David Lowery Seymour
David Lowery Seymour

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

DAVID LOWREY SEYMOUR, an eminent lawyer of Rensselaer County, and conspicuous during the last generation in State and national politics, was born in Wethersfield, Conn., Dec. 2, 1803. His parents, Ashbel Seymour and Mary Lowrey, were descendants of families identified with the settlement and growth of the commonwealth. The original ancestor of the Seymours, Richard Seymour, of Essexshire, came to Hartford from the Bay Colony in 1635, and was a prominent co-operator with the pious and earnest Hooker in the settlement of the three towns - Hartford, Wethersfield, and Windsor - which for a period constituted a little State. From this Richard are descended nearly all bearing the name in the United States, - a progeny including several governors and members of Congress, and a very large number of representatives distinguished in the various fields of theology, law, or medicine.

David Lowrey Seymour, after a careful preparation in the local schools, entered Yale College. His powers of application were exceptional, and his mental facilities well developed, even as a boy. One of his fellow-collegians, still living, in the session of the State Constitutional Convention of 1867, during the proceedings suggested by the death of Mr. Seymour, alluded as follows to the youthful promise of the deceased: "It was well understood that, so far as David L. Seymour was concerned, in his class he stood pre-eminent as a mathematician, and equal in all other respects in learning with his associates. It was then predicted of him, and talked of among the faculty and students, that, life and health being spared to him, his mark would be undoubtedly made in the world."

At graduation of the class in 1826, the prediction of professors and classmates was already vindicated in anticipation, Seymour being given the salutatory, - the second honor at commencement. For a considerable period antecedent to graduation in his academic course, young Seymour had selected the legal profession for his life's pursuit. Very soon after receiving his degree he entered upon his new studies as a member of the Yale Law School, which then, under the principal direction of Hons. David Daggett and Samuel J. Hitchcock, two of the most eminent jurists of New England in that day, enjoyed a high reputation throughout the country. In 1828, while still pursuing his professional course, he was honored by an appointment as tutor from his alma mater, which he accepted, performing his duties for two collegiate years, besides attending the lectures and joining in the forensic exercises of the law school.

In 1830, having finished the law course and received the most cordial commendation of his instructors, he was admitted to the bar, after exceptionally satisfactory examination, and prepared to enter upon an active practice. At that time the comparatively fresh fields for New England enterprise and talent in Northern and Central New York were attracting general attention, many families having gone from the Connecticut River towns to the larger and richer territories of the Hudson and Mohawk. The rising village of Troy, then promising to control the head-waters of the former river and monopolize the trade of the whole region as far as the St. Lawrence and the lakes, was especially favored in the regard of adventurous spirits, several of its conspicuous citizens - and notably the Gales and Buels - having originally come from Killingworth and other old towns in the Connecticut Valley. Seymour, carefully weighing the reports from various parts of the country, determined to commence his professional career in Troy. In June, 1830, he found himself started in business, entering the office of the Hon. John P. Cushman, one of the most able and popular counsels of that day in the State. The first two years of his experience, though not altogether desolate so far as patronage was concerned, were especially valuable in the familiarity with the rules and modes of practice they taught, and the strength they imparted under association so favorable to a well-poised and equipped intellectual temperament. At the end of this period, Mr. Cushman, justly appreciating the honest aspirations and fine parts of the young lawyer, and requiring a junior, offered him a partnership. So flattering and advantageous a proffer was gladly accepted, and the firm of Cushman & Seymour was formed. From this date Seymour's professional success was assured. The firm, as originally constituted, lasted for many years, - until the death of the senior partner, in fact.

The local bar at this time comprised a large number of excellent lawyers, including such memorable names as David Buel, Jr., Isaac McConihe, Hiram P. Hunt, Daniel Hall, Thomas Clowes, and Archibald Bull. In this brilliant coterie Seymour at once was accorded a rank unprecedented for so youthful an advocate. His thorough knowledge of the old English law, of which he was an ardent and devoted lover, found him great favor with the scholars of the profession, while his cultivated oratory and clear, incisive rhetoric secured for him an unusual popularity on the rostrum or before a jury. During the early years of their partnership the senior partner was charged with the presentation of all cases of intrinsic importance, but very soon after their association that experienced advocate had made the discovery that for the preparation of a cause he could fully rely upon the excellent judgment, exact method, and ripe erudition of his younger brother. This was true to the degree that, after a short experience of his associate's thoroughness in all respects, Mr. Cushman, the leader of the Rensselaer bar, and surpassed by but few in the ranks of jurisprudence of the State, rarely looked at a cause before going into court, trusting fearlessly to its perfect preparation at the hands of his faithful and indefatigable junior.

