|Confederate States Secretary of the Navy|
March 4, 1861 – May 2, 1865
|Preceded by||Position established|
|Succeeded by||Position abolished|
|United States Senator|
March 4, 1851 – January 21, 1861
|Preceded by||David Yulee|
|Succeeded by||Adonijah Welch|
Trinidad, British West Indies
(now Trinidad and Tobago)
|Died||November 9, 1873 (aged 60–61)|
|Spouse(s)||Angela Sylvania Moreno|
Stephen Russell Mallory (1812 – November 9, 1873) was a Democratic senator from Florida from 1851 to the secession of his home state and the outbreak of the American Civil War. For much of that period, he was chairman of the Committee on Naval Affairs. It was a time of rapid naval reform, and he insisted that the ships of the US Navy should be as capable as those of Britain and France, the foremost navies in the world at that time. He also wrote a bill and guided it through Congress to provide for compulsory retirement of officers who did not meet the standards of the profession.
Although he was not a leader in the secession movement, Mallory followed his state out of the Union. When the Confederate States of America was formed, he was named Secretary of the Navy in the administration of President Jefferson Davis. He held the position throughout the existence of the Confederacy. Because of indifference to naval matters by most others in the Confederacy, Mallory was able to shape the Confederate Navy according to the principles he had learned while serving in the US Senate. Some of his ideas, such as the incorporation of armor into warship construction, were quite successful and became standard in navies around the world. On the other hand, the navy was often handicapped by administrative ineptitude in the Navy Department. During the war, he was weakened politically by a Congressional investigation into the Navy Department for its failure in defense of New Orleans. After months of taking testimony, the investigating committee concluded that it had no evidence of wrongdoing on his part.
Mallory resigned after the Confederate government had fled from Richmond at the end of the war, and he and several of his colleagues in the cabinet were imprisoned and charged with treason. After more than a year in prison, the public mood had softened, and he was granted parole by President Andrew Johnson. He returned to Florida, where he supported his family in his final years by again practicing law. Unable to hold elective office by the terms of his parole, he continued to make his opinions known by writing letters to newspapers. His health began to deteriorate although he was not incapacitated until the very end.
He was the father of Stephen Russell Mallory, a U.S. Representative and Senator from Florida.
Mallory was born in Trinidad, British West Indies, in 1812. His parents were Charles and Ellen Mallory. His father was a construction engineer originally from Redding, Connecticut. He met and married the Irish-born Ellen Russell in Trinidad, and there the couple had two sons.
The family moved to the United States and settled in Key West, Florida, in 1820. Young Stephen was sent to school near Mobile, Alabama, but his education was interrupted by his father's death. His elder brother John also died about this time. To support herself and her surviving son, Ellen opened a boarding house for seamen. Then she sent her son away for further schooling at a Moravian academy in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Although he was for all of his life a practicing Catholic, he had only praise for the education he received at the academy. After about three years, his mother could no longer afford to pay his tuition, so in 1829 his schooling ended and he returned home.
Young Mallory prepared for a profession by reading law in the office of Judge William Marvin. Because of its geographical position, Key West was often sought as a port of refuge for ships caught in storms and was for the same reason near frequent shipwrecks. Marvin was recognized as an authority on maritime law, particularly applied to laws of wreck and salvage, and Mallory argued many admiralty cases before him. He was reputed to be one of the best young trial lawyers in the state.
His career prospering, in 1838 Mallory courted and wed Angela Moreno, a member of a wealthy Spanish-speaking family living in Pensacola. Their marriage produced nine children, five of whom died young; surviving into adulthood were daughters Margaret ("Maggie") and Ruby, and sons Stephen R. Jr. ("Buddy"), and Attila ("Attie"). Buddy followed his father into politics, and he would eventually also serve as U.S. Senator from Florida. Angela Moreno was the cousin of Felix senac, future Confederate Paymaster and agent in Europe, born like her in 1815 in Pensacola.
Mallory held a few minor public offices, beginning in 1832 with his selection as town marshal. One of his first paid positions was as Inspector of Customs, for which he earned three dollars per day. Later, President Polk appointed him Collector of Customs. Before his marriage, he joined the Army and took part in the Seminole War, 1835–1837. He also was elected judge for Monroe County for the years 1837–1845.
In 1850, the sectional differences that eventually culminated in the Civil War led to a convention to be held in Nashville, Tennessee, for the purpose of defining a common course of action for all Southern (slave-holding) states. Although Mallory had held no statewide offices, he was regarded as sufficiently powerful in the state Democratic Party to be chosen as an alternate delegate to the convention. Personal considerations kept him from attending, but he expressed his agreement with the purposes of the convention in a letter that was widely reprinted in the Florida newspapers.
