvassing board of the vote of the state for presidential electors, which was the earliest formal exposition of the principles of law which were finally adopted by the commission. The authorship of this statement is freely attributed by Mr. Sargent to Mr. Chandler, and the points, briefly stated, are as follows:—

I. The canvassing board was created by competent legislative authority, with jurisdiction to ascertain, declare, and certify, in due form, the result of the election, and in this case it did certify that the Hayes electors had been chosen by nine hundred and thirty majority.

This declaration, having been made by a tribunal having unquestioned jurisdiction over the subject-matter, is conclusive, and it has not been and cannot be reviewed, revised, or reversed, by any power anywhere existing.

II. It cannot be reversed by any authority proceeding from the state Of Florida. It cannot be reversed by a recanvass of the votes.

III. As the decision of the canvassing board, that the Hayes electors were chosen, cannot be reversed by a recanvass, neither can the title of the electors be impaired upon proceedings of quo warranto.

IV. If the declaration of the result of the election of presidential electors in Florida, made by the state tribunal authorized by the legislature to make such declaration, cannot be reversed by any authority proceeding from the state of Florida, neither can it be reversed by congress. The constitutional provision, section 1, article 2, is, "That each state shall appoint, in such manner as the legislature thereof shall direct, a number of electors equal," etc. It is not pretended by anyone that the president of the senate, or congress, in counting the electoral vote, can do more than merely ascertain whether or not the electors have been appointed within each state in the manner prescribed by the legislature thereof; and in the present case, if congress shall find that the result of the late election was ascertained and declared by the proper tribunal, created for that purpose and authorized by the legislature to make the declaration, that declaration and decision by such tribunal having jurisdiction over the subject-matter is final and conclusive upon congress, and cannot be reviewed, revised, or reversed. It does appear that the canvassing board of the state of Florida, duly authorized by the legislature, canvassed the result of the election, and declared and certified that the Hayes electors were chosen, which result appearing to the governor of the state, he issued certificates to the electors so declared chosen, and they proceeded to perform their functions. Beyond this authorized decision and declaration of the proper state tribunal, it is respectfully submitted that neither the president of the senate nor congress can go.

V. In stating this doctrine, that neither the president of the senate nor congress has the right, in counting the electoral vote from any state, to go beyond the decision of that tribunal authorized by the state legislature to ascertain and declare the result of the vote of the people of the state for electors, it is not meant to assert that the president of the senate, or congress, cannot go behind the mere ministerial certificate of the governor. It is the duty of the executive to give a certificate to the electors chosen in the manner the legislature may have appointed, and declared to be so chosen by the tribunal authorized by the legislature to make such declaration. But if the governor is, by the state statute, not a member of such tribunal, his certificate is as purely ministerial as that of the clerk of a court certifying a copy of a judgment. It is a valid certificate if it is in accordance with the facts appearing upon the record. It is utterly invalid and worthless if contrary to those facts. Therefore the president of the senate, or congress, in canvassing the electoral votes, even ministerially, and with no authority to go beyond the declaration of the election made by the state tribunal authorized to decide the result of the election, may look beyond the mere ministerial certificate of the executive, who has been authorized to decide nothing, and whose certificate is of no value or binding force unless correctly and truthfully issued in accordance with the legally declared election. This distinction, which enables the president of the senate, or congress, to go behind the mere ministerial certificate of the governor of the state, but yet prohibits them from going behind the declaration as to the result of the election duly made by the proper state tribunal authorized to make such declaration, although technical, is as clear and distinct, and founded upon principles of law as sound and wise, as those which allow any tribunal to go behind a clerk's merely ministerial certificate purporting to verify the result of a verdict or judgment in court, without allowing it to go beyond the true record of the verdict or judgment itself.

After Mr. Hayes had been by the commission declared elected president, when his administration surrendered the state governments of South Carolina and Louisiana into the hands of the Democratic claimants, Mr. Chandler vigorously opposed it, and criticised the surrender and the men connected with it in most scathing terms, in letters published in the winter of 1877-78. His fidelity to his convictions of duty was conspicuous; and his courage and boldness in attacking the Hayes administration gave him a lasting hold upon the confidence of the country.

In 1880 he was elected at the head of the ticket of Blaine delegates from New Hampshire to the Chicago convention, and was especially active in the contests in the national committee prior to the convention, and as a member of the committee on credentials, of which Senator Conger was chairman, and which made the successful report in favor of district representation. The following is an extract from the report of the committee on credentials:—

This long current of precedents, and this universal custom of the past, most conclusively establish the right of congressional district representation. It is a question of substance and not of form. Whether the delegates have come certified from separate district conventions, or whether they have come from a state convention where the district members thereof have selected their district representatives, and formally reported them to the state convention, and their election has been certified, for brevity and convenience, only by the officers of the state convention, district representation in fact has always been allowed. The right of the congressional district to two members residing within it and representing its sentiments, has been treated as sacred, and your committee do not believe that it should be now for the first time invaded with the approval of a national convention.

