John M. Francis
John M. Francis

Information on this page is from History of Rensselaer Co., New York by Nathaniel Bartlett Sylvester, published in 1880.

JOHN M. FRANCIS. The life of John M. Francis, the founder, editor-in-chief, and senior proprietor of the Troy Daily Times, affords a favorable example of how much one, with no especial extraneous advantages, may accomplish in this country through the exercise of talents industriously applied. His father was by birth a Welshman, and came to America in 1798. When a young man he served as midshipman in the British navy, and was on the flagship with Admiral Rodney when he achieved his celebrated victory over the French fleet commanded by the Count de Grasse. Subsequently Midshipman Francis resigned from the British navy, mainly because of the sympathy he entertained for the cause of the colonies, and upon the first opportunity sought a home in America. After having resided in this country a few years, he married a Connecticut lady, and the young couple removed to Steuben Co., N. Y., where they settled on a small farm that required close economy and steady labor of the hands to furnish a livelihood for the family. Their son John M. was born at Prattsburgh, in that county, March 7, 1823. He had only the limited advantages of early education which the sons of farmers in pioneer settlements enjoyed, attending school winters and working on the farm in summer.

In 1838, at the age of fifteen, he left home with fifty cents in his pocket to seek his fortune. He went to Canandaigua, Ontario Co., and entered the office of the Ontario Messenger, where he learned to set type. During the Presidential campaign of 1844 he was employed as editorial writer on the Wayne Sentinel, published at Palmyra, Wayne Co., which, owned and edited by the late Pomeroy Tucker, was, at the time, one of the most influential journals in the State. In 1845, Mr. Francis had further editorial experience in connection with the Rochester Daily Advertiser. About this time he studied law with the late Judge Theron R. Stron, and the Hon. Oliver H. Palmer, now of New York City, but finally abandoned the law for the more congenial profession of journalism. In January, 1846, Mr. Francis moved to Troy, and became editor of the Troy Daily Budget, of which the Hon. Thomas B. Carroll and Col. Alanson Cook were proprietors. In the spring of that year, with the late Edwin Brownell, he purchased the Budget. In 1847, C. L. MacArthur bought the interest of Mr. Brownell, and the latter withdrew from the paper. It was during this period in Mr. Francis' journalistic career that he first distinguished himself. The Democratic party in New York was split into factions known as Hunkers and Barnburners, and in the exciting contest between them he espoused the cause of the latter, and gave utterance to those fearless expressions in favor of liberty and the rights of man, which have since characterized his published writings. He sustained the Free-Soil branch of the party through the Presidential campaign of 1848, with Martin Van Buren and Charles Francis Adams as its candidates for President and Vice President. The Budget was generally recognized as one of the most powerful of the journalistic advocates of Free-Soil principles in that day. It was while connected with the Budget, from which he withdrew in 1849, that Mr. Francis established the local department, which has since grown into such prominence as one of the most important features of newspaper enterprise, and also introduced the system of summarizing news, now so popular with the journals of the country. For a brief season he was employed on the Troy Whig, and also on the Troy Post, but in 1850 he left journalism to engage in the O'Reilly telegraph enterprise, and resided for a little time in New York City.

In 1851, Mr. Francis returned to Troy and established the Troy Daily Times, issuing the first number of that journal June 25th. R. D. Thompson, late of the Pittsburgh Commercial, was associated with Mr. Francis for the period of nearly two years, and after that time until the accession of Mr. H. O'Reilly Tucker, Mrs. Francis conducted both the editorial and business departments of the paper. Under his management the Times has enjoyed a growth and prosperity unexampled in the history of journalism in this section, and but few papers in the country rival it in circulation, influence, and character. Such as it is Mr. Francis has made it. His was the brain to conceive the journal, and so it has been his proud achievement to solve the problem of its success. No American citizen need covet a finer monument to commemorate personal talent, enterprise, and good fortune than the Troy Daily Times constitutes for its founder and editor-in-chief.

Mr. Francis began life as a Democrat in politics, but severed his connection with that party when it surrendered, as he thought, its principles at the behest of slavery. In 1856 her was one of the representative men who assisted in the convention at Syracuse in effecting the union of the Free-Soil Democrats with the Free-Soil Whigs, and so forming the Republican party in this State. With this political organization he has since been closely identified, giving it the service of his able pen and mature counsel through the columns of his paper. He was elected a member of the State Constitutional Convention in 1867-68, serving on the committee having jurisdiction of the subjects relating to the government of cities. Some delicate and intricate questions were referred to this committee, among them the powers and duties of police organizations, and the source from whence such organizations should derive their authority.

Mr. Francis was an advocate of the principle of State sovereignty in all matters pertaining to police government, and wanted it engrafted on the constitution. The Hon. Ira Harris, who was a member of the committee, opposed this view, and representing a majority of the committee, presented a report placing the police government of cities solely in the hands of the people thereof. Mr. Francis made a minority report sustaining his position. A lengthy debate ensued, in which Mr. Harris and Mr. Francis made long and exhaustive speeches. On the third day of the debate the vote was taken, and Mrs. Francis had the satisfaction of carrying the convention with him by a small majority, though the principle for which he contended was subsequently lost with nearly the whole of the work of the convention. In this contest Mr. Francis proved his ability to cope intellectually with the foremost men of the State. In 1871, President Grant appointed Mr. Francis United States Minister to Greece, and for two years he represented the government at the court of Athens, resigning in 1873. In 1875-76 he made the tour of the world, visiting all the principal places on the line of travel, and making extensive journeys into the interior of China and other Eastern countries. He has never aspired to political honors, declining many tenders of official position made to him by the representative men of his party, and has preferred to pursue the more quiet profession of journalism, believing it to be one of the grandest as well as the most powerful means of educating the masses and enlightening the world.

In 1846, Mr. Francis married Harriet E. Tucker, daughter of Pomeroy Tucker, of Palmyra. They have two children, Alice A. (wife of John C. Havermeyer, of New York City), and Charles S. Francis, the present city editor of the Troy Daily Times.

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