REPRESENTATIVE AND LEADING
MEN OF THE PACIFIC
CALEB T. FAY
By THE EDITOR.
From the date of the admission of California into the Union until a very recent period, this gentleman has been engaged in the successful prosecution of mercantile pursuits in the cities of Sacramento and San Francisco. His ancestors were among the early Massachusetts pioneers, and settled in the Eastern part of that State about the year 1640. His father was a merchant and farmer, and qualified all his sons for both occupations.
CALEB T. FAY was the fifth son of eight children, having six brothers and a sister. He was born at Southborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts, on the 13th day of April, 1821. He worked on his father’s farm and attended a common school and academy until he attained majority; he then entered upon mercantile business, to which he applied himself for seven years. When he was twenty-eight years of age, the “fever” consequent upon the discovery of gold in California, began to rage in Massachusetts with nearly as much violence as in New York; and, yielding to its influence, Mr. Fay left Boston early in the spring of 1849, bound for the Pacific by way of Cape Horn. He felt that he was taking leave of the “land of steady habits,” to struggle amid a multitude of adventurous men, intoxicated by excitement and spurred by the ardent desire for gain, to return, after a few years’ hardships, with or without fortune, to his and his father’s home.
He little thought he was to be one of the pioneers of a great empire, to whose development his efforts, in coming years, would be devoted; particularly, when he reflected that, twenty-one years before his departure, a ship had sailed out of Boston harbor bound for Monterey, California, manned by American seamen and commanded by American officers. Verily does the record of our PIONEERS reach far back into the PAST.
After six months’ sailing on the Ocean—a period so long that he had become almost reconciled to his “home on the deep”—Mr. Fay arrived at San Francisco on the same day that the representatives of the people, in Congress assembled, welcomed California into the family of federal States. He did not tarry at the Bay City, but pushed on up the Sacramento river to the city of that name. There he immediately opened a house for the transaction of the business of buying and selling merchandise on commission. This business he followed in Sacramento for two years; at the end of that time moving to San Francisco, where he has ever since resided.
During his residence at Sacramento, Mr. Fay, on account of his exemplary habits, and strict attention to business, was universally esteemed as a merchant of shrewdness and foresight, and a man of strict integrity. He maintained his popularity, notwithstanding he bore the name of abolitionist—a title not very acceptable in those days. The following incident will be found interesting, as explaining the reason why this name was given him.
It will be remembered that, upon the admission of California into the Union as a free-labor State owners of slaves then in the State were allowed by law a limited time within which they might remove their slaves. Sometime in 1851 a slaveholder advertised in the Sacramento papers that he had for sale a negro man for whom he was willing to take one hundred dollars; that he would be for sale for a certain number of days, and that, if the negro were not purchased in that time, he would be sent back to Alabama to continue a life of bondage;—adding to the announcement the statement that those gentlemen who favored the abolition of slavery and professed so much sympathy for the negro would, now have an opportunity to show their philanthropy and generosity.
Mr. Fay, upon reading the advertisement, determined to liberate the darkey. He saw Mr. Winans, his attorney, now a lawyer of San Francisco, and showed him the notice—stating to him that he proposed to buy the negro as soon as he would prepare the necessary papers. Mr. Winans asked to be “let into that speculation,” “Very well,” said Mr. Fay, “I am ready to pay the entire sum, but if you really wish to join me, we will both pay an equal amount, and let the fellow go free.” Mr. Winans prepared the proper document and the two gentlemen—practical abolitionists—waited on the “massa,” paid the full sum asked, and bade “Julius Cćsar” go on his way rejoicing.
