Biographical / Historical
Murray Vandiver was born in Havre de Grace, Maryland, on September 14, 1845. He attended public schools in Harford County and graduated in 1864 from Eastman National Business College, an institution in Poughkeepsie, New York, which taught penmanship, stenography, business accounting, and recordkeeping. After graduation, he launched a lumber business in Havre de Grace, but in 1878 he turned to shipping sand for moulding bricks, which his father Robert R. Vandiver sold to construction firms and home builders throughout the Northeast. Murray took over the family business entirely in 1885 upon his father’s death.
Beginning in the 1870s, Vandiver assumed ever more prominent roles in the local Democratic Party, finding his way onto the Harford County Democratic Executive Committee in 1873. Two years later he was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates for the first of three consecutive terms as representative of a district that then included his hometown of Havre de Grace. He successfully promoted a bill to incorporate Havre de Grace as a city in 1878. He often served as temporary speaker of the house and as chairman of the committee on claims. He worked on one bill that dealt with sections of the state code devoted to the regulation of hunting wild fowl on Chesapeake Bay with sink boxes and punt boats. Losing his re-election campaign in 1881, Vandiver returned to private life, though he was never far from politics. He was elected Mayor of Havre de Grace in 1885. In June 1886 he married Anna (Annie) Clayton of Tamaqua, Pennsylvania, and they moved into a large new house on Union Avenue in Havre de Grace.
Vandiver served as secretary of the Democratic State Central Committee from 1887 to 1892, and Treasurer from 1887 to 1896. During the 1890s, his political powers increased through his connection to Maryland Senator Arthur P. Gorman, Sr., a possible presidential candidate in 1892. Even as merit was becoming more of a factor in federal hiring, party patronage was still highly regarded, and Democratic President Grover Cleveland appointed Vandiver as Collector of Internal Revenue for Maryland, the District of Columbia, Delaware, and Virginia's Eastern Shore in 1893. Vandiver’s duties included collecting taxes on the sale of fermented and distilled liquors, tobacco, oleomargarine, and opium. During his term, he oversaw a staff who went door-to-door collecting America’s first peacetime income tax, and he improved the keeping of records in the Collector’s Office in Baltimore. He held the position until August 1897, when he resigned to become the Chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee.
Vandiver also became a leader in local institutions and civic associations. For example, he organized the Commonwealth Savings Bank and participated as a director in other banks and water companies. He was a director of the Jacob Tome Institute, an all-male private preparatory school in Port Deposit, Maryland, and he served as a trustee of the Maryland Agricultural College, beginning in 1894.
In 1893, he purchased a tract of land on the eastern side of Spesutia Island (near Aberdeen, Maryland), where he hired farmworkers, notably James W. Michael, to grow corn and tomatoes, to raise beef cattle and purebred sheep, and to plant an orchard of peach trees. He sold the crops and products to commercial wholesalers and canneries. Later, he leased land on the island to the Spesutia Island Rod and Gun Club. Well versed in the waterways of the Chesapeake Bay, Vandiver owned a schooner named “Murray Vandiver” and a gas-powered yacht, and employed Millard Fillmore Tydings (father of Senator Millard E. Tydings) as a tugboat engineer.
Vandiver became Treasurer of the State of Maryland in 1900 and served until 1915. He maintained an office in Baltimore at Eutaw House, headquarters of the Democratic State Central Committee, during his time as state treasurer.
In 1904-1905 Vandiver supported the “Poe amendment,” named after a dean of the University of Maryland law school John P. Poe, to the Maryland state constitution that would have restricted the vote to only the literate and other categories of men, thereby narrowing the number of voters from the African-American community. He contributed to a pamphlet entitled, The Proposed Suffrage Amendment to the Constitution of the State of Maryland as Explained by Murray Vandiver, Chairman of the Democratic State Central Committee. The measure was defeated fairly resoundingly by the voters.
Between 1909 and 1911, Edwin Warfield, the Democratic former governor of Maryland (1904-1908), publicly accused Vandiver and other fellow Democrats of making a living off politics, and recommended that Vandiver leave his post as state treasurer. Vandiver responded with a private letter to Warfield disputing the charge.
In the 1910s, Vandiver remained active in local infrastructure projects. He served as Chairman of the Street Improvement Commission of Havre de Grace. He also became involved with the Havre de Grace & Perryville Bridge Company, which collected tolls of foot passengers and vehicles crossing the Susquehanna River on a former railway bridge.
In 1916, Murray Vandiver died at age 71.