Maurice Power Mixed Art and Politics

Emerging Civil War welcomes back guest author Leon Reed

On August 25, guest author John B. Haltigan posted about William O’Donovan, an ex-Confederate artillery officer who sculpted the iconic New York Irish Brigade monument. In his article, Haltigan mentioned O’Donovan’s collaboration with another sculptor who worked at Gettysburg, Maurice Power. Power wasn’t an ex-Confederate, but he has an interesting story.

Both a sculptor and a businessman, Power founded the National Fine Art Foundry in 1868. He created a number of sculptures himself, and the foundry cast dozens of works created by other sculptors, including the battle monuments at Trenton and Monmouth, New Jersey (both of which were sculpted by his friend, O’Donovan), Newburgh, Albany, and Buffalo, New York; and many others scattered about the country.

He was also politically active and well connected in Democratic party politics. Originally part of the Tammany machine, he later joined anti-Tammany factions. He was a protege of 1876 presidential candidate Samuel Tilden, a leader of the anti-Tammany faction of the Democratic party, and held politically sensitive offices such as police court justice, U.S. shipping commissioner, and aqueduct commissioner, a position he held at the time of his death in 1902.

In 1879, an article on the upcoming Syracuse Convention of the Democratic party noted Power’s role in “packing the house” by distributing tickets to Syracuse:

The train that took the local statesmen from their native heath consisted of nineteen cars, of which fourteen were sleeping coaches. Two of these had been exclusively engaged by Mr. Maurice J. Power, who was in charge of the anti-Tammany delegation. Mr. Power stood by the ticket office with a huge roll of bank bills in one hand and a bundle of passage tickets in the other, and distributed the latter to the select of his party with a gracious bow.[1]

It’s not known if his efforts made a difference, but the Tilden faction prevailed in the convention. This was an essential bit of maneuvering preceding the 1880 election. In 1876, Tilden became the only presidential candidate ever to win a majority of the votes and not be elected president when a smoke- filled room awarded the presidency to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. The Syracuse convention solidified Tilden’s position as favorite for 1880, although eventually he dropped out because of poor health and the opposition from Tammany. Power’s key role in New York City politics was described in an October 1886 article by the New York Times: “Police Justice Power is the new boss of the County Democracy … and by the nomination of Mr. Hewitt he has acquired a hold upon the organization that can scarcely be loosened.”[2] The County Democracy was a rival to Tammany, and Power held the chairmanship until 1894, when it merged with the State Democracy.[3]

His connections helped him and other artists, including William O’Donovan, obtain support for works, which were often cast at Power’s foundry. His works at Gettysburg included the 124th New York monument on Houck’s Ridge, the 66th New York on the Stony Hill, and the 82nd New York (2nd New York Militia) on Hancock Avenue. He also collaborated on the Excelsior Brigade monument in Excelsior Field. In addition to the Irish brigade, his foundry cast the monuments to Smith’s battery (Houck’s Ridge) and the 62nd New York (Plum Run valley).

Monument to the 124th NY Infantry

The monument to the 124th shows regimental commander Col. Augustus van Horn Ellis and was the first portrait statue on the battlefield.

The 66th is one of the finest examples of a bronze plaque; it makes a statement about sectional reconciliation with a banner reading “Peace & Unity” and a Union soldier shaking hands with a Confederate while also giving him a drink from his canteen. It is directly across the street from the Irish Brigade monument.

[1] “Syracuse Convention,” New York Daily Herald, September 9, 1879.

[2] “Burdened With Promises-Hewitt’s Promises to the United Factions-Croker and Power to Hand Out Spoils if Their Candidate is Elected,” New York Times, October 18, 1886.

[3] “Maurice Power Dead- Aqueduct Commissioner Succumbs to Attack of Diabetes,” New York Times, September 9, 1902.


1 Response to Maurice Power Mixed Art and Politics

  1. Thank you for sharing this research, Leon! Always fascinating to learn the history of the art and monuments.

Please leave a comment and join the discussion!