Biography of Robert A. Maxwell


THE HON. ROBERT A. MAXWELL will rank in the history of Genesee county as one of its most prominent and highly esteemed citizens. We cannot better present the salient features of his character and the first part of his career than by quoting the following passage from a work by D. A. Harsha, entitled “Noted Living Albanians and State Officials.”

“The Hon. Robert A. Maxwell, superintendent of the Insurance Department, was born in Washington county, N. Y., in 1838. He is a son of Alexander Maxwell of Jackson, a prominent citizen of the town and an intelligent and Wealthy farmer. After receiving a thorough instruction at the common schools in his neighborhood he was sent to the Normal School at A1bany, where he finished his education at the age of eighteen. He soon became principal of the Union school at Greenwich, N. Y., which place he held for two years. Determined to relinquish a professional career for mercantile pursuits, he removed to. Chicago and engaged in the commission business, buying and selling grain and produce. For seven years he was an active member of the Board of Trade in that enterprising city. But too close attention to business and climatic influences combined to impair his health, and coming east he settled at Batavia, N. Y. Soon after his settlement in his new home he invested his ready capital in the malting business and became a successful and public spirited merchant, closely identifying himself with all those interests which are conducive to the welfare and prosperity of his adopted home. The New York State Institution for the Blind was established in Batavia in 1867; Mr. Maxwell was appointed one of its trustees in 1878. Shortly after taking up his residence at Batavia, Mr. Maxwell manifested an ardent interest in politics, his affiliation being with the Democratic party. His sagacity and wisdom displayed in local issues became so marked and widely known, that in 1880 he was chosen a member of the Democratic State committee, in which capacity he served for several years. Here his counsel was sought on all important questions of expediency and candidature, and he gradually rose to conspicuous places in the conferences of party magnates. In 1881 he received the nomination for State treasurer. The memorable ‘Waterloo’ of the Democracy followed a bitter and personal canvass; and out of the disaster but one survivor remained, and that was Mr. Maxwell. He had not only been elected, but led his ticket by same thirty thousand, thereby handsomely defeating his well-known opponent, the Hon. James W. Husted. His official direction of the State treasury was so entirely satisfactory that he was unanimously renominated for a second term, and triumphantly elected over the Republican candidate, Mr. Pliny W. Sexton, by over seventeen thousand majority. The State treasury department, under the wise and judicious management of Mr. Maxwell, soon came to be recognized as a model business institution. The fact was especially emphasized by the Albany bankers, who expressed their satisfaction with the improvements inaugurated by the competent treasurer, in a set of complimentary resolutions.”

The resignation of John A. McCall, jr., as superintendent of the State insurance department, and the acceptance thereof by the Governor, was followed almost immediately by the appointment, on January 1, 1886, of Mr. Maxwell to fill the vacancy. The news of his selection was received on all sides by marked tokens of approval. His independent integrity, tried ability and high standing as a business man and financier were cordially endorsed by the great insurance companies of New York city in their reiterated approval of the choice made for the chief of a department with which their associations and interests are so closely allied. When the nomination was sent to the Senate, the confirmation of Mr. Maxwell was moved and seconded by Republican senators (the Senate being Republican by a large majority), who dwelt at length in their speeches upon his abilities, fitness and integrity for so responsible an office. And as a high mark of universal esteem his confirmation was made unanimous.

In contemplating publications from a non-partisan standpoint, we shall find that the name of Robert A. Maxwell stands in the first rank among those officials who, for honesty, integrity of character and nobleness of purpose, have reflected the brightest luster upon the Empire state.

Referring to Mr. Maxwell’s record in the insurance department, the New York Tribune, the great exponent of Republicanism, said: “Under Mr. Maxwell, its affairs have been managed solely in the interests of the general welfare; managed so as to protect those who invest in insurance, by an intelligent and faithful supervision of the companies. The result of the constant enforcement of this sound policy by Superintendent Maxwell has been what might have been expected. The department has enjoyed in a marked degree the public confidence. It has been kept free from the flagrant scandals which brought disgrace upon its administration in the comparatively near past.”

Another paper of almost equal prominence supplemented the Tribune’s statement by the following:

“He has been an immovable bulwark against the many fraudulent elements which constantly assail insurance interests, a vigilant guardian of the public weal in his sphere of duty, a thoroughly honest, singleminded, capable official. The breath of suspicion which poisons the records of many public men never reached him, for there was around him an atmosphere of incorruptibility which bade suspicion defiance and left not a single opportunity for the tongue of slander or scandal.”

On March 9, 1893, Robert A. Maxwell was nominated by the President to be fourth assistant postmaster general, and confirmed by the Senate, assuming his new duties on the 22d of that month. His relations with President Cleveland had been of the most cordial character. They have been friends for many years, and the friendship and confidence of the former was evidenced by the tender of what is, in many respects, outside the cabinet, the most influential position in the gift of the executive. During the service of Mr. Maxwell in Washington the famous stone land office of the Holland Land Company was purchased by a historical society and set apart as a historical museum. It was dedicated with imposing ceremonies on October 13, 1894, to the memory of Robert Morris, the great patriot and financier of the revolution; and through the influence of Mr. Maxwell six members of the President’s cabinet were present and took part in the ceremonies, the tablet being ufiveiled by the Hon. Walter Q. Gresham, Secretary of State, and the dedicatory oration delivered by the Hon. John G. Carlisle, Secretary of the Treasury. In 1869 Mr. Maxwell was married to Miss Mary McLean of Jackson, Washington county, N. Y. This union has been blessed with two children: William A. Maxwell, who resides in Chicago, and Marion Grace Maxwell, who died at the age of nine years.

Our County and it's people
A descriptive work on Genesee County, New York
Edited by: F. W. Beers
J.W. Vose & Co., Publishers, Syracuse, N. Y. 1890



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