Friday, June 20, 2014

Epenetus Howe (1836-1909)

From the New York Legislative Souvenir of 1894.

    The New York state assembly has fielded a number of oddly named political figures in its lengthy history, and the vast number of Empire state assemblymen profiled here grows ever larger with the addition of Mr. Epenetus Howe. Aside from possessing a truly strange first name, Mr. Howe is also the proud owner of one of the most magnificent mustaches this author has ever seen! His impressive facial hair not withstanding, Epenetus Howe was a leading political figure in Tioga County, New York, representing that county in the New York State Assembly for two terms in the mid 1890s. Earlier in his political career Howe had served as a township supervisor and was a candidate of the Greenback Party for the U.S. House of Representatives, New York Secretary of State and Governor of New York.
   Epenetus Howe's birth occurred in Auburn, New York on December 6, 1836, a son of Epenetus (1798-1863) and Emeline Cooper Howe (1808-1847). His youth was spent in Auburn, New York City and Elizabeth, New Jersey, and he is recorded as having attended school "in the latter place." He engaged in the mercantile business in Tompkins County, New York until about 1852, when he returned to the town of Elizabeth. Two years later he returned to Tompkins County, settling in the village of Caroline. Howe married in 1859 to Sarah Amanda Legg (1835-1911) and the couple are noted as being childless through the duration of their fifty years of marriage.
   Howe's residence in Caroline saw him purchase a farm in 1858, operating it for a number of years, and in the mid 187os entered into local politics, being elected as Supervisor of the township of Caroline on two occasions, 1876 and 1877. In the latter year he switched political allegiance to the Greenback Party, having formerly been a voter of the Republican and Democratic tickets. The Greenback Party (based on a platform of anti-monopolies, currency reform, and farmer-labor) experienced its heyday in the late 1870s and early 1880s, running Presidential candidates on three occasions, and also fielded nearly two dozen U.S. Representatives elected between 1879 and 1888. 
    As a leading figure in the Greenback party in New York in the late 1870s, Epenetus Howe was the Greenback candidate for high office on three occasions between 1878 and 1884, the first occurring in 1878, when he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from New York's 26th district. As one of four candidates vying for the seat, Howe placed third on election day, garnering only 1,883 votes to incumbent Republican Jeremiah Dwight's winning total of 15, 559. Howe's 1880 candidacy for Secretary of the State of New York brought him another loss, being trounced by Republican Joseph B. Carr, who coasted to an easy victory with over 400,000 votes (compared to Howe's total of 16, 018). Undeterred by his two unsuccessful candidacies, Epenetus Howe announced his candidacy for the New York Governorship in 1882. Again the Greenback standard bearer, Howe placed a distant fourth in that year's contest, receiving only 11, 974 votes to Grover Cleveland's 535, 318
   In 1885 Epenetus Howe removed from Tompkins County to the neighboring county of Tioga County, New York, settling in the town of Candor. Perhaps sensing a change in the political winds of the time, Howe left the Greenback Party in 1888, when he campaigned for Benjamin Harrison, who went on to be elected President in November of that year. Howe's early years in Candor saw him become active in both the Speedsville and Candor Granges, serving as master of the latter lodge for several years.

From the 1894 New York Red Book.

   Howe returned to political life in the early 1890s when he was elected to the first of two terms as Candor town supervisor, and in November 1893 was elected as a Republican to the New York State Assembly from Tioga County, defeating his opponent Charles R. Swift by a "plurality of 1,184". His first term in the assembly saw him serve on the committees on Railroads, Insurance and Internal Affairs, with the 1894 New York Red Book noting that Howe was:
"One of the most faithful watchdogs the farming class had in the legislature, and he had attached to an Erie County bill an amendment exempting Tioga County from the cost of state troops during the Lehigh Valley strike of 1894."
   In November 1894 Howe was reelected to the assembly over Democratic candidate C.S. Carr by a vote of 4,175 to 2, 276. Taking his seat in January 1895, Howe was noted by sources of the time as being a close associate of one Thomas Collier Platt, a U.S. Representative and Senator from New York who during the 1890s was viewed as the titular "political boss" of the state Republican Party. Both Howe and Platt were Tioga County residents, and their working relationship in regards to politics eventually led to a case of political double dealing that left Epenetus Howe "the maddest man in the assembly". 
    As the New York Herald related in its January 12, 1895 edition, Howe (memorably described as having a "mustache as large as a billy-goat's whiskers") had been privy to an understanding between Platt and fellow assemblyman Hamilton Fish II that Mr. Fish was to be elected as assembly speaker. With Platt's considerable influence in state politics and assembly legislation, he instructed Epenetus Howe to vote for another potential candidate for speaker, St. Lawrence County assemblyman George R. Maltby, in order to "conceal the Platt tracks and make it appear that Mr. Platt was not for Fish." Platt had earlier informed Howe that "he would be taken care of" if he voted the way he was told, and because of this deal Howe had expected to be named as chairman of a "good committee."


Epenetus Howe, from the May 19, 1895 edition of the New York Times.

   Howe did as he was told. During the caucus for the vote for speaker he shouted his vote for Malby, who did not get the speaker ship, the post instead going to Fish. Instead of being rewarded for his actions, Howe was denied a place on the assembly's most important committees, and was instead given "second place" on the committee on Printing and "eighth place" on the committee on Ways and Means. Understandably indignant over this slight, Howe is mentioned by the New York Herald as "telling all around the assembly chamber about how badly he felt" being ignored by the newly elected speaker (Hamilton Fish) and despite this case of double dealing, quietly served out the remainder of his assembly term. 
   Epenetus Howe's term in the assembly concluded at the end of 1895 and several years after leaving office experienced a bout of ill health which eventually necessitated a stay at the Clifton Springs Sanitarium, from which he emerged "greatly improved in health" in March 1906. While he may have left the sanitarium in better health than when he had entered, Howe continued to be plagued by health troubles for the remaining years of his life, and on September 20, 1909 died at his home in Candor at age 73. His wife Sarah Amanda survived her husband by two years, dying in 1911, and following her death was interred alongside him at the Maple Grove Cemetery in Candor. This cemetery is also the resting place of Howe's parents, Epenetus Sr. and Emeline Cooper Howe.


A great example of 19th century facial hair.......Epenetus Howe (from the 1895 New York Red Book.)

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