The term in office of senator from Florida David Levy Yulee expired in 1850. He sought reappointment, but he had aligned himself too strongly with the Fire-eaters, and also had antagonized some commercial interests in the state. The moderates who favored working within the Union still dominated Florida politics, and they successfully sought to put Mallory in place of the radical Yulee. The selection process in the Florida state legislature was somewhat irregular, and Yulee protested, carrying his protest all the way to the Senate itself. That body determined that the Florida legislature had acted within its authority in certifying Mallory, and so he was seated.
Much of what he did in the Senate can be described as the typical sponsorship of legislation that would benefit his state. With his sponsorship, the Senate passed a bill that would aid railroads in Florida, and another that would sell off some of the live oak reservations maintained by the Federal government for the Navy; both bills failed in the House of Representatives. He was more successful with bills aimed at prosecuting the ongoing campaign against the Seminole Indians, although the problem seems to have been overstated. His bills would provide compensation for persons who had suffered from the depredations of Indian raids and would further the process of removing the aborigines from the state. He also introduced bills that provided for marine hospitals in port cities in Florida. None of this would have been considered exceptional for the era.
Mallory was placed on the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs. His assignment became significant when President Millard Fillmore, in his Message to Congress of December 13, 1851, recommended Congressional action on two issues. First was the problem of what to do with ineffective officers in the Navy. At the time, promotion was based solely on seniority, and no policy existed for removing officers who could not or would not fulfill their duties. Second was the issue of discipline in the enlisted rates. The practice of flogging had been outlawed in the previous Congress, and many of the old captains believed discipline on their warships was deteriorating; they wanted a return to the old ways or at least a reasonable substitute that would enable them to exert their authority.
Mallory's first major speech in Congress was in favor of a return to flogging, which he argued was needed in order that a captain would be able to control his seamen in battle. His position was unpopular throughout the nation, and Congress refused to lift the ban. His views on flogging, for good or ill, were forgotten when he turned his energies to the second of President Fillmore's proposals, that of reforming the officer corps of the Navy. He was by this time chairman of the Senate Committee on Naval Affairs, and the law that Congress passed was recognized as coming from his hand. It established a Retirement Board of senior naval officers, who examined the qualifications of all other commissioned officers. Those who were deemed incapable or unworthy of their rank were placed on a retired list, the first compulsory retirement in the history of the U.S. Navy. By most accounts, the board did its work creditably, but many of the officers who were adversely affected did not agree. Among those who were forced into early retirement was Matthew Fontaine Maury, too crippled to go to sea, but whose study of ocean currents formed the basis for the new science of oceanography. Maury and some of the other retirees enlisted other Senators to support their cases, and the debate was renewed. In the end, however, Mallory's views prevailed, a testimonial to his parliamentary skills. The enmity between Maury and Mallory lasted the remainder of their lives and distorted their performance in the Civil War when both men sided with the South.
Mallory's tenure on the Committee on Naval Affairs came during a time of great innovation in naval warfare. He kept abreast of developments in other navies, and he made sure that the U.S. Navy would incorporate the latest thinking into its new ships. Britain and France, then the two foremost navies in the world, were in the process of converting their fleets from sail to steam, and from paddles to screws. In 1853, the committee recommended passage of a bill providing for the addition of six new screw frigates to the fleet; when delivered, some considered them to be the best frigates in the world. In 1857, his committee persuaded the Senate to authorize twelve sloops-of-war. These entered the Navy beginning in 1858, on the verge of the Civil War.
Another innovation that was being considered was that of armor. Mallory was here somewhat ahead of his time, enthusiastically supporting iron cladding for ships before the fledgling metals industry in the country could supply it in the requisite quantities. No armored vessels were commissioned while he was in the Senate, but whatever fault there was lay elsewhere. He spoke up for extending appropriations for an armored vessel that was intended for the defense of New York Harbor; named the Stevens Battery after its designer and builder Robert L. Stevens, it had been laid down in 1842 but was still incomplete in 1853, when Mallory gave his argument. His pleading was unsuccessful in that the Senate did not agree to continue funding the project, but in his supporting speech he expressed some of the principles that guided his thinking when he later became the Confederate Secretary of the Navy.