This transaction became generally known, and a great many people believed that a man who gave money to liberate one slave, would go to any lengths to abolish slavery. They styled Mr. Fay an abolitionist, and indeed he was one, but not in the contracted sense the term then denoted. He always hated slavery, yet was entirely free from prejudice against the Southern people. He hailed them as “Americans, one and all.” It was not for the humiliation of the slave-holding population, but for the destruction of the “peculiar institution,” that he prayed. In a speech delivered many years after the transaction just mentioned, Mr. Fay used these terse and compact expressions:
“It has been said that I am an abolitionist. To this I answer, I believe in the doctrines taught by Thomas Jefferson, the apostle of liberty, and I endorse the Declaration of Independence. I believe in the dignity and honor of free labor, and repudiate slave labor as degrading and unjust both to white and black; I believe in the Divine right of self-government, and that submission to the will of the majority is loyalty to liberty, while a rebellion against a constitutional majority is a strike for despotism. I believe Andrew Jackson’s words when he swore, by the Eternal, that rebellion in South Carolina should be crushed. But I do not now advocate and never have advocated, an invasion of the constitutional rights of the South. I endorse the language of Henry Clay who said ‘that slavery should never be extended by any act, word or vote of his.’ I believe that if the seceded States had presented their grievances to Congress, in a respectful, legitimate, constitutional manner—their grievances, if genuine, would have been respectfully heard, and either satisfactory redressed, or silenced by peaceful separation. But a dictatorial war-policy has been inaugurated by the secessionists, and they must abide the consequences. Our National flag must again float upon the towers of thirty-four States—for this is the will of the sovereign people. These are my sentiments in short hand. Whatever name they entitle me to, I am willing to accept.”
Upon his removal to San Francisco, Mr. Fay continued the business of commission merchant for seven or eight years. He always attended closely to his business duties, and was rewarded with considerable success; however, his mercantile employments, though fully discharged, never monopolized his time. He watched with interest the course of public men, the progress of political parties, and events of national importance. His opinions on public measures, though generally in advance of public sentiment, were always expressed candidly and firmly. From early manhood he had been friendly to the free soil movement. When the Republican party was organized in California, it owed its efficiency in a great degree to his help and countenance.
In 1860, Mr. Fay received the Republican nomination for Mayor of San Francisco. At the time, as had been the case for several years previously, the municipal government was entirely controlled by the powerful organization known as the “People’s Party.” Mr. Fay had been an active supporter of this party, as well as thousands of other Republicans who did not desire that politics should enter at all into the local elections. But the more enthusiastic and resolute of the Republicans determined to maintain their party organization intact, and go before the people with a full ticket nominated on the Republican platform. Mr. Fay, as stated, was nominated for Mayor. In his letter of acceptance, the nominee gave, as the reason for leaving the People’s Party organization, “the low abuse that has been heaped upon high-minded, honorable Republicans who happen to differ in opinion with the People’s Party relative to local nominations.” He further, suggests that the question: Are you a republican? be put to the People’s nominee.” The question was formally put to Mr. Teschemacher, who returned an evasive answer. Thereupon Mr. Fay led his little battalion into the field, and as was expected, was mercilessly slaughtered by superior numbers.
The following year, the Republicans, proud of their leader’s conduct in the last election, again placed him before the people as a candidate for Mayor, but the result was a second defeat at the hands of the old foe.
Mr. Fay represented San Francisco in the lower branch of the California Legislature, in the winter of 1861-62. He entered the halls of legislation with REFORM as his motto. At that time nearly every State official was (in Mr. Fay’s opinion, at least) receiving compensation far beyond his due. Upon the organization of the Assembly, Mr. Fay suggested the idea, and procured the appointment of a RETRENCHMENT COMMITTEE, of which he became the chairman. He immediately submitted to this committee a bill which he had prepared, to reduce the pay of State officers, members of the Legislature, Judges, Clerks &c., looking to a sweeping reduction in government expenditures.
This bill was approved by the committee and introduced into the Assembly. Upon its consideration, a severe struggle ensued between the champions and enemies of reform. The author of the measure labored untiringly to secure its passage. The difficulties and embarrassments with which he had to contend, were enough to discourage and even appall a heart less stout and determined. There was an organized and powerful opposition to the measure, and during its pendency, influential and interested office-holders from every part of the State visited the Capital, and gave their time and means to defeat the bill. The odds were too heavy and could not be withstood. Although the bill once passed the Assembly, it was reconsidered, and failed to become a law.