Not only does the call for the convention, and the practice and precedents of the party in one unbroken line, indicate and secure the right of single district representation, but every consideration of the reason of the practice tends to confirm its wisdom. The purpose to be secured in nominating a President is the selection of a candidate the most likely to be accepted by the people; and the nearer we get to the popular feeling, in the manner of selecting delegates, the wiser and safer will be our nominations. If a state convention called to choose delegates to a national convention can, by a bare majority, over-rule the choices of the congressional districts and select delegates residing within the districts who do not represent its sentiments, they might as well he allowed to select all the delegates from one congressional district. Residence within a district, coupled with misrepresentation of its sentiments, is a mockery. The delegates thus selected by a state convention will not fairly represent the masses of the Republicans of the state, but frequently will misrepresent them. Nominations made by conventions of such delegates will not be so likely to be ratified at the polls; and, in the opinion of the committee, it is the duty of the convention emphatically to disapprove these attempts to over-ride time-honored customs of the party, and to vindicate the right of every congressional district to be represented in a national convention by two delegates of its own selection, and expressing its own sentiments.

When his favorite candidate was withdrawn in the convention, he supported General Garfield, and during the campaign which resulted in his election was a member of the national committee and served on the executive committee.

On March 23, 1881, he was nominated, by President Garfield, as solicitor-general in the Department of Justice; but his confirmation was opposed by Attorney-General MacVeagh, and also by all the Democratic senators, on account of his extreme radicalism on the southern question. The Republicans, with Vice-President Arthur's vote, would have had one majority; but the whole Democratic vote, the absence of the New York senators, the abstention of Senator Mitchell, and the adverse vote of Senator Cameron of Pennsylvania, caused his rejection, on May 20, by five majority.

Mr. Chandler had been, in November, 1880, elected a member from Concord in the state legislature, which assembled in June, 1881, and he took a leading position. He favored stringent legislation against bribery at elections, and against the issuing of free passes by railroads, and was in favor of controlling by law the regulation of freight and fares upon all railroads within the state. After the close of the session of the legislature, when consolidation was effected between certain Massachusetts and New Hampshire railroads without the consent of the proper authorities, and against the law, he contended against their action in the courts, in the press, and in all legitimate ways. Its success would have placed the whole railroad interest in the lines running through the center of the state and their branches under the control of Massachusetts capital and Massachusetts corporations. His legal positions have been sustained by the court, and the custody and control of the roads ordered to be taken and exercised by their rightful owners.

The latest honor conferred upon Mr. Chandler was his selection by President Arthur as a member of his cabinet. He was nominated, April 7, 1882, for Secretary of the Navy, and confirmed April 12, by a vote of twenty-eight to sixteen; he qualified and took possession of the office, April 17, 1882.

In closing this sketch of a busy and useful life, I must add a few words appreciative of the character of one whom as a boy and man I have known for forty years. In his personal habits Mr. Chandler is above reproach,—pure in speech as in action,—with a mind quick to perceive, prompt to execute, and comprehensive in its scope. He is a man with convictions and the courage to express and maintain them. He has never sought advancement by flattery or pandering to prejudice. Those who know him best have the most faith in his integrity. The best evidence of it is the fact that in twenty-five years of aggressive political life, while occupying positions of temptation, and criticising freely the action of men who forgot their moral obligations or were shirking their official duties to the detriment of the public good, no one of them has been able to connect him with personal dishonesty, corrupt practice in official life, or political treachery or double-dealing. His methods are direct, positive, systematic, exact, and logical. The positions he has held have all come to him in recognition of his ability and earnest efforts in serving the cause he espouses.

Mr. Chandler has been twice married,—in 1859, to a daughter of Gov. Joseph A. Gilmore, and in 1874, to a daughter of Hon. John P. Hale. He has three sons,—Joseph Gilmore, born in 1860; William Dwight, in 1863; and Lloyd Horwitz, in 1869. Mr. Chandler's father died in 1862. His mother is still living in Concord. He has two brothers,—John K. Chandler, formerly a merchant in Boston and the East Indies, now residing on a farm in Canterbury, N. H.; and George H. Chandler, who was first adjutant and afterwards major of the Ninth New Hampshire regiment, and is now a lawyer in Baltimore. Mr. Chandler's father was a Whig, a man of great intelligence and firmness of character. His mother is a woman of equally positive traits, and has contributed much to the formation of the character which has given success to her sons.