In its entire history as a state it is doubtful if Colorado has given to assist in framing the laws of the nation, any citizen who has attained a fame equal to that of Hon. Henry Moore Teller. His name is indelibly written upon the annals of his state and his country. Through his long and brilliant career as United States senator he has not only retained the friendship of his political supporters, but has won the admiration even of those whose opinions upon political subjects are diametrically opposed to his own. He stands now, near the climax of his career, as he has always stood, for what he believes to be true and right, for what he believes will promote the national welfare. To these principles he would remain staunch and true, though it cost him defeat for the highest position within the gift of the people, for he is a man of fearless courage and values integrity more than position, honor more than office.
A publication of the nature of this should justly devote considerable space to the life and works of such a man. In this resumé it will be our effort to give an account of his ancestry, in order that the reader may understand the qualities that have come by inheritance; also a sketch of the career that has been so remarkable in amount of good accomplished for the people of the state and nation. From the presentation of his biography may be gleaned lessons worthy of emulation by all, and especially by the young man, starting out in the world, with every possibility before him if he but have the courage to do and dare.
The founder of the Teller family in America was William, a native of Holland, born in 1620. In 1639 he came to New York and settled at Fort Orange, where the king of Holland had appointed him trustee of a tract of land. In 1664 he moved to New York, where his remaining years were passed. By his marriage to Mary Douchen he had a son, William (2d), whose son, William (3d), was the father of William (4th), and the latter had a son, Isaac Teller, M. B., a prominent physician of New York, having an office on the corner of Chambers street and Broadway. During the Revolution he volunteered as a surgeon in the colonial army and died while in active service. By his marriage to Rebecca Remsen, who was born in Brooklyn, N. Y., of Dutch parentage, he had a son, Remsen Teller, who was born about 1769 and resided at Schenectady, N. Y. He married Catherine McDonald, of Ballston Spa, N. Y., daughter of David McDonald and Sarah (DuBois) McDonald, the latter a daughter of Col. Louis DuBois, of Ulster County, N. Y, who was a colonel in the Revolutionary war. Remsen Teller and his wife had a son, John, who was born in Schenectady, N. Y., February 15, 1800, and married Charlotte Moore, who was born in Vermont in 1808 and is now living in Illinois. John Teller located on a farm in Allegany (sic) County, N. Y., but later he removed to Girard, Erie County, Pa., and after ten years there, in 1862 he settled in Morrison, Whiteside County, Ill., where he died in 1879. His wife was a daughter of Willard Moore, who was born in Vermont, removed thence to Ballston Spa, N. Y., from there went to Allegany County about 1821, and in 1840 settled in Rochester, the same state.
Upon his father’s farm in Allegany County the subject of this review was born May 23, 1830. The years of his boyhood and youth passed uneventfully in farm work and study. His indomitable perseverance was apparent at an early age. Knowing his parents would be unable to give him the advantages he desired he set himself resolutely to work to secure them for himself, and by teaching school earned the money necessary for the prosecution of his academic studies. On the completion of the academic course he entered the law office of Judge Martin Grover, under whose preceptorship he acquired an accurate knowledge of the law. He was admitted to the bar January 5, 1858, at Binghamton, N. Y. Coming as far west as Morrison, Whiteside County, Ill., he engaged in active general practice until his removal to Colorado.
During his residence there gold was discovered in Pike’s Peak and thousands of men crossed the plains, joining the army of gold-seekers in the mountains of Colorado. Other lines of activity sprang into existence with the birth and development of bustling towns from the primitive mining camps. He was among those whose attention was called to the opening offered men of energy and determination in this part of the country. He determined to come west, and in April, 1861, made the long and tedious overland trip to the mountains. He opened an office at Central City, then the chief center of population and mining in the territory. Three years later he was joined by his brother, Willard, and the firm of H. M. & W. Teller was established. In 1865 he drew up the charter for the Colorado Central Railroad and presented it to the territorial legislature. As he was the originator of the railroad and its most enthusiastic promoter, he was selected as the president of the company and for five years held that position, his excellent management placing the concern upon a sound financial basis. During the Indian troubles in 1863 he was appointed major-general of militia by Governor Evans and held the office for two years, then resigned.
Senator Teller was reared in the Democratic faith, but when the Republican party was organized he found himself in sympathy with its principles and therefore joined its ranks. Soon after coming to Colorado he began to participate actively in politics, and in 1876, when Colorado was admitted to the union, he and Mr. Chaffee were elected its first representatives in the United States senate. He drew the term of three months, and on its expiration was elected for a full term of six years, 1877 to 1883. His record in the senate is a part of history, and his acceptable service in behalf of his constituents has led to his re-election at every election since 1876.
