Phinney found himself in the throes of a mid-life crisis of Biblical proportions. He was completely bored with his chosen career and looked around for something else to do, something challenging. Nothing seemed to entice his fancy or his drive for success. So, almost on a whim, he thought that he might give politics a try.
Now, this was the mid-1800s, and the major issue in the United States at the time was slavery. Being a life-long Democrat but also being an abolitionist, Phinney left the Democrats in 1854 and joined the newly-formed anti-slavery Republican Party. Within six years, the party elected Abraham Lincoln and the United States found itself in a terrible Civil War.
He got himself elected to the Connecticut state legislature in the 1860s and there made a name for himself by speaking passionately in support of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution—the amendment which abolished slavery. Phinney so well represented the folks in his district that he was elected four times to serve them in Hartford. He then won a seat in the state senate as well.
In 1875, Phinney became the mayor of Bridgeport, Connecticut. In that capacity, he brought the first streetlights to the city. He developed a safer public water utility. He fought for anti-liquor and anti-prostitution statutes and saw them passed. He even established the Bridgeport Hospital and proudly served as its first board chairman.
Phinney also worked long hours for many charitable causes. He raised over a million dollars for Tufts University, he chaired boards that oversaw assistance for orphans, the elderly, and veterans. He chartered a steamboat company that ran ferries between Bridgeport and New York and that is still in operation to this day. In short, Phinney was a model citizen in this “second career” of his.
Some mid-life crises, huh? Not bad for someone who had never been in politics before and who had decided to enter it on a whim.
Few mid-life crises end up as well as Phinney’s did.
Oh, and that other career Phinney had? You know it. In fact, you know it so well that you had no idea that Phineas T. Barnum was also a successful politician as well as a master showman.