Opdyke, George


1863 check as New York City’s Civil War mayor, paying salaries to City Court of Common Pleas officers


Autograph ID: 7048
Condition: Very good, expected cut cancellations with trivial loss affecting one word at center; very lightbrowning at edges
Description: (1805-1880) Entrepreneur and 76th New York City Mayor during the Civil War. The New York City July 1863 Draft Riots occurred during his tenure. A school teacher at an early age, with $500 in their pockets, Opdyke and a friend settled in Cleveland, opening a clothing store and tailor shop for workers on the new Erie Canal. He soon found a more profitable business, high mark-up manufacturing of cheap slave clothing. Moving to New Orleans, he began a very profitable plant there making cheaply produced clothing for deep South plantations. He moved to New York City in 1832 to open the 1st large clothing factory there. In 1846 he turned the business over to his brother-in-law and became an importer of wholesale dry goods. A millionaire by 1853, he later organized a bank and was elected to the state assembly, where he advocated various reforms. He was a self-styled economist who authored a “Treatise on Political Economy” in 1851, favoring free trade, free labor and inconvertible paper money. He was a delegate to the 1848 Buffalo Free Soil Party convention and an unsuccessful New Jersey candidate for Congress on their ticket. He was the GOP mayoral candidate in 1860, losing to Fernando Wood. A delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention, he allied himself with Salmon P. Chase in his candidacy and, later, in his abortive 1864 presidential quest. Chase relied on Opdyke in early 1861 to advance his aspirations for a Cabinet post after Opdyke visited President-elect Lincoln on Jan. 16, 1861 to advise on appointments. Despite supporting Chase, Chase did not return the favor when it came to choosing a new NYC Collector of Customs. In Dec. 1861 Opdyke was narrowly elected Mayor because of a split among Democratic factions. Incumbent Fernando Wood formed his own political machine, Mozart Hall, and Tammany Hall went with C. Godfrey Gunther; Opdyke beat Gunther by 613 votes and beat Wood in Wood’s own ward. His power, however, was limited by Democratic control of the City Council. Mayor Opdyke strongly supported the Lincoln Administration’s draft policies and, with John A. Dix and Richard M. Blatchford, formed the Union Defense Committee empowered by President Lincoln to spend public money during the initial raising and equipping of the Union Army. His unwavering support for the draft backfired severely when New Yorkers took to the streets on July 13, 1863, burning draft offices and taking out their anger on Black citizens and prominent Republicans. Opdyke topped their list of the most despised New Yorkers as he also blocked bills passed by the City Council to exempt NYC draftees who paid a $330 fee. He had little power to quell the violence; the police department was placed under state control, and the state militia had been called away. Rioters were prevented from burning down the Mayor’s house on 5th Avenue but they burned down a factory he owned. He refused to compromise with rioters, abandoning City Hall for the St. Nicholas Hotel. The Draft Riots effectively killed his re-nomination or re-election. He prominently sought Lincoln’s replacement on the 1864 GOP ticket, which failed in early September, and, after his term expired, attempted to bar Blacks from Lincoln’s funeral procession. Opdyke profited greatly from the war through his own clothing plant and in deals with rival clothing manufacturer Brooks Brothers. In later life, he took up banking with his sons, representing various railroad companies.

3 ¾ x 8 ¼ partly printed DS completed in a clerical hand, County Treasurer of New York at the Broadway Bank blue decorative check with sailor, ship, eagle and an Indian at top left, paying $66.66 to Timothy P. Weekes and S. H. Hinnegan (endorsed by him on verso) for their February 1863 salary as officers of the Court of Common Pleas. The check is signed by Opdyke as Mayor and also by Comptroller Matthew R. Brennan and the Clerk of the board of supervisors, and, at the left side vertical, the County Book Keeper.

MATTHEW T. BRENNAN (?) originally a saloon keeper, used his Tammany connections to rise to police captain and then City Comptroller (1863-67). He was one of the 1st “Five Pointers” of Irish-American origin elected to citywide office, an on-again, off-again Tweed ally. Threatened with indictment and impeachment, and facing an uphill fight for re-nomination, he didn’t seek another term, but later served as County Sheriff. In 1871, Brennan placed Tweed under arrest, just a week before voters went to the polls to decide Tweed’s State Senate seat. Brennan quietly accepted a $1 million bond for Tweed’s bail and moved on, and Tweed, the Grand Sachem, defeated his rival days later.
Type: Check

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