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HON. WILLIAM S. CLARK.
Mr. Clark's grandparents, who were born in Duchess county, settled in Coeymans, Albany county, during the year 1773. His paternal grandfather being unable to endure the privations of pioneer life, died at the age of thirty-two. His maternal grandfather, Reuben Stanton, was among those who by their vigor and hardihood, contributed much to clear up the wilderness in Coeymans, in the days when homes were never safe in consequence of the depredations of marauders, from the army in the war preceding the Revolution. He was for some years a licentiate in the Baptist church and was regularly ordained by that denomination in 1793, continuing to preach until he was disqualified by age. Mr. Clark's parents settled on a farm in Carlisle, in 1813, where he was born, and where his father died in 1849.
Mr. Clark was favored with good educational opportunities, having attended some of the academies of Schoharie and Madison counties. He was a teacher during several winters, and then chose law as a profession; he graduated from the Albany law school in the spring of 1858, and returned to Sloansville, where he now resides. Since then, however, he has gratified his desire for travel, to a great extent, and has also been identified with all movements of public interest in his locality, yet devoting himself to the practice of his profession, in which his interest and status is shown by his participation in the organization of the New York State Bar Association, and present membership in that body.
In the year 1850, Mr. Clark was elected town superintendent of common schools in Carlisle, and was commissioner of excise during the years 1862, 1863, and 1864. He was nominated by acclamation by the Democrats, and elected without opposition to the Assembly of 1867, and was re-nominated and returned the following year by a majority of one thousand, seven hundred and seventy-eight, leading his ticket just one hundred.
During the war, his talents and influence were exerted to sustain the government, by addressing war and bounty meetings, and encouraging volunteering, both in his own and the surrounding counties. He has always been a Democrat, and various political articles from his pen, which have appeared through the public press, among them his discussion of the proposed constitutional convention in 1858, and of the constitutional modifications suggested in the convention of 1867--display a repleteness of ideas and a vigor of analysis above the ordinary cast of mind. The position taken by Mr. Clark in the Legislature of 1867, was recognized by his appointment by Speaker Pitts, as a member of the joint committee to investigate the management of the canals.
His ability and legislative experience made him quite a prominent candidate for Speaker of the House in 1868, for which position he received favorable commendations from the press, but in deference to the unanimity of the New York delegation and in recognition of the claim of the New York Democracy, Mr. Clark withdrew from the canvass prior to the caucus.
Following our natural expectations from such antecedents, Mr. Clark's conception of Legislative duties is not confined to mere local interests but embraces within its scope, legislation of a general character; and the comprehensiveness both of his views and his familiarity with the requirements of the people, is indicated by the bills introduced by him in relation to the registry, assessment and highway laws of the State. He also rendered efficient aid to the Albany & Susquehanna railroad passing in the Assembly the bill which gave $250,000 State aid to that project, by a vote of seventy-six, thus assuring the early success of that enterprise whose value is now so well known.
Mr. Clark, having been a member of the select committee on canals in 1867, and the Legislature of 1868 preferring articles of impeachment against R C. Dorn, then ex-canal commissioner, he was appointed by Speaker Hitchman as one of the managers on the part of the Assembly, in the prosecution of the impeachment, and took an active part in the conduct of the trial. The versatility of Mr. Clark's attainments and his standing in the Assembly are further shown by his appointment as one of a select committee to examine, during the recess, the historic relics in the collection of S.G. Eddy, of Stillwater, N. Y., and J. R. Simms of Fort Plain. His report on the subject was full and explicit, having the concurrence of his colleagues, resulting in the securing to the State the more valuable of the collections. In debate he was ready, forcible, logical and at all times eloquent, always having the attention of the Assembly; and by his suavity of manner and geniality of nature, secured not only the good will, but the personal regard of all his associates in the House. In his position as Chairman of the Committee on Internal Affairs of Towns and Counties, he was indefatigable in his labors to facilitate the progress of the measures submitted to the scrutiny of the committee. He served also on the Committee on Charitable and Religious Societies, and on Local General Orders.
Mr. Clark is still in the full vigor of life, enjoys a good joke or a keen sarcasm with the same zest that an epicure relishes his salads, and we doubt not that his versatile intelligence and recognized ability will secure for him, higher positions and larger trusts; and however high the position the future may assign him, he will discharge its duties with fidelity unquestioned and honor untarnished.
Our subject also has a finely cultivated literary taste and exhibits in his composition a certain vim and dash which excite and insure one's admiration. His "Memoir of Charles Howard Phelps" which was written for the trustees of Dudley observatory, and subsequently published by them, is a chaste and beautiful tribute to the memory of one whose whole soul was inspired with the grandeur of astronomy and whose life trembled at the impressions of those master thoughts which seem to transfigure the whole being.
