William Henry “Harry” Welsh was the son of Henry and Margaret Maria Small Welsh,[i] born February 23, 1826, in York, Pennsylvania. Harry’s father moved to 4 West Market Street, York city before 1820, becoming a close friend of Simon Cameron; his personal banker, financier, partner in substantial railroad stock ventures, and a conservative Democrat who served Cameron throughout his life. Harry studied at the York Academy, attended private schools in Philadelphia, returned to York in 1842, to study under the Rev. Benjamin Wallace in preparation for Princeton College. Entering Princeton as an 1845 junior, he was selected class orator and graduated with honors in 1847; studied law in Philadelphia under the Hon. Benjamin Brewster; returned once more to York in 1848; and continued his legal preparation in the office of his father’s close friend, Cameron. He was admitted to the Philadelphia bar on July 3, 1849, and the York bar in the same year. His political career began as a Buchanan Democrat, assuming a strong stance in support of the Compromise of 1850.[ii] He served as attaché to U.S. Minister to England James Buchanan, 1853, assisting the ambassador and serving as his private secretary during the Ostend Conference, concluding negotiations at Aix-la-Chapelle.[iii] Harry remained a life-long loyalist to President Buchanan and visited his former employer at Wheatland. The president once referred to Welsh and legation secretary Dan Sickles as “agreeable companions and useful assistants.”[iv] Initially hesitant over Harry’s inexperience, he confided to his niece, “Both you and I placed too low an estimate on Mr. Welsh.” The president later asserted, “Mr. Welsh (is) surpassing my expectations as a man of business.”[v] At the conclusion of Harry’s diplomatic service, Buchanan noted, Welsh is “a man of strict integrity and veracity.”[vi]
Welsh resumed his law practice, however pursued a newspaper and political career. He entered the state Senate during the 1855 “Know-Nothing” session, serving through 1861, was secretary to Buchanan during the 1856 presidential campaign; elected the state’s Democratic Committee president and convention chair (1856-60-61, 62); and unsuccessful campaign manager for the party’s 1860 gubernatorial candidate Henry Foster – the cousin of presidential candidate John C. Breckinridge.
In 1858, Welsh sold the York law firm and purchased the York Gazette in 1856, in partnership with his father’s business ally and former brother-in-law, David Small.[vii] Welsh moved to Philadelphia temporarily, close to Democratic campaign headquarters in 1860, and married Sallie Augustus Wickes on November 29, 1860, the sister of prominent Chestertown, Kent County, Maryland judge and former Princeton classmate, Joseph Wickes. Joseph’s brother, Pere Wickes, married Welsh’s sister Hinrietta Catherine two years later.[viii]
Senator Welsh sold his interest in the York Gazette in 1862; moved to Philadelphia permanently; established a city law practice; founded the Philadelphia Age in 1863 with Congressman A.J. Glossbrenner;[ix] continued publishing the paper with new partner James M. Robb in 1867-1871; sold his interest and moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1872, settling as a prominent attorney and owner-editor of the Democratic Baltimore Weekly Gazette.[x] Welsh enjoyed a successful career in Baltimore; was a presidential elector in 1880, backing Winfield Scott Hancock for U.S. president; and in 1884, moved to Washington DC as clerk of the Treasury and later the US Senate. After the death of Sallie in 1902, the Honorable William Henry “Harry” Welsh removed to son-in-law George Buchanan Fife’s home in Manhattan, New York, where he passed away on December 2, 1903.[xi]
Legendary Liberal Republican Alexander K. McClure, a friend and Senate mentor, called the affable Welsh “an accomplished and skilled politician with all the sagacity and tact necessary to make him a master leader” and “my warm personal friend.”[xii]
[i] Welsh Family File, Record 2892, 1, York County Historical Society (YCHS), York, Pennsylvania.
[ii] Prowell, 585.
[iii] The Ostend Manifesto Conference concluded at Aix-la-Chapelle in 1854. Secretary Marcy, Buchanan, and legates Welsh and Dan Sickles (all pro-slavery) were instructed to purchase Cuba from Spain to minimize chances of a “slave insurrection,” should Cuba become a free island, as anticipated. Buchanan felt that such an uprising might serve as a catalyst for rebellion in the southern United States.
[iv] The Works of James Buchanan, vol. IX, col.; ed., John Bassett Moore (New York: Antiquarian Press, Ltd., 1960), 66. (This was the same Dan Sickles who murdered the son of Francis Scott Key and proved less than effective as a Union officer at the Battle of Gettysburg).
[v] Ibid., 66, 50.
[vi] Ibid, 295.
[vii] Gibson, 379.
[viii] Welsh Family File, Record 662.44, YCHS; also:: Princeton College graduate records, 1846; also: Prowell, 490.
[ix] The Biographical Cyclopedia of Representative Men of Maryland and the District of Columbia (Baltimore, 1879), 26-27.
[x] J. Thomas Scharf, History of Baltimore City and County (Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1881), 633, 634, 650.
[xi] New York Times, December 6, 1903.
[xii] McClure, 427.