William Pitt Fessenden

William Pitt Fessenden was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, in 1806. After graduating from Bowdoin College he worked as a lawyer in Maine. A member of the Whig Party, Fessenden was elected to the House of Representatives in 1841. A strong opponent of slavery and the Kansas-Nebraska Act he was one of the founders of the Republican Party.

Elected to the senate in 1854, Fessenden served as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, eventually becomings its chairman in 1861. Fessenden was a Radical Republication and during the Fort Sumter crisis urged Abraham Lincoln not to back down. He was also strongly opposed to the appointment of the conservative, Simon Cameron, as Secretary of War.

During the American Civil War Fessenden argued for the abolition of slavery and the use of black regiments. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, he gave his full support to his political ally, Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury.

Fessenden doubted Lincoln's abilities as president. Privately he argued that Lincoln was under the control of William Seward, his Secretary of State. Early in 1862 Fessenden told a friend that: "If the President had his wife's will and would use it rightly, our affairs would look much better." As well as urging Seward's removal Fessenden was also highly critical on Union military commanders such as Irvin McDowell and George McClellan who he believed were not fully committed to defeating the Confederate Army.

Fessenden also clashed with Abraham Lincoln over his treatment of Major General John C. Fremont. On 30th August, 1861, Fremont, the commander of the Union Army in St. Louis, proclaimed that all slaves owned by Confederates in Missouri were free. Lincoln was furious when he heard the news as he feared that this action would force slave-owners in border states to join the Confederate Army. Lincoln asked Fremont to modify his order and free only slaves owned by Missourians actively working for the South. When Fremont refused, he was sacked and replaced by General Henry Halleck. Fessenden described Lincoln's actions as "a weak and unjustifiable concession in the Union men of the border states."

When Salmon Chase resigned as Secretary of the Treasury in June, 1864, Abraham Lincoln decided to ask Fessenden to take his place. Fessenden's continued the policies of Chase and managed to act independently from the president's influence. He wrote at the time: "Lincoln is too busy looking after the elections to think of anything else. I am glad it is so, for the less he interferes in other matters the better for all concerned. Yet he is a man of decided intellect and a good fellow, able to do well any one thing if he was able to content or confine his attention to that thing until it was done."

Fessenden resigned as Secretary of the Treasury in March, 1865. At first he supported Andrew Johnson but changed into a fierce critic when the president attempted to veto the extension of the Freeman's Bureau, the Civil Rights Bill and the Reconstruction Acts. However, he doubted the legality of trying to impeach Johnson and voted against the measure. William Pitt Fessenden died in 1869.

William Pitt Fessenden - History

Fessenden himself did seek to turn down the appointment but the President persuaded him to accept—and had the Senate confirm him while Fessenden was still at the White House. Lincoln valued his prickly integrity and told Fessenden: “Fessenden, the Lord has not deserted me thus far, and He is not going to now—you must accept!’ 2 He then organized others to pressure Fessenden to take the post. Fessenden had a legitimate excuse he suffered from recurring illness, probably chronic malaria. Washington summer aggravated his health and he longed to return to Maine to recuperate. Presidential secretary John Hay recorded the day’s events in his diary:

I went in at half-past ten this morning to see the President. He gave me a nomination: he said “I have determined to appoint Fessenden himself.’ I said ‘Fessenden is in my room waiting to see you.’ ‘Send him in & go at once to the Senate.’
I delivered the message to the Senate & it was instantly confirmed, the executive session not lasting more than a minute: returned to my office. There I meet Abe Wakeman in high glee. He thought it a great thing to do: that henceforward the fifty thousand treasury agents would be friends of the President instead of enemies. I could not help pouring some cold water on his enthusiasm.
Going to the Senate as usual early this afternoon I saw several who seemed very well pleased. At the house it was still better. Washburne said, ‘This appointment of Fessenden is received with great éclat. The only fear is that he will not accept….A strong delegation of Congress waited upon Fessenden today to add their request that he would accept.” 3

