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FW: ANB - Bio of the Day [Ethan Allen Hitchcock]

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  • A.J. Wright
    fyi..aj wright // ajwright@uab.edu ... From: biod-request@www.anb.org [mailto:biod-request@www.anb.org] Sent: Monday, November 10, 2003 1:50 AM To: ANB bioday
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      From: biod-request@... [mailto:biod-request@...]
      Sent: Monday, November 10, 2003 1:50 AM
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      Subject: ANB - Bio of the Day

      American National Biography Online

      Hitchcock, Ethan Allen (19 Sept. 1835-9 Apr. 1909), secretary
      of the interior, was born in Mobile, Alabama, the son of Henry
      Hitchcock, a Vermonter by birth who became chief justice of the
      Alabama Supreme Court, and Anne Erwin. He was the great-grandson
      of Ethan Allen, nephew of General Ethan Allen Hitchcock, and
      brother of Henry Hitchcock. After the death in 1839 of his father,
      who suffered economic reverses in the panic of 1837, the family
      relocated to Knoxville, Tennessee, where Hitchcock attended school.
      He was sent east to complete his education at a private military
      academy in New Haven, Connecticut, after which he followed his
      brother Henry to St. Louis, Missouri, and entered the mercantile
      business. His firm sent him to the Far East as its representative
      in 1860. By 1866 he was a partner in the firm of Olyphant and
      Company in Hong Kong; six years later he returned to the United
      States a wealthy man. He married Margaret Collier of St. Louis,
      the sister of his brother's wife, in 1869. They had three children.

      After traveling abroad for two years he settled in St. Louis
      in 1874, and over the next two decades, as director of several
      corporations, including mining, railroad, and manufacturing companies,
      greatly expanded his personal fortune. A staunch Republican he
      contributed heavily to campaign funds, acquiring a wide acquaintance
      among the party's politicians. He became a good friend of William
      McKinley, whom he assisted by drafting the glass schedule, which
      fixed the duties to be imposed on foreign glass, for the tariff
      of 1890 (Hitchcock had established the first plate-glass factory
      near St. Louis). After McKinley became president he appointed
      Hitchcock minister to St. Petersburg (raised to embassy status
      during his tenure) in the hopes that he would foster trade between
      Russia and the United States. In December 1898 he was called
      home to become a member of McKinley's cabinet as secretary of the interior.

      Hitchcock brought strength and integrity to a department long
      in bad repute. His commissioner of Indian affairs, Francis Leupp,
      safeguarded valuable coal, oil, and mineral lands for the Five
      Civilized Tribes, and Hitchcock manfully stood up to the enormous
      pressures of powerful interests that had hoped to acquire these
      resources. Hitchcock's term coincided with the emergence of the
      conservation movement. He supported transfer of the forest reserves
      from the control of the General Land Office in the Department
      of the Interior to Gifford Pinchot's Division of Forestry (subsequently
      the Forest Service) in the Department of Agriculture.

      Hitchcock also backed the sweeping withdrawals carried out by
      President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 that vastly expanded the
      forest reserves and set aside valuable mineral lands. During
      his tenure the Geological Survey in the Department of the Interior
      carried out a vast inventory of resources in the public domain
      and improved administrative procedures for disposing of resources,
      especially through leasing. Timber cutting was limited and the
      conduct of Indian Affairs, a bureau often viewed in about equal
      parts as inefficient and corrupt, was much improved.

      Hitchcock secured his name as an outstanding cabinet officer
      by his handling of the extensive land fraud prosecutions, which,
      beginning in 1903, cast a shadow over the department. In the
      number of persons involved, the land fraud was larger than all
      the major corruption scandals of the nineteenth century combined,
      dwarfing even the Teapot Dome scandals of the Harding administration.

      The cumulative sweep of the land frauds was breathtaking. Before
      Hitchcock left office in 1907, 1,021 people had been indicted
      in twenty-two states and the District of Columbia, 126 had been
      convicted, and more were convicted after his departure. The affair
      was put in motion when Hitchcock was convinced by an in-house
      investigation that the government had been defrauded of valuable
      lands and natural resources. He fired Binger Hermann, the commissioner
      of the General Land Office, and instituted relentless investigations
      that led directly to the prosecutions. Powerful people were involved.
      Hermann--one of those indicted, though ultimately not convicted--had
      served in both branches of the Oregon legislature and had been
      a deputy collector of internal revenue, judge advocate of the
      Oregon militia, and a six-term member of Congress (and was again
      elected to Congress after Hitchcock forced him to resign as commissioner).

      A senator, a house member, a Montana state senator, state officials,
      and numerous westerners prominent in their communities were among
      those indicted. With so much influence at bay, incredible pressure
      was brought to bear on Hitchcock, but his cold, formal demeanor
      and deliberate temperament--always a trial to his impetuous contemporary
      Pinchot--stood him in good stead. He was unbending, equally impervious
      to cajolery, geniality, or threats, answering all criticism with
      stony silence. President Roosevelt also resisted pressures, numerous
      and intense, to remove the secretary of the interior; but the
      president was said to be privately relieved when Hitchcock, worn
      down by four years of unremitting strain, finally submitted his
      resignation, having served longer than any of his predecessors.

      Hitchcock served as campaign manager for William Howard Taft
      in the presidential election of 1908 and was traveling in the
      West when illness struck. He died in the Washington, D.C., home
      of his son-in-law, Lieutenant Commander (later Admiral) William S. Sims.


      For additional information on Ethan Allen Hitchcock's life and
      work, see Fifty Years in Camp and Field (1909) by his uncle General
      Ethan Allen Hitchcock, and the Annual Reports of the Secretary
      of the Interior, especially the years 1903 to 1907. See also
      Henry S. Brown, "Punishing the Land-looters," Outlook 85 (1907):
      426-39; Lincoln Steffens, "Discovery of the Land Fraud System,"
      American Magazine 64 (1907): 489-98; and Gifford Pinchot, Breaking
      New Ground (1947). An obituary is in the New York Times, 10 Apr. 1909.

      James L. Penick

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      James L. Penick. "Hitchcock, Ethan Allen";
      American National Biography Online Feb. 2000.
      Access Date:
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