William Learned Marcy

Marcy, William Learned, 1786–1857, American politician, b. Southbridge, Mass. He settled in Troy, N.Y., where he practiced law and, after serving in the War of 1812, held local offices. A Democrat and a partisan of Martin Van Buren, Marcy entered the political group known as the Albany Regency, of which he soon became a dominant figure. He served as state comptroller (1823–29) and as justice of the state supreme court (1829–31) before he entered (1831) the U.S. Senate. There he made a famous speech supporting the nomination of Van Buren as minister to England: his defense of Van Buren's methods of patronage with the claim that "to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy" supposedly gave rise to the term "spoils system." Marcy served (1833–39) as governor of New York for three terms and was a member (1840–42) of the Mexican Claims Commission. He was Secretary of War (1845–49) under President Polk and conducted that office efficiently during the Mexican War. He had drifted into opposition to Van Buren and headed the Hunkers, a faction of the New York Democratic party. The peak of Marcy's career was reached when he served as Secretary of State (1853–57) under President Pierce. He handled many delicate problems, including the Gadsden Purchase, negotiations concerning the Black Warrior affair with Spain, and the trouble arising from the filibustering expedition of William Walker in Nicaragua. He condemned the Ostend Manifesto, but he managed to maintain a neutral attitude in the rising dispute over slavery.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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