Besides and notwithstanding his devotion to his profession, Mr. Seymour was greatly interested in the politics of the day. The breadth and largeness of his philosophy naturally predisposed him to a study of public questions, whether involving political or social economy. In sympathy, his conservative tone of mind allied him with the Democratic party of the period. Soon after his establishment in Troy his persuasive and logical eloquence in occasional addresses at public meetings enlisted the favor of the local politicians, and in 1835 he was urged to accept a nomination to the Assembly. His candidacy was successful, and his service, both on the floor and in committee, was so satisfactory to his constituents that a renomination was proffered the succeeding year. Declining a second election, he accepted the office of master in chancery, thereupon proffered by the governor, and performed its duties for several years. In 1842 he was persuaded to re-enter the political field. The Democratic party of the district, desiring to pit its most popular representative against a very strong candidate of the opposition, tendered to him the nomination for Congress. This nomination was, after careful consideration, accepted by Mr. Seymour, and he went into the canvass. After a contest of unusual warmth, he was handsomely returned.

In December, 1843, at the age of forty, he took his seat as a member of the Twenty-eighth Congress. The tariff question was at that date the principal topic of agitation, and Mr. Seymour's position as a prominent member of the committee of ways and means, to which the bill was referred, made imperative his declaration of policy. In this instance his essential integrity of sentiment and strong individuality were demonstrated in a marked anner. Not satisfied with the views of his associates of either party on the committee, and unwilling to indorse the free trade dicta of the Democracy or the protective and almost prohibitory theories of the Whigs, he made a distinct and independent report embodying his own views in favor of a discriminating system that would have encouraged industrial, while not crushing out the commercial, interests.

During this session the annexation of Texas was likewise a theme of grave discussion. Mr.Seymour developed a kindred individuality in his treatment of this question, opposing the measures contemplated by the joint resolution of Congress as infringing upon constitutional reservations, but finally voting in favor of the amended bill as it came from the Senate. Mr. Seymour was chairman of the committee on Revolutionary claims, and the author of the bill of January, 1844, extending the scope of the pension laws in a manner to embrace many meritorious cases previously unprovided for.

In the fall of 1844, at the expiration of his first term, he was again the candidate of his party, but, through the action of the anti-rent faction, which threw its suffrages for his opponent, was defeated. A third nomination, however, in 1850, was successful, the agrarian agitation having been extinguished, and the district again returning him by a handsome majority. In this canvass not a few of his Whig friends and neighbors forgot their allegiance to their own party, giving their votes to Mr. Seymour in generous recognition of his support in Congress of the industrial progress of the country. In the Thirty-second Congress Mr. Seymour's influence was greatly felt on many questions of national importance. The majority of the House of Representatives acknowledged him as one of its wisest and most reliable leaders, and many measures of legislation lost their extreme partisan purpose through his essentially patriotic and constitutional prevision. The position of chairman of the committee on commerce - numbering among its members Alexander H. Stephens, Andrew Johnson, and William Aiken - was a universally approved indorsement of his varied knowledge of affairs and his broad statesmanship. During the first session he again demonstrated his independence of party dogmatism by reporting a bill appropriating several millions of dollars for the improvement of rivers and harbors, which was signed by the President, thus adopting the liberal and fostering policy of the Whigs rather than the ultra-restrictiveness of the Democrats. In the second session, in response to a general demand from State Legislatures and boards of trade for a reciprocal system of free duties between the United States and the British provinces, his committee framed the original report which served as a basis for a subsequent treaty and laws for reciprocal trade. He was also mainly instrumental in securing the passage of the first enactment requiring a rigid inspection of steam-boilers and providing the guarantees of safety on shipboard since elaborated, under the title of "navigation laws," into a thorough system of protection against the dangers of travel upon water.

