Then and Now

Warwick's powerful politicians: Charles R. Brayton, the "blind" boss


During the late 19th century, the man who perfected the Republican Party organization and managed it in the interests of Senator Anthony was Brigadier General Charles R. Brayton, a native of Warwick.

Brayton was a member of a family that had lived in Rhode Island since 1643 and most often played key roles in politics and business. Brayton’s grandfather was the Honorable Charles Brayton, a justice of the Supreme Court from 1814-17 and 1827-30. Brayton’s father, William Daniel Brayton, was a member of Congress from Rhode Island from 1859-61, and his uncle, George Arnold Brayton, was chief justice of the R.I. Supreme Court in 1868. Brayton’s father was in the lumber business in Apponaug and East Greenwich and served as town clerk of Warwick.

Gen. Brayton entered Brown University in 1859, and at the end of his sophomore year he left to volunteer in the Civil War. He recruited a company of the Third Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers (Heavy Artillery) and offered it to Governor Sprague. HE was appointed a lieutenant of the Third Regiment on Oct. 9, 1863. Brayton was known as an excellent disciplinarian during his military career and, although he was severe, he was popular with the men because of his gruff, easy manner. He distinguished himself on a number of occasions and, at the close of the war, Brayton, at age 25, was made Brigadier General of Volunteers.

Brayton built his political organization primarily on the votes of the rural and small town Yankees who feared the incursion of the foreign populations in the cities. Brayton was director of several corporations and the careful guardian of the interests of the state’s economic elite. He was the representative of both business interests and rural Yankees and elevated many small town men to positions of leadership in the state. The power of the Anthony-Brayton machine came from what Brayton referred to as “old codgers” from country towns. Thanks to Brayton, they held all “key posts.” Brayton made sure that no committee chairmen were all from the country and not from the cities. Through these methods, Brayton became the a;;-powerful “boss” of the Republican Party and a nod from the general was enough to kill a bill.

When Anthony died in 1884, Nelson W. Aldrich took his place in Rhode Island political leadership and Brayton worked for him. Tradition states that when Brayton had become angry at one of the party regulars who wanted to run for Congress, the “boss,” looking for a new candidate, spotted Aldrich and threw his support to him.

In 1877, Brayton feared that Aldrich might join forces with Henry Lippitt, the only possible threat to Sen. Anthony’s total control, and offered young Aldrich the governorship to win him over. Aldrich realized that being governor of Rhode Island at the time was at most an empty honor and turned down the offer. Brayton then offered him the chance to run for Congress in 1878. With the help of Sen. Anthony and “Boss” Brayton, Aldrich was elected. In 1881, when Sen. Ambrose Burnside died, Brayton and Anthony chose Aldrich as his successor. That same year, U.S. senators were selected by the state legislature rather than by popular election and, as Anthony and Brayton controlled the state legislature, Aldrich’s election was assured.

Aldrich received the opportunity to begin the career that over the next 30 years would earn him titles such as “General Manager of the U.S.,” Boss of the Senate,” Commander-in-Chief of the forces of protective tariffs” and “the most powerful man in U.S. politics.” When he entered the Senate in 1881, it was estimated that his financial assets totaled about $50,000. When he left the Senate in 1912, his worth was calculated as upwards of $30 million and his estate was completed.

In the early 1890s Sen. Aldrich found Warwick Neck, with its quiet beauty, an ideal place to spend his summers. In 1896 he decided to make this his permanent summer home and purchased the Governor Hoppin farm and about 15 acres. Almost form the start, the senator envisioned a magnificent complex that would grow and develop over the years. Aldrich eventually purchased seven farms in the area to make this possible. He began this vast enterprise when he was 56 years old and it was not completed until he was in his 70s.


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