William Barnes, Jr. was born on November 17, 1866. He was the son of Williams Barnes, an attorney who helped organize the first state Republican Convention in 1854, and Emily Peck Weed, the daughter of Thurlow Weed. Thurlow Weed was a newspaper publisher and founder of the Republican Party, and a previous Chairman of the New York State Whig Party.
Barnes attended a private school, Albany Academy, graduating in 1884, and Harvard University, graduating in 1888. He did not make commencement as he married Grace Davis of Cincinnati, Ohio during the same time. They resided in Albany and had two children, Thurlow Weed Barnes, and Landon Barnes. Also in 1888, he took a position at the Albany Evening Journal as a reporter, which was started by his grandfather. By the end of the year, he left the paper when he purchased The Albany Express, the “only morning newspaper in Albany of republican persuasion.” A few years later he bought his family’s paper as well as The Cohoes American, and a smaller paper in Mechanicville where he served as the publisher.
In 1891, following in his family’s footsteps, he became the Republican Chairman of the City of Albany, as well as the county. The Republican-dominated state would go to his company to publish government reports and reports of government agencies. In 1894, the New York Times claimed that Barnes is using his power to secure a monopoly in State printing.
Barnes would align himself with the “political boss” of the New York State Republican party, Thomas Collier Platt. As a result, he was able to help elect Republicans into office and become known with his influence statewide and nationally. From 1892 – 1911 he would serve as a Member of the New York Republican State Committee, and from 1911 – 1914 would serve as Chairman.
In 1891, following in his family’s footsteps, he became the Republican Chairman of the City of Albany, as well as the county. The Republican-dominated state went to his company to publish government reports and reports of government agencies. In 1894, the New York Times claimed that Barnes is using his power to secure a monopoly in State printing.
In 1899 he was appointed the U.S. Surveyor of Customs for the Port of Albany held this this title until 1911.
Barnes aligned himself with the “political boss” of the New York State Republican party, Thomas Collier Platt. As a result, he was able to help elect Republicans into office, and his influences were known statewide and nationally. From 1892 – 1911 he served as a member of the New York Republican State Committee, and from 1911 – 1914 served as the Chairman. In 1894, Barnes helped Oren E. Owen into office as Mayor of Albany, securing Albany as a Republican machine. On the national level, he worked to get William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Taft into the White House.
He served as the delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1904, 1908, and 1912. It was during the 1912 election where he led the party’s conservative wing to help nominate Taft for reelection. Roosevelt was also advocating for the nomination, seeking a third term citing more liberal and progressive views and entered the race on the newly created Progressive Party. This divided Republican votes with Democrat Woodrow Wilson winning the election. Roosevelt spoke out against Barnes accusing him of being a corrupt party boss and blocking progressive reforms in the state working with Democratic Tammany Hall. Barnes sued Roosevelt for defamation of character, which ended up in the New York State Supreme Court; Roosevelt was acquitted on April 30, 1915.
Barnes openly spoke out against Prohibition, women’s suffrage, direct primary, and organized labor. Being referred to as “Boss Barnes,” he became a target for many legislative investigations and charges in corruption due to a Democratic insurgency. Starting in 1910 he began to distance himself from Albany. He eventually moved to New York City but kept his voting residence in Albany. In his absence, Albany elected William Hackett as mayor in 1921 which triggered the rise of the Albany Democratic machine.
In October of 1922 he divorced his wife. Though they had not been living together for almost 15 years, she charged him with misconduct with another woman, which Barnes did not contest. The following year, he married Maude Fiero Battershall, the daughter of J. Newton Fiero, Dean of Albany Law School.
In 1925 Barnes retired selling his newspaper business to Stephen C. Clark, heir to the Singer Sewing Machine and founder of Baseball Hall of Fame. His wife, Maude passed away in 1929 and Barnes died of pneumonia the following year on June 25, 1930, in Armonk, NY.