Marcy, William L.

Born: 1786-12-12 Southbridge, Massachusetts

Died: 1857-07-04 Ballston Spa, New York

Marcy graduated from Brown University in 1808. After graduation, he moved to Troy, New York, where he read law. In 1811, he earned admission to the bar and started a law practice in Troy. He became an ensign in the New York militia and was called into active service during in the War of 1812. Before leaving for the front, he married Dolly Newell, with whom he had three children. Dolly died in 1821 and Marcy married Cornelia Knower in 1824, with whom he had three children. He primarily served administrative duties during the war and rose to adjutant general in the militia by 1821.

A Jeffersonian Republican, Marcy wrote for anti-Federalist newspapers and secured several local government appointments. He moved to Albany in 1823 after becoming state comptroller and remained in that office until Martin Van Buren appointed him to the New York Supreme Court in 1829. Marcy won election to the U.S. Senate in 1831 where, during debates over patronage, he coined the phrase "to the victor belong the spoils." He resigned from the Senate in 1832 to successfully run for governor of New York and remained in that office until 1838, when William H. Seward replaced him. After the governorship, Marcy returned to his law practice, although he briefly served on a Washington, DC, commission in 1840 to examine claims by American citizens against Mexico.

James K. Polk appointed Marcy secretary of war in 1844, where Marcy championed Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott as commanders, despite their Whig leanings. Following Polk's administration, Marcy returned to New York where he tried to act as a moderating influence between conservative Democrats and Free Soilers. Franklin Pierce appointed Marcy secretary of state in 1852, where he most notably opposed the Ostend Manifesto and signed the Gadsden Purchase. He died shortly after leaving office while vacationing in Ballston Spa, New York.

Phyllis F. Field, "Marcy, William Learned," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 14:496-98; Ivor D. Spencer, The Victor and the Spoils: A Life of William L. Marcy (Providence, RI: Brown University Press, 1959).