Smith was a major benefactor of New-York Central College, McGrawville, a co-educational and racially integrated college in Cortland County.
Smith was in favor of the Civil War, but at its close he advocated a mild policy toward the late Confederate states, declaring that part of the guilt of slavery lay upon the North. In 1867, Smith, together with Horace Greeley and Cornelius Vanderbilt, helped to underwrite the $100,000 bond needed to free Jefferson Davis, who had, at that time, been imprisoned for nearly two years without being charged with any crime. In doing this, Smith incurred the resentment of Northern Radical Republican leaders.
Gerrit Smith was an interesting character, in some ways different than the other members of the Secret Six that financed and supported abolitionist/terrorist John Brown. Smith was an ardent abolitionist and “social reformer” like the rest, but he had also been involved in politics, running for president a couple times. He also ran for the governorship of the state of New York on an anti-slavery platform.
Mr. Smith had some “interesting” relatives, too, one of which was Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the main movers and shakers of the women’s suffrage movement that manifested itself at a convention in Seneca Falls, New York in 1848 and was heavily influenced by Spiritualism, according to the book Radical Spirits that I have previously mentioned. Elizabeth Cady Stanton was Gerrit Smith’s first cousin, and, in fact, she met her future husband, Henry Stanton, also an active abolitionist, at the home of the Smith family in Peterboro, New York. The town had been named for Gerrit Smith’s father. And, in 1840, the candidate for president for the Liberty Party, James G. Birney, married Elizabeth Potts Fitzhugh, who was Smith’s sister-in-law. So as you can see, Smith was connected via family to some of the big wheels of his day.
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