Samuel J. Tilden
( Originally Published 1921 )
Contemporary with Mr. Hewitt was his neighbor, Samuel J. Tilden, who, as Governor of the State, and almost as President of the United States, has given the Park its greatest political distinction. During that most critical period in the history of the United States, when the election of Tilden or Hayes hung in the balance, when it was even a question whether there might not be another civil war, Samuel J. Tilden was living in the house now occupied by the National Arts Club on the southerly side of Twentieth Street, and the eyes of the nation were focused upon Gramercy Park. For years previously Tilden had been conspicuous as a political power. His public service in breaking up the Tweed Ring and in bringing many of its members to justice led to his election as Governor of the State and the reputation and confidence which he gained as a reform governor led to his nomination for the presidency. The Park often echoed to the strains of political bands and witnessed the glare of torchlight processions of enthusiastic supporters, when the headquarters of the presidential campaign of 1876-1877 was at No. 15, but no political excitement ever disturbed the Sphinx-like calm which was Tilden's most striking characteristic. When the Electoral Commission rendered against him a decision which he believed, and which many, if not a majority of his countrymen believed, was based upon fraud, he nevertheless accepted it as conclusive and advised his countrymen to do the same. Recognizing, as he must have done, the injustice of this decision as it affected him personally, his action could only have been inspired by the highest patriotism, and he should be honored as one of the very few great men of the Republic who have surrendered their highest ambition for the good of their country. Such an experience would have embittered many men, especially one who had led such a solitary existence as Mr. Tilden, but it is another evidence of his inherent nobility of character that by his will he left practically all of his large estate to the people of the City of New York for the establishment of a public library, the form of gift which he believed would be of the greatest benefit to the greatest number. This be-quest led to the consolidation of the Astor and Lenox libraries with the library proposed by Mr. Tilden, which has given New York City the Public Library, one of the City's most precious possessions.
Henry Watterson in his recently published "Looking Backward" describes Tilden as the nearest approach to an ideal statesman he had ever known, and gives a picture of him in his home :
"To his familiars Mr. Tilden was a dear old bachelor who lived in a fine old mansion in Gramercy Park. Though sixty years of age he seemed in the prime of his manhood; a genial and overflowing scholar; a trained and earnest doctrinaire ; a public-spirited, patriotic citizen, well known and highly esteemed, who had made fame and fortune at the bar and had always been interested in public affairs. He was a dreamer with a genius for business, a philosopher yet an organizer."