Biography and History

Born in Somerset County, New Jersey in 1807, Dayton attended Trenton Academy and graduated from Princeton College with the Class of 1825. He studied law and became a practicing attorney in Freehold, New Jersey. In 1842, Dayton was tapped by Governor William Pennington to fill a vacant U.S. Senate seat, and he was then elected for a full term as a Whig. After a defeat for reelection in 1850, a failed bid for vice president in 1856, and a failed bid for president in 1860, Dayton was appointed U.S. minister to France (1861-1864). While in Paris, Dayton suffered from depression and other physical ailments, and he was unable to stop Napoleon III from invading Mexico. He suffered an untimely death in Paris in 1864.

Source: From the finding aid for C0023


  • Diplomats -- France -- 19th century..
  • William L. Dayton Papers. 1791-1897 (inclusive), 1861-1864 (bulk).

    Call Number: C0023

    William Lewis Dayton, Princeton Class of 1825, served as U.S. senator (1841-1850) and U.S. minister to France (1861-1864). His papers are largely from his years in France and consist of diplomatic dispatches, legation accounts, personal correspondence, documents pertaining to household affairs in Paris (insurance policies, leases, etc.), and material relating to his sudden death. Also included is a box of correspondence to and from his son, William Lewis Dayton Jr., Princeton Class of 1858, along with other papers concerning other members of the family.