He was born in Chelsea, Vermont. As a child, he moved to Freeport (now Conesus), Livingston County, New York. He had only basic schooling but, by self-study accumulated a knowledge of classics and became a law clerk, becoming admitted to the bar in 1829. He entered politics as a Jacksonian Democrat, and shortly afterward moved to the Anti-Masonic Party, on whose ticket he was elected to the Assembly (lower house) of the New York state legislature, beginning service in 1832.
He later moved to the Whig Party, getting elected to the House of Representatives, serving from 1836 - 37 and 1841 - 43. (NOTE: one source shows both sets of dates. Another only shows him elected in 1840, which would be consistent with an 1841-43 term only.)
In 1845 he returned to the New York State Assembly, as a candidate of the Whigs and Antirenters, and was urged to run against the incumbent Governor, Silas Wright on the Whig ticket. He defeated Wright and served as the Governor of New York from January, 1847 to the end of 1848.
In 1848 he became a strong supporter of Zachary Taylor's candidacy for President of the United States, and was rewarded when Taylor was successful by appointment as Assistant Treasurer of the United States in New York City. He served in the latter post until his death from tuberculosis.