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.
-- An Album of Representative Prohibitionists (1895)
Charles Christian (C.C.) Leigh was one of the pioneering activists who helped advance the prohibitionist movement in New York State. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on December 25th, 1812. His parents moved the family to New York State when he was an infant, and both had died by the time he was 12.
In 1832, he moved to Kings County ( now Brooklyn Borough)and he would spend the remainder of his life living in Brooklyn [later part of New York City]). He opened a glass and China Shop, and spent the following decades engaging in various business and mercantile ventures. In 1833, he joined the Sands Street Methodist Episcopal Church, becoming a deacon in 1835. He acted as a lay preacher over the following decades, helped to form a local preachers’ association, and helped in forming the National Association of Local Preachers.
At some point in the 1830’s, Charles Leigh married his first wife, Catherine L. Tearance Leigh. They had two children, Marie Ann (sometime between 1837 and 1839), and Catherine C. in 1844.
His first wife passed at some point in the mid to late 1840’s. He then married his second wife, Josephine, and had two children by her: his third daughter Juliana in 1849, and son Newell in 1852.
By 1846, Leigh had moved to New York County (now Manhattan Borough). He had become involved in temperance and prohibition activism and had joined the New York City Temperance Alliance. He was involved with the Temperance Party: a political organization in New York State, in the 1850’s, a group which focused on passing a statewide prohibition law.
In 1853, he was elected to the New York State Assembly, for New York County’s 7th district. He served two terms, in 1854 and 1855. In the assembly, he was a leading figure in the assembly’s committee on temperance. He worked to help pass a statewide prohibition bill in 1854. This bill was vetoed by then Governor Horatio Seymour.
In 1854, Myron Clark, a champion of statewide prohibition was elected governor. In 1855, Leigh once again helped pass a statewide prohibition bill in the legislature. An Act for the Suppression of Intemperance, Pauperism, and Crime was passed, and signed into law by Governor Clark: establishing the first period of statewide prohibition in New York. The law was struck down in 1856, by the anti-prohibitionist dominated state Court of Appeals.
Leigh was also involved in antislavery political activism. In the late 1850’s he joined the newly organized Republican Party. He became chairman of the general committee of the Republican Party in New York County. He was a delegate for New York in the convention which formally absorbed the remainder of the Whig Party into the Republican Party. He was also a delegate at the 1856 Republican National Convention, which nominated John C. Fremont for President.
During the Civil War, Leigh was one of the figures who worked to establish the National Freedman’s Relief Society in the County of New York and the Freedman’s Aid Society (organizations which worked to provide charitable aid, work opportunities, and education to newly freed former slaves). For a time, Leigh acted as chairman of the executive committee of the National Freedman’s Relief Society. He visited North Carolina to help with the organization’s projects on Roanoke Island. He then made visits to various countries in Europe to help raise money for the organization.
While in England he learned of the construction of a transatlantic telegraph cable between the U.S. and England, and saw opportunity in the expansion of transatlantic telegraph lines. In 1867, he returned to New York State, formed a company, and convinced the New York State government to grant the company a contract to build a transatlantic telegraph line between New York State and France. The telegraph line to France was successfully constructed.
By the late 1860’s and 1870’s, Leigh increasingly turned his focus back toward prohibitionist activism and politics. He became a leading figure in the New York State Temperance Society. He had attempted to convince the Republican Party to get firmly behind supporting prohibitionist legislation, but he was unsuccessful.
In 1869, the Prohibition Party was formed, with the focus of establishing national prohibition and advancing other reforms in American society. Leigh joined the Prohibition Party at least early as 1870. He quickly became a leading figure in the Prohibition Party in New York State
In 1870, the state Prohibition Party selected former Governor Myron Clark as its candidate for Governor and selected Charles C. Leigh for Lieutenant Governor. Clark received 1,459 (0.19%) votes. It’s not currently known how many votes Leigh got. During the 1870 election, the Republican candidate for Governor, Lieutenant Governor Stewart Woodford, was accused by Democratic opponents of having taken bribes to try to influence the awarding of transatlantic telegraph contacts to the French Cable company. Leigh, who was familiar with the situation, wrote a public letter defending Woodford against these accusations. The Brooklyn Union praised his actions, stating, “Such courtesy and manliness as Mr. Leigh has thus exhibited demand hearty recognition, and we commend his example to all our opponents”.
In 1871, Leigh presided over that year’s state Prohibition Party convention. Leigh gave a speech there stating that, if the problems of drunkenness and political corruption fueled by alcohol industry money continued, they would threaten the future of the Republic. He contended that both major parties were corrupted by the alcohol industry and that separate political action, in the form of the Prohibition Party, was central to bringing about victory for the temperance cause. In the same year, he was the party’s candidate for New York Secretary of State. He received 1,824 (0.24%) votes.
In 1872, Leigh left his position with the State Temperance Society to more heavily focus on his work in the state Prohibition Party. He presided over a state party meeting which concurred with the national Prohibition Party’s nomination of James Black and John Russel as its first presidential ticket. In the same year, Leigh was nominated as the party’s candidate for governor of New York. He campaigned on a platform of moving the state towards ending the sale of alcoholic beverages, with a beginning step of requiring local licensing boards to calculate the cost of the damages caused by alcohol in their areas and charge licensing fees proportional to such costs. As well as making establishments that sell alcohol liable for the damages caused by the alcohol they sell. The law would also have allowed citizens to sue sellers for damages done to themselves, their spouses, or children.
