Biography of James Hilton Manning


AN INDIVIDUAL who is deeply interested in the progress and advancement of the varied municipal interests of Albany is the Hon. James H. Manning, our present mayor. On the 22d day of September, 1854, he was born in this city, which he has ever since made his home. He is principally of English ancestry, and is a son of the late Hon. Daniel Manning, whose record forms so bright a page in our local and national history. His grandfather, John Manning, settled in Albany February 1, 1814, and died here April 3, 1837. His mother, whose maiden name was Mary Little, was born in Carlisle, England.

A passing notice of the Hon. Daniel Manning will not be inappropriate here as preliminary to a sketch of his now distinguished son. Born in Albany May 16, 1831, he received an early education in the public schools of the city, and when he was twelve years of age, entered the office of the Albany Argus. His natural abilities soon became known and appreciated, and he gradually rose through the various grades until he became manager of the paper. In 1873 he was made president of the Argus Company. The study ?of our banking system also engaged his attention and he soon became well versed in all great financial matters and an excellent authority on difficult questions in this department. He filled the position of trustee in the National Savings bank, and in 1881 was chosen vice-president of the National Commercial bank of Albany. On the death of Hon. Robert H. Pruyn in 1882, he succeeded him as president of the same institution. Besides his general knowledge of banking and currency he gave much thought to the working of railroad matters, and was especially interested in the success of the Albany and Susquehanna line. His political career suddenly broke forth with brilliancy and was perhaps the crowning glory of a life cut short in the midst of pressing public duties. He possessed all the necessary qualities for a leader among men, and like a skillful general planned his own movements closely, marshaled his forces and led them on to many a splendid victory. He was a member of the New York state democratic conventions from 1874 till 1884, a member of the democratic state committees from the former date till 1885, its secretary in 1879-80, and chairman in 1881-84, a delegate to the national democratic conventions of 1876, 1880 and 1884, serving as chairman of that body in 1880, and of the New York delegation to the convention of 1884, which nominated Grover Cleveland for the presidency – an event largely due to the political sagacity and bold, dashing leadership of Mr. Manning.

In March, 1885, President Cleveland appointed Mr. Manning secretary of the treasury, a position which he resigned in April, 1887, in consequence of failing health brought on by incessant hard work, without sufficient mental relaxation. He died on the 24th of December, 1887, deeply lamented by the American people. The last official appointment which he accepted was the presidency of the Western National bank of New York. As an able and sound financier as well as a successful politician his name will live in the pages of American history through coming generations.

James H. Manning, the subject of this sketch, early-evinced a fondness for study, and was first sent to the Albany public school, No. 10, of which George H. Benjamin was principal. In 1869, he entered the high school, where during four years he pursued the classical, English and mathematical courses with diligence and success, and graduated with honor in 1873. Among his schoolmates at the high school were James M. Ruso, Dean George W. Kirchwey, Prof. William D. Goewey, and other brilliant young Albanians. During his academic course he was particularly fond of the study of oratory, and on his graduation he was awarded the gold medal for the best speaker, and also received first mention for essay.

With a view of turning to some useful, practical account the knowledge he was gaining at the schools, young Manning spent two of his school vacations in the composing rooms of the Argus Company, where he readily learned the art of type-setting. In the autumn of 1873 he entered the employ of the same company as subscription clerk, continuing in this capacity until the spring of the following year, when he accepted a position on the reportorial staff of the Argus. His duties now were highly beneficial in enlarging his knowledge of Albany affairs, and in forming a wider circle of acquaintances and lasting friendships.

As a means of recreation from the daily routine of newspaper work, to learn something of a new and interesting department of science, and to gratify his strong taste for looking upon the grand and beautiful objects in natural scenery, Mr. Manning spent several summers in the Adirondack, assisting Verplank Colvin, director of the Adirondack survey. In the summer of 1887, Mr. Manning made one of the most remarkable trips known to frequenters of the Adirondacks, that of ascending and descending Mount Marcy (5,400 feet above the level of the sea) three days in succession, and going to and from the camp of his party, which was situated on the banks of Opalescent river, five miles from the foot of the mountain. This was due to the fact that, for the work he had to perform, fair weather was necessary, and it was not until the third day that the haze that had enveloped the summit of Marcy cleared off, and left the grand old peak visible from distant mountains. And in the following year he discovered a mountain close beside Lyon mountain, now called in honor of him, “Mount Manning.”

