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From Martha Mitchell’s Encyclopedia Brunoniana:

Olney, Richard

Richard Olney (1835-1917), United States Attorney General and Secretary of State, was born in Oxford, Massachusetts, on September 15, 1835. He was the oldest of five children and a descendant of Thomas Olney, follower of Roger Williams. Richard Olney attended Leicester Academy and graduated from Brown in 1856 and from Harvard Law School in 1858. He joined the law firm of Benjamin F. Thomas of Boston, and married Thomas’ daughter in 1861. His practice was devoted to wills and corporations, and his appearances in court were rare. He was a Democrat and was elected to the state legislature in 1873, but was defeated for reelection and for other offices. Thus he was not well known when Cleveland appointed him Attorney General in 1893. Cleveland wanted New England representation in his Cabinet, and he asked Olney to be Secretary of the Navy, and when he declined that post, Attorney General. Olney assured Cleveland that John Quincy Adams II of Massachusetts would accept the office of Secretary of the Navy, and he would have his New Englander. However, Adams refused, and Olney was obliged to agree to be Attorney General. When he telegraphed Cleveland that Adams had declined, Cleveland replied, “Nothing will excuse you now but the act of God or the public enemy.” In 1895 he was appointed Secretary of State, and remained in office until the end of the Cleveland administration. He collected the long outstanding Mora claim from Spain, issued a proclamation of neutrality toward the Cuban conflict, and started the system of examinations for consular places. The Boston Transcript assessed his record in 1897, “Mr. Olney’s methods were those of a strong and well-equipped lawyer; there was nothing of the politician in his administration of either cabinet office. He did little for the sake of politics or sensational effect. He never flattered or cajoled the Senate or the press, and whatever reputation he has gained in the great office has been due to his intellectual strength and sturdy purpose.” After leaving the State Department he left political life and returned to the practice of law. When Woodrow Wilson offered the appointment as ambassador to Great Britain, he declined. He died on April 8, 1917, in Boston.

The above entry appears in Encyclopedia Brunoniana by Martha Mitchell, copyright 1993 by the Brown University Library. It is used here by permission of the author and the University and may not be copied or further distributed without permission.

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