Another important bill, prepared and introduced by Mr. Fay, was the Act to create Townships throughout the State, and to regulate and define the powers and duties of Township officers. The State Constitution had provided for the creation of townships throughout the State, but hitherto the Legislature had failed to carry out this plain provision of the Constitution. Mr. Fay brought the matter before the Retrenchment Committee, and through his exertions, the bill became a law. The new order of things created by this measure, the decided advantages and benefits resulting therefrom to the people—particularly to those who dwell in counties of extended area—are so necessary and indispensable, that it is matter for wonder that this bill did not become a law years prior to its passage.
Mr. Fay also introduced an Act to amend the Criminal Practice Act, so as to admit colored testimony in criminal cases, which passed the Assembly but was lost in the Democratic Senate. He took the lead in advocacy of this measure and made an able argument in its behalf.
But, perhaps, the most important measure submitted to the Legislature by Mr. Fay, was the Act entitled “An Act for the disposition and improvement of the Water Front of the City and County of San Francisco, and for the accommodation of the Shipping and Commerce of the Port of San Francisco.” He conceived the happy idea of making the valuable water front of the City a source of perpetual profit to the City and State. This extensive property was yielding a mere pittance, annually, while under Mr. Fay’s bill it could not but yield hundreds of thousands of dollars. It will not be too much to say that this measure was great in its conception and noble in its design. But as had been the case in the effort to reduce the salaries of State officials, so it was in this; the author of the bill was brought into inevitable conflict with a host of interested parties who had private ends to promote, and who proved too formidable to be overcome. The bill was defeated at that session of the Legislature, but was again introduced during the following session by Mr. Oulton, and passed into a law. It is generally known by the name of the “Oulton Bill.”
To show the public importance and advantage of this measure, it is only necessary to state that, before its passage, the income derived by the City from its wharves and property along the City front, only amounted to about fifteen thousand dollars per annum; and since its enactment, the receipts from the same source have avenged annually over four hundred thousand dollars!
In an interesting notice of Mr. Fay’s legislature record, the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, of May 30th, 1862, alternately extols and depreciates its subject. It states among other things, that, “Mr. Fay can unquestionably be classed among the working and talking class, two characteristics not often united in one person. He probably performed more hard labor, in committee and out of it, than any other member of the Assembly—certainly of the delegation; and we might also add, to less practical purpose. He was, from the commencement to the end of the session, untiring in industry; but there is, unfortunately, an impracticable or crotchety vein in his character, which seriously militates against his usefulness to his constitution or to the State at large.”
It is very easy to understand how a reputation for impracticability could be acquired by a man who entered the California Legislature eight years ago, resolute in the purpose to promote the public weal at the sacrifice of all private ends and ambition.
The writer has no desire to attribute to his subject qualities greater than those he really possesses—at the same time, it is his province and duty to credit him with all his virtues, even if it forces him to join issue with a journal of no less respectability and influence than that named above. The charge that Caleb T. Fay is impractical in his ideas, certainly can have no stable foundation. The son of a laborious, practical and successful farmer and merchant, inured to toil from his early boyhood, accustomed to deal with facts and figures through a long and prosperous mercantile career, he has had no time to dream, or yield to the influence of Utopian views. It has been stated that his excellent measure for the general reduction of salaries of office could and would have passed the Legislature, if the members of that body had been exempted from its provisions; and that the hope of re-election moved the representatives of the people to defeat the bill. To this it may be conclusive answered, that Mr. Fay could not concede this point to the hopeful aspirants for future honors, simply because the concession would have been grounded upon personal interest. There was as much cause for reducing the pay of legislators as that of the Governor, or any other officer of the State; and had Mr. Fay specially excepted the former from the operations of his bill, his immediate constituency and the people at large would have justly suspected his good faith.