A later step would have helped transition away from the licensing system towards statewide prohibition.
Leigh presided over the Prohibition Party’s state convention again in 1874. The state party adopted resolutions condemning the state liquor traffic and the Democratic and Republican parties for supporting it, called for an amendment to the state constitution to establish statewide prohibition, and supported women’s suffrage. He was one of four contenders for the party’s nomination for governor. The others were Myron Clark, Horace V. Howland, and Rev. B.I. Ives. Myron Clark won the nomination for governor by 81 votes, to Howland’s 27 votes, and Leigh’s 9 votes. Howland was nominated for Judge for the State Court of Appeals. Leigh was selected as state party chairman. (He served as chairman for an unknown period of time in the 1870s.)
Leigh was appointed in 1876 to represent New York as one its members on the Prohibition Party National Committee. He served until 1880.
By the 1880’s, the Prohibition Party was starting to experience significant growth throughout the state and the country. In 1882, the party’s gubernatorial ticket of Alphonso Hopkins and W. H. Boole attracted over 25,000 votes. Disaffected, prohibition-supporting, voters were increasingly leaving the major parties to join the Prohibition Party.
In the early 1880’s, Leigh was president of the Kings County (Brooklyn Borough) Prohibition Party. The Kings County Prohibition Party had initially sought to get William Boole to run for mayor of Brooklyn. After Boole turned them down, the party selected Leigh as its nominee for mayor. In the mayoral election, Leigh challenged incumbent Republican Mayor Seth Low. Seth Low was criticized by Leigh and other Prohibitionists for changing local laws to allow the sale of alcohol on Sundays, for allowing the sale of alcohol to minors, and for the increased number of places selling alcohol in the Borough under his leadership.
Leigh campaigned on a platform which included support for establishing local prohibition, support for expanding the city’s public education system and especialy expanding educational opportunities for lower income residents, support for home rule “so far as it indicates a practical, substantial, wisely economical government for the benefit of all the people”, and support for expanding the city’s road and public transit systems. He decried the fact the number of places selling alcohol in Brooklyn was greater than the number of churches and schools in the borough, and denounced saloons as “schools of ignorance and vice”. He sought to appeal to working class Brooklynites and to women activists (who while they couldn’t vote yet, could still be involved in campaign work and work to encourage men to vote for certain parties/candidates).
Incumbent mayor Seth Low managed to limit prohibitionist votes against him by promising to end Sunday alcohol sales and to end the sale of alcohol to minors (and then later broke those promises). Leigh managed to get 349 votes. While Leigh’s vote results were limited, his campaign was still seen by some commenters at the time as part of the party’s growing prominence and its potential threat to the electoral future of Republicans.
In the following 1884 presidential election, Prohibition Party candidates received over 25,000 votes in New York (over 15 times its result in 1880), and 148,000 votes nationwide. Leigh was also involved in local community associations and activism. He was highly involved in a local civic group called the Old Brooklynites in the 1880’s and 1890’s. He was president of the board of the Brooklyn Sanitarian Hospital and Dispensary in 1885.
There were controversies in 1887 over the managing board of the Brooklyn Bridge and over a proposal for expanding the Brooklyn Bridge. Leigh criticized the bridge board for mismanaging revenue, and he opposed the proposed expansion of the Brooklyn bridge as impractical and out of touch with the public’s transportation needs. In 188_____, he also was involved with the centennial celebration of the Sands Street Methodist Episcopal Church.
In 1887, the Kings County Prohibition Party worked to up it’s electoral efforts. Leigh helped to lead this, and there were some successes. The party’s 1887 candidate for mayor of Brooklyn, Samuel Utter, received 1,971 votes. In 1891, Leigh was one of the guests that attended a prohibitionist mass meeting, hosted by the Young Man’s Prohibition Club, at Criterion Theater. The event was attended by various important state and national Prohibition Party figures, such as 1882 candidate for governor, Alphonso Hopkins, and 1884 presidential candidate, John St. John.
Charles C. Leigh died on January 14th, 1895, from an acute coughing fit in his home. He was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery, in Brooklyn. In 1887, the Standard Union published an article on Leigh and his life, in which he was described as a “courteous, pleasant- featured, white-haired gentleman of the type commonly termed as “solid, business-like, and who has the happy faculty of giving out his views on public questions in a clear-headed manner and without fear or favor”.
Sources: “A Long Record: A Centennial of Methodism in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). November 8, 1887. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50378731/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
C C Leigh; New York State Census, 1855. FamilySearch. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:K67Q-3L9
Charles C. Leigh; mentioned in the record of Catherine C. Everett. FamilySearch. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:2WF8-P5C
Charles C Leigh; United States Census, 1850. FamilySearch. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:MCBW-FLK
"Charles Christian Leigh." FamilySearch. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QVV2-B9XJ.
