Chemung County NY
History of Tompkins, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga 1879
Page 282 - Alexander Diven Biography
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1879 Four County History - Table of Contents
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General Alexander S. Diven. Although having a distinct reputation as a lawyer, statesman, and soldier, probably no man residing in the territory embraced in this work has done more towards developing its internal improvements that he whose name stands at the head of this sketch.

General Diven was born in the town of Catharine, Tioga Co. (now the town of Dix, Schuyler Co.), N. Y., Feb. 15, 1809. He received his education at the Penn Yan and Ovid Academies, after which he commenced the study of law with Judge Gray, of Elmira, and was admitted to practice in 1832. He prosecuted his professional career in the firm of Diven, Hathaway & Woods, of Elmira, for many years, and until the commencement of the war, "winning reputation as much by his diligent attention to business as by the talent he displayed in managing the cases placed under his charge."

The general entered early into political life, and was an active member of the Republican party from the date of its organization. He served in the New York State Senate in 1858-59. In 1859 he was the "Free-Soil" candidate for Governor of New York, and a candidate in the State Convention at the time Judge Henry E. Davies was nominated for judge of the Court of Appeals. In 1860 he was elected to Congress, from the 27th Congressional District. As a member of the Judiciary Committee, and as a member of the House during the early part of the Rebellion, he was a stanch and devoted Unionist, and gave the administration unstinted support. His loyal utterances are a matter of record.

The proceedings of the Thirty-seventh Congress bear witness to his patriotic devotion. As an anti-slavery man he was well known to the public at large, and although not an extremist, he gave a cordial support to the bill abolishing slavery in the District of Columbia. "When the proposition was made to confiscate the property of the rebels, he shrank from it as involving an amount of human suffering and misery too fearful to contemplate. The speech delivered by him on the subject is one of which he may well feel proud. It must ever remain a monument to his humanity; it was the utterance of a Christian and a chivalric man," and the same sentiments influenced his subsequent action on the battle-field. We make a brief extract from the speech:

"Now, sir, it is for civilized warfare that I plead, -it is against barbarian warfare that I protest, -when I declare that the pittance of the women and children, the private property upon which families rely for sustenance, shall not be taken, and an unnecessary punishment inflicted upon them...

while the barbarian spares the life of the non-resistant, the savage takes it, and decorates his war-belt with the glossy curls of helpless women and the flaxen hair of innocent children, and, around his hellish war-fires, gloats on these wanton murders. That is savage warfare. But civilized warfare stops with the striking down of the enemy on the battle-field; with conquering by the strong right arm. Sir, valiant men will go no farther.... Let me tell you that if you enact certain laws that will require valiant men, after they have stricken down their enemies on the field, and captured them and all their munitions of war, to go into the homes of their enemies and desolate them; to lift their hands against unoffending women and children, rob them of their substance, and turn them penniless on the world, -valiant men will never do it. I was taught early to bend a very little knee, and lift tiny hands, and ask God to forgive me as I forgave those who trespassed against me. And, Sir, daring the troubled voyage of life, in sunshine and in storm, in tempest and in calm, I have never forgotten that anchor of my hope, -that trust which is all my religion. I have been taught that the difference between the demon of darkness and the angel of light is, that the one is guided by charity and love, and the other by hate and malice."

He was the first to introduce measures providing for the employment of colored troops in the army, -drafting and introducing the first bill on the subject. In 1862 Mr. Diven left his seat in Congress to aid with his sword in suppressing the rebellion. He assisted in raising the 107th Regiment, New York Volunteers, and went into service as its lieutenant-colonel, August 12. He distinguished himself in the Virginia campaigns of 1862-63 by his gallantry and skill. After the battle of Antietam he was commissioned colonel, and led the regiment at Chancellorsville, amid the fiercest conflict. In May, 1863, he was commissioned adjutant-general with the rank of major, and appointed to the cargo of the rendezvous for troops at Elmira. Aug. 30, 18h he was brevetted brigadier-general, and assigned to special duty as assistant provost-marshal-general for the western district of New York, and subsequently appointed to the command of the northern and western districts, which he retained until the close of the war, performing the duties with energy and success. In the spring of 1865 he retired from martial to civil life.

In 1844 he became a director of the New York and Erie Railroad, and was its attorney until 1865, when he was chosen its vice-president, which position he held for three years. During the period from 1844 to 1850, Mr. Diven was conspicuous in his labors and efforts to re-establish the waning credit of the road, and in raising the necessary millions to prosecute its erection, which he did to completion. In 1844 came the crisis in the affairs of Erie; the road was built only to Binghamton, funds were exhausted, and its officials discouraged. The fate of this great enterprise hung in the balance. At a meeting of its directors, held in New York City, that year, a resolution was presented recommending the abandonment of the enterprise. Mr. Diven opposed it so strongly, that his resolution, recommending its prosecution, was substituted, and a new era of effort inaugurated, into which Mr. Diven threw all his energies, and labored zealously for years. He drew up the bills passed by the Legislature in aid of the road; he was instrumental in procuring their passage by the legislative body; the first issues of bonds and mortgages were drafted by him; he was commissioner of construction during its building, -the pay of contractors passing through his hands. In 1849 he organized the company (and for a time was one of its stockholders) composed of Messrs. Arnot, Cook, etc., who built the road from Binghamton to Corning. Elmira is largely indebted to him that it has the termini of the Williamsport and Elmira Railroad, instead of Corning. He was president of the latter road during the entire process of its construction, and later became interested in all its connections, since consolidated and now known under the general title of the Pennsylvania Northern Central Railway.

As a contractor he has been eminently successful. In connection with General Thomas Price and James P. Kirkwood he contracted for the construction of the Missouri Pacific Railroad, and, under the firm name of Diven, Stancliff & Co., engaged in the construction of the southwestern branch of that road.

He is president of the Elmira and Horseheads Street-Car Company; and he, with his sons, are the owners and operators of the Elmira Water-Works.

General Diven was married, in 1835, to Miss Amanda Beers, of Elmira, and has four sons and four daughters. The sons seem to inherit their father’s energy and enterprise, and are worthy scions of a noble sire. Mr. Diven is modest, unassuming, and very domestic in his tastes, although methodical in his habits., and an indefatigable worker. He is now retired from active business, except the management of his estate, embracing a large farm lying in the suburbs of Elmira, and another in Florida, and in watching the developing careers of his sons. In every capacity in which he has figured, he has brought to the discharge of his arduous labors unswerving rectitude and pre-eminent ability. But that in which he takes most pride, and which most entitles him to consideration in this history, is what he has achieved for the internal improvements so largely affecting the material interests and prosperity of the locality about which we write.

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