Being universally recognized as an active and leading Republican, and having in the Presidential campaign of 1860 labored earnestly to secure the election of Mr. Lincoln, the latter, upon the organization of the Internal Revenue Department in 1862, appointed Mr. Fay to the position of Assessor of Internal Revenue for the First District of California. He assumed the duties of the office in August, 1862, and served through Mr. Lincoln’s first term of office; and it is but just to say that he was one of the most efficient and popular Federal officers that ever held place as a civil appointment under the United States’ Government in California; his practical business tact and experience reduced the chaotic Internal Revenue workings to a proper system in his District. But about the time of Mr. Lincoln’s assassination, Mr. Fay was removed at the instance of Commissioner Lewis, who was influenced by designing men, and who yielded to their misrepresentations, thereby doing injustice to a faithful public servant. Commissioner Lewis, however, was subsequently magnanimous enough to state to a Committee of Merchants appointed to inquire into the cause of the removal—that while declining to give the reason for the same, he assured them there were no charges affecting Mr. Fay’s character or personal integrity—while the committee of investigation eulogized his conduct of the Assessor’s office as just, upright and able in every respect.
In 1863, while holding the position of Assessor, Mr. Fay was brought forward as a candidate for Congress before the Union Convention. The names submitted to that body were those of Caleb T. Fay, R. F. Perkins, (since deceased) and Cornelius Cole, since U. S. Senator. On the first ballot, Mr. Fay received the highest vote (101). On a subsequent ballot, Messrs. Perkins and Cole united their forces, and Mr. Cole was nominated.
Immediately upon leaving the office of Assessor, Mr. Fay was elected by the trustees of the Union Insurance Company of San Francisco, to the responsible position of President of that wealthy and flourishing institution. He entered at once upon his new duties.
We now approach the proudest page, perhaps, in Mr. Fay’s history, to record his connection with the Merchants’ Exchange Association of San Francisco. The merchants of San Francisco had, up to the time of the erection of the Merchants Exchange building, been deprived of the practical commercial benefits arising from a convenient, central, local rendezvous, where they could successfully inaugurate a regular change hour, and hold daily meetings for business and social conference; where accurate and reliable bulletin market reports could always be found; where information from all parts of the world, by means of newspapers, ships, and the electric telegraph, would be promptly disclosed. Such institutions are deemed indispensable to commercial prosperity in other large cities, and it is remarkable that San Francisco remained for so many eventful years without an Exchange, owned and controlled by her business men.
In the spring of 1866, while he was yet President of the Union Insurance Company, Mr. Fay determined to consult with enterprising business men of the city, with a view to taking the initiatory steps towards the erection of a Merchants’ Exchange. He waited upon Mr. Jonathan Hunt, President of the Pacific Insurance Company, who became his earliest coadjutor in the work. Messrs. Fay and Hunt then enlisted Mr. Wm. C. Ralston, the eminent banker, in the enterprise, who, in his usual prompt style offered to furnish temporarily all the money needful to secure the purchase of sufficient land. Mr. Fay called a meeting of prominent merchants and capitalists at the office of the Union Insurance Company, which was well attended, and resulted in a determination to push the work to completion. Messrs. Thomas H. Selby, R. G. Sneath, Lloyd Tevis, W. C. Talbot, L. Sachs, Samuel Brannan, J. W. Stow, R. B. Swain, and many other wealthy men, gave their money and influence to the work. The result was the incorporation, in June, 1866, of the Merchants’ Exchange Association, with a capital stock of $250,000. Subscriptions to the amount of one half of this entire sum were obtained by Mr. Fay himself. A valuable lot of land, beautifully situated, was immediately purchased, and the erection of the present elegant building of the Association was commenced. This structure stands on the south side of California street, and extends from Leidesdirff street to within a few feet of Montgomery street, in the very heart of the commercial centre. It was finished in 1867, and this brief description of it appeared in Langley’s City Directory of San Francisco, shortly after its completion. “The New Merchants’ Exchange, corner California and Leidesdorff streets, is the largest and one of the most elegant structures in the city. The front on California street consists of basement, three stories and attic—surmounted by a clock tower. The basement is constructed of solid cut granite, which rises about six feet above the side-walk. The first story is in the pure Doric style, the second in Ionic, and the third in highly-ornamented Corinthian. The attics are in modernized-medićval, if such a term implies the adaption of old styles to new purposes. The whole is surmounted by a heavy balustrade, divided by colossal Etruscan vases, above which rises the lofty clock tower which has four large dials that afford the “time o’day” to the residents of a large portion of the city; the great height of the tower—one hundred and twenty feet above the sidewalk—making it a conspicuous object. Each of the stories on this point recede about ten feet, forming extensive balconies, surrounded with balustrades, and vases, which impart to the building a peculiar appearance of massiveness and strength. The front on Leidesdorff street is in the same style, but less ornamental and without recesses. All the ornamental work on the exterior is made of cast iron; the whole being painted a pale drab, and sprinkled with Monterey sand, which give the building the appearance of being made of stone. The interior of this magnificent structure has been fitted up to correspond with its exterior. The total cost of the building, without the lot, has been $190,000.
