Albert Smith White

United States Congressman and Senator

WHITE, Albert Smith, a Representative and a Senator from Indiana; born in Orange County, N.Y., October 24, 1803; graduated from Union College, Schenectady, N.Y., in 1822; studied law; admitted to the bar in 1825 and practiced; moved to Lafayette, Ind.; assistant clerk of the State house of representatives 1830-1831, and clerk 1832-1835; unsuccessful candidate for election in 1832 to the Twenty-third Congress; presidential elector on the Whig ticket in 1836; elected as a Whig to the Twenty-fifth Congress (March 4, 1837-March 3, 1839); was not a candidate for renomination in 1838; elected as a Whig to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1839, to March 3, 1845; declined to be a candidate for reelection; chairman, Committee to Audit and Control the Contingent Expenses (Twenty-seventh Congress), Committee on Indian Affairs (Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth Congress); president of several railroads; moved to Stockwell, Ind., and resumed the practice of law; elected as a Republican to the Thirty-seventh Congress (March 4, 1861-March 3, 1863); was not a candidate for renomination in 1862; appointed by President Abraham Lincoln one of three commissioners to adjust the claims of citizens of Minnesota and Dakota against the government for Indian depredations; appointed judge of the United States Court for the District of Indiana in 1864 and served until his death in Stockwell, Ind., September 4, 1864; interment in Greenbush Cemetery, Lafayette, Ind.


Albert Smith White was bom in Blooming Grove, Orange County, New York, October 24,1803. He was the son of Nathan Herrick and Frances (Howell) White. His father was graduated at Columbia College in 1791, and in 1807 was appointed first Judge of the Common Pleas Court of Orange County. This office he held until 1821, when the new constitution went into effect. On his father's side Mr. White was descended from Captain Thomas' White, who came from England to Massachusetts in 1635, and settled at Weymouth, which town, according to Farmer, he represented in the Colonial Legislature in 1636-37. He died in 1679, leaving five children, the fifth of whom was Ebenezer3, who married Hannah Phillips in 1648, and died August 24, 1703. His son and oldest child Ebenezer* was born in Weymouth in 1672, was graduated at Harvard, 1692, settled as pastor of the church at Bridge Hampton, Long Island, 1695, resigned 1748, and died 1756. His pastorate at Bridge Hampton extended through fifty-three years.

His son Sylvanus4 White was born at Bridge Hampton in 1700, was graduated at Harvard in 1722, was installed pastor of the Presbyterian Church of South Hampton, Long Island, in 1727, and held the position until his death in 1782, after a ministry in one church of fifty-five years. His wife was Phebe, the only daughter of Lieutenant Hezekiah Howell of Southampton. Their son, Sylvanus5 White, Jr., was born at Southampton, July 19, 1730. He married Eunice Herrick, October 10, 1754, and soon after removed to Orange County, New York, and settled on three hundred acres of land in Blagg's Clove.

This has remained in the family since that time as the White Homestead. Nathan Herrick' White, the son of Sylvanus, Jr., was the father of Albert Smith7 White, the subject of this memoir.

Through his mother, Frances (Howell) White, Mr. White was a descendant from Edward Howell, who came in 1639 from England to Boston, where he was made a freeman, March 4 of that year. In 1640 he became one of " the eight original undertakers who settled at Southampton, Long Island." They purchased their lands from the Shinecoc Indians, and brought to the settlement fourteen families.

The subject of this memoir had received, " bequeathed down from his ancestors," the homely but excellent virtues of industry, energy, truthfulness, the love of man and the fear of God, and with these a vigorous ambition to achieve in the schools and in the world a worthy fame. The home in which he was born and nurtured, was pervaded with an atmosphere of culture. There books were familiar friends and occupied the post of honor. Breathing such an atmosphere, it is not wonderful that from his childhood he loved books, and was filled with ambition to secure a classical education. The delicacy of his health favored the plan of turning from the plough to the text-book. Besides this, very early had his vivacious talents been recognized, and the rapidity of his acquisitions had astonished a wider circle than that which he found in his own home. And so when a mere lad he was sent to the Blooming Grove Academy to be prepared for college. At the age of sixteen he entered the sophomore class of Union College. Graduating from that institution with the highest honors in 1822, he entered upon the study of law in the office of Jonas Storey, Esq., of Newburg. Three years later he removed to Indiana, and practised his profession first in Rushville, and then for two years in Paoli, Orange County. In March, 1829, he came to La Fayette, Indiana; and except a brief residence at Stockwell, a few miles away, this was his home for the remaining thirty-five years of his life.