In 1875, Manning’s official relations with military affairs began when he joined the national guard as a member of Company A, 10th regiment, John H. Reynolds being captain of the company, and Robert S. Oliver, colonel of the regiment. He was appointed sergeant-major of the regiment by Colonel Oliver, in February, 1877. The next spring he was commissioned commissary of subsistence with rank of first lieutenant of the 10th regiment, Amasa J. Parker, Jr., colonel commanding. He is now a member of General Parker’s third brigade staff. Mr. Manning was one of the organizers and charter members of the old guard, Albany Zouave cadets, and was president of the organization.

Other offices and honors were gracefully and worthily bestowed upon him. In 1873 he was elected secretary of the Albany railway, and in 1884 a director of the same company. He is also a director of the Albany and Susquehanna railroad. He is a trustee of the National Savings bank, a director of the National Commercial bank, and of the Park bank, of which he was one of the organizers. He has been a manager and vice-president of the Young Men’s association, and is now a life member; a member of the Anglers’ association, Friendly Few, Apollo Singing society. Temple lodge No. 14, F. and A. M., and the Fort Orange club. He is an original member of the High School Alumni association, of which he was president in 1882. He is a vestryman of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Lancaster Street. He was appointed by Governor Hill, in 1887, a member of the state Civil Service commission – a position which he resigned at the close of 1889.

On May 19, 1877, on the publication of the Sunday Argus Mr. Manning was made its managing editor, continuing at the same time his work upon the daily paper. In 1880 he was admitted to the Argus Company; but in 1881 he partially relinquished his newspaper work to accept the position of manager, secretary and treasurer of the Bonsilate Button Company. In 1883 he resigned from this company, and immediately took his place as managing editor of the Argus, and in 1888 he became president of this flourishing company – a position which for the past seven years he has filled with credit to himself and fidelity to the democratic party in the columns of his paper – the leading local organ of the party.

All the offices of public trust and honor Mr. Manning has held during the past twenty years he earned by his own true merit, inflexible integrity, and persistent endeavor in the way of business.

Mr. Manning was born and bred a democrat, and has given to the party and its candidate’s unyielding and earnest support. And in recognition of his increasing popularity among all classes he was unanimously nominated by the democrats in April, 1890, for mayor of Albany, and elected by the unprecedented majority of 7,236.

On the 6th of May he assumed the duties of his office as the successor of Hon. Edward A. Maher, and with the best wishes of all good citizens for a successful administration.

The conclusion of his inaugural address contains these well-chosen words:

“We enter today upon the performance of grave duties, and good or harm will come to the city as we discharge those duties faithfully or neglect them and prove faithless. The obligation we have assumed, sanctified by the solemn oaths which we have taken, is one ever to be born in mind during the coming two years, and must at all times out-weigh all other considerations in determining our line of conduct. The opportunities to benefit Albany are numerous and great, and I confidently hope that the common council and the executive branch of the city government will be found at all times heartily in accord in improving those opportunities for the welfare of this ancient and honorable municipality.”

Mr. Manning was one of the five original reorganizers of the Albany railway, who succeeded in introducing what is called the electric plant, now hailed with such evident satisfaction by our citizens generally and the success of which is already fully assured.

As to his personal appearance Mr. Manning is of the ordinary size, with a pleasing thoughtful countenance, genial in his social intercourse with the people, industrious and studious in his habits, unblemished in his reputation, a lover of mental labor and of athletic, outdoor sports. His public services have been thus far signally rewarded by his fellow-citizens, and in the future other and brighter laurels will, in all probability, be gathered to grace his manly-brow.

On the 22d of October, 1879, Mr. Manning married Miss Emma J. Austin, a daughter of the late well-known Dr. J. C. Austin of this city. They have one child, a girl ten years of age.



Noted living Albanians and state officials , A series of biographical sketches. 1891.

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