The pressure from political and commercial interests on Fessenden to accept the Cabinet post became overwhelming. On July 3, “Secretary” Fessenden wrote a cousin: “The day before yesterday was one of the most miserable of my life. The President insisted upon appointing me Secretary of the Treasury against my consent and positive refusal to accept it. He cooly told me that the country required the sacrifice, and I must take the responsibility. On reaching the Senate, being a little late, I found the nomination sent in and confirmed. I went at once to my room, and commenced writing a letter declining to accept the office, but, though, I stayed there until after 5 P.M., I found no opportunity to finish it – being overrun with people, members and delegations appealing to me to ‘save the country.’ Telegrams came pouring in from all quarters to the same effect, with messages from the President. About ten o’clock I had been able to finish my letter, and went to deliver it in person, but the President was in bed asleep. I left a message for him, and called again in the morning. He then refused to accept any letter declining the appointment, saying that Providence had pointed out the man for the crisis, none other could be found, and I had no right to decline. All this I could and should have withstood, but the indications and appearance from all quarters that my refusal would produce a disastrous effect upon public credit, already tottering, and thus perhaps paralyze us at the most critical juncture in our affairs, was too much for me. I felt much as Stanton said,’You can no more refuse than your son could have refused to attack Monett’s Bluff, and you cannot look him in the face if you do.’ I told him it would kill me, and he replied, ‘Very well, you cannot die better than in trying to save your country.’” 4 Fessenden had written President Lincoln:

After much anxious, not to say painful, reflection, I feel compelled to decline the appointment of Secretary, conferred upon me yesterday.
Thoroughly exhausted by the labors of the session, and convinced by past experience, as well as by medical opinion, that I have reached a point where my physical powers, already much impaired, can only be restored and sustained by a period of absolute repose, I feel that to undertake, at this time, the duties and responsibilities of an office involving labor and interests so vast, would be an act of folly on my part, and certain to result in speedy failure.
Allow me, sir, to thank you for the good opinion expressed by an appointment so honorable, and to assure you of my sincere regret that I am unable to comply with your wishes.” 5

Fessenden himself did not suffer well either big egos or small talents. Secretary of the Navy Welles recorded Fessenden’s behavior at a February 1865 cabinet meeting: “Very little before the Cabinet. The President when I entered the room, was reading with much enjoyment certain portions of Petroleum V. Nasby to [William Dennison and James Speed]. The book is a broad burlesque on modern Democratic party men. Fessenden, who came in just after me, evidently thought it hardly a proper subject for the occasion, and the President hastily dropped it.” 6 The impeccably dressed Fessenden was usually a model of propriety and decorum but on one occasion as a senator, he had an argument with the President over patronage and used several expletives. President Lincoln, who was accustomed to the profanity of Episcopalian William Seward, said to Fessenden: “You are an Episcopalian, aren’t you, Senator?” When Fessenden admitted he was, President Lincoln replied: “I thought so. You Episcopalians all swear alike.” 7

Chase approved of Fessenden’s deportment at Treasury, writing in September that “He has been in communication with me since he took charge, and in every step, with perhaps one slight exception, his judgment has corresponded with mine. He sees several matters now in quite a different light from that in which they appeared to him when Senator.” 8

Fessenden himself became an admirer of the President, although he was a frequent critic early in the war. In 1864, for example, Fessenden wrote a friend: “It looks very much as if we were to have Lincoln for another term, if we can beat the copperheads. Perhaps this is quite as well as to try any new man. Whatever may be his failings, and he is not without them, the people have a strong faith in his honesty of purpose, and at a time when their endurance is so largely drawn upon, that is a great point.” 9 A Treasury aide, Maunsell B. Field, later wrote: “I remember that one day, immediately after a Cabinet meeting, Mr. Fessenden, entering his room in the Department where I was awaiting his return, advanced toward me with glowing countenance, and said, ‘I tell you, Mr. Field, Mr. Lincoln is more of a politician than all his cabinet put together!’ Before he had the opportunity to explain what had so excited his enthusiasm, somebody came in upon business, and the matter was dropped.” 10 Fessenden’s short term of office followed the patterns set down by his predecessor. According to biographer Charles A. Jellison, Fessenden did “much to clean up the corruption and inefficiency that had plagued the Treasury during the regime of Secretary Chase, and when he stepped down from his post he was able to turn over to [Hugh McCulloch] a noticeably improved Department, insofar as both personnel and procedure were concerned.” 11

Fessenden served until March 1865 when he returned to Senate (rather than allow outgoing Vice President Hannibal Hamlin to get the seat). “The duties which he was required to perform were distasteful to him from the start, and the longer he remained in office the more distasteful they became to him,” wrote his deputy and successor, Hugh McCulloch. “If Mr. Fessenden had been strong in health, if his duties had been congenial, and he had been content to remain at the head of the great department, he would have been equal to his duties, however difficult and onerous they might have been. But his health was not good, and his heart was not in executive, but in his legislative work.” 12

Historian Michael Burlingame noted that “Fessenden observed that President Lincoln “came here tall strong & vigorous, but has worked himself almost to death. The good fellow thinks it is his duty to see every body, and do every thing himself.” 13

Upon his return to Congress, Fessenden became chairman of Joint Committee on Reconstruction. He was one of a handful of Republicans who voted against removal of President Andrew Johnson, thus earning him the enmity of Radical Republicans with whom he had once been identified. Fessenden was an attorney active at the local and national levels. He was the father of two Union generals, Francis and James D. Fessenden another son died in Second battle of Bull Run. His family was remarkable in other ways. Two of Fessenden’s brothers served Maine in the U.S. House of Representatives at the beginning of the Civil War. Two other brothers served in federal patronage positions, which Fessenden was skilled in filling with friends and relatives.

