Cassidy Family - William Cassidy Tribute

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William Cassidy

His Great Work for the New York State Library Which His Bust Now Adorns

A marble bust, with pedestal, of the late William Cassidy has been placed in the State Library in the Capitol. There is a peculiar appropriateness in having this bust placed where it is, for William Cassidy was the official head of the State Library at a critical period of its existence, a time when this great collection of books was looked upon with no true appreciation of its value by the general public, and absolutely ignored by the Legislature of the Empire State.

After graduating from Union College, William Cassidy studied law, was admitted to the bar, and began the practice of that profession in the office of John Van Buren, son of the President, or ‘Prince John’ as he was affectionately called in those days of the early forties. While in that office, the then Lieut.-Goy. Young and Controller Azariah Flagg, both of whom were old friends of John Cassidy, (father of William, and a prominent man of his day,) sent for the younger Cassidy and offered him the appointment of State Librarian-the office being then at the disposal. Of the State officers. Though William Cassidy only in his twenty-fifth year, the proffer was accepted, and the commission was issued written, not as things are done now, on officially prepared parchment, but on a piece of ordinary paper, in ink, and sighed by the State officers.


The new appointee was fitted for his task. He was a good classical scholar and had a knowledge of French and German, a competent equipment for those days, when the general drift of men was toward thrift, at the expense of culture. For few Albanians of that time were what are now called men of liberal education. Cassidy found the library in a chaotic condition, and with a catalogue full of mistakes of omission and commission. Compared with the present magnificent collection, second only to the Congressional Library at Washington, it was not at that period one-tenth its present size; but there were the possibili ties. One assistant was all he had at his command. To-day the present distinguished director of the State Library, Melvil Dewey, has more appointments at his disposal than were on the entire roster of the Capitol in 1841, the rear that Mr. Cassidy was appointed.


With energy the new administration started in, and under it what might be called modern methods were for the first time introduced. Information was sought from London and Paris libraries. A new catalogue was started, the numerous volumes and documents were arranged in regard to lines of history, science, and fiction. An attempt was made to place the documents in chronological order. Rome was not built in a day; but the impetus for future work was given, and the State Library made a step in advance toward its present proud position, that of one of the leaders in the civilized world. Cassidy used his pen, also, and importuned the Legislature in season and out of season to appropriate moneys for the care of books, for proper bindings; to save in many cases volumes of priceless value, and for new purchases. Some success he achieved; but it was hard work, and the response was not at all adequate. His term lasted less than four years, but in after life he said that his position as librarian was in itself a liberal education, as he had access to books that it would have been impossible for him to have had in any other position.


Late in 1843, when the fight was fierce between the Hunkers and Barnburners, The Atlas was started to fight The Argus, then edited by the brilliant Edwin Croswell, and William Cassidy was chosen by the followers of Silas Wright and Martin Van Buren to become editor of the new publication. He at once sent in his resignation as State Librarian. One of his friends twitted him one day and said: "I suppose, Cassidy, you will be putting a Van before your name." "Oh, no," was the reply, “Martin Van Buren has Irish blood in his veins, for everything, he does and everything he as is extremely Pat." From his retirement from the library Cassidy's career was that of the sanctum, and as an editor he made a reputation in State and Nation. The Atlas, though it looked like a forlorn hope, triumphed. The papers were consolidated under the title of The Atlas and The Argus, and he became the editor-in-chief of the paper in 1853. Later on, the first title was dropped, and the paper became The Argus again.

In the fifties the second or little Albany regency was formed, its members being Dean Richmond of Buffalo, William Cassidy, and his brother-in-law, Peter Caggar. This lasted until Caggar's death, in 1868, which occurred in New York during the dividing of the convention that nominated Horatio Seymour for President.

After that came Tilden. Samuel J. Tilden was Chairman of the Democratic State Committee, and Cassidy, Secretary, until the latter's death, in 1873. William Cassidy never sought office. He placed men in them. He was many times honored by his party, and was elected State Printer by the Legislature, was a member of the Constitutional Convention in 1868, and the Constitutional Commission of 1873.—Albany Argus.

The New York Times December 27, 1903