Thomas M. Waller, Governor of Connecticut, 1883-1885

Governor Thomas MacDonald WallerBorn: 1840, New York, New York
College: None
Political Party: Democrat
Offices: Secretary of State, 1870-1871
Governor of Connecticut, 1883-1885
Consul-General to London, 1885-1889
Died: January 24, 1924, New London, Connecticut

No other Connecticut governor has a rags-to-riches story comparable to that of Thomas Waller. He was born in New York City to parents who were Irish immigrants. They died before he was eight years old and he survived by selling newspapers and working as a cabin boy. He considered going to California during the gold rush of 1849, but a New London man named Robert Waller offered to provide him a home and an education in Connecticut. Waller accepted his offer, was adopted by the elder Waller, and received an education in the New London schools where he was noted for his skills in public speaking. In 1859 he married Charlotte Bishop and they had six children.

Waller studied law and became a lawyer in 1861, the same year that the Civil War began. He enlisted in the Second Connecticut Volunteers in April, but an eye disease caused him to be discharged two months later. Waller then used his oratory talents to recruit volunteers for the Union. This, and his work in arguing cases in court, drew attention to his speaking ability. In 1867 he was elected to the Connecticut Legislature. He served as Connecticut's Secretary of State for 1870-1871, and as mayor of New London for 1873-1879. In 1882 Waller ran for governor on the Democratic ticket and defeated William Bulkeley (brother of future governor, Morgan Bulkeley) by more than 4,000 votes. In 1884 Waller sought reelection and received more votes than his Republican opponent, but it was less than the 50% majority needed. Republican Legislature chose his opponent as the new governor.

There is little to note in the way of accomplishment for Waller's two years in office. His efforts to make improvements in the state were not approved by the General Assembly. Waller gained some attention when he made a speech at the 1884 Democratic National Convention where Grover Cleveland was nominated for President. The following year Cleveland appointed him to the post of Consul-General to London, England, where he served for four years.

When Waller returned to New London in 1889 he opened law offices there and in New York City. "I work five days a week in New York," he once said in jest, "that I may live two in Connecticut." In 1893 he served on the commission for the Chicago Columbian Exposition. He also served on Connecticut's 1902 Constitutional Convention. Waller died at his Ocean Beach home in New London in 1924. There is a Waller Street in New London that is named after him.

Bibliography

Hartford Courant, January 25, 1924 [CSL call number AN 104 .H3 C69 microfilm].

Osborn, Noris Galpin. Men of Mark in Connecticut. Hartford: W.R. Goodspeed, 1906, vol. 1pp.165-70 [CSL call number F 93 .O81].

National Cyclopedia of American Biography.  New York:  James White & Company, 1898-   , s.v. “Waller, Thomas Macdonald”, vol. X, pp. 343 [CSL call number E 176 .N27].

Norton, Frederick Calvin.  The Governors of Connecticut.  Hartford:  The Connecticut Magazine, 1905 [CSL call number F 93 .N88 1905].

Sobel, Robert and John Raimo.  Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978.  Westport, CT:  Meckler Books, 1978 [CSL call number GIS Ref E 176 .B573].

Portrait

43" x 53" in its frame, painted by Harry I. Thompson in 1883.

Originally prepared by David O. White, Museum of Connecticut History, Connecticut State Library.