Prior to the Civil War, Fessenden worked as an attorney and served in the Maine House of Representatives (1832, 1840, 1845-46, 1853-54) and in Congress (Whig, 1841-1843).

William Pitt Fessenden

William Pitt Fessenden (October 16, 1806 – September 8, 1869) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Maine. Fessenden was a Whig (later a Republican) and member of the Fessenden political family. He served in the United States House of Representatives and Senate before becoming Secretary of the Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.

A lawyer, he was a leading antislavery Whig in Maine in Congress, he fought the Slave Power (the plantation owners who controlled southern states). He built an antislavery coalition in the state legislature that elected him to the US Senate it became Maine’s Republican organization. In the Senate, Fessenden played a central role in the debates on Kansas, denouncing the expansion of slavery. He led Radical Republicans in attacking Democrats Stephen Douglas, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. Fessenden’s speeches were read widely, influencing Republicans such as Abraham Lincoln and building support for Lincoln’s 1860 Republican presidential nomination. During the war, Senator Fessenden helped shape the Union’s taxation and financial policies. He moderated his earlier radicalism, and supported Lincoln against the Radicals, becoming Lincoln’s Treasury Secretary. After the war, Fessenden was back in the Senate, as chair of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which established terms for resuming congressional representation for the southern states, and which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Later, Fessenden provided critical support that prevented Senate conviction of President Andrew Johnson, who had been impeached by the House. He was the first Republican Senator to ring out “…not guilty” followed by six other Republican Senators resulting in the acquittal of President Johnson.

He is the only person to have three streets in Portland named for him: William, Pitt and Fessenden streets in the city’s Oakdale neighborhood.

--> Fessenden, William Pitt, 1806-1869

Republican legislator from Maine who became a U.S. Representative, Senator, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Secretary of the Treasury. He was a strong opponent of slavery.

From the description of Papers, 1837-1869. (Rhinelander District Library). WorldCat record id: 17462689

William Pitt Fesssenden was a U.S. senator from Maine (1854-1864, 1865-1869) and Secretary of the Treasury during the Civil War (1864-1865). His sons, General Francis and Brigadier General James Deering Fessenden were both lawyers active in Maine politics and served in the Civil War.

From the description of William Pitt Fessenden correspondence, 1839-1888 (bulk 1858-1869). (New-York Historical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 709966527

From the description of Autograph letters (2) signed : Portland, to Mr. Morse, 1858 Jun. 22. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270532329

Lawyer, politician, U.S. Senator, and financier, of Portland (Cumberland Co.), Me.

From the description of Papers, 1862-1869. (Duke University Library). WorldCat record id: 19647435

U.S. secretary of the Treasury.

From the description of ALS : Washington, to Francis Fessenden, 1864 Jan. 15. (Rosenbach Museum & Library). WorldCat record id: 122489392

Lawyer, of Bridgeton, Bangor, and Portland, Me. state legislator U.S. representative and senator U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

From the description of William Pitt Fessenden autograph letter signed, 1855. (Maine Historical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 228020151

Representative and Senator from Maine U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (1861-1865).

From the description of William Pitt Fessenden autograph letter signed, 1864 March or May 22. (Maine Historical Society Library). WorldCat record id: 276173497

William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869) was a lawyer, member of the U.S. House of Representatives (1811-1843), U.S. Senator (1854-1864) and Secretary of the Treasury (1864-1865).

From the description of William Pitt Fessenden Papers, 1832-1878. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122387723

U.S. secretary of the treasury, U.S. senator and representative from Maine, and lawyer.

