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Hamilton Fish (American National Biography)

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Brooks D. Simpson, "Fish, Hamilton," American National Biography Online, February 2000, http://www.anb.org/articles/04/04-00375.html.

Fish's record in office at both the state and national levels was unremarkable. He did not play a significant role in the debates over the expansion of slavery that commenced with the introduction of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854. When William Henry Seward led many of the state's Whigs into the ranks of the forming Republican coalition in 1855, Fish did not follow, struggling instead to revive the moribund Whig organization. He reluctantly supported the Republicans the following year but felt uncomfortable with the moral intensity of the party's position on slavery. It was thus not surprising when the Republicans looked elsewhere in 1857 for a Senate candidate, and Fish retreated into retirement from electoral politics, spending the next two years in Europe.

Fish supported the candidacy of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 primarily for the lack of a more satisfactory alternative. In the secession crisis that followed, he advocated compromise. During the Civil War he headed New York's Union Defense Committee and was appalled by the July 1863 draft riots…Cheered by Andrew Johnson's ascent to power in 1865, Fish supported the president's initial course during Reconstruction. However, he also cultivated a friendship with Ulysses S. Grant, subscribing to a fund for the general and hosting the general and his family. By 1867 he was disenchanted with Johnson. Grant, he believed, could best restrain Republican radicalism while denying the Democratic party control of the presidency. He became an active supporter of Grant's presidential candidacy and contributed freely to his campaign.

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