Representing as he did a state in the Deep South, Mallory could hardly have avoided taking a public stance on the issues that were tearing the nation apart. The occasion arose when the Senate considered the admission of Kansas to the Union. Its Lecompton Constitution would allow slavery in Kansas, and citizens who were against extending the practice into new territories seized upon the widespread irregularities in the adoption procedure to oppose it. Senator Preston King of New York mounted a two-hour attack on the constitution and Southern policy in general, following which Mallory replied in what his biographers describe as "probably his most effective speech in the Senate." One segment of his talk presented the rationale of the slave-holders in their unwillingness to accept majority rule. Addressing the question whether the constitution had been ratified by "the people," he said: "States have conferred, and may at any time confer, their whole political power on a minority. They may make disqualifications dependent upon the tenure of freehold estate, upon the payment of tax, upon militia duty, or upon the color of skin; but whoever the State chooses to confer her political authority upon, are the people." He foresaw the decline in relative power of the slave-holding states, although at this time he did not believe it would necessarily lead to secession. He concluded his remarks by a pledge to follow the South whatever happened: "It is not for me to indicate the path she [the South] may, in her wisdom, pursue; but, sir, ... my whole heart is with her, and she will find me treading it with undivided affections."
Despite his willing adherence to the Southern position on the issues that were dividing the country, Mallory was not prominent in the secession movement. He advocated reconciliation almost up to the moment that Florida passed its ordnance of secession. That occurred on January 10, 1861, making Florida the third state (behind South Carolina and Mississippi) to leave the Union. On January 21, Mallory delivered his farewell speech in the United States Senate.
In the days before Abraham Lincoln took office, parties in the seceding states disagreed over the proper course of action concerning the forts within their domains. In Florida, three forts remained in the possession of the United States Army: Fort Zachary Taylor at Key West, Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas, and Fort Pickens near Pensacola. Some of the most strident secessionists proposed that they be taken over immediately, by force if needed, beginning with Fort Pickens. Cooler heads hoped to avoid bloodshed and gain possession by negotiation; they made much of the conciliatory words of William H. Seward, already selected to be Secretary of State in the incoming administration. Mallory and Florida's other senator, David L. Yulee, and the two senators from Alabama sent telegrams to their respective governors urging caution. Other Southern senators lent their support, and President-elect Jefferson Davis seemed to agree. In the end, the moderates won out, and no attack was made on Fort Pickens. Although Mallory was hardly alone, his political opponents later used his perceived pro-Union stance as an excuse to attack him.
A large part of the population of the Northern states believed that the Davis government was somehow involved in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, and although there was no evidence of their complicity, it was a political reality that had to be dealt with. One result was that the political radicals were able to force the government to prosecute those who had led the war against the Union. Mallory was one of the Confederate leaders who were charged with treason, among other things; on May 20, 1865, while he was still at La Grange, he was roused from his sleep at about midnight and taken into custody. From there he was taken to Fort Lafayette in New York Harbor, where he was confined as a political prisoner.
For several months, the demand of the public for vengeance increased, so that Mallory feared that he would face the death penalty if convicted. However, no bill of particulars to specify precisely which of his acts constituted treason was ever presented, and it became increasingly clear that no one in the Confederate government was guilty of assassinating the former president. The period for extracting vengeance passed with no one put on trial, and hope was revived. From his prison cell, Mallory began to write letters in a personal campaign to gain release. He petitioned President Andrew Johnson directly, and enlisted the support of some of his former colleagues in the Senate. His wife Angela visited Washington and importuned President Johnson and other persons who had influence. Johnson was already quite lenient in granting pardons, and the popular clamor for harsh punishment began to recede by the end of the year. On March 10, 1866, Johnson granted Mallory a "partial parole." Although he was no longer in jail, he was required to stay with his daughter in Bridgeport, Connecticut until he could take the oath of allegiance.
In June 1866, Mallory visited Washington, where he called on many of his old friends and political adversaries, including President Johnson and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton, who received him cordially. He got permission to return to Florida; his return was somewhat delayed by problems with his health, but on July 19 he arrived at his home in Pensacola.
By the terms of his parole, Mallory was not permitted to hold public office, so he made a living by reopening his old law practice. Nominally excluded from politics, he managed to make his views known by writing letters and editorials for Florida newspapers. At first he urged acceptance of the reconstituted Union and acquiescence in the policies of Reconstruction, but he soon came out in opposition, particularly against black suffrage.
He had long suffered occasional attacks of gout, and these continued to plague him in the postwar years. In the winter of 1871–1872 he began to complain of his heart, and his health began to deteriorate. Still, he remained active, and the end came rather quickly. He is said to have been "listless" on November 8, 1873, and that night he began to fail. On the morning of November 9 he died. He was buried in St. Michael's Cemetery, Pensacola, Florida.