Facts and Events
Hamilton Fish (August 3, 1808September 7, 1893) was an American statesman and politician who served as the 16th Governor of New York, a United States Senator and United States Secretary of State. Fish has been considered one of the best Secretaries of State in the United States' history, known for his judiciousness and reform efforts during the Grant Administration. Fish settled the controversial Alabama Claims with Great Britain through his development of the concept of international arbitration. Fish kept the United States out of war with Spain over Cuban independence by coolly handling the volatile Virginius Incident. In 1875, Fish initiated the process for Hawaiian statehood, by having negotiated a reciprocal trade treaty for the island nation's sugar production. Fish organized a peace conference and treaty in Washington D.C. between South American countries and Spain. Fish worked with James Milton Turner, America's first African American consul, to settle the Liberian-Grebo war. President Grant stated that Hamilton Fish, above all, was the person whom he most trusted for political advice.
Fish came from a prominent wealthy New York family and attended Columbia College of Columbia University. Upon graduation, Fish passed the bar, worked as New York's commissioner of deeds, and ran unsuccessfully for New York State Assembly as a Whig candidate in 1834. After his marriage, Fish returned to New York politics in 1843 and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. Fish ran for New York's Lieutenant Governor in 1846, however, he was defeated by a Democratic Anti-Rent Party contender. When the office was vacated in 1847, Fish ran and was elected Lieutenant Governor. In 1848 Fish ran and was elected Governor of New York having served only one term. In 1851, Fish was elected U.S. Senator for the state of New York and served only one term. Fish gained valuable experience serving on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. During the 1850s Fish became a Republican after the Whig party dissolved. In terms of the slavery issue, Fish was a moderate; having disapproved of the Kansas Nebraska Act and the expansion of slavery.
After traveling to Europe, Fish returned to America and supported Abraham Lincoln as the Republican candidate for President in 1860. During the American Civil War Fish raised money for the Union war effort and served on Lincoln's presidential commission that made successful arrangements for Union and Confederate troop prisoner exchanges. Fish returned to his law practice, after the Civil War, and was thought to have been retired from political life. When Ulysses S. Grant was elected President in 1868, he appointed Fish as U.S. Secretary of State in 1869. Fish took on the State Department with vigor, reorganized the office, and established civil service reform. During his 8-year tenure, Fish had to contend with Cuban belligerency, the settlement of the Alabama claims, Canadian border disputes, and the Virginius Incident. Fish implemented a new concept of international arbitration, where disputes between countries were settled by negotiations, rather than military conflicts. Fish was involved in a political feud between Sen. Charles Sumner and President Grant's unsuccessful controversial attempt for the annexation of the Dominican Republic. Fish organized a naval expedition in an unsuccessful attempt to open trade with Korea in 1871. Leaving office and politics in 1877, Fish returned to private life and continued to serve on various historical associations. Fish's male descendants would later serve in the U.S. House of Representatives for three generations. Fish died of old age in his luxurious New York State home in 1893.