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Who Was Daniel D. Tompkins

Plaque Commemorating Tompkins at the Courthouse

Daniel Tompkins was born June 21, 1774 in Scarsdale, then a rural area. He attended Columbia College,  where he added a middle initial D. to his name to distinguish him from another student. He graduated valedictorian in 1795 and after study was admitted to the bar two years later. He married Hannah Minthorne, daughter of a merchant and politically-connected Tammany leader, and with that support Tompkins entered political life.

Tompkins was a handsome and popular man. He was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1801, and an Assemblymen, and member of the New York State Supreme Court (1804-07). He was elected the state’s fourth Governor in 1807 with support from the Clinton faction of the Republican Party, and then won the governorship over the next three elections besting Federalist Party contenders.

He was an effective leader of the New York Militia following the attack on the White House in 1813, raising local troops, and often funding them with his own money. With foresight, he fortified New York City from attack.

Tompkins supported benevolent concerns for the less fortunate: as governor, he opposed the death penalty, condemned whipping for petit larceny, and aided the passage of bills that promoted state-wide education. He supported legislation that allowed towns and counties to send the mentally ill to New York state hospitals--far better than placing them in county Poor Houses or restraining them at home. In 1817 he signed legislation that would end slavery within New York State by the year 1827, and he attempted, with little success, to protect the land remaining to Native Americans within the state, leading to a breech with DeWitt Clinton and his allies.

James Madison offered Tompkins the post of Secretary of State in 1814, which Tompkins declined. That same year, Tompkins was thrown from his horse and injured, which led to physical decline, and perhaps to his later dependence on alcohol. Still, in 1816 he sought national prominence, and surrendering the governorship, he became President James Monroe’s Vice President in 1816 and again in 1821.

Tompkins was less than careful concerning state finances and was not totally successful when he sought reimbursement for his own expenditures during the War of 1812. He was not careful, either and his own finances, and he fell into debt while under attack by the Clinton faction. He presided over the New York State Constitutional Convention in 1821.

Because of poor health, Tompkins was infrequently in Washington, although he presided over the U.S. Senate in 1819, 1822, and 1823 and ’24. He far preferred to remain on his estate in Tompkinsville on Staten Island, where he died in 1824.

Daniel Tompkins was, however, both governor of New York and Vice President of the United States in 1817 when Tompkins County was carved out of Tioga, Seneca, and Cayuga counties, and the new entity was named for him. Daniel Tompkins never came west to see the new county. In 2013 our county building, long known as the Old Court House, was named for him becoming the Governor Daniel D. Tompkins Building.

                                                                                                Carol Kammen

                                                                                                Tompkins County Historian