of State who was responsible for settling four
major international disputes, three of which
directly involved the United States
Hamilton Fish was born in New
York City on August 3, 1808. His father, Nicholas
Fish, had been an officer in the Revolutionary
War and was a prominent
Federalist politician in New York State. He
graduated from Columbia College in 1827, and was admitted to the bar in
Fish was elected as a Whig to
the U.S. House of Representatives in 1842, and
served there from 1843 to 1845. He was a Whig
candidate for Lieutenant Governor in New York in
1846, but was defeated by Addison Gardner, a
Democrat. In 1847 he was elected to fill
Gardner's seat after the latter was appointed to
the State Court of Appeals; he served as
Lieutenant Governor until January of 1849. He
subsequently served one two-year term as Governor
of New York before being elected to the U.S.
Senate. In the Senate, he opposed the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and joined the Republican Party upon
its formation. He left the Senate after one term,
in 1857. During the Civil
War, he served first on
the New York City Union Defense Committee and
then the Commission on Exchange of Prisoners.
Secretary of State
Named Secretary of State by President
Ulysses S. Grant in
1869, Fish went on to serve through Grant's
entire two-term administration. During his tenure
in this position Fish was responsible for
settling four major international disputes, three
of which directly involved the United States.
The Alabama Claims
involved the United States' claim for
compensation from Great Britain due to damages
caused to American shipping during the Civil War.
The United States demanded compensation because
several Confederate ships, including the Alabama,
had been built in Britain in violation of that
nation's neutrality declaration. According to
terms of the Treaty of Washington (D.C.), signed
in 1871, the dispute was arbitrated by an
international commission, which decided in favor
of the United States.
The San Juan
Boundary Dispute concerned the
ownership of Washington Sound, between British
Columbia and the State of Washington, and of San
Juan and other islands within it. The same Treaty
of Washington which decided the Alabama
Claims stipulated that this dispute was to
be arbitrated by the Emperor of Germany, who
decided in favor of the United States (over Great
Affair began in November 1873, when
Spain captured the American-owned vessel Virginius,
which was transporting arms to Cuban insurgents,
and executed 57 of its crew and passengers,
including eight American citizens. Fish
negotiated a settlement with Spain whereby that
nation surrendered the Virginius and its
survivors to the United States and made limited
In 1871, Fish presided over a
peace conference in Washington, D.C., that ended
sporadic warfare between Spain and the allied
republics of Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Bolivia.
In 1875, Fish virtually
incorporated the Kingdom of Hawaii into the
economic system of United States, thanks to a
reciprocity treaty with the islands.
Fish was also an early
proponent of the merit system in governmental
service, and required that all candidates for
consular service take civil-service examinations.
Hamilton Fish died in Garrison,
New York, on September 7, 1893.
All three of Fish's sons
became prominent in their own right: Nicholas
served as an Ambassador to Belgium before
becoming a banker; Hamilton, Jr., served as
Assistant Secretary of the Treasury from 1903 to
1908 and as a Congressman from New York from 1909
to 1911; and Stuyvesant began serving with the
Illinois Central Railroad in 1871 and served as
the railroad's president from 1887 to 1906.
Hamilton Fish III, son of Hamilton, Jr., was a
well-respected Congressman from New York from
1919 to 1945.
Ulysses S. Grant
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