Henry Bowen Anthony 1815-1884 - A brilliant editor and politician

During his lifetime, Henry B. Anthony, Governor of Rhode Island (1849-51) and U. S. Senator (1859-1884) was one of the state’s most powerful and enigmatic political entities.  For many years he was known and respected as the “Father of the Senate” and the power behind the Providence Journal.  He was also a controversial figure and regarded as the “boss” of Rhode Island.  Many historians, while acknowledging his ability as an orator and legislator, have been critical of his political maneuvering, his anti-Irish-Catholic prejudice, and his role in the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson.

This powerful 19th century Rhode Islander’s parents were Mary Kennicut Greene and William Arnold.  Henry’s intellectual ability was recognized early in his life.  An excellent student, he graduated from Brown University at the young age of eighteen.  While still a student, he was a frequent columnist in the Providence Journal.  As a young man, he spent a number of years in the textile industry, but soon pursued his literary and political ambitions.

Those who have admired Anthony gave him credit for being an independent thinker, a scholar, a far-sighted governor and a well-respected U. S. Senator.  He is, they say, the man who made the Providence Journal the state ' s  dominant newspaper and that he insisted that persons with views differing from the Journal's editorial policy should be given the opportunity to air their concepts in the newspaper.  He is also given credit for placing the clear, fast, and accurate dissemination of the news above profit.  The Providence Journal, 150 Years, by Garrett D. Byrnes and Charles H. Spilman, emphasize that aspect of Anthony's life by a series of quotes from his editorials and speeches.

There are many who look at Henry B. Anthony in a very different light.  They claim he was a ruthless, self-seeking political boss who used prejudice, ignorance and hatred as tools to keep his political machine in control.  Under the leadership of Anthony,

and his colleague, Charles R. Brayton, Rhode Island became one of the most corrupt states in the Union. The celebrated muckraker, Lincoln Steffens, writing of the machine of Anthony, Brayton, and Aldrich, entitled his 1905 article for McClure's Magazine, "Rhode Island: A State for Sale."

Anthony's background and personality certainly made him the most powerful man in Rhode Island and one of the most powerful in the U. S. Senate.  Henry Bowen Anthony was the son of the Coventry Company's originator, William Anthony, and the grandson of James Greene, a 5th generation descendent of Surgeon John Greene, one of the founders of Warwick.  Both his father and maternal grandfather were Quakers and very influential men in the state.

The Coventry Company, built in the section of Coventry once known as Greeneville, was one of the earliest textile companies in the United States, dating to 1806.

Most of the success of the Coventry Company is credited to William B. Anthony, Senator Henry B.  Anthony’s father.  In 1810, the Coventry Company built its second factory in Coventry and the section it was in was called Anthony in honor of the mill owner.   At the time, it was the highest building in the state as it was 125 feet long and six stories high.  The lower three levels were of brick and the upper of wood.  When the mill opened, according to Coventry historian Richard Siembab, it was strikingly illuminated by whale oil lamps at night.  This attracted visitors from all of Rhode Island who had never seen a building so dramatically lighted.

William Anthony, in addition to starting the Coventry Company and establishing the village which bears his name, was instrumental in promoting the Rhode Island Society for the Encouragement of Domestic Industry.  A semi-weekly publication of this society was the Manufacturers ' and Farmers ' Journal and Providence and Pawtucket Advertiser.  This shortly after evolved into the Providence Journal.

One of the last of the Anthony family to keep an interest in the mill was Henry B. Anthony.  Even of greater significance in his career was his eventual control of the  newspaper his father had helped establish.  After being educated in the Coventry schools, Anthony then prepared for college at a Providence seminary.  He was admitted to Brown University at age fourteen and graduated in 1833.  For a few years, he engaged in the textile industry but made it clear that his main interests were in journalism and politics.  He became an editor of the Journal at age 23 when his cousin, George W. Jackson, owner of the paper, asked Anthony to "sit in for a few weeks."  Jackson sold the paper to Knowles and Burroughs in 1838 and Anthony remained on as editor.  The "few weeks" turned into a lifetime commitment as in 1840, Anthony became a joint owner of the newspaper. On October 16, 1838, at about the same time he began his journalistic career, Anthony married Sarah Aborn Rhodes of the powerful Rhodes family of Pawtuxet. His father-in-law, Christopher Rhodes, saw the advantages of politics to the early manufacturing interests in the Pawtuxet Valley and urged Anthony to use the Providence Journal as a political and economic tool.

Henry B. Anthony became a master of using the paper’s editorial page and the weaknesses of the 1663 Constitution to further his ambition and to place him in a place of power.


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