In spite of the fact that Mr. Tilden had been an invalid for many years, and his death at any moment not improbable, the intelligence was a surprise and shock to the nation. So long a time had elapsed since his physical infirmities had become notorious, that they had come to be regarded as one of the conditions of life with him. Besides, his feebleness, which was physical only, was not apparent to the public, while his unimpaired intellectual activity and his active solicitude about public affairs gave no premonitions of decay.
His death was equally unexpected by his physicians, two of whom were present at his bedside when his great spirit went its way. As soon as the news reached the city, the flags on all the public buildings and most of the newspaper offices were displayed at half-mast. Governor Hill proclamation in which, among other things, he said;
“The country loses one of it ablest statesmen and the State of New York one of its foremost citizens. He was twice a representative in the State Legislature, a member of two constitutional conventions, Governor of the State for two years, and in 1876 was the candidate of one of the greater parties of the country for the presidency, and received therefore the electoral vote of his native State, and upon the popular votes as declared the choice of a majority of the voters of the United States. As a private citizen and in every public station he was pure and upright, and discharged every trust with conspicuous fidelity. His last public utterance, which attracted universal attention, exhibited the same spirit of unselfish patriotism which characterized his whole career, and was in behalf of strengthening the defences of his country that he loved so well.” The Governor then ordered the flags upon the capitol and upon all the public buildings of the State, including arsenals of the National Guard, to be displayed at half-mast until and including the day of the funeral, and the citizens of the State, for a like period, were requested to unite in appropriate tokens of respect. President Cleveland telegraphed to the family his, “individual sorrow in an event by which the State of New York had lost her most distinguished son, and the nation one of its wisest and most patriotic counselors.”
The funeral was solemnized at Graystone, on the 7th of August, and the same day the remains of the deceased statesman were conveyed to New Lebanon, where, after a supplementary funeral service in the Presbyterian church of that village, they were interred near those if his deceased kindred.
Whittier, the poet, found in Mr. Tilden’s death a theme for the following noble lines:
“Once more, O all-adjusting Death,
The nation’s Pantheon opens wide;
Once more a common sorrow saith,
‘A strong, wise man has died.’
“Faults doubtless had he. Had we not
Our own, to question and asperse
The worth we doubled or forgot
Until we stood beside his hearse?
“Ambitious, cautious, yet the man
To strike down fraud with resolute hand;
A patriot, if a partisan
He loved his native land.
“So let the mourning bells be rung,
The banner droop its folds half way,
And let the public pen and tongue
Their fitting tribute pay.
“Then let us vow above is bier
To set our feet on party lies,
And wound no more a living ear
With words that death denies.”
On the Monday following the funeral Mr. Tilden’s will, which had been executed on the 23rd of April, 1884, was opened and read in the presence of the heirs and the executors, by James C. Carter, Esq., of the law firm of Carter and Ledyard, and it was admitted to probate by the Surrogate of Westchester country, in October of the year 1886. The testator, never having married, had no direct descendants. His surviving next of kin consisted of his sister, Mrs. Mary B. Pelton, and the two sons and four daughters of his brother Henry. His estate consisted chiefly of personal property; about one-tenth in houses and lands, and another tenth in iron mines in New York and Michigan. The estate was appraised by experts at a little over five millions. Of this about one million was appropriated to legacies and to the constitution of trust funds for relatives and other beneficiaries. His will provided for the establishment of free libraries at New Lebanon and Yonkers, at the cost of somewhat beyond $100,000; and set apart $10,000 for “keeping repairs, improving, and adorning the cemetery in the town of New Lebanon.” “The substantial residue of his estate, amounting to about $4,000,000.00 he disposed of as follows: “XXXV.I request my said Executors and Trustees to obtain as speedily as possible from the Legislator an Act of Incorporation of an institution to be know as the Tilden Trust, with capacity to establish and maintain a Free Library and Reading Room in the city of New York, and to promote such scientific and educational objects as my said Executors and Trustees may more particularly designate. Such corporation shall have not less than five Trustees, with power to fill vacancies in their number, and in case said institution shall be incorporated in a form and manner satisfactory to my said Executors and Trustees during the lifetime of the survivor of the two lives in being upon which the Trust of my general estate herein created is limited to, to wit: the lives of Ruby S. Tilden and Susan Whittlesey, I hereby authorize my said Executors and Trustees to organize the said corporation, designate the first Trustees thereof, and to convey to or apply to the use of the same, the rest, residue, and remainder of all my real and personal estate not specifically disposed of by this instrument, or so much thereof as they may deem expedient, but subject, nevertheless, to the special Trusts herein directed to be constituted for particular persons, and to the obligations to make and keep good the said special Trusts, provided that the said corporation shall be authorized by law to assume such obligation. But in case such institution shall not be so incorporated, during the lifetime of the survivor of the said Ruby S. Tilden and Susan Whittlesey, or if for any cause or reason my said Executors and Trustees shall deem it inexpedient to convey said rest, residue, and remainder or any part thereof or to apply the same or any part thereof to the said institution, I authorize my said Executors and Trustees to apply the rest , residue, and remainder of my property , real and personal, after making good the said special Trusts herein directed to be constituted, or such portions thereof as they may not deem it expedient to apply to its use, to such charitable educational and scientific purposes as in the judgment of my said Executors and Trustees will render the said rest, residue, and remainder of my property most widely and substantially beneficial to the interests of mankind.