Aurore Eaton's Looking Back: Frederick Smyth gives Abraham Lincoln the nudge he needs to run
Despite his popularity, Frederick Smyth declined to run for a fourth mayoral term. He was concerned about the plight of the state's vagrant children, so in 1854 he was pleased to be appointed by the governor to lead a commission to establish a "house of reformation for juvenile offenders."
Smyth wrote that this was "truly a great and good work, worthy of the cooperation of all who desire the good of the community."
The institution would rescue girls and boys from the "felons' doom.It is to take those who would otherwise fill our jails and place them in an institution where they will be both morally and physically trained; away from the vicious influences of the hardened convict.and where all reasonable efforts will be made to prepare them to earn an honest livelihood."
The state of New Hampshire bought the 100-acre Stark farm, located along the Merrimack River in the northeast section of Manchester. Suitable buildings were erected, and the new facility opened in 1858. This institution continues to exist as the Sununu Youth Services Center.
Smyth served as a state representative for Ward 3 in 1857-1858. His life after this focused on his business interests, including investing in railroads and banks. He also indulged his abiding passion for agriculture by becoming involved in state and national societies. Smyth organized large agricultural fairs in Richmond, Chicago and St. Louis. He enjoyed a trip to England in 1862 where he attended the annual exhibition of the Royal Agricultural Society. He traveled the British countryside to observe local farming practices, including ingenious methods for collecting and spreading manure for fertilizer.
Smyth was an early leader in the Republican Party in New Hampshire. He believed that the Union should remain strong, and he opposed the spread of slavery. When he was president of the Republican City Club of Manchester in early 1860, he invited Abraham Lincoln to speak in Manchester. Lincoln agreed to come on the evening of March 1 to speak at Smyth's Hall, located in a business block on Elm Street co-owned by Smyth. Lincoln was in New Hampshire to spend time with his son Robert, who attended Phillips Exeter Academy.
Lincoln was scheduled to speak in Concord, New Hampshire, on the afternoon of March 1. When his train stopped in Manchester, Smyth joined him and accompanied him throughout the day. On the train ride back to Manchester, Lincoln asked Smyth what he should talk about that evening. Smyth replied, "Say the same thing you said at Concord, as near as possible." "That," replied Lincoln, "I cannot do, as I never wrote out a political speech, or made two alike."
Smyth's Hall was packed when Lincoln came onto the stage. Smyth introduced him as "The next President of the United States!" Lincoln had not yet decided to run, so he was surprised by this pronouncement. The audience listened intently to Lincoln's words, as he spoke logically and persuasively against the spread of the institution of slavery. Even those who did not support his positions were impressed by his rhetorical ability and political know-how.
After the event, Smyth accompanied Lincoln to the City Hotel, which was located across Elm Street from Smyth's Hall. Smyth and Lincoln talked for another hour or so about national politics. Lincoln commented on Smyth's introduction, "But of course, you didn't mean anything?" Smyth replied that he did, indeed, mean it - that if Lincoln had made as good an impression in other states as he had in New Hampshire, he was sure to win the nomination. Lincoln replied, "No! No! That is impossible.I do not believe that three states will vote for me in the convention." Abraham Lincoln would, of course become the Republican candidate and would be elected president on November 6, 1860.
Frederick Smyth brought Lincoln for a tour of the Amoskeag Millyard the day after his speech. Afterward, the two men remained cordial, and Smyth visited Lincoln in the White House on several occasions during the Civil War. Smyth's biographer wrote "(these visits) were all pleasant, seasoned as they were with the anecdotes for which the first martyr President was so noted, and which he used as parables for the expression of his thoughts."
Next week: The Gettysburg battlefield, and a reluctant fourth term as mayor.
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at firstname.lastname@example.org