Shortly after he entered the senate he was made a member of the committee on privileges and elections and was sent to Florida to investigate the alleged frauds in the election of 1876. In 1878 he was made chairman of a special committee to investigate alleged election frauds in southern states, his report of which was most thorough. As chairman of the committee on civil service and retrenchment he rendered efficient service.
In 1882 Senator Teller was chosen secretary of the interior in President Arthur’s cabinet and he served in that responsible position until the expiration of the presidential term, March 3, 1885. The following day he took his seat in the senate, having been elected to succeed Hon. Nathaniel P. Hill. In 1891 he was re-elected for the term ending in March, 1897, and at the latter time was again the people’s choice for the position. He has served as chairman of the committees on pensions, patents, mines and mining, and as a member of the committees on claims, railroads, judiciary, appropriations and public lands. On all questions relating to public lands he is considered an authority.
Perhaps in no way is Senator Teller better known than for his championship of the free coinage of silver. He is a staunch advocate of the restoration of bimetallism, believing that the act of 1873 demonetizing silver has proved prejudicial to the welfare of the nation, and especially injurious to the interests of Colorado. Believing that the prosperity of the working people can never be subserved until silver is restored to its proper standard and the currency issue is honestly and fairly settled, he has given much of his thought and time in late years to this matter. His labors in the interests of free coinage in the senate of 1893 are too recent to need especial mention. On his return to Colorado at the expiration of that session, the people, appreciating what he had done in their behalf, accorded him a most hearty welcome and demonstration. It was said at the time that the reception was the most brilliant ever given anyone in the state. But, grand as it was, the reception given him in 1896, after the famous St. Louis national convention, eclipsed every previous affair of the kind. In the national convention of his party in 1896 he had stood firmly for the free coinage of the white metal, which he desired to be made a plank in the party platform. The majority were against him, and, feeling that his party had turned its back upon principles it should have supported, he and his followers left the convention hall, disappointed and sad at heart. Whatever disappointment he may have experienced, however, was forgotten in the gratitude he felt toward the people whom he represented and who, upon his return home, showered upon him expressions of heartiest appreciation and thanks for his steadfast support of their interests.
In 1886 Alfred University conferred upon Senator Teller the degree of LL. D. In fraternal relations he is a Mason and has done much for the upbuilding of the order in Colorado. He has attained the thirty-third degree, Scottish Rite, and has been honored by his brethren of the Mystic Tie with many important and honorable offices. For seven years he was grand master of the state and was also the first grand commander of the Knights Templar of Colorado.
At Cuba, N. Y., June 7, 1862, he married Harriet M., daughter of Packard Bruce, a farmer of Allegany County. They have three children, Emma A., John Harrison and Henry Bruce, all of whom were born in Central City.
Of the personal characteristics of Senator Teller, one of the most conspicuous is that quality which enables him to look ahead, measuring forces and their effects upon the future. He is peculiarly far-seeing, able to discern influences that will bear upon the prosperity of the people in days yet to come. As a leader he is safe, because he is cool, calm and keen, never allowing himself to become excited and nervous, but maintaining a steady control over his own mind as well as over others. Because of the wonderful control he exercises over himself, he has sometimes been called cold; but he may be compared with the ocean beneath which flows the gulf stream, the ocean itself on the surface giving little indication of the warmth of the current below. So it is with him; on the surface he is great, awe inspiring and cold, but below flows the warm and genial current of kindness, sympathy and love.
Perhaps we cannot better conclude this sketch than with a quotation from the pen of that versatile and brilliant writer, Fitz Mac, which appeared in a recent character study of Senator Teller, published in the Denver Evening Post. “He has this mark of genuine greatness above any man whom I know in Colorado, or perhaps any that I personally know anywhere in public life, except Tom Reed, speaker of the house of representatives. He is simple. He is natural. He is without affectations. He is simple because it is natural for him to be simple, and simplicity indicates the calm mind and clear vision as to the relations of things, their real values.
“It seems to me that the holy spirit of patriotism has descended upon Teller and enveloped him and entered into his soul and sanctified his purposes. He stands before the country as the tongue of Colorado, but he speaks not for Colorado alone, not alone for the United States, but for the humbler three-fourths of all humanity. Soberly, bravely and ably he is fighting humanity’s holy cause for us and for all, and it behooves us as an intelligent, appreciative and generous people to hold up his honored hands steadfastly and stand by him with a courage as dauntless, as devoted as his own.”
Source: Portrait and biographical record of Denver and vicinity, Colorado : containing portraits and biographies of many well known citizens of the past and present : together with biographies and portraits of all the presidents of the United States.. Chicago: Chapman Pub. Co., 1898.