Charles R. Brayton (August 16, 1840 – September 23, 1910) was a prominent Republican politician and lobbyist in Rhode Island in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The New York Times called him the "Blind Boss of Rhode Island," drawing parallels with New York City's disgraced political boss, William "Boss" Tweed.
Charles Ray Brayton was born in Warwick, Rhode Island to William Daniel Brayton and Anna Maud (Clarke) Brayton. In 1857, his father was elected as a Republican representing Rhode Island in the U.S. Congress. In 1859, he began attending Brown University in Providence, but left in the middle of his sophomore year to join the Third Regiment of Rhode Island Volunteers, a heavy artillery unit in the Union Army of the American Civil War. He was commissioned as First Lieutenant in 1861, promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1863, and to Colonel in 1864. In 1865, just a month before the end of the war, he married Antoinette Percival Belden.
After a brief stint in the peacetime army, Brayton was appointed postmaster of Port Royal, South Carolina, a city that he had helped to capture during the war. He served in a number of political appointments before returning to Warwick to fill the office of Township Clerk, a position that had also been held by his father. In 1870 he declined an appointment by President Ulysses S. Grant as Consul to County Cork in Ireland. In 1874, he became Postmaster of Providence, and in 1880 he was named Chief of the Rhode Island State Police.
Brayton became chairman of the Republican State Committee, a position that he used to become the effective "boss" of the state's Republican-controlled political system for almost thirty years to follow. In 1896, he was named to the Republican National Committee. He served as a delegate to the 1900 Republican National Convention, which nominated incumbent President William McKinley.
Loss of sight
In 1900, Brayton developed cataracts in both eyes, and in 1901 underwent an unsuccessful operation that resulted in one of his eyes being removed. As the cataracts progressed, he became functionally blind in his remaining eye.
The "Brayton Act"
In 1901, faced with a split in the state Republican party following the death in office of Republican Governor William Gregory, Brayton urged the passage of a law shifting power from the office of Governor to the securely Republican State Senate. This law, which became known as the "Brayton Act", granted almost all appointment powers to the State Senate and limited the Governor to naming his own private secretary and a small handful of minor official positions. The legislation served its purpose when Democrat Lucius F. C. Garvin was elected Governor in 1903. The law remained in effect until the "Bloodless Revolution" of 1935, when Democrats took control of the State Senate.
Brayton became an issue in the 1906 gubernatorial election when Democratic candidate James H. Higgins made public discontent with Brayton's influence the centerpiece of his campaign. According to Higgins, "the evils of lobbying" had become "an exclusive and oppressive monopoly" in Brayton's hands. Higgins won the election, and his criticisms were echoed by The New York Times, which referred to Brayton as "Rhode Island's Despot" and said that "for forty years Brayton's control over the General Assembly, and consequently over all legislation, has been practically absolute".
Brayton operated out of the Rhode Island State House office of High Sheriff of Providence County, Hunter C. White. In 1907, one of Governor Higgins' first acts in office was to order White to expel Brayton, whom he described as a "moral and political pest" in the pay of the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad, the Providence Telephone Company, the Rhode Island Company, and other special interests. White refused, saying the matter was outside of the purview of the Governor's office, and accusing the Governor of "insolence" and political opportunism.
Defending himself against charges of improper conduct on behalf oh his clients, Brayton said, "I have been the scapegoat of my party. People have said all sorts of things about me, most of them lies. I am not as bad as I have been painted, but I do not care much what people say. What I have done has been for the benefit of the Republican Party, and every time I have taken a retainer from any corporation I have always stipulated that I would drop the case if it turned out to be against the interest of my party."
Retirement and death
Brayton failed to install Samuel P. Colt in the United State Senate; incumbent Republican George P. Wetmore ultimately held his seat against fellow Republican Colt and Democrat Robert Hale Ives Goddard, although the protracted struggle left an empty seat in Rhode Island's delegation to the 60th Congress.
In July 1907, Brayton resigned from the Executive Committee of the State Central Committee of the Republican Party. He vacated White's offices in the State House later in the year, stating that he had lingered in order to defy Governor Higgin's demands.
Brayton died September 23, 1910 from diabetes and complications of a broken hip sustained in a fall. He is buried in Swan Point Cemetery in Providence.
- "Brayton, the Blind Boss of Rhode Island; Downfall of Republican Leader in Smallest New England State Ends a Picturesque Personality", The New York Times: SM3, July 14, 1907
- Colby, Frank Moore (1908), International Year Book, Dodd, Mead & Company, pp. 682
- Rhode Island History Chapter VII: Boom, Bust, and War, 1900-1945, Rhode Island General Assembly. Accessed January 29, 2008.
- "Rhode Island's Despot: Something About the Man Who for Many Years Has Ruled the Little Commonwealth with a Rod of Iron", The New York Times: SM11, February 24, 1907
- "Higgins Flays Brayton: Directs Sheriff Not to Let Republican Boss Use His Office", The New York Times: 2, March 9, 1907
- "Sheriff Defies Governor's Order; White Will Not Oust Gen. Brayton, and Says Higgins Is Insolent.", The New York Times: 11, March 10, 1907
- "Brayton Resigns: Higgins Succeeds in Ousting Rhode Island Republican Boss", The New York Times: 4, July 5, 1907
- "Gen. Brayton Quits as Boss of State; Blind Leader Assures Rhode Island Republicans That He Will Not Seize Power", The New York Times: 3, October 13, 1907
- "Gen. C. R. Brayton, Blind Leader, Dead; Head of Rhode Island Republicans Succumbs to Diabetes Following a Fracture of the Hip", The New York Times: 11, September 24, 1910