John Bigelow

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John Bigelow
John Bigelow - Brady-Handy.jpg
Born (1817-11-25)November 25, 1817
Malden-on-Hudson, New York, U.S.
Died December 19, 1911(1911-12-19) (aged 94)
New York City
Spouse(s) Jane Tunis Poultney
Children John Bigelow, Jr.
Poultney Bigelow

John Bigelow (November 25, 1817 – December 19, 1911) was an American lawyer and statesman.

Early life

Born in Malden-on-Hudson, New York, John Bigelow, Sr. graduated from Union College in 1835 where he was a member of the Sigma Phi Society and the Philomathean Society, and was admitted to the bar in 1838. From 1849 to 1861, he was one of the editors and co-owners of the New York Evening Post.

Political career

Bigelow began his political career as a reform Democrat, working with William Cullen Bryant in New York. In 1848, his antislavery convictions led him to leave the party, and he joined the Free Soil Party, supporting the candidacy of John C. Fremont for President in that year. In 1856, he led other former Democrats into the new Republican party. After the party's nominee, Abraham Lincoln, was elected President in 1860, Lincoln appointed him American Consul in Paris in 1861, progressing to Chargé d'Affaires and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the Court of Napoleon III. In this capacity, working together with Charles Francis Adams, the American Ambassador to the United Kingdom, Bigelow helped to block the attempts to have France and the United Kingdom intervene in the American Civil War in favor of the Confederacy, and thereby played a material role in the Union victory. In 1865, he was appointed American Ambassador to France. After leaving this position, he went to Germany, where he lived for three years, through the period of the Franco-Prussian War, and became a friend of Otto von Bismarck.

After the war's conclusion, he returned to New York, where he assisted his old friend Samuel J. Tilden in opposing the corruption that flourished in New York City under William Magear Tweed. Because of the universal respect in which Bigelow was held in New York, he was offered nominations by both political parties for state office in 1872. Under the influence of Tilden, Bigelow decided to rejoin the Democratic party, accepted its nomination, and was elected Secretary of State of New York, a position he held until 1876. When the Democrats nominated Tilden for President in 1876, he served as Tilden's campaign manager, and in that capacity advised Tilden in the famous dispute over the result of the presidential election. Tilden died almost a decade after the dispute was decided in favor of his rival, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Bigelow then acted as one of Tilden's Estate Trust Executors. He carried out Tilden's wishes, over several years, to develop the New York Public Library, and served as the first president of the Library.

He was a staunch proponent of the development of the Panama Canal. He was a friend of Philippe Bunau-Varilla, who brought Panama's declaration of Independence to Bigelow's home. Panama's first proposed flag, made there by Mrs. Bunau Varilla, was rejected by the Panamanians, who made their own. Bigelow's writing career, begun with Bryant on the New York Evening Post, included several books. He was one of the first Americans to visit Haiti with an open mind, and published The Wisdom of the Haitians, which, before the Civil War, was one of the few American works to take a positive view of Haitian independence. He published an edition of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin in 1868, and The Life of Samuel J. Tilden in 1895.

Personal life

On June 11, 1850, Bigelow married Jane Tunis Poultney and they had nine children. They included:

  • John Bigelow, Jr. (May 12, 1854 to February 29, 1936) graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1877. He served in the United States Army in Texas with the Buffalo Soldiers, taught at West Point, served again in the West then fought and was seriously wounded in Cuba. He retired in October 1904. From 1905-1910 he was a professor at M.I.T. During World War I he was recalled to active duty and served in Washington. He traveled and wrote until his death in 1936.[1]
  • Poultney Bigelow (1855-1954) was a lawyer and a noted journalist and editor.
  • Flora Bigelow, who married Lionel Guest (1880–1935), son of Ivor Bertie Guest, 1st Baron Wimborne (1835–1914)


On August 8, 2001, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani signed a bill adding the name "John Bigelow Plaza" to the intersection of 41st Street and Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, directly in front of the famous main branch of the New York Public Library. His estate at Highland Falls, New York, known as The Squirrels, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.[2]


  1. ^ Kinevan, Marcos E., Brigadier General, USAF, retired (1998). Frontier Cavalryman, Lieutenant John Bigelow with the Buffalo Soldiers in Texas. Texas Western Press, The University of Texas at El Paso. ISBN 0-87404-243-7.
  2. ^ National Park Service (2009-03-13). "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service.


  • The Life Of Samuel J. Tilden, Written by John Bigelow, 1895. Revised and edited by; Nikki Oldaker 2009: ISBN 978-0-9786698-1-2 Samuel
  • Mr. Lincoln and Friends: John Bigelow
  • Retrospections of an Active Lile. 3 volumes. New York: Baker & Taylor Co., 1909.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.(1971) The United States in Panamanian Politics: The Intriguing Formative Years. Daville,Ill.:Interstate Publishers. OCLC 138568.
  • Mellander, Gustavo A.; Nelly Maldonado Mellander (1999). Charles Edward Magoon: The Panama Years. Río Piedras, Puerto Rico: Editorial Plaza Mayor. ISBN 1-56328-155-4. OCLC 42970390.
  • Bigelow Genealogy at
  • Bigelow and Union College, in NYT on May 18, 1913
  • Clapp, Margaret A. (1947). Forgotten First Citizen: John Bigelow.
  • John Bigelow Papers, The New York Public Library.
  • The Correspondence of John Bigelow, Union College
  • Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Bigelow, John". Encyclopædia Britannica. 3 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

External links

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
William L. Dayton
United States Ambassador to France
Succeeded by
John A. Dix
Political offices
Preceded by
Diedrich Willers Jr.
Secretary of State of New York
1876 - 1877
Succeeded by
Allen C. Beach
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