David B. Hill

29th Governor, January 6 1885-1891
David B. Hill

When Grover Cleveland resigned to become president, his lieutenant governor, David B. Hill (1843–1910), assumed the governorship. As a former mayor of Elmira, Hill was well qualified to step into the role of chief executive. During his governorship, Hill reformed child labor laws, supported the rights of labor unions, and lobbied for a state forest preserve. The state’s economy flourished under his leadership. Hill was elected to the United States Senate for a term beginning in early 1891, and simultaneously served as senator and governor for almost a year—the only man in New York’s history to do so.
David B. Hill
About the Artist


Morton H. Bly (1876–1935) was born in Antwerp. He studied in Antwerp and London before coming to New York City, where he painted many prominent people. He specialized in miniature portraits on ivory.


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Historic Documents



David B. Hill Signed Typed Letter, May 1, 1901
David B. Hill Signed Typed Letter, May 1, 1901

Brief letter to Julius Lehmann asking for an appointment to confer; ten years after leaving office of governor.

Loaned By Dennis Holzman Antiques

From the Encyclopedia of New York State

Hill, David B(ennett) (b Havana [nowMontour Falls, SchuylerCo],29Aug 1843; d Albany,20Oct 1910). Governor and US senator.

Hill moved to Elmira in 1863, was admitted to the bar in 1864, served in the state assembly in 1871 and 1872, but did not run for office again until 1882, when he became mayor of Elmira. Hill served as lieutenant governor of New York State under Grover Cleveland from 1883 to 1885, then ascended to the governorship in January 1885 when Cleveland became president. Reelected governor in 1885 and 1888, Hill won the second time even though Pres Cleveland failed to carry New York State and lost his reelection bid. As a Democratic governor facing a Republican-controlled legislature, Hill opposed civil service reform and Prohibition, vetoed the 1885 Census Bill as an unnecessary extravagance, and generally supported the rights of labor unions. His partisanship was exemplified in his claim “I am a Democrat!” in a speech during his bid for reelection in 1885. The motto, which would be linked to Hill for the rest of his career, implied that he would not support civil service or any of Cleveland’s reforms and made it clear that he did not want the votes of Mugwumps, Republicans who deserted their party in 1884 to vote for Cleveland.

Hill’s career reached its zenith when New York State’s first Democratic legislature in a decade chose him as US senator in early 1891. Hill did not take up those duties immediately but instead continued to act as governor, a decision that stirred great controversy as he simultaneously held claim to both offices. During that year Hill successfully overturned the election of three Republican state senators and replaced them with Democrats, giving his party control of the state legislature, but fallout from this action damaged his future political prospects. Hill assumed his duties as senator in January 1892 after completing his gubernatorial term. His interest in the Democratic nomination for president that year failed to materialize, though, and he never challenged Cleveland at the party convention. In 1894 Hill reluctantly accepted the nomination for the governorship but was easily defeated by Levi P. Morton in the aftermath of the panic of 1893. Hill served the remainder of his term in the senate but never ran for public office again, even refusing the Democratic Party nomination for vice president in 1900. In 1904 he managed Alton B. Parker’s failed presidential campaign and then enjoyed a successful law practice in Albany.


Alexander, De Alva Stanwood. Four Famous New Yorkers: The Political Careers of Cleveland, Platt, Hill, and Roosevelt (1923; repr New York: I. J. Friedman, 1969)

Bass, Herbert. “I Am a Democrat”: The Political Career of David Bennett Hill (Syracuse: Syracuse Univ Press, 1961)

Hill, David. Public Papers of David Bennett Hill: Governor/ Senator of New York (Albany: Albany Argus, 1885–92)

Jon Sterngass


Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 718-19].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.