The cost of this superb edifice, and the ground it occupies, amounted to the sum of $350,000. It is truly a noble monument to the liberality and enterprise of the men who erected it, and an enduring evidence of the practical wisdom of Caleb T. Fay.
In the summer of 1868, Mr. Fay resigned his place as President of the Union Insurance Company, in order to accept the nomination tendered him by the National Republican organization for Governor of California. Henry H. Haight had already received the Democratic nomination for that office, and Geo. C. Gorham had been appointed by a Convention called in the interest of the Union party. But said Convention was organized by the admission of sixty-three delegates from San Francisco, appointed outside of the Union party by a league called Eight-Hour Men, unknown and unrecognized by any political party. The Republicans being thus practically ignored and excluded from the Convention, at once called another State Convention, and nominated Mr. Fay. Although having no chance for an election, he entered the canvass with his accustomed zeal, and conducted himself throughout with the dignity becoming his position. In this triangular contest, which was perhaps the most interesting, exciting, and bitter political campaign ever conducted in California, the Democratic candidate was elected. The purpose of this volume will not permit a discussion of the principles of the parties, or the merits of the candidates then before the people. The course taken by Mr. Fay was the plain path of duty which his judgment and his conscience directed him to pursue.
In his letter accepting the nomination for Governor, Mr. Fay used this language:
“Since 1848, at which time I cast my first Presidential vote to sustain the Free Soil candidates of that campaign, I have been identified, and have worked with the National Radical party, having for its objects the freedom, advancement and elevation of the masses of the people. I cannot consent that the Union party, with which I have acted in this State since its formation, shall take a backward step, as is manifest in the adoption of its cowardly platform of June 12th, and its tame submission to conspirators against the popular will, without entering my protest and declaration, that if it does go back I will not go with it. I will consent to belong only to a party that is progressive. The times demand that we should pierce the veil of frothy stump-declamation, and look at the political situation as it is in our midst: but principles must claim our attention, not men; for men are the creatures of an hour—to-day they live, perhaps powerful, proud, boastful and defiant—to-morrow they are dead and forgotten; but principles are imperishable. The foundations of all government should be laid deep and solid, upon the rock of impartial justice to the governed. It is the business of political leaders to keep burnished and bright before the people, by living faith and practice, all the essential principles of government; and when the leaders of a Government or party fall short of this sacred mission, they are useless lumber, or parasites upon the body politic, and may expect the people to repudiate their leadership. Monarchs claim a divine right to rule over people by virtue of superior wisdom concentrated in themselves, to govern; or in other words, they believe that minorities should rule. The slaveholders of our country were advocates of the same principle, and endeavored to perpetuate it upon our soil at the point of the bayonet. To put down and destroy this heresy cost half a million lives, and three thousand million of dollars that are yet to be earned and wrung from the sons of toil. Republics claim the right of the majority to rule. They believe in the wisdom and justice of numbers, which is the key to their government arch. Remove that key, and the republican fabric reared by our fathers, and cemented by the blood of our brothers, falls, a chaotic and shapeless mass of political ruin; hence, any innovation upon the vital principles in our political fabric, from whatever source it may come, should be looked upon as treason to our republican faith, and should be met at the threshold wherever it appears, and destroyed, whether it be in the camp of armed traitors, open political enemies, or disguised in the habiliments of political friends. The government of the majority necessarily involves the enfranchisement of the masses. There are three ways of violating this republican charter of liberty; one is by armed rebellion of the minority, another is disfranchisement by law, and still another is by such low cunning, deceit, fraud, bribery and corruption in political circles, as to set aside the manifest will of the people. The latter mode of disfranchisement is the present working condition of the machinery of the Union party of California; and those who have followed it faithfully in time past, in its march through the sea of blood, to sustain the majority principle, are now commanded and entreated to indorse this treachery to our political faith, and by so doing become participants in this high political crime. Others may do it if they will, I will not; for I hold that since slavery is destroyed, there is no form of usurpation now so dangerous to American liberty as plottings of unscrupulous demagogues to foist themselves into power against the manifest will of the masses.”
