Levi Morton started working quite early in his life. His first job was as a clerk in a country store. After slogging out in the general store, he left his manual labour job to take up the position of a teacher for a school in Boscawen, New Hampshire.
From a teacher, Morton soon shifted back to clerical job with Estabrook. However, this time, he engaged himself in learning the nuances of bookkeeping and made himself adept at calculations. Adequately trained, he ran an Estabrook store on his own in Hanover, New Hampshire.
Morton’s business acumen and skills soon earned him a place at the prestigious Beebe & Co, Boston’s largest importing firm then. However, he soon moved up the ladder and formed his own dry goods company in New York.
During the Civil War of 1861, Morton suffered from substantial losses. As such, he disbanded his company and instead in 1863, founded a Wall Street banking house. His banking career did profoundly well and by 1873, he became one of the distinguished bankers in the nation
It was during his banking career that Morton befriended political bigwigs such as President Ulysses S. Grant and Senator Roscoe Conkling of New York. In 1876, he became financial chairman of the Republican National Committee.
During the 1876 election, Morton contested for a seat from New York’s Eleventh District. However, he lost by a narrow margin. Not losing hope, he soon re-contested for the seat in 1878, transforming his loss into victory. Same year, he was appointed to be an honorary commissioner to the Paris Exhibition by President Rutherford B. Hayes.
During the 46th and 47th Congresses, Morton was elected as a Republican. He served in the position from 1879 until his resignation in 1881. During this time, he befriended James Garfield of Ohio.
During the 1880 presidential election, James Garfield contested as a Republican presidential nominee, over Grant and Blaine. He offered Morton to become his vice presidential candidate, but the latter declined the offer. Instead, Morton requested to be appointed Minister to Britain or France.
When Garfield took up the presidential office, Morton was elected as the United States Minister to France over Charles J. Guiteau. He served in the position from 1881 to 1885.
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His diplomatic service made him very popular among the French people. During his four years of service, he helped build commercial relations between United States and France and largely administered the ceremonies connected with France's gift of the Statue of Liberty to the United States.
Despite his successful diplomatic career, Morton did not give up on his ambition for a seat in the Senate. As such, between 1885 and 1887, he twice contested, but was unsuccessful each time. However, due to his selfless sense of duty, he earned vice-presidential nomination in 1888.
Morton was elected as the Vice President of the United States in 1889, on the Republican ticket of President Benjamin Harrison. He served in the position for four years from 1889 to 1893. During their term, both Harrison and Morton favoured the businessmen so much so that Harrison’s cabinet was called Businessman’s Cabinet while Morton’s was known as Millionaire’s Club.
During his term in office, Morton faced the brunt of Harrison after the latter’s administration failed in securing the passage of Lodge Bill sponsored by Henry Cabot Lodge. The Bill was essentially an election law that enforced voting rights of blacks in the South. Harrison blamed Morton for lack of support which resulted in the failure.
Morton lost the support of Harrison after the failure of the Lodge Bill. He was replaced by Whitelaw Reid as the vice-presidential candidate for the 1892 elections. However, Harrison and Reid lost the 1892 election to Democratic candidates.
After his Vice-Presidential term, Morton served as the Governor of New York in 1895 and 1896.
In 1896, he, was considered for a Republican Presidential nomination but lost the race to William McKinley. He eventually retired from politics and became a real-estate investor.
Between 1900 and 1911, he served as the President of the Metropolitan Club at One East Sixtieth Street, New York. He preceded J P Morgan and was succeeded by Frank Knight Sturgis. Additionally, he served as President of the New York Zoological Society from 1897 to 1909.
Personal Life & Legacy
Morton married Lucy Young Kimball on October 15, 1856 in Flatlands, Brooklyn. Together, they had a child. Lucy died in 1871.
After Lucy’s death, Morton married Anna Livingston Reade Street in 1873. They had five daughters.
He died on his 96th birthday, i.e. on May 16, 1920 at Rhinebeck, in Duchess County, New York. He was interred in the Rhinebeck Cemetery. A village in Illinois, Morton Grove, has been named after him.