Colvin, D. Leigh. Prohibition in the United States: A History of the Prohibition Party and of the Prohibition Movement. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1926. “Convention of the Anti-Dram-Shop Party”. The Buffalo Commercial. (Buffalo, New York). July 31, 1872. Accessed, May 22, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/264577946/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Events in Brooklyn: Summery of The Week’s Local News”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). October 7, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50399428/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Hon C. C. Leigh’s Letter of Acceptance”. The Brooklyn Union. (Brooklyn, New York). October 7, 1872. Accessed, May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/541740237/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Hon. Charles C. Leigh”. Magazine of Western History. Volume 19. New York: The National History Company, 1894.
“Leaving Home: Sands Street Methodists Bid Farewell to Church”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). May 7, 1888. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50438219/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Leigh’s Logic: Employed in Criticism of Bridge Management”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). August 5, 1887. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50377277/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
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Makeley, Jonathan. Securing the State for the Public Welfare: The establishment of the First Period of Statewide Prohibition in New York State. Masters Thesis, University at Buffalo, 2019. “Mayor”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). November 9, 1887. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50378740/?terms=s.s.%2Butter%2Bmayor “Must Woodford Withdraw”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). September 29, 1870. Accessed May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50436822/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Obituary”. The Brooklyn Citizen. (Brooklyn, New York). January 15, 1895. Accessed May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/541798148/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Old Brooklynites”. The Standard Union. (Brooklyn, New York). September 4, 1891. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/542450706/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Other Past Candidates: New York”. Partisan Prohibition Historical Society. Prohibitionists.org. Accessed March 29th, 2018. http://www.prohibitionists.org/Candidates/candidates.html POCOCK, EMIL. "Wet or Dry? The Presidential Election of 1884 In Upstate New York." New York History 54, no. 2 (1973): 174-90. http://www.jstor.org/stable/23170001. “Political Convention: The New York Prohibitionist State Convention”. New York Times. (New York City, New York). June 24, 1874. Accessed May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/20619187/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Prohibition Convention: Meeting of the State Central Committee of the Prohibition Party at AuburnThe Candidates Nominated”. Buffalo Weekly Courier. (Buffalo, New York). July 1, 1874. Accessed, May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/494632394/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Prohibition: Mr. Leigh Notified of His Nomination for the Mayoralty”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). October 7, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50399429/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Prohibition Rally: A Rousing Meeting in the Academy of Music”. The Brooklyn Citizen. (Brooklyn, New York). November 3, 1887. Accessed, May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/543418555/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Prohibition: The Recent Convention At Syracuse”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). December 3, 1881. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50448411/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Prohibition: The Kings County Alliance Holds a Meeting”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). October 25, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50399538/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Prohibitionists Reorganizing: Officers and Delegates Elected for the First and Fourth Wards- Candidate Leigh on the Recent Campaign and its Result”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). November 21, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. “Ratified: The Nomination of Chas C. Leigh for Mayor by the E. D. Prohibitionists”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). October 20, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50399503/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Rival Leaders: stirred Up by the Formation of Eastern District Club”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). September 29, 1884. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/60775524/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Sanitarian Hospital and Dispensary”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). January 24, 1885. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50425719/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Society of Old Brooklynites”. The Standard Union. (Brooklyn, New York). July 3, 1891. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/542449773/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “State Temperance Convention”. New York Daily Herald. (New York City, New York). September 7, 1871. Accessed, May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/21560443/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition “Talked Of For Mayor”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). August 18, 1887. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/543685952/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“The Anti-Dramshop Meeting”. The Brooklyn Union. (Brooklyn, New York). January 7, 1871. Accessed May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/541871332/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“The Anti-Dramshop Party”. The Brooklyn Union. (Brooklyn, New York). March 12, 1872. Accessed, May 22, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/541787756/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“The Balance”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). October 7, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50399611/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“The Charges Against Governor Woodford”. The Brooklyn Union. (Brooklyn Union, New York). September 28, 1870. Accessed, May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/541728982/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“The Local Prohibitionists”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). October 7, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50399413/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“The Obituary Record: Charles C. Leigh”. The New York Times. (New York City, New York). January 15, 1895. Accessed May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/20409073/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“The State Temperance Convention”. Buffalo Morning Express and Illustrated Buffalo Express. Buffalo, New York. October 24, 1872. Accessed, May 22, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/343958810/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“Their War Paint On: The Brooklyn Property Owners Association Hold A Big Meeting”. The Standard Union. (Brooklyn, New York). November 28, 1887. Accessed, May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/543688634/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“They Never Drink: A Meeting of Prohibitionists at the Criterion”. The Brooklyn Citizen. (Brooklyn, New York). March 8, 1891. Accessed, May 21, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/543681083/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“To Swell the Prohibition Vote”. The Standard Union. (Brooklyn, New York). September 4, 1891. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/542450706/?terms=charles%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
“War’s Heat: The Multitude at Music Hall”. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. (Brooklyn, New York). November 3, 1883. Accessed, May 20, 2019. https://www.newspapers.com/image/50399586/?terms=charles%2Bc.%2Bleigh%2Bprohibition
-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley