Politicking at Saratoga

shows crowd arriving at Union Hotel in 1865.
Nineteenth-century politicians flocked to the springs in the summer after Congress adjourned.  The heat of Washington and other coastal cities and the attendant danger of disease made retreating to the wooded up-country sensible as well as agreeable.  Beginning around 1800, inn-keepers built large resorts there to accommodate the need.  The most well-known and successful of such resorts grew up around the site of healing mineral springs, in towns like Saratoga Springs, New York; White Sulphur Springs, Virginia; and Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania.

Each resort drew guests from across state lines, making these watering-holes ideal for politicking.  White Sulphur attracted visitors from throughout the Upper South, while Saratoga drew its custom mainly from New York and New England.  Bedford drew politicians from across the mid-Atlantic states.  It was also a haven for officials whose duties kept them in the capital during the summer months.  James Buchanan, a Pennsylvanian, spent the summers of his presidency at Bedford Springs.

The resorts really took off after the creation of steamboat and railroad lines.  In combination, the steamers and trains made it easy for travelers to reach the resorts from New York City or Washington, DC.  The Union Hotel in Saratoga, shown above, grew hectic after the arrival of the daily ‘steamboat train.’  Many of its passengers came by boat up the Hudson River from New York City to Albany, where they caught a connecting train carrying them the rest of the way.

The trunks’ labels identify guests hailing from Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania.  The male crowd in the foreground means business, for they’re laden not only with trunks but with valises, no doubt crammed with correspondence and other papers.  They hobnob before blending into the pleasure-seeking crowd of women and men who throng the hotel’s ‘office’ (lobby).

Only an elite class of Americans could afford to leave home for the sake of summer leisure.  The wealthy and influential persons gathered at the resorts were exactly the sort whose support a politician needed to prevail in the November election or achieve the goals defining his political career.  The patriotic names given to many of the hotels at Saratoga and elsewhere (the Union, the American, the Congress) attest to the political functions they tacitly served.

Image:
‘Appearance of the Office of the Union Hotel, Saratoga, New York,
on the Arrival of the Steamboat Train from Albany,
from a sketch by Mr. Albert Berghaus,’
Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, August 12, 1865.
From the Yates Collection of Saratogiana at Skidmore College.
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