William Jay Groo

William J. Groo, of Middletown, Orange County, New York, was born in the town of Neversink, Sullivan County, New York, September 9, 1831, his ancestors being among the first settlers of that town.  His father was a farmer who died when William Jay was but a year and a half old.  His grandfather, Samuel Groo, was a Revolutionary solder.
     William Jay was employed on the farm during the summer and went to a district school in the winter until his seventeenth year, when he attended a select school for one year, and completed his studies at the Monticello Academy.  In 1852 he commenced the study of law with General A.C. Niven, then the leading lawyer of Sullivan county, and was admitted to the bar in 1855.  While a law student he was appointed deputy county clerk, and at the death of the clerk succeeded to the office. He was selected district attorney in the fall of 1857 and served three years.  In 1861 he was appointed by Governor Morgan one of the three commissioners of public accounts for the State and resigned after serving two years.
     Mr. Groo was a Douglas Democrat at the outbreak of the war, but immediately espoused the Union cause and became identified with the Republican Party; he was a delegate to the national convention of that party in 1864 and voted for the renomination of Abraham Lincoln.  In 1866 he moved from Monticello to Middletown, Orange county, and was elected in the fall of 1868 special county judge of that county.
     Failing to induce the Republican Party to espouse Prohibition, Judge Groo became a Prohibitionist in 1873.  He was the party’s candidate for governor in 1876, and for judge of the court of appeals in 1886, when he was the only candidate on the ticket and received 36,114 votes, the largest number ever polled up to that time for a prohibition Party candidate.  He has been twice the chairman of the Prohibition State convention, three times a delegate to the national conventions, and was chairman of the New York delegation in 1888e
     Mr. Groo became a member of the Methodist Episcopal Church soon after his removal to Middletown, and materially assisted in the erection of the town’s finest church.  He was the first lay delegate chosen from the New York annual conference to represent it in the general conference of 1872.
     Ever since his admission to the bar, Judge Groo has been in active practice and has had many important suits, both civil and criminal.

— Data from An Album of Representative Prohibitionists (1895)

