Henry Bowen Anthony 1815-1884 - Part III
Henry B. Anthony could be a powerful friend or a devastating enemy. Two men who saw both sides of the senator were Charles Brayton and William Sprague.
Very few will deny that Anthony and the "Journal Ring", as his colleagues were often called, controlled Rhode Island politics through patronage and propaganda. Senator Anthony's position on the committee for Post Offices and Post Roads, and his influence in obtaining liberal pensions for Civil War Veterans and their widows as President pro-tempore of the Senate in 1863, 1871, and 1884, provided a great deal of patronage for Rhode Island. His appointment of Charles R. Brayton of Warwick to key positions in the Post Office and Pension office in the state enabled Brayton to control the Republican Party in Rhode Island for Anthony. The benefit to mill owners, who supported Brayton and Anthony, was great and helped to foster the growth of the textile industry during the period following the Civil War.
On occasion, Anthony's ponderous political power was challenged, but usually Anthony had the last word. One excellent example is that of William Sprague, the young millionaire who wanted to be governor in 1860. Anthony preferred Seth Padelford and kept the Republican nomination from Sprague. In defiance of the political machine, Sprague ran as a Democrat and, by spending a considerable fortune, was successful. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Sprague as governor supported Lincoln and the Republican Party as did most New England politicians. In 1863, Sprague with the help of Anthony was elected U.S. Senator by the Rhode Island General Assembly. His popular appeal could not be denied and for a while Anthony and Sprague were on friendly terms. When the Radical Republicans in Congress impeached Andrew Johnson, Senator Anthony with some reluctance, was a staunch supporter of those who wanted to see the Senate find Johnson guilty and remove him from office. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Salmon Portland Chase, Sprague's father-in-law, felt the proceedings against Johnson were disgraceful and convinced Sprague to vote against removing Johnson. Anthony, and other Republican leaders, by various political threats forced Sprague to change and break his promise to Chase. Fortunately, six Republicans defied the party and voted with the Democrats and Johnson remained in office.
Within a year, Sprague, perhaps disillusioned with politics and suffering from a guilty conscience, lashed out against Anthony and Rhode Island politicians and businessmen. He charged that Rhode Island was controlled by the Brown and lves family and the Providence Journal, which he said was run "by my colleague." Anthony denied the charges and the Providence Journal portrayed Sprague as a madman and a drunkard. Sprague's political career came to an end and in 1873, when he unsuccessfully attempted to borrow money on his considerable assets; he was refused by Rhode Island banks. Because of this, as well as serious blunders by Sprague, the great A & W Sprague textile empire collapsed. Anthony, using his well entrenched political machine, had no difficulty in replacing Sprague with Ambrose Burnside in 1874.
Anthony remained in the U. S. Senate until his death in 1884. He had carefully trained and promoted Charles R. Brayton to control the political machine in Rhode Island and nurtured the career of Nelson W. Aldrich who succeeded him as the power in the Senate and in Rhode Island. Long after Anthony died, his political machine continued to support the textile manufacturers and the rural interests in Rhode Island at the expense of the immigrants and the urban areas.
To some, he was a "pillar of society", while to others he was a knave and a rogue.