In a speech delivered just before the close of the campaign, at the State House in Sacramento, Mr. Fay addressed himself to the questions of National Taxation, Reconstruction, Suffrage, Internal Improvement, Corporations, the Union and the Republic parties, and other topics of absorbing interest, in such as able and statesmanlike manner as to call forth, the universal approbation of the true men of the Republican organization, and to elicit the following endorsement from the principal newspaper of the Capital, the Sacramento Union, a journal having, perhaps, the widest circulation of any published on the Pacific Coast.
“A SPEECH FIT FOR A GOVERNOR.—The speech of Caleb T. Fay, delivered in the city on Wednesday evening, and printed in yesterday’s Union it will reach at least twenty-five thousand readers, to each and all of whom we commend it for earnest and thoughtful perusal. It is a document that would honor the highest republican statesmanship, and is filled with maxims which ought to sink deep into the hearts of the people. A straightforward and honest man, who cares nothing for office merely for its own sake, but who at the same time, conscious of the manifold ills which afflict the State, cherishes an honorable ambition to be placed in a position where he can greatly assist in their amelioration, and live and act for the good of his fellow men, Mr. Fay resorts to none of the tricks and subterfuges of the professed politician, but presents his views on public matters with all the frankness of a private citizen and all the unconcern of consequences which might be expected from a philosopher. He sets out with the just theory that public men in this country are properly the servants of the people, to lighten their burdens and direct them in the way of government without oppression by the rich or peculation on the part of officials. He appeals, as he can so well afford to appeal, to his past record on the important questions of labor, economy in administration, retrenchment in expenditure, and honesty in officials.”
In the last presidential election, Mr. Fay gave a cheerful support to the succeeded candidate. His time is now mostly devoted to the development of a valuable mine of iron ore, discovered a few years ago, in Sierra County, and located, according to Professor Richthofew who examined it, “about twelve miles E. N. E. of the city of Downieville, and a few miles north of the culminating rocky summits of the Sierra Buttes.” A careful and scientific examination of this mine has established the fact, (attested by no less an authority than Professor H. Schrotter, of Vienna) that the ore which it yields contains an average of sixty per cent. of pure iron, and is equal to the best Swedish ores; and gives the further assurance, that California is not only rich in gold and copper, but also in what is really the most useful, if not the most precious of metals.
Having become largely interested in the ownership of these valuable deposits, and being confident that they can be made available for the purpose of manufacturing iron, Mr. Fay looks forward hopefully to the time when from this branch of metallurgy will spring a new industry which will not only amply reward his own patient efforts, but augment, in a wonderful degree, the wealth of the State.
Mr. Fay’s residence is still at San Francisco, where he expects to pass the remainder of his life.
Transcribed by: Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.
Source: Shuck, Oscar T., “Representative & Leading Men of the Pacific”, Bacon & Co., Printers & Publishers, San Francisco, 1870. Pages 303-317.
© 2008 Jeanne Sturgis Taylor.