From the description of William Pitt Fessenden papers, 1832-1878 (bulk 1861-1867). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 71174612

  • 1806, Oct. 16 : Born, Boscawen, N.H.
  • 1823 : Graduated, Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
  • 1827 : Admitted to the Maine bar
  • 1829 : Entered into law partnership with his father, Portland, Maine
  • 1832 :
  • Member, Maine House of Representatives Married Ellen Maria Deering
  • 1835 - 1855 : Practiced law in partnership with William Willis, Portland, Maine
  • 1837 : Accompanied Daniel Webster on a tour of the western states
  • 1841 - 1843 : United States representative from Maine
  • 1854 - 1864 : United States senator from Maine
  • 1864 - 1865 : Secretary of the treasury
  • 1865 - 1869 : United States senator from Maine
  • 1869, Sept. 9 : Died, Portland, Maine

From the guide to the William Pitt Fessenden Papers, 1832-1878, (bulk 1861-1867), (Manuscript Division Library of Congress)

Alexander Dallas Bache (1806-1867) was an important scientific reformer during the early nineteenth century. From his position as superintendent of the United States Coast Survey, and through leadership roles in the scientific institutions of the time, Bache helped bring American science into alignment with the professional nature of its European counterpart. In addition, Bache fostered the reform of public education in America.

On July 19, 1806 Alexander Dallas Bache was born into one of Philadelphia's elite families. The son of Richard Bache and Sophia Dallas, he was Benjamin Franklin's great-grandson, nephew to George Dallas (vice president under James K. Polk), and grandson to Alexander James Dallas (secretary of the treasury under James Madison). In 1821, Bache was admitted to the United States Military Academy at the age of 15, graduating first in his class four years later. He remained at the Academy for an additional two years to teach mathematics and natural history. While serving as a lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers, working on the construction of Fort Adams in Newport, R.I., he met Nancy Clarke Fowler whom he would later marry.

Bache left the Army in 1828 to begin an academic career, accepting an appointment as professor of natural philosophy and chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. Although his scientific interests were broad, he had a particular interest in geophyscial research. While in Philadelphia, he constructed a magnetic observatory, and made extensive research into terrestrial magnetism, and during the 1830s he began to be recognized as a leading figure in the city's scientific community. Bache was an active member of the American Philosphical Society and the Franklin Institute, seeking to raise the professional standards of both institutions and urging them to place a stronger emphasis on original research. While at the Franklin Institute from 1830-1835, Bache led a Federally-funded investigation into steam-boiler explosions, the government's first use of technical experts to examine a matter involving public policy.

In 1836 Bache became interested in educational reform when he was asked to help organize the curriculum at Girard College, of which he later served as president. Bache spent two years in Europe visiting over 250 educational institutions. The result of his visit was a 600 page study, Report on Education in Europe, to the Trustees of the Girard College for Orphans published in 1839. Although Bache was unable to apply the report at Girard College because of its delayed opening, it proved useful in overhauling the curriculum of Philadelphia's Central High School, where he was superintendent from 1839-1842, and was widely influential among American educational reformers, helping to introduce the Prussian educational model to the United States.

After meeting many of the leading savants during a European tour, including Alexander von Humboldt, Francois Arago, and Karl Friedrich Gauss, Bache became convinced of the need to professionalize American science. His opportunity to make an impact came in 1843 with the death of Ferdinand Hassler, superindendent of the U.S. Coast Survey. In the years before the Civil War, the Coast Survey supported more scientists then any other institution in the country, and Bache and his colleagues saw the Survey as a means of gaining federal patronage for science. After a campaign by his friends and colleagues, Bache was named as Hassler's replacement. Over the next two decades Bache transformed the Coast Survey into one of the nation's leading scientific institutions, becoming an important patron of science himself in the process . Bache was not just an administrator, but remained personally involved in field work.

Bache also led the reform of American science through his leadership of an elite group known as the "Lazzaroni" or scientific beggars. The goal of the Lazzaroni was to ensure that the nation's leading scientists kept control of the nation's scientific institutions, and they were instrumental in reforming the American Association for the Advancement of Science (of which Bache was president of in 1850). In his remarkably busy schedule, Bache was a member of the Lighthouse Board (1844-1845), superintendent of the Office of Weights and Measures (1844), and a prominent regent for the Smithsonian Institution, where he convinced fellow Lazzaroni Joseph Henry to become its first secretary. Bache also played a leading role in the creation of the National Academy of Sciences, serving as its first president. When the Americn Civil War broke out, Bache focused the Coast Survey to support the war effort, was vice president of the Sanitary Commision, a consultant to the army and navy on battle plans, a superintended for Philadelphia's defence plans, and a member of the Permanent Commission of the navy in charge of evaluating new weapons. Bache died in Newport, R.I. on February 17, 1867.

