Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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COOK, James Merrill, financier, born in Ballston, New York, 19 November, 1807; died in Saratoga, 12 April, 1868. His father was a lawyer and judge in Saratoga county, and offered James a liberal education. But the son preferred the counting-room to the College, and devoted some years to a clerkship in New York city. When he was about thirty-one years of age he was elected to a local office in his native town. His ardent support of Whig principles brought him followers, and he was chosen to many town and county offices during the succeeding ten years. He was a member of the constitutional convention in 1846, and a member of the state senate in 1848-'51, and again in 1864-'5. In 18.51 he received a certificate as state treasurer, and discharged the duties of the office for about a year, when the claims of his competitor in the election were established, and he retired. During 1854-'5 he filled the office of state comptroller with such marked ability that it resulted in his being offered the superintendency of the banking department of the state. In order to accept the office, it was necessary for him to divest himself of all interest in any banks in the state, and he was president of the Ballston Spa bank, having been one of the original corporators, and the owner of a large amount of stock in that and other institutions. At the solicitation of capitalists throughout the state, he sold out his stock and accepted the office. The salary had been but $2,500, but was by act of legislature increased to $5,000. Mr. Cook served from 30 January, 1856, till 16 April, 1861. Frauds were detected, worthless banks wound up, laws improved, guards and securities multiplied. To such an extent was his policy carried out that the financial crisis of 1857 did not affect the credit of the state. Though specie payments in the United States were generally suspended, the paper bills of New York state banks continued to pass at par throughout the country, His last report as superintendent of the banking department of New York called out elaborate reviews from various European journals. In 1858 his name was prominently before the republican convention as a candidate for governor, but at his own solicitation was withdrawn.
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