The wave of Prohibition which, from 1846 to 1855, swept over the country swinging a dozen states into the Prohibition column, only in turn to be engulfed by the more tremendous question of the Civil War and the agitation immediately preceding it, did not miss the Empire State. The people of New York twice decreed the enactment of a prohibitory law: first in 1853 by the election of a legislature which passed a prohibitory law only to have it vetoed by the governor: then in 1854 by the election of a prohibition governor (Myron H. Clark) and legislature which enacted a prohibitory law, afterward declared unconstitutional on a technicality.
In that great legislative battle which brought out in bold advocacy of the Prohibition cause such illustrious names as Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, Neal Dow, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry J. Raymond of the New York Times, the elder James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, P.T. Barnum, Lucy Stone, William E. Dodge, Stephen H. Tyng, Henry Ward Beecher, Theodore L.Cuyler, and William Cullen Bryant, Charles Christian Leigh, the subject of the sketch, was a leader. In 1854, while president of the New York City Temperance Alliance and member of the legislature from the Seventh Assembly District of the city, he was the chairman of the “select committee” appointed by Governor Clark to consider the liquor issue as presented in the governor’s message of that year. The Committee report, one of the most remarkable legislative documents to bd found in the State’s history, recommended a rock-ribbed prohibitory law, and, upon concurrence of the legislature and the governor, this was put on the statute books, to be afterward declared unconstitutional, as stated above.
Charles D. Leigh was born in Philadelphia, on Christmas Day, 1812. His parents moved to New York State while he was an infant, and both died before he was 12 years old. For 83 years he resided in New York State: 61 years of that time in the cities of New York and Brooklyn as a merchant.
At the time of the defeat of the prohibitory law, the slavery question assumed such grave proportions that Mr. Leigh threw his whole energy into the movement for emancipation. He was made chairman of the general committee of the Republican Party of New York City, and was a member of the convention which nominated General Fremont for President of the United States. He was an active member of the Republican Party during the war and reconstruction periods, but, after failing to induce that party to espouse the cause of Prohibition, he left it and joined the Prohibition Party, being its first nominee for governor of this State, in 1872. In 1881, he was named by the Prohibitionists for mayor of Brooklyn.
During the war, Mr. Leigh was actively engaged in work for the relief and improvement of the slaves, and in 1862 (Feb, 22) he was made chairman of the executive committee of “The National Freedman’s Relief Association.” Through his energy and foresight, there was formed, in 1864, in France, under his direction, a company with a capital of $5,000,000, by which a cable was laid between this country and France. This cable is still working.
For over half a century, Mr. Leigh was an active lay preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church, and up to the time of his death, which occurred January 14, 1895, was almost constantly preaching.