In the earlier part of his career in Indiana Mr. White received  some advantage from his youthful physique. A boy in appearance, he displayed power worthy of a man. He is described as " small and spare in person. He had a thin visage, a large Roman nose, and a narrow chest. Physically he was weak, intellectually he was strong. Had his career in life depended alone upon his body, he would have been a failure; but depending as it did upon his mind and heart as well, he was a success." La Fayette was then a small village of cabins in the wilderness, and was only five years old. It was settled by men of enterprise, and became the shire-town of Tippecanoe County. In 1829 the county and its shire-town were mere specks in a great wilderness. Indeed, the northern half of the State, including the capital, was a wild region, dotted here and there with a few settlements.

Mr. White speaks of the lawyers he met in Indiana in terms of the greatest respect. Several of them had a national reputation. Smith, in his " Sketches of Early Indiana," describes these lawyers as "self-made men who have not had the advantages of early education, to whom the higher seminaries and colleges were sealed books. As a class they were gifted with vigorous and clear intellects and fine health. Few of them failed of success." Mr. White became one of this strong class of men, and at once took high rank among them. While he was temperate in his habits, his conversation was so full of humor and wisdom that his company was greatly sought; and so well did he acquit himself in court, and in the social gatherings which occupied the evenings, that he made friends who helped him both in his professional and political aspirations. In five years he had made such progress that in 1834 he received the Whig nomination as a candidate for the lower house of Congress. He was defeated by a small majority.

Judge P. C. Gregory, himself an able lawyer, says of Mr. White: "He was a fine classical scholar and a critical lawyer. In his practice he was always dignified and honorable, never resorting to the tricks of the profession." This was the basis of his success, and it was supplemented by the remarkable charm of his conversation in all the circles in which he moved. In the convivial meetings of the lawyers when on the circuit, while not "mighty either at the trencher or the bowl," he was the centre of admiration as a talker. Mr. Moses Fowler, the distinguished banker, once said that "Albert S. White was the finest talker he ever heard, fluent, racy, and bright. He would sometimes hold his friends until late at night. He overflowed with charming discourse that seemed to weary neither himself nor his friends. At the bar he was not an eloquent man in the highest sense, but his cases were elaborately prepared, and so perspicuously stated that he was one of the most successful lawyers at the La Fayette Bar. It was a pleasure for his jurors and courts to follow him."

To these gifts just named must be added another scarcely less admirable, that of a delightful epistolary writer. His letters to his friends sparkled with vivacious humor, so that, whilst sometimes discussing the most important themes, he was able to illuminate them by this rare gift of humor. And this gift was the auxiliary of his conversational power, and the two did not a little in enabling him to achieve such success in his professional and political career. It cannot be too much regretted that almost all his letters have been lost.

In October, 1836, Mr. White was elected by a large majority a member of the lower house in Congress; and in November he was chosen one of the Whig electors for Indiana, and cast his vote for General William H. Harrison, who was defeated by Mr. Van Buren. During his second winter at Washington, 1838-39, occurred an exciting contest in the Indiana Legislature in balloting for a successor to General John Tipton to the United States Senate. The Whigs were in power, and there were three candidates in the field. On the thirty-sixth ballot Mr. White was elected. During his term as a representative in Congress he did not take a prominent part in debate, but was watchful of the interests of Indiana. His senatorial term was filled especially with efforts to promote internal improvements in the State. To him was largely due the great impulse given in all directions to Western Indiana. Nor did he confine himself to these, but in various resolutions and speeches helped forward the measures which did so much to develop the resources of all the Western States and Territories. On the 4th of March, 1844, his term as senator having expired, he left Congress, bearing with him the esteem and confidence of his associates.

