Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — With the recent government shutdown, we have heard quite a bit of blame and name-calling by members of both parties at the federal level. Today, we rarely hear people talk about politicians who have “integrity,” a “spotless reputation,” or are “public spirited citizens.”
However, these were the words used to describe the Honorable Samuel Works, an early businessman and public servant who lived, worked and represented Lockport during the antebellum years of the 1830s to the 1860s.
This was a time of tremendous change in Lockport and across the nation and Samuel Works, though not on the national stage, was prominent in local and state politics that influenced the rest of the nation.
Samuel Works was born on December 4, 1781, in Westmoreland, N.H. He was elected to the state legislature there in 1810. After serving one term, he moved to Vermont and worked in the mercantile business. He married Hannah Pillsbury and purchased property there from his father-in-law. In 1817, he removed to West Bloomfield near Rochester, to set up business as a tanner and currier with his friend Jacob Graves.
The business was successful but Works again moved, this time to Lockport in 1831, and purchased the tannery located on the West branch of Eighteen Mile Creek, between Market and Garden streets, later the site of the Western Block Works. By 1836, Works had made a name for himself in business in Lower Town and was nominated to run for the New York State Senate that year.
It is interesting to note that within the Works papers, he recorded in October 1836 that “snow continues falling here and fell to the depth of about 4 ins. ... We shall probably have to record that in the year 1836 there were but 3 mos. without snow.”
New York politics was in flux in the 1830s. Works won the election to the state Senate from the eighth district in Lockport on the fledging Whig ticket. Other political parties represented in the Legislature included the National Republican Party, the Democratic Party, the Loco Focos (the radical wing of the Democratic party in New York state), and the Anti-Masonic party.
Works encountered men from all of these political backgrounds when he went to Albany early in 1837. He quickly became allied with Whig leaders William Seward and Thurlow Weed, boarding at Weed’s house while he was in Albany.
The most pressing issues of that time included internal improvements (how much to spend on roads, bridges, and canals); whether the United States Bank should be re-chartered (Andrew Jackson had abolished it); whether imprisonment for debt should be suspended; the use of paper money versus the silver standard; and a host of other issues.
In addition, Works had to contend with numerous office seekers sending letters touting their merits for a particular job while others warned him not to give a particular job to a certain person.
Keeping his constituents happy was not Samuel Works’ only concern while holding a seat in the Senate. In 1838, Hannah Works took ill and returned to her family in Vermont where she died on May 21. They had no children and Works returned to Albany and his term in the Legislature. In 1840 he was elected to a second term.
Also that year, Whig candidate William Henry Harrison was elected to the presidency, only to die one month after his inauguration in 1841. He was succeeded by John Tyler, a former Democrat and a southerner who was not well liked by members of his newly adopted party.
Works continued to push for more internal improvements in the Western New York region, particularly in relation to the Erie Canal, which was of particular importance to him. Once again, however, he was beleaguered by his constituents for appointments and promotions.
Works tried his best to keep himself above the political infighting in Albany, but as early as 1842, the lines were already being drawn for the 1844 presidential election. In June, Works was invited to attend and speak at a meeting in New York City “for the purpose of presenting the name of the Hon. Henry Clay of Kentucky as the Whig candidate for the Presidency of the United States.”
Dissatisfaction with the pro-Southern, former Democrat turned Whig John Tyler had grown considerably over the past year and the Whigs were anxious to disassociate themselves with Tyler and nominate Clay for the Presidency. Samuel Works was one of those who supported Clay.
NEXT WEEK: Samuel Works retires to Lockport.
Ann Marie Linnabery is the assistant director of the History Center of Niagara.