by William G. Andrews
The two Henrys were very different persons, yet they accomplished much together and much separately. Selden was an attorney from a close-knit, distinguished old-line New England WASP family with a quiet, reserved personality. O’Reilly was a journalist from a dysfunctional Irish Catholic immigrant family with a creative, restless personality, careless in matters of money and legalities.
Together they democratized the NYS constitution, built the largest telegraph network in the world, fought the Anti-Mason hysteria, founded the Jacksonian political party in western New York, undertook a major river improvement project, and were anti-slavery abolitionists. Separately, Selden pursued distinguished political, judicial, and legal careers, including a brilliant defense of Susan B. Anthony for voting. O’Reilly was a prolific journalist and instigated reform of the NYS public school system, defense of the Erie Canal, recruitment of Colored Troops in the Civil War, and actively led many civic and business projects.