Retiring from the active political field after his second term at Washington, he returned with increased zest to the pursuit of his much-loved profession. His partnership with Mr. Cushman having some time previously expired, he formed a new connection with Hon. George Van Santvoord, with whom he was associated until 1860. Mr. Van Santvoord at this time became the recipient of official honors which interfered with the devotion of his entire time to the business of the partnership, and the firm was dissolved. Judge Ingalls was next associated with him in his law office, under the firm-name of Seymour & Ingalls, a connection which lasted until the junior member was called to the bench, after which Mr. Seymour continued with a younger member of the bar, Mr. Charles E. Patterson, a partnership which lasted till his death. The law offices of which he was the head, after his retirement from the Congress, were among the first in Northern New York for the aggregate of their business and the importance of their causes; and, under the tuition of the accomplished lawyers thus associated, were developed many of the ablest members of the profession now practicing in Rensselaer and Albany Counties.

Mr. Seymour's professional career was a success beyond that of most men, and he was often called upon to contend with the best and most powerful minds in the State, while many of the weighty causes in which he was engaged were of that superior prominence which will make them always stand as established precedents in the reports of his State. Among the noted causes in which he was engaged stands prominent a suit involving rights under a patented invention, and known to all the bar of Northern New York as the "Spike case." For nearly thirty years this case has occupied the attention of the courts, and for the last twenty years of his life did he, as their leading counsel, so well guard the interests in that case of his clients, Messrs. Corning, Winslow & Homer, that it is regarded among the profession that by his efforts they were saved from what seemed inevitable disaster and the payment of ruinous damages.

In 1866, Mr.Seymour received the degree of LL.D. from Hamilton College. In April, 1867, he was nominated as a delegate-at-large by the Democratic State Convention to the convention called to revise the State Constitution, and was elected in the canvass which followed a month after. His participation in the labors of the convention was marked by the same integrity of purpose and unpartisan spirit that had distinguished his professional and legislative career.

His very last public effort was an exhaustive argument upon a question affecting the State canal system, in which he dissented from the majority report of his committee.

In the latter part of September he went to his country-seat at Lanesboro', Mass., proposing a few days' freedom from official and other efforts which had perceptibly worn down his general vitality. Shortly after his arrival he was prostrated by a severe attack of a disease from which he had previously suffered. His illness lasted for sixteen days, at the end of which period, having endured prolonged and extreme agonies, in a spirit of calm and trusting resignation, relief came in that mortal slumber which to the Christian sufferer is the prelude to immortal joys. Mr. Seymour's death was the occasion of universal gloom in the city of which he had been so many years a most honored and useful resident. The bar, the press, the community, without regard to party, sincerely mourned the loss of a citizen whose talent, integrity, unselfishness, and public spirit had alike been unimpeachable. At a formal meeting of the legal profession eloquent addresses from the lips of his surviving brothers in jurisprudence commemorated in tearful encomium the virtues and the ability of the deceased. He was buried on the 15th of October from St. Paul's church. On the 12th of November, the Constitutional Convention reassembling after its recess, Hon. Martin I. Townsend announced the death of his colleague from Troy in an elaborate oration, and was followed by Hons. Amasa J. Parker, Henry C. Murphy, James Brooks, Thomas J. Alvord, John M. Francis, and other prominent members of that body. Well befitting his character are the words uttered on that occasion by the Hon. Erastus Brooks: "I can say, and all who knew him will bear witness to the truth of what I say, that he was in all respects a true Christian gentleman, and not only a member of the Church, but an ornament of the Church which he represented, and of which he was a member. He has left that behind him which is better than all the wealth which he left, and that is the reputation of an honest man and a faithful public servant. In the largest and highest sense he was what may be called a statesman, because he comprehended the necessities of the country, and that the duties of a public man are not merely to the constituents which he immediately represented, but to the State at large. He was a patriot, too, in its largest sense, as has been said, because he not only loved his country with sincerity, but served it with the highest devotion. He recalls to me these lines of Pope, in uttering which I will conclude the brief remarks I have to make:

'Statesman, yet friend to truth; of soul sincere;
In action faithful, and in honor clear;
Who broke no promise, served no private end,
Who gained no title, and who lost no friend.
' "

Mr. Seymour married, in 1837, Maria L. Curtiss, daughter of Sheldon Clarke Curtiss, an eminent lawyer of Derby, Conn. As the offspring of this marriage there survived him three daughters, - Mary L., wife of Titus E. Eddy, a manufacturer and merchant of New York City; Sara L., wife of S. Fisher Johnson, a banker of NewYork City; and Fannie M., wife of Charles E. Patterson, a lawyer of Troy.

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