Thomas W. Palmer

Last updated
Thomas Witherell Palmer
Thomas Witherell Palmer.png
United States Senator
from Michigan
In office
March 4, 1883 March 4, 1889
Preceded by Thomas W. Ferry
Succeeded by James McMillan
Personal details
Born(1830-01-25)January 25, 1830
Detroit, Michigan, USA
DiedJune 1, 1913(1913-06-01) (aged 83)
Detroit, Michigan
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Lizzie Pitts Merrill Palmer
Alma mater University of Michigan
Profession Politician

Thomas Witherell Palmer (January 25, 1830 June 1, 1913) was a U.S. Senator from the state of Michigan. He is considered to be one of the most significant figures in the history of Detroit, Michigan.

U.S. state constituent political entity of the United States

In the United States, a state is a constituent political entity, of which there are currently 50. Bound together in a political union, each state holds governmental jurisdiction over a separate and defined geographic territory and shares its sovereignty with the federal government. Due to this shared sovereignty, Americans are citizens both of the federal republic and of the state in which they reside. State citizenship and residency are flexible, and no government approval is required to move between states, except for persons restricted by certain types of court orders.

Michigan U.S. state in the United States

Michigan is a state in the Great Lakes and Midwestern regions of the United States. The state's name, Michigan, originates from the Ojibwe word mishigamaa, meaning "large water" or "large lake". With a population of about 10 million, Michigan is the tenth most populous of the 50 United States, with the 11th most extensive total area, and is the largest state by total area east of the Mississippi River. Its capital is Lansing, and its largest city is Detroit. Metro Detroit is among the nation's most populous and largest metropolitan economies.

Detroit Largest city in Michigan

Detroit is the largest and most populous city in the U.S. state of Michigan, the largest American city on the United States–Canada border, and the seat of Wayne County. The municipality of Detroit had a 2017 estimated population of 673,104, making it the 23rd-most populous city in the United States. The metropolitan area, known as Metro Detroit, is home to 4.3 million people, making it the second-largest in the Midwest after the Chicago metropolitan area. Regarded as a major cultural center, Detroit is known for its contributions to music and as a repository for art, architecture and design.

Palmer was born in Detroit, where his mother was the daughter of the third Michigan Territorial Judge James Witherell, while his father was a New England merchant who had settled in the city following the War of 1812. Palmer attended the public schools, Thompson’s Academy in Palmer (now St. Clair), and studied one year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. He traveled to Spain and South America and then entered the real estate business in Detroit in 1853 and then engaged in lumbering and agricultural pursuits with his future father-in-law, Charles Merrill, beginning in 1855. He served on the first board of directors and as the first president for the Michigan Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (now known as the Michigan Humane Society).

Michigan Territory territory of the USA between 1805-1837

The Territory of Michigan was an organized incorporated territory of the United States that existed from June 30, 1805, until January 26, 1837, when the final extent of the territory was admitted to the Union as the State of Michigan. Detroit was the territorial capital.

James Witherell American judge

James Witherell was an American politician. He served as a United States Representative from Vermont and as a Judge of the Supreme Court for the Territory of Michigan.

New England Region in the northeastern United States

New England is a region composed of six states in the northeastern United States: Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. It is bordered by the state of New York to the west and by the Canadian provinces of New Brunswick to the northeast and Quebec to the north. The Atlantic Ocean is to the east and southeast, and Long Island Sound is to the south. Boston is New England's largest city, as well as the capital of Massachusetts. Greater Boston is the largest metropolitan area, with nearly a third of New England's population; this area includes Worcester, Massachusetts, Manchester, New Hampshire, and Providence, Rhode Island.

He served on the Board of Estimates of Detroit in 1873 and was a member of the Michigan State Senate 18791880. He was elected as a Republican to the United States Senate and served from March 4, 1883 to March 4, 1889. He was not a candidate for reelection. He was chairman of the Committee on Fisheries in the Forty-ninth Congress, and the Committee on Agriculture and Forestry in the Fiftieth Congress. While in the Senate, he became known as an advocate for the women's suffrage movement, immigration restrictions, and homesteader rights. He is credited with coining a phrase widely adopted by latter-day reformers, Equal rights for all, special privileges to none. On February 6, 1885, he delivered a noted speech arguing in favor of an amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting women's suffrage.

United States Senate Upper house of the United States Congress

The United States Senate is the upper chamber of the United States Congress which, along with the United States House of Representatives—the lower chamber—comprises the legislature of the United States. The Senate chamber is located in the north wing of the Capitol Building, in Washington, D.C.

Womens suffrage The legal right of women to vote

Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote in elections. Beginning in the late 19th century, besides women working for broad-based economic and political equality and for social reforms, women sought to change voting laws to allow them to vote. National and international organizations formed to coordinate efforts towards that objective, especially the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, as well as for equal civil rights for women.

Immigration Movement of people into another country or region to which they are not native

Immigration is the international movement of people into a destination country of which they are not natives or where they do not possess citizenship in order to settle or reside there, especially as permanent residents or naturalized citizens, or to take up employment as a migrant worker or temporarily as a foreign worker.

Palmer was appointed United States Minister to Spain on March 12, 1889 by U.S. President Benjamin Harrison and served from June 17, 1889 to April 19, 1890. He was president of the National Commission of the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago 18901893. He retired to his Wayne County farm near Detroit.

President of the United States Head of state and of government of the United States

The president of the United States (POTUS) is the head of state and head of government of the United States of America. The president directs the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces.

