William H. Robertson

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William Henry Robertson
William H. Robertson New York.jpg
Former State Senator from New York
From: 1888–1889
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Former Collector of the Port of New York
From: 1881–1885
Predecessor Edwin A. Merritt
Successor Edward L. Hedden
Former President pro tempore of the of the New York State Senate
From: 1874–1881
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Former State Senator from New York
From: 1872–1881
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Former U.S. Representative from New York's 10th Congressional District
From: March 4, 1867 – March 3, 1869
Predecessor William Radford
Successor Clarkson N. Potter
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Margaret G. Seath
(died 1890)
Harriet McKee

William Henry Robertson (October 10, 1823 – December 6, 1898), also known as W. H. Robertson,[1] was a lawyer and Republican from New York who was the state's U.S. representative from the 10th congressional district for one term, spanning 1867–69. He later served in the state Senate for nine years, where he became president pro tempore.

Robertson was known to have allied with the GOP Half-Breed faction,[2][3] which as a whole supported moderate civil service reform[4] and emphasized the issues of protectionist tariffs as well as industry.


Robertson was born on October 10, 1823 in Bedford, New York. After completion of common schools, he studied law at Bedford Union Academy, and was admitted to the state bar in 1847.

Following his admission, Robertson began practicing law in White Plains, New York.

Political career

During the 1840s and 50s, Robertson served in the New York legislature, being an assemblyman (1849–50) and state senator (1854–55) for one term each. He proceeded to become the Westchester County judge for twelve years, during which he was also tasked with inspecting the state militia's 7th Brigade for a number of years.

In the 1866 midterms, Robertson ran for and was successfully elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 10th district, defeating incumbent Democrat William Radford by nine percentage points.[5] Little if any particularly notable details were recorded of his House record, during which he missed 27% of roll call votes.[6] He did not seek a second term in the 1868 elections, retiring from Congress.

Robertson unsuccessfully ran for Governor of New York in 1872 and 1879, both times failing to obtain the party nomination. He blamed his defeat in the '72 race on U.S. senator Roscoe Conkling.[7]

Stalwarts vs. Half-Breeds, President Garfield hands post to Robertson

During the 1880 presidential election, the conservative pro-spoils system Stalwarts led by Conkling feuded with the Half-Breeds led by Sen. James G. Blaine over the Republican Party nomination.[2] The Stalwarts favored a third non-consecutive term for Radical Republican former president Ulysses S. Grant, while speculating that the Half-Breeds would push for nominating Blaine. Robertson was a leader of the the latter "reformer" faction opposed to the idea of nominating Grant,[8] and voiced his staunch support for Blaine.[9]

Ultimately, the Half-Breeds successfully nominated dark house candidate James A. Garfield, who promised to appease the Stalwart agenda during the campaign to ensure party unity.[2] Once elected president, Garfield betrayed his vows, an example being his appointment of Robertson to New York Collector of the Port and customhouse head without consulting Sen. Conkling[3][10] in a rebuke of the latter's political machine.[2]

William H. Robertson bioguide.jpg

According to liberal historian Heather C. Richardson, Conkling was "undoubtedly personally affronted."[10] The Stalwart leader publicly opposed Garfield's appointment of Robertson by arguing that presidents were expected to obtain the agreement of senators from the states they sought to give positions to, though Richardson states:[10]

What was really at stake, was whether or not Conkling would control New York.

—Heather Cox Richardson

Conkling and his New York senatorial colleague Thomas C. Platt resigned from their seats in protest, expecting to be immediately elected to their same positions by the state legislature that would serve as a rebuke to President Garfield.[2] They instead were simply outmaneuvered by the Half-Breeds within the legislature,[3] which ended Conkling's career in politics.[11]

Death and interment

Robertson died in Katonah, New York in early December 1898. He is interred at Union Cemetery, located in Bedford.

See also

  • Stephen B. French, a Stalwart whom Robertson quarreled with over the "proxy" incident


  1. Welch, Richard E., Jr. (1971). George Frisbie Hoar and the Half-Breed Republicans, p. 102. Harvard University Press.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 About the Vice President | Levi Parsons Morton, 22nd Vice President (1889-1893). United States Senate. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Dwyer, Owen. Stalwarts vs. Half-Breeds: Charisma and Vindictiveness in 19th Century Politics. Aspects of History. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  4. Fascinating Politics (October 26, 2019). James G. Blaine: The Defeated Candidate. Mad Politics: The Bizarre, Fascinating, and Unknown of American Political History. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  5. NY District 10 Race - Nov 06, 1866. Our Campaigns. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  6. Rep. William Robertson. GovTrack.us. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  7. The Remarkable Roscoe, Part II. National Park Service. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  8. The Remarkable Roscoe: Friend and Nemesis of Presidents (Part I). National Park Service. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  9. The Remarkable Roscoe, Part III. National Park Service. Retrieved November 15, 2021.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 Stalwarts, Half Breeds, and Political Assassination. National Park Service. Retrieved November 12, 2021.
  11. Both New York Senators Resign. United States Senate. Retrieved November 14, 2021.

External links