Mr. Clark's address delivered at the centennial anniversary of the Seward Massacre in 1780, held at Seward, October 18, 1880, in the presence of a large gathering of people from the surrounding country, possesses so much that is grand and eloquent that we here published it in full:---
"Mr. President and fellow citizens, mine the pleasing, though somewhat laborious and difficult task, to gather up the raveled threads of the events which these scenes recall, and in memory of which we are assembled, and weave them the best I may, into chapters of this day's proceedings, to make the volume of their history which shall cheer, encourage and inspire your descendants through coming generations and all the future. The same sky is over us; we inhale air of the same balminess and invigorating power; the same beauty of landscape with its undulating plain, gentle sloping hillside and towering mountain, environs this spot as it did a hundred years ago.
"But how different the other surroundings and accessories of this and that afternoon! The danger which lurked in the shadow of every rock and tree as the stillness of the night settled upon the earth, and ambushed in every road-side, bush or thicket in the bright sunlight of mid-day, is forever dispelled; prosperity abounds on every side; peace serenely and securely sits everywhere in these fruitful valleys and among those beautiful hills; safety abides under every roof-tree, and security, joy, and happiness dwell with you in all your homes. And all this contrast because the settlers of New Dorlach were patriots!
"Twas in the cause of liberty and freedom that John France fell, and Catharine, fairest of the fair, was sacrificed. To commemorate their lives and keep green the memory of this ruthless sacrifice, by every means in your power, is the noblest work in the lives of their descendants, and can but inspire in the hearts of you all, emotions of gratitude that the patriot fathers and mothers throughout the length and breadth of Tryon county as well as those of New Dorlach, endured the trials, bore the burden of privation, suffering and sorrow, with a fortitude and heroism beside which, in the world's history, occurs neither its equal nor parallel, and must beget in you all a deeper devotion to the land of your birth--to your homes and firesides, where spring earth's brightest hopes and nestle its sweetest, most heavenly joys; and induce that love and veneration for your country and its glorious flag, which alone will secure the perpetuation and transmission of the blessings we all enjoy.
"Here are the descendants of the Merckleys and Bastian France, whose names have been alluded to as those around which clusters the interest of this grand occasion. With these people you are acquainted and of them, therefore, I need not speak, except Gilbert G. France, your president of the day, whose father was the captured Henry, which may surprise some of you. But there are here, today, besides Gilbert G. France and his nephews, William G. and Albert France, whom you all know, two other sons of the captured Henry France--David and Jacob--venerable men, upon whose heads are the snows of nearly four-score years, and who have journeyed from their distant homes, that they might be here on this hundredth anniversary of the event, which for the hour, so darkened the heart of their ancestors; to drop a tear to the memory of Catharine Merckley and John France, upon the soil consecrated to liberty by their blood--'the deep damnation of whose taking off' can now never be forgotten; to drink again from the fountain of patriotism, and catch thence an inspiration, which with an unfaltering faith and trust in the promises of Christianity, shall cheer and sustain them as they totter down life's steep decline. Jacob France, of Cold Brook, Herkimer county, and David France, of South Canisteo, Steuben county, evince by their presence, though burdened by the weight of years, their love of home and native land. More than this, Jacob France is both precept and example to the young men and youth here today, and wherever else the story of this day's exercises shall come.
"Coming into possession of the German Bible of his grandfather, Bastian France, late in life, with which language he was wholly unacquainted, he resolved when seventy-two years old that he would learn to read the work of his and his grandfather's God in the language in which it was written, and in eighteen months had so mastered it that he was able to read the Scriptures in German, and has since read that Bible, aged a hundred and thirty-five years, twice through in course.
"Young men of Seward, of the adjoining towns and of the County, there is encouragement, cheer and inspiration to duty, in this to you, and to perseverance in whatever you may properly undertake, which insures success. David France, by his devoted labors as a minister of the gospel during fifty-two years of his life, attests at once his belief and trust in the God of his fathers, and therefore his worth and merit as a citizen and patriot.
"Among the wonderful achievements of invention and science since, in answer to patriot invocations, war's dread alarms were hushed and peace smiled over the land, I would mention those of Albert France to whom allusion has been made in the manufacture of guns and projectiles, who by his breech-loading cannon with steel-pointed ball, second to none in the world for war's dread conflict, has made the iron-clads of the world's navies but as the valueless wooden walls of ancient naval armaments.
"The clustering memories of noble deeds of patriot sires, incited and nerved by the bloody sacrifices we commemorate, the emotions of gratitude they awaken and the grand lessons they inculcate, are all too numerous for the swift flying hours, and I leave them all to say, that realizing the difference between the peace of today and the terrors of a hundred years ago, when the slumbers of innocence were broken by the fiendish war-whoops of the painted savage, and making sleepers affrighted by gleaming tomahawks or glittering scalping-knife, faithful to the teachings of the hour and the glistening memories of the past, you descendants shall here assemble in October, 1980, under the same bright stars and stripes, to rememorize the tragedies of a hundred years ago, and by the act, will, as you do now, with prayer and song, dedicate themselves and their lives to God and their native land.
"Descendants of Bastian France, to you remains, and upon you devolves a holy duty, made sacred by this day's pageant of banner and music, oratory and song. It is, that you erect to the memory of the murdered John France, a suitable monumental stone. I appeal to you and adjure you by the 'green graves of your sires,' let not another October's sun arise ere the work of love is done."
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