Levi P. Morton was born in Shoreham Vermont on May 16th, 1824. His father Daniel was a minister in the Congregational Church. After a basic education he dropped out of school and went to work in a dry goods store. He moved around to various states and eventually settled in New York City where he became the leading importer and exporter of Southern cotton and opened a successful bank. During the Civil War he was recruited to negotiate a peace settlement with the British after they violated the Neutrality Agreement by smuggling weapons to the South.
Morton entered into politics when he ran for congress in 1876 but he lost the election. However he had made friends with Senator Conkling, the boss of the Republican machine in New York. As part of the patronage system President Hays named him the U.S. representative to the Exposition Universelle, The Paris Exposition of 1878. When he returned he was elected to the U.S. House where he represented Manhattan as a Republican, although he mostly represented the interests of his bank and his foreign partners.
In 1880 he was offered the Vice President candidacy but infighting resulted in a split vote and the Conkling machine maneuvered Chester A. Arthur onto the ticket, ironically after the election Garfield was shot and Morton would have become President had he been nominated. Garfield cut a deal with Morton, offering him the position of Secretary of the Treasury if he guaranteed New York for the Republicans however after the election Garfield claimed there had been no offer. Garfield tried to appease Morton by offering him the position of Secretary of the Navy but he passed. Eventually Morton accepted the position of Minister of France. His most notable action as ambassador was formally accepting the gift of the Statue of Liberty.
While Morton was out of the country Garfield was shot by Guiteau and the patronage system came under investigation. During the 1884 election he supported James G. Blaine over Arthur however the fractured Republican Party plus an anti Catholic attitude from the New York machine resulted in a Democratic win. The new Platt machine, that had taken control of the New York party tried to get Morton elected to the Senate in 1885 however there were enough Democrats and disgruntle Republicans who felt left out of Platt’s schemes to block his nomination. Morton’s name was offered as a candidate again in 1887 however there was a three way split so he decided to withdraw for party unity, plus it left him open to try for the Vice Presidency in 1888.
In 1888, due to his health, Blaine passed on the offer to run for President so the Republicans nominated William Henry Harrison, grandson of Benjamin Harrison. Since he needed to carry New York the Republicans caved in to Platt and accepted Morton as the Vice Presidential candidate and after a close election Harrison beat Cleveland. As Vice President Morton oversaw a Senate that had been dubbed The Millionaires Club, wealthy businessmen has used their power to sway elections in order to control Congress and push through an agenda favorable to their interests. Morton mostly saw his roll as an overseer and advisor and did little to try to influence how the Senate voted. When the Democrats filibustered the Force Bill, guaranteeing the rights of Blacks to vote in the South, Morton stayed on the sidelines and did little to lead the Republicans; this would have an impact on his political future.
When Harrison ran for reelection in 1892 he was angry at Morton for failing to push the Force Bill in congress and decided to dump him from the ticket. The Republicans chose Whitelaw Reid however the party had become divided between the Harrison supporters and the Old Guard that supported Blaine. In the end Cleveland became the first President to be elected non-consecutively.
After the election Platt threw his support behind Morton for the Governorship of New York and in 1894 he won the election. As governor he passed many business friendly laws and kept up the practice of supporting Platt’s political machine in his appointments. In 1896 Platt tried to get Morton on the Republican ticket as President in order to block McKinley, who was pushing for sliver reform which Platt opposed, however they were unable to overcome the new guard that was taking control of the party. After the election Morton decided to retire and sold his interests in his bank, the Morton Guaranty Trust Company to J.P. Morgan. The bank was merged into Chase Manhattan and his name was taken off the company. Morton faded into obscurity and died in 1920 on his 96th birthday. He was buried in Rhinebeck New York.
So ends the life of another obscure Vice President. He was part of one of the most corrupt eras in American politics but his overall influence on the office was practically non existent. And I promise as Vice President you won’t even realize I’m in office, and I will accept legal gifts but not bribes, really nice legal gifts.