King of the Lobby

Gilded age lobbyist Sam Ward almost always got his way, swaying movers and shakers with his legendary food, wine and charm

He was one of the most amazing men of the 19th century. During the 1860s and '70s, when the term "lobbyist" earned its most nefarious connotations, Sam Ward reigned unsullied in Washington as the "King of the Lobby."

He was born on January 27, 1814, in New York City into a banking family that boasted of colonial governors and Revolutionary War officers. His sister Julia Ward Howe wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," and one of his best friends was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Sam Ward graduated at 17 from Columbia, held a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Tübingen, and was a legendary chef, host and raconteur—to say nothing of influence peddler and wielder.

Ward ruled over the Washington lobbying corps during the wild days of the Civil War and for years afterward, in the period Mark Twain brilliantly dubbed "The Gilded Age." He made and lost several fortunes, but never lost his sense of humor or his charm.

In a time when many lobbyists would stoop to any means, Sam Ward rose above sleaze. He entertained on a scale befitting his potentate title. Ward's motto was that the shortest distance between a pending bill and a Congressman's "aye" lay through his stomach.

The press immediately marked Ward's passing in 1884. The Times of London called him "the most charming of social companions and most genial of hosts." The New York Times devoted two full columns to a review of his colorful life. But the militantly proletarian New York World sniped, "Now that he is dead, the world may be said to have lost the most elegant spendthrift who ever lived."

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