On the 15th of July, 1845, he was elected a corresponding member of the New-England Historic Genealogical Society, an honor which was peculiarly gratifying to him, and led to some historical investigations into the early history of his own family, the results of which appear in this memoir. It is no matter of surprise that so many years of public life had broken up his practice as a lawyer, and that he should have turned his attention to the rapidly developing railroad enterprises of Indiana. For some years he was actively engaged in this way. "From its organization he was the President of the Indianapolis and La Fayette Railroad until 1856, and during three years of that time he was also the President of the Wabash and Western Railroad. He performed his duties in these positions with ability."

A stanch Whig, Mr. White was also a stanch Republican, and took an active part in the campaign of 1856, which resulted in the defeat of Mr. Fremont, and in that of 1860, which placed Mr. Lincoln in the presidential chair. He had been too intimately acquainted with politics and politicians to be an indifferent spectator of the scenes which attended that election. Conservative by nature, and connected with one of the most influential families in Virginia by marriage, he was not an abolitionist when the Rebellion broke out so furiously. But even as far back as 1845, a few days before he left the Senate, in a debate on the admission of Florida and Iowa, he had denounced the wrongs done to free colored sailors coming into Florida ports, and the national approbation of these wrongs in the constitution of a State seeking admission into the Union.

In 1860 he was elected a member of the lower house of Congress. The times were serious and the signs of coming trouble unmistakable. The Republicans of his district chose him as the man for the place and the exigency, and his two years of service, 1861-63, were among the most eventful in his career. An examination of The Congressional Globe gives evidence of his industry and his intense sympathy with the Republicans in their measures to save the country. A conservative, he was positive in his adherence to the party which was conducting the war. In January, 1864, President Lincoln nominated Mr. White, Judge of the District Court of Indiana, and the nomination was confirmed by the Senate. The time intervening before his death was too short for him to display in full measure his learning as a jurist, but so well did he, during the brief term of his office, discharge his duties as to give promise of a career on the bench worthy the just fame he had already won as a lawyer, a legislator, and a citizen.

Mr. White married, January 25, 1843, Miss Harriot Wilson Randolph of Tuckahoe, Goochland County, Virginia. The children of this marriage were, Randolph White, born November 16, 1843, died March 17, 1846; Albert Smith White, born October 4, 1844; Randolph White, born May 15, 1847; Frances Howell White, born December 28, 1849; Mary Gabriella White, born May 4, 1852. Judge White died at his residence at Stock- well after a short illness, September 4, 1864. The news was heard with universal regret, and the newspapers contained warm eulogies of him. Some of the most hearty were written by political opponents.

Mr. Wliite's services as an orator were often sought on special occasions. The last oration he pronounced was at Indianapolis on the 1st of June, 1864, "at the dedication of Crown Hill Cemetery," and is considered the finest effort of his life. It is a discourse worthy the scholar, the statesman, and the Christian orator who spoke that day so eloquently of "Christian sepulture, its beautiful rites, its Sabbath grounds, which affection has garlanded with flowers, its marble monuments, bearing the inscriptions of soothing memories, or glowing with the beautiful apostrophes to the happy state of the dear departed." " Let us then provide for our departing friends, meet and suitable abodes, a silent city, apart from the strifes of the world; let the song of birds make its groves vocal, and the jessamine and the rose shed their fragrance on the balmy air, breathing of love and innocence and hope; and let the enduring and unenvious marble tell the affecting tale of family succession and disruption to future generations."

Mr. White led too busy a life to prepare much for the press. In his practice at the bar and in Congress there was rarely occasion to resort to the press. The following are some of his more formal addresses: (1) Oration at Rushville, Indiana, July 4, 1826; (2) Speech on the Prospective Pre-emption Bill, delivered in the Senate of the United States, January 19, 1841 ; (3) Oration delivered at La Fayette, Indiana, April 17, 1841, on the occasion of the death of General William H. Harrison, President of the United States; (4) Oration, on the occasion of the Dedication of the Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, June 1, 1864.

Source: Memorial Biographies of The New England Historic Genealogical Society; Towne Memorial Fund, Volume VI, page 32; 1864-1871.  Boston; published by the Society, 1905.

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