A lawyer, judge, and Prohibition Party politician. William Groo was born in 1831, in Sullivan County, New York. He was one of the five children of Samuel and Mercy Groo.
      In 1855, William married his first wife, Sarah Graham Lines. They had 5 children.  In 1873, Groo married his second wife, Mary Frances Groo, and they went on to have 7 more children.   At some point between 1860 and 1870, Groo moved from Thomson, Sullivan County, New York, to Middletown, Orange County, New York. He would spend most of remaining life living in Middletown (with the exception being some period of time around 1875, in which he lived in Wawayanda, Orange County, before returning to Middletown by 1880).
     William Groo entered a career in law. In 1856, he became a district attorney for Sullivan County, and at some point, had become the special county judge in Sullivan County. 
     Groo attended the national Republican convention in 1860 that nominated Abraham Lincoln. 
     In 1870, he served as vice president of the Orange County Bible Society. In 1872, Groo became a Special County Judge for Orange County. By the early 1870’s Groo became active in temperance and prohibitionist activism. In June 1873, Groo chaired a meeting of temperance and prohibition activists from several different groups, in Albany. The meeting was in response to then Governor John Adams Dix’s failure to pass a local prohibition law in the state of New York. Groo spoke in favor of prohibition and the need to elect principled temperance men.
      In 1876, Groo ran as the Prohibition Party candidate for governor of New York. He received 34,12 (0.34%) votes and came in 3rd place. He was able to get 1% or more of the vote in Chenango, Dutchess, Herkimer, Livingston, Niagara, Oswego, Otsego, Schuyler, Suffolk, and Tompkins counties. 
     Afterward, Groo continued with his temperance and prohibition activism. He addressed a meeting of the American Temperance Union at the Cooper Institute, in New York City, in 1873, at which he spoke of the social costs of the damages caused by alcohol; including the resources wasted on alcohol manufacturing, and the role of alcohol in contributing to crime. His speech included the following lines: “Forty million bushels of grain, or a bushel for every man, woman, and child in the country, was destroyed annually in this business. Every interest suffers from it. The rents of tenement houses are increased as a result from increased taxation to support prisons, lunatic asylums, and poor houses. The furniture dealer suffers, so does the carpet manufacturer, the shoemaker, the tailor, the dry goods dealer, the grocer, for in each of these lines of trade the money spent for rum would be used in purchasing the necessities for families.”
      At the national meeting of the Sons of Temperance in 1878, in Buffalo, New York, Groo gave a speech calling for increased efforts to educate the public on the harms of alcohol.
     There was a debate held at Music Hall in 1885, in Brooklyn, New York, on the merits of prohibition vs. high license fees. Groo was one of the participants on the prohibitionist side. Groo’s arguments included the following statement: “The license people propose to perpetuate this obnoxious traffic and simply to increase revenue from it. We propose to stamp it out completely and to unite prohibition in state and national constitutions. We have developed such a sentiment with regards to this traffic that it has become odious, and nobody pretends to apologize for it. We have the moral duty and the right to pass laws against murder and larceny. We also have the moral right and obligation to write upon the statute book a law against that which makes murder and larceny.” 
     In 1886, Groo ran as the prohibition party candidate for Justice on the state Court of Appeals. He received 36,414 (3.76%) votes. In 1887, Groo spoke at various temperance meetings, promoting prohibitionism. In August of that year, Groo attended the annual Prohibition Party state convention in Syracuse. 
      Groo acted as a lawyer in the 1886 civil case in which the WCTU and the state Liquor Dealer’s Association clashed. A woman in Orange County, whose husband had been injured in a drunken accident, sued the hotel who sold her husband liquor, in order to receive compensation for the financial losses caused by his injury. The woman was supported by Orange County WCTU, who hired Groo, and the hotel owner was backed by the state Liquor Dealer’s Association. The case was battled in court multiple times, with multiple hung juries, until it apparently ended with its final hung jury in June 1890. 
      In 1889, Groo chaired a meeting of prohibitionists in the city of Brooklyn. 
     As a lawyer, Groo was involved in a variety of cases in this period. For instance, in 1891, Groo acted as an attorney for the Washington Street Methodist Episcopal Church in its case to secure favorable compensation for its property (as the church was going to be demolished to make space a city infrastructure project).
     In 1891, he attended a Prohibition Party state convention in Albany, where he chaired the platform committee. The 1891 state platform included support establishing prohibition laws, support for having a public vote on an amendment to the state constitution establishing prohibition, opposition to actions by the U.S. State Department which supported the international liquor traffic, support for having the U.S. Senate ratify the Brussels Treaty (which worked to oppose the expansion of the liquor traffic in Africa), support for women’s suffrage, support for equal voting rights for all citizens regardless of race and sex, support for having national tariffs rates decided by a non-partisan commission (and based on standards of national revenue needs and protecting home manufacturing), support for having a central U.S. currency printed by the government and exchangeable for gold and silver, and support for strong enforcement of civil service laws. 
     In 1891, the city of Middletown had a close election for Excise Commissioner. The election featured Prohibition Party candidate Jesse Woods and his opponent Lewis B. Scott. The initial results of the election showed Scott winning. Groo represented Woods and challenged the results. After a recount, in March 1892, the Board of Canvassers still ruled that Woods narrowly lost to Scott, 216 to 238. 
     In 1892, Groo served as chairman for a committee of Prohibitionists in Orange, Rockland, and Sullivan Counties to selected delegates for 1892 Prohibition Party national convention. 
     In 1893, the state held elections for delegates to the 1894 New York State Constitutional Convention. Groo ran as one of the Prohibition Party candidates for delegates to the state constitutional convention for the 16th state senate district. 
     Groo also involved himself somewhat in business ventures. Around 1890, Groo served on the board of directors for the Morris County Railroad company.
      William Groo died at his home in Middletown on January 17th, 1911.


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-- Contributed by Jonathan Makeley