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Matthew S. Quay

Matthew Stanley Quay
United States Senator
from Pennsylvania
In office
January 16, 1901 – May 28, 1904
Preceded by Vacant
Succeeded by Philander Knox
In office
March 4, 1887 – March 4, 1899
Preceded by John Mitchell
Succeeded by Vacant
11th Chairman of the Republican National Committee
In office
July 12, 1888 – September 8, 1891
Preceded by Benjamin Jones
Succeeded by James Clarkson
Personal details
Born (1833-09-30)September 30, 1833
Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died May 28, 1904(1904-05-28) (aged 70)
Beaver, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Profession Politician, Lawyer

Matthew Stanley Quay (September 30, 1833 – May 28, 1904) was an immensely powerful Pennsylvania political boss once dubbed a "kingmaker" by President Benjamin Harrison. "Boss" Quay's political principles and actions stood in contrast to an unusually attractive personality. He was a resident of Beaver, northwest of Pittsburgh, where his house has been designated as a National Historic Landmark. The Roberts-Quay House at Philadelphia was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.[1]


Early life

Quay was born in Dillsburg, York County, Pennsylvania, the son of a preacher, Anderson Quay, and his wife. He graduated at Jefferson College (now Washington and Jefferson College) in 1850 and was admitted to the bar in 1854. He served in various capacities in the American Civil War and Congress awarded him the Medal of Honor for gallantry at the battle of Fredericksburg.


Quay became active in politics after the war, and served in both elected and appointed positions, allying with numerous governors and presidents. In 1864, he was first elected to the Pennsylvania legislature, serving from 1865–1867.

From 1869, when he served as secretary of the Republican State Committee, until his death, he was considered the most influential Republican politician in Pennsylvania. 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 1886 to the United States Senate, serving from March 4, 1887 until March 3, 1899, with repeated re-elections. He was elected as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 1888.

Senate seating controversy

He was not re-elected to the Senate by the State Legislature in 1899 (the seventeenth amendment – which allowed for popular election of senators – was still years away from ratification). 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, and he presented his credentials to the Senate in December 1899. 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 ultimately re-elected to the seat.


For nearly twenty years, Quay dominated the government of Pennsylvania, and also played a very prominent role in national affairs. In 1898 he 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. Quay was not re-elected for two years.


  • 1833: Born Dillsburg, York County, Pennsylvania; educ. Beaver Academy.
  • 1850: He graduated at Jefferson College; then studied law under Judge Sterret.
  • 1851-53: Mississippi.
  • 1854: Admitted to Beaver County bar.
  • 1855-56: Beaver County, prothonotary; marries Agnes Barclay.
  • 1856: Beaver County, prothonotary.
  • 1861: 10th Pennsylvania Reserves (Lieutenant, Lieutenant-Colonel).
  • 1862: Governor Andrew Curtin, private secretary.
  • 1862: 134th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry (Colonel) (August)
  • 1862: Leaves 134th Pennsylvania Regiment Volunteers (health) (7 December)
  • 1862: Battle of Marye's Heights (13 December)
  • 1864: Elected to Pennsylvania state legislature.
  • 1865-1867 : Pennsylvania state legislature.
  • 1869: Founds Beaver Radical
  • 1873-78: Pennsylvania state secretary.
  • 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 are both 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.[2]

See also


3 A. K. McClure, "Old Time Notes of Pennsylvania", John C. Winston Company, 1905, cited in "The Politicos 1865-1896" by Matthew Josephson, Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1938.


  • Retrieved on 2008-07-03
Preceded by
John Mitchell
United States Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: J. Donald Cameron, Boies Penrose
Succeeded by
Preceded by
United States Senator (Class 1) from Pennsylvania
Served alongside: Boies Penrose
Succeeded by
Philander Knox
Party political offices
Preceded by
Benjamin Jones
Chairman of the Republican National Committee
Succeeded by
James Clarkson

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