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Samuel J. Tilden
William Ordway Partridge (1861–1930) sculpted this bronze, larger-than-life figure of attorney and public servant Samuel Jones Tilden (1814–1886). It was dedicated October 5, 1926.
Tilden was born on February 9, 1814 in New Lebanon, Columbia County, New York. As an undergraduate, he studied at both Yale University and the University of the City of New York (now New York University). Tilden was admitted to the bar in 1841 and he practiced law in New York City. His high-profile clients included more than half the railway corporations north of the Ohio and between the Hudson and Missouri Rivers. Although he probably did not graduate from any law school, Yale University awarded him an honorary L.L.B. in 1875.
Tilden was active in city, state, and national politics. Elected to the state assembly in 1845, he also served in the Constitutional Convention of 1846 and ran on the Democratic ticket for Attorney General in 1855. He was a member of the Free Soil movement, which fought the extension of slavery into U.S. Territories. In 1863, Tilden moved into a home on Gramercy Park. He combined that house with an adjacent townhouse in 1874 to form a mansion where he lived for the remainder of his life. The mansion has been the home of the National Arts Club since 1905.
By 1868, Tilden had assumed the leadership of the Democratic Party in New York State. In 1870, he launched a high-profile attack on the Tweed Ring, which had dominated New York City government from 1860 to 1871. Tilden helped to impeach several judges, exposed the plunder amassed by certain Tweed officials, prosecuted many of them on behalf of the state, and described the Ring’s illegal dealings in the pages of the New York Times.
Campaigning as a reform candidate for the Democrats, Tilden was elected Governor of New York State in 1874. His anti-corruption platform won him the Democratic presidential nomination in 1876. Although Tilden won a majority of the popular vote, he lost the Electoral College vote, 185-184, to Rutherford B. Hayes. The 1876 election was widely regarded as having been stolen by the Republicans, who formed the majority of the commission that was appointed to determine the vote of three Southern states, each of which had two sets of electors. Tilden died at his country home, known as Greystone, in Yonkers on August 4, 1886.
Tilden left a fortune of several million dollars. His bequest of his large book collection, as well as six million dollars, ultimately led to the creation of the New York Public Library. He also set aside $50,000 for a commemorative statue to be erected in his honor. Tilden’s heirs contested his will, squandering much of his amassed wealth in the process, and delayed both his bequest to the library and the installation of this statue. Disagreement over the site as well as disputes between the sponsors and the sculptor postponed installation of the monument a staggering 40 years after Tilden’s death. The original design by architects Wilder and White placed the monument within an exedra located at Park Avenue and 34th Street, but extant plans for street improvements at that spot forced the designers to this alternative location.
The Tilden statue is one of more than a dozen monuments that grace Riverside Drive. William Ordway Partridge depicted Tilden in a solemn stance, his hand resting on a copy of the United States Constitution. One of Tilden’s biographers said that this document was, along with Jefferson’s writings, his “Mother Goose.” Given his disputed loss in the Electoral College, the inscription in the pedestal is not without irony: it reads, “I trust the people.” The sculpture is set within a terrace paved with river stone, and is framed by Stony Creek pink granite benches. Partridge also sculpted the statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton on the campus of Columbia University, as well as the Grant equestrian statue in Brooklyn’s Grant Square Gore.
Samuel J. Tilden Details
- Location: Riverside Drive at 112th Street
- Sculptor: William Ordway Partridge
- Architect: Wilder & White
- Description: Statue on pedestal
- Materials: Bronze, Stony Creek granite
- Dimensions: 20'h x 40"w x 20"d
- Dedicated: 1926
- Donor: Trustees of Tilden Estate
- Inscription: SAMUEL J. TILDEN / 1814-1886 / PATRIOT-STATESMAN / LAWYER-PHILANTHROPIST / GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK / DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE / FOR THE / PRESIDENCY / 1876 / "I TRUST THE PEOPLE"
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