Matthew Stanley Quay (September 30, 1833 – May 28, 1904) was a Pennsylvania political boss once dubbed a "kingmaker" by President Benjamin Harrison. Quay was born in Dillsburg, and graduated from the institution now known as Washington and Jefferson College. He studied law, was admitted to the bar, and began to practice in 1854. During the American Civil War, he served in the Union Army as a member of the 134th Pennsylvania Infantry Regiment, which he commanded as a colonel. Quay received the Medal of Honor for heroism at the battle of Fredericksburg. He later served as the Pennsylvania Militia's assistant commissary general, and as a personal assistant to Governor Andrew Curtin. Quay's attention soon focused on politics, and he served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1865 to 1867. He later served as Secretary of the Commonwealth, Philadelphia County Recorder, and Pennsylvania Treasurer. Quay served in the United States Senate twice, the first time from 1887 to 1899, and the second from 1901 until his death in 1904. From 1888 to 1891, Quay was Chairman of the Republican National Committee. As a party "boss" at the state and national levels, Quay had the ability to influence the selection of Republican nominees and the general election support they received; he was largely credited with the leadership of Benjamin Harrison's successful campaign for president in 1888. Quay died in Beaver in 1904, and was buried at Beaver Cemetery and Mausoleum in Beaver. The Matthew S. Quay House in Beaver has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. In addition, another of his residences, the Roberts-Quay House in Philadelphia was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.
Quay was born in Dillsburg, York County, Pennsylvania, the son of Catherine (McCain) and Anderson Beaton Quay, a Presbyterian preacher. After attending Beaver and Indiana academies, he graduated at Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in 1850. Quay was admitted to the bar in 1854. Prior to the start of the Civil War, Quay won election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, representing Beaver County. At the start of the American Civil War, Quay was a colonel with 134th Pennsylvania volunteers. He served in various capacities in the Civil War, including as Assistant Commissary General of Pennsylvania. Congress awarded him the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the battle of Fredericksburg. Quay's conduct during the war earned him the attention of Pennsylvania Governor Andrew Curtin, who made Quay his personal aide tasked with answering the letters of soldiers. In 1864, Quay was elected to the Pennsylvania legislature, serving from 1865–1867. He was a companion of the Pennsylvania Commandery of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.
After the war, Quay became an ally of party boss Simon Cameron, who founded a state machine that also included his son, future Senator Donald Cameron. Quay became the editor of a newspaper called the 'Radical,' where Quay defended the spoils system and called for greater protection of African-American civil rights in the South. He was appointed by the governor as Secretary of the Commonwealth from 1873–1878, and again from 1879–1882. He was appointed as the County Recorder of Philadelphia from 1878–1879, and state treasurer from 1886–1887.
He was elected by the legislature in 1887 to the United States Senate, serving from March 4, 1887 until March 3, 1899, with repeated re-elections. Shortly after his election to the Senate, Quay outmaneuvered fellow Senator Donald Cameron to become the boss of the state Republican Party. Quay was elected as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1888. Quay served as Benjamin Harrison's campaign manager in the 1888 presidential election. In the 1896 presidential election, Quay finished third on the Republican National Convention's presidential ballot. Quay aided New York party boss Thomas C. Platt in making Theodore Roosevelt the party's vice presidential nominee in 1900.
Quay was perhaps the preeminent state party boss of the late 19th century, and other party bosses in states like New York and Illinois followed Quay's example. With his control of state patronage, Quay built an organization with a budget comparable to mid-sized railroads of the era. Quay rarely spoke in public, but instead conducted most of his business in one-on-one meetings, locking down support before making a public move. Despite his power, Quay frequently clashed with reformers in Pennsylvania, particularly with Philadelphia's Committee of One Hundred. Quay was succeeded as party boss by fellow Senator Boies Penrose. The fictional "Senator Mark Simpson" in Theodore Dreiser's The Financier was based on Quay.
Senate seating controversy
In 1898, Quay was brought to trial on a charge of misappropriating state funds. Although he was acquitted the following year, the feeling among the reform element in his own party was so opposed to him that the legislature became deadlocked over filling the Senate vacancy. As the legislature was unable to build consensus for anyone to be elected to the seat, Governor William Stone appointed Quay to fill the ensuing vacancy. Quay presented his credentials to the Senate in December 1899, but the Senate refused to seat him, declaring that he was not entitled to the seat. Pennsylvania held a special election to fill the persistent vacancy, and Quay was re-elected to the seat. Quay would serve in the Senate until his death in 1904.
1833: Born Dillsburg, York County, Pennsylvania; educ. Beaver Academy.
1850: He graduated at Jefferson College; then studied law under Judge Sterret.
1854: Admitted to Beaver County bar.
1855-56: Beaver County, prothonotary; marries Agnes Barclay.
1878-79: City of Philadelphia, Recorder. (resigned)
1879-82: Pennsylvania state secretary. (named January; resigned October)
1886-87: Pennsylvania state treasurer.
1887: Entered United States Senate.
1888: Republican National Committee, Chairman.
1892: Re-elected, U.S. Senate.
1898: Not re-elected; term expires 1899.
1901: U.S. Senate
1904; Death; buried in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.
Quay County, New Mexico and the small community of Quay, New Mexico and the community of Quay, Oklahoma are all named in his honor.
Matthew Quay appears on a 45p (£0.45) commemorative stamp from the Isle of Man Post Office, as part of a series honoring Manx-Americans.
After his narrow victory over Grover Cleveland in 1888, Benjamin Harrison told Quay that "Providence has given us the victory."
A few weeks later, Quay said to reporters about Harrison:
"Think of the man! He ought to know that Providence hadn't a damn thing to do with it." Harrison, Quay added, would "never know how close a number of men were compelled to approach the gates of the penitentiary to make him president."
Quay was not enthusiastic to work for Harrison's re-election campaign in 1892, and referred to the president as the "White House iceberg" for his cool, unfriendly demeanor. When Harrison told Quay that God had made him president, Quay snapped back, "Then let God re-elect you," and stomped out.
Medal of Honor citation
Rank and Organization:
Colonel, 134th Pennsylvania Infantry. Place and date: At Fredericksburg, Va., December 13, 1862. Entered service at: Beaver County, Pa. Born: September 30, 1833, Dillsburg, Pa. Date of issue: July 9, 1888.
Although out of service, he voluntarily resumed duty on the eve of battle and took a conspicuous part in the charge on the heights.