Adam John Glossbrenner was a veteran politician from York, Pennsylvania. Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, on August 31, 1810, he decided to become a printer and moved west to Hamilton, Ohio in 1827, where he became the publisher of the Western Telegraph. Two years later, he moved back east and settled in York. In 1831, he founded the York County Farmer, a weekly paper with a focus on the regional agrarian news.
His life changed in 1835 when he became a clerk in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, a move that would launch a second, dual career in politics as well as the news. A year later he became partner in the York Gazette, which would become one of the area’s most influential newspapers during his tenure, which lasted until 1860.
Glossbrenner parlayed his experience in Harrisburg to an appointment as the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 27th and 28th congresses, and then in the State Department during the Mexican War. Beginning in 1850, he served a decade as Sergeant of Arms in the House, a tumultuous period of bitter division over slavery and personal attacks among congressmen from the North and South. In one memorable melee, he tried vainly to stop a fistfight among 50 members of the House, a riot on the floor which proved to be out of his control.
Glossbrenner then was private secretary to Lancaster’s James Buchanan and founded yet another newspaper, the Philadelphia Age, in 1862 while maintaining residence in York. Friends in the anti-war, peace wing of the Democratic Party, the wing espoused by Buchanan, nominated him to run against War Democrat Joseph Bailey in the congressional elections of 1862 and again in 1864. Those were particularly nasty campaigns, marked by shameless partisan politics and personal attacks (not unlike today’s elections).
Glossbrenner’s opponent was Joseph Bailey, a native of Chester County whose original vocation was as a hatter in Parkersville, Pa. He had served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1840 and then in the State Senate three years later. In 1845 he moved to Perry County and redeveloped his political base. In 1851, his new constituents elected him back to the State Legislature. He became the State Treasurer in 1854 and then studied law, being admitted to the bar in 1860 and elected to the 37th Congress in 1860.
Two years later, his political path crossed that of A. J. Glossbrenner when they squared off for Bailey’s redrawn 15th District U. S. congressional seat representing Perry, Cumberland, and York counties. His power base, of course, was to the north while Glossbrenner claimed numerous votes in his adopted York.
The Pennsylvania Daily Telegraph railed that the “tricksters” and “political gamesters of York county” had rallied around Glossbrenner. The editor led an effective smear campaign aimed at returning Bailey to Capitol Hill.
“Is Adam J. Glossbrenner loyal?” he wrote. “Are his antecedents those of a true patriot, or those of a miserable, corrupt, shameless, cringing and conniving politician? If he is a loyal man, his immediate neighbors have not been able to discover his claims to loyalty. The people must decide between the patriot and statesman, Bailey — and the politician and tory, Glossbrenner. That decision will be made at the ballot box. What intelligent and loyal citizen can doubt the result?”
In a hard fought and often contentious election, the War Democrat Bailey rather handily won re-election, garnering 55.1% of the vote, a double-digit victory over the York-based Peace Democrat. Glossbrenner, undaunted, used his newly established Philadelphia Age as a political weapon to criticize the Republican administration and Lincoln’s conduct of the war. Glossbrenner, because he still lived in York, took advantages of the local hard feelings toward the government created by the Gettysburg Campaign and reinforced his constituency. Congressman Bailey, in the meantime, typically backed many of Lincoln’s bills, despite being a Democrat.
In the 1864 presidential election, Peace Democrat and Major General George B. McClellan, the former commander of the Army of the Potomac, ran against his former commander-in-chief Lincoln, a rare situation in American politics. Glossbrenner ran against Bailey a second time, with even more rancor and name-calling between their supporters than in 1862. Bailey by then was a member of the Union Party, a short-term collaboration between the War Democrats and the Republicans.
This time, despite Lincoln’s coattails, Congressman Bailey would lose his seat. Glossbrenner, riding the tide of discontent in York County with the Lincoln Administration, smashed the two-term incumbent. He commanded 13,382 votes (55.9% of the total number of ballots cast) vs. Bailey’s 10, 576.
Glossbrenner would be re-elected to the 39th Congress in 1866, but would, like Bailey earlier, lose a bid for a third term. He returned to York and then entered the banking industry in 1872. Eight years later he moved to Philadelphia and worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad until his death at the age of 78. His body was returned to York and is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery.
Bailey, after losing his seat to Glossbrenner in 1864, returned to his home in Bailey Station, Pa., in Perry County. He returned only briefly to politics, serving in 1872 as a member of the State Constitutional Convention. On August 26, 1885, he died at home and is buried in Bloomfield Cemetery in New Bloomfield, Pa. He was 75 at the time of his death.
More stories about A. J. Glossbrenner and hundreds of other York Countians during the Civil War will appear in the upcoming book, Echoing Still: More Civil War Voices from York County, Pa. (Orrtanna, Pa.: Colecraft Industries, 2013) by Scott Mingus Sr. and James McClure. Watch for it in the late spring of this year!