William Dayton
Dayton circa 1856
United States Minister to France
In office
May 19, 1861 – December 1, 1864
PresidentAbraham Lincoln
Preceded byCharles J. Faulkner
Succeeded byJohn Bigelow
21st Attorney General of New Jersey
In office
January 20, 1857 – March 18, 1861
GovernorWilliam A. Newell
Charles Smith Olden
Preceded byRichard Thompson
Succeeded byFrederick Frelinghuysen
United States Senator
from New Jersey
In office
July 2, 1842 – March 3, 1851
Preceded bySamuel L. Southard
Succeeded byRobert F. Stockton
Personal details
William Lewis Dayton

(1807-02-17)February 17, 1807
Basking Ridge, New Jersey, U.S.
DiedDecember 1, 1864(1864-12-01) (aged 57)
Paris, France
Political partyWhig (Before 1854)
Republican (1854–1864)
SpouseMargaret Dayton
EducationPrinceton University (BA)

William Lewis Dayton (February 17, 1807 – December 1, 1864) was an American politician, active first in the Whig Party and later in the Republican Party. In the 1856 presidential election, he became the first Republican vice-presidential nominee when nominated alongside John C. Frémont. The Republican Party lost that campaign. During the American Civil War, Dayton served as the United States Ambassador to France, a position in which he worked to prevent French recognition of the Confederate States of America.

Early life

Dayton was born in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, to farmer Joel Dayton (1776–1833) and Nancy (Lewis) Dayton (1787–1866). His father worked as a farmer and mechanic, and was not well off, but the extended Dayton family was long prominent in New Jersey. William L. Dayton was the grand-nephew of Elias Dayton and second cousin of Jonathan Dayton. He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1825. He then studied law with Peter Dumont Vroom, was admitted to the bar in 1830, and became an attorney in Freehold.

Political career

In 1837, Dayton was elected to the New Jersey Legislative Council, and he became an associate judge of the New Jersey Supreme Court in 1838. Following the death of U.S. Senator Samuel L. Southard, he was appointed to the United States Senate starting July 2, 1842, and elected to finish the term ending in 1845. As a Senator, Dayton opposed attempts at tariff reduction, arguing it would harm farmers and businesses if enacted.[1] Although he found negotiations for Oregon territory "agreeable," Dayton condemned the annexation of Texas as an attempt to spread slavery and regarded the Mexican-American War as dishonorable.[1] Following the conflict's conclusion, Dayton supported the Wilmot Proviso and voted against the 1850 Compromise, believing it conceded too much to pro-slavery interests.[1] He was re-elected by the New Jersey Legislature as a Whig in 1845 but lost in 1851, ending his service on March 3, 1851.

In 1856, Dayton was selected by the nascent Republican Party as their first nominee for Vice President of the United States over Abraham Lincoln at the Philadelphia Convention. He and his running mate, John C. Fremont, lost to the Democratic ticket of James Buchanan and John C. Breckinridge. Afterwards, he served as New Jersey Attorney General until 1861, when his former rival, President Lincoln appointed him Minister to France. He served from May 1861 until his death in December 1864. His service spanned most of the American Civil War, and Dayton served a key role in preventing French intervention in the War.


In France, Dayton was part of a successful lobbying campaign to prevent the government of Napoleon III from recognizing the independence of the Confederacy or allowing Confederate use of French ports.

Dayton died in Paris and was buried in Riverview Cemetery, Trenton, New Jersey.[2]


His son, William Lewis Dayton Jr. (1839–1897), graduated from Princeton in 1858 and served as President Chester A. Arthur's Ambassador to the Netherlands from 1882–1885.

Later, the town of Dayton, New Jersey, was named in his honor.[3] Dayton Street in Trenton, New Jersey, also memorializes him.[4]


  1. ^ a b c Southwick, Leslie (1984). Presidential also-rans and running mates, 1788-1980. McFarland & Company. pp. 226–228. ISBN 9780899501093.
  2. ^ James, George. "He's Looked at Life From Both Sides Now", The New York Times, "Buried here too is William Lewis Dayton, the first Republican vice presidential candidate who defeated Lincoln for the position in 1856 but lost the presidential nomination to him in 1860." February 20, 2000. Accessed December 29, 2007.
  3. ^ "South Brunswick Township History". Retrieved 2012-11-09. In 1866, the name was changed from Cross Roads to Dayton, in honor of William L. Dayton, an attorney for the Freehold and Jamesburg Agricultural Railroad. ...
  4. ^ "How Streets of Trenton Obtained Present Names". Trenton Historical Society. Retrieved October 23, 2023.

Further reading

U.S. Senate Preceded bySamuel L. Southard U.S. Senator (Class 1) from New Jersey 1842–1851 Served alongside: Jacob W. Miller Succeeded byRobert F. Stockton Preceded byJohn Leeds Kerr Chair of the Senate Public Buildings Committee 1842–1845 Succeeded bySimon Cameron Party political offices New political party Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States 1856 Succeeded byHannibal Hamlin Legal offices Preceded byRichard Thompson Attorney General of New Jersey 1857–1861 Succeeded byFrederick Frelinghuysen Diplomatic posts Preceded byCharles J. Faulkner United States Minister to France 1861–1864 Succeeded byJohn Bigelow