Benjamin Harrison 23rd President of the United States

Benjamin Harrison was an American politician and lawyer who served as the 23rd president of the United States from 1889 to 1893. He was a grandson of the ninth president, William Henry Harrison, creating the only grandfather–grandson duo to have held the office. He was also a great-grandson of Benjamin Harrison V, a founding father who signed the Declaration of Independence. Before ascending to the presidency, Harrison had established himself as a prominent local attorney, Presbyterian church leader, and politician in Indianapolis, Indiana. During the American Civil War, he served in the Union Army as a colonel, and was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as a brevet brigadier general of volunteers in 1865. Harrison unsuccessfully ran for governor of Indiana in 1876. The Indiana General Assembly elected Harrison to a six-year term in the U.S. Senate, where he served from 1881 to 1887.

Chicago city and county seat of Cook County, Illinois, United States

Chicago, officially the City of Chicago, is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Illinois and the third most populous city in the United States. With an estimated population of 2,705,994 (2018), it is also the most populous city in the Midwestern United States. Chicago is the county seat of Cook County, the second most populous county in the US, with portions of the northwest city limits extending into DuPage County near O'Hare Airport. Chicago is the principal city of the Chicago metropolitan area, often referred to as Chicagoland. At nearly 10 million people, the metropolitan area is the third most populous in the nation.

Palmer and his wife, Lizzie Pitts Merrill Palmer, became known for their generous gifts to the city of Detroit. Among his activities, Palmer was one of the major benefactors of the Michigan Soldiers and Sailors Monument erected at Campus Martius. In honor of his mother, he built the Mary W. Palmer Memorial Church. He was also one of the founders and the first president of the Detroit Museum of Art (now known as the Detroit Institute of Arts), to which he contributed $16,000 and its current building stands on the site of Palmer's former home.

Lizzie Pitts Merrill Palmer American philanthropist and suffragist

Elizabeth Pitts Merrill Palmer, known as Lizzie, was an American philanthropist whose bequest founded the Merrill-Palmer Institute in Detroit. She was also a founder of the Michigan Humane Society, active in the women's suffrage movement, and a benefactor of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Campus Martius proving ground

The Campus Martius was a publicly owned area of ancient Rome about 2 square kilometres in extent. In the Middle Ages, it was the most populous area of Rome. The IV rione of Rome, Campo Marzio, which covers a smaller section of the original area, bears the same name.

Detroit Institute of Arts Art museum in Detroit, Michigan

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), located in Midtown Detroit, Michigan, has one of the largest and most significant art collections in the United States. With over 100 galleries, it covers 658,000 square feet (61,100 m2) with a major renovation and expansion project completed in 2007 that added 58,000 square feet (5,400 m2). The DIA collection is regarded as among the top six museums in the United States with an encyclopedic collection which spans the globe from ancient Egyptian and European works to contemporary art. Its art collection is valued in billions of dollars, up to $8.1 billion according to a 2014 appraisal. The DIA campus is located in Detroit's Cultural Center Historic District, about two miles (3 km) north of the downtown area, across from the Detroit Public Library near Wayne State University.

Lizzie Palmer in 1901 commissioned the Merrill Fountain in Campus Martius, dedicated in honor of her father. New York architects Carrere and Hastings are responsible for the design. The fountain was moved to Palmer Park in 1926. She bequeathed $3 million to found the Merrill-Palmer Institute in 1916, which is a national center for child and family development and is now affiliated with Wayne State University and located in the former house of Charles Lang Freer.

Palmer Park (Detroit)

Palmer Park is a 296-acre (120 ha) public park next to Detroit, Michigan's Palmer Park Apartment Building Historic District. It is named for U.S. Senator Thomas Witherell Palmer, who initially created the park when he donated 140-acre (57 ha) for a city park in 1893 on the condition that the virgin forest be preserved. The park includes a historic log cabin, a public golf course, tennis courts, hiking and biking trails and a large pond known as Lake Frances.

Wayne State University American university in Detroit, Michigan

Wayne State University (WSU) is an American public research university located in Detroit, Michigan. It is the third largest university in Michigan. Founded in 1868, WSU consists of 13 schools and colleges offering nearly 350 programs to more than 27,000 graduate and undergraduate students. Wayne State University, along with the University of Michigan and Michigan State University, comprise the University Research Corridor of Michigan.

Charles Lang Freer House United States historic place

The Charles Lang Freer House is located at 71 East Ferry Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, USA. The house was originally built for the industrialist and art collector Charles Lang Freer, whose gift of the Freer Gallery of Art began the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC. The structure currently hosts the Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute of Child & Family Development of Wayne State University. It was designated a Michigan State Historic Site in 1970 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971.

In 1897, Palmer donated 140 acres (60 hectares) of land along Woodward Avenue to the city for use as a public park. This land formed the basis of Palmer Park. Palmer had inherited the land from his grandfather Michigan Territorial Judge James Witherell. In 1885, the Palmers had had the prominent architecture firm of Mason & Rice design a rustic log cabin-style summer house on the land, which still remains in the park, although it is currently closed to visitors.

Palmer was a Unitarian and a member of the Freemasons. He died in Detroit and is interred in Elmwood Cemetery.


U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Thomas W. Ferry
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Michigan
Served alongside: Omar D. Conger and Francis B. Stockbridge
Succeeded by
James McMillan
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Perry Belmont
U.S. Minister to Spain
Succeeded by
E. Burd Grubb

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