Reuben E. Fenton

22nd Governor, 1865-1868
Reuben E. Fenton

Prior to being governor, Reuben E. Fenton (1819–1885) served in the United States House of Representatives and was a key organizer for New York’s Republican Party. He opposed slavery and supported President Abraham Lincoln’s policies. As governor, Fenton removed tuition fees for public education, established a professional fire department for New York City, and signed a law to define basic housing standards. Governor Fenton also advocated for the welfare of soldiers and authorized relief measures to benefit veterans. After his governorship, Fenton served in the United States Senate.
Reuben E. Fenton
About the Artist


Asa Twitchell (1820–1904) was born in Lansingburgh, New York. A self-taught portraitist, he worked primarily in the Albany region.


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From The Encyclopedia of New York State

Fenton, Reuben E(aton) (b Carroll, Chautauqua Co, 4 July 1819; d Jamestown, Chautauqua Co, 25 Aug 1885). Governor, US representative, and US senator.

Educated in local schools, Fenton taught for two years at Jamestown Academy while reading law. He took control of his father’s store in Frewsburg (Chautauqua Co) after the 1837 panic, and later business ventures, including land and lumber speculation, led to considerable wealth. Elected to the House of Representatives as a Free Soil Democrat in 1852, Fenton lost the seat to a Know-Nothing candidate in 1854. That same year Fenton became involved with the new antislavery Republican Party. In 1855 he chaired the party’s first New York State convention and a year later was a delegate to its first national nominating convention. Fenton returned to Congress in 1857 as a Republican, serving until his 1864 election as governor. Programs implemented during Fenton’s four years in office included creating both a professional fire department for New York City and the State Board of Charities to inspect state hospitals, asylums, and homes; using federal land grant funds to establish Cornell University; and raising teacher standards, establishing additional normal schools for teachers, and making public education free. He then was elected to a term in the US Senate (1869–75). Fenton spent most of his last 10 years in Jamestown as director and then president of the First National Bank, and in 1878 he chaired the US commission to the International Monetary Conference in Paris.


Mohr, James C. The Radical Republicans and Reform in New York during Reconstruction (Ithaca: Cornell Univ Press, 1973)

Gregory P. Rabb


Peter Eisenstadt, ed., The Encyclopedia of New York State
(Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 2005), [p. 555].
© Syracuse University Press. Reproduced with permission from the publisher.