From the guide to the A. D. Bache Collection, 1833-1873, (American Philosophical Society)

A founding member of the Republican Party and one of its most energetic antislavery voices, the public life of Senator William Pitt Fessenden touched on all the major controversies confronting the nation between the time of the debates over slavery in the territories until the failure of Reconstruction. Born out of wedlock in Boscawen, N.H., on October 16, 1806, Fessenden graduated with a degree in law from Bowdoin College in 1827, and was admitted to the bar in the same year. Shortly thereafter, he embarked on a political career, winning election as a Whig representative to the Maine legislature for several terms beginning in 1831, and to Congress for one term in 1840. He was a conservative by nature, but was galvanized into the radical camp on the issue of slavery by his experience during his first term in Congress. Thereafter, he became an important figure in furthering the spread of abolitionist sentiment in his home state, and was in turn benefited by its growth when he decided to return to public office in 1853.

Fessenden won election to the Senate as an antislavery Whig, and took his seat in March, 1854, at one of the most difficult moments in American political history. During his first term, Fessenden became embroiled in the debates over the extension of slavery to the territories, the furor over "Bleeding Kansas," and the fallout over John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. His powerful speech in opposition to the Kansas-Nebraska bill vaulted him to national prominence, and following his switch to the Republican Party in 1856, he became one of the most visible and voluble political antagonists of the Buchanan administration, and one of the staunchest figures in rejecting compromise with slavery, secession, and rebellion. Fessenden remained firm in his views despite personal loss: during the war, two of his sons, Francis and James Deering, rose to the rank of general in the Union army, and a third, Samuel, was killed in action at the Second Bull Run.

During his tenure in the Senate, Fessenden earned a reputation as a skilled debater and as an expert on public finance. As a result, he was appointed Secretary of the Treasury during Lincoln's second administration, replacing Salmon Chase. After returning to his seat in the Senate following the accession of Andrew Johnson, he became Chair of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, and opposed the administration as one of the prime exponents of a radical Reconstruction policy. Fessenden believed that given the totality of the federal victory over the Confederacy, conservative plans for Reconstruction like Johnson's were absurd, and he argued firmly that it was the responsibility of the Congress to set Reconstruction policy, not of the Executive. Yet Fessenden's views became increasingly conservative after 1866, and he opposed efforts to impeach Johnson on the principle that Johnson had not technically broken the law. Fessenden's was one of the very few Republican votes for acquittal. His role in the impeachment proceedings, along with his opposition to some features of the confiscation bill and other measures, led to a break with leaders of the radical faction, and a consequent reduction in his power in Congress. Throughout, Fessenden felt that he was acting from a principle of justice, regardless of the opinions of his colleagues, and refused to relent. He continued to serve in the Senate until his death in 1869.

From the guide to the William P. Fessenden papers, Fessenden, William P., 1855-1868, 1908, (William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan)

William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869) was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire. An 1823 graduate of Bowdoin College, he was admitted to the Bar in Main in 1827. He practiced law with his father, Samuel Fessenden. He settled in Portland in 1829, and was elected for seven terms in the Maine House of Representatives in 1831-1832, 1839, 1845-1846, and 1853-1854. Fessenden served one term in the United States House of Representatives in 1840, and was elected United States Senator in 1854 by anti-slavery votes in the legislature. He was re-elected to the United States Senate in 1859 where he served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. From 1864-1865, he served as Secretary of the Treasury, leaving that position to accept re-election to the Senate. While serving in the United States Senate, Fessenden was a vocal opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and a supporter of President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment proceedings.

Fessenden was instrumental in building the anti-slavery coalition in the Main legislature that later became the Maine Republican Party. His anti-slavery speeches were widely read, and they influenced the thinking of Abraham Lincoln. He played an important role on in the debates regarding Kansas. During the Civil War, he shaped taxation and and financial policies to finance the Union war effort. After the war, Fessenden was the chairman of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction in the United States Congress, helping to draft the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. His support of President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment proceedings helped prevent John's conviction.

Fessenden was one of the founders of the Maine Temperance Society in 1827.

Fessenden married Ellen Maria Deering in 1832. Three of his sons served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Samuel Fessenden (1841-1862) was killed at the Battle of Bull Run. His son James (1833-1897) was a brigadier-general, and his son Francis (1839-1907) was a major-general.

From the guide to the William Pitt Fessenden Papers, 1837-1880, (Western Reserve Historical Society)

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Elected to the United States Senate in 1854, William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869) gained a national reputation for his opposition to slavery and his expertise in finance. Fessenden's role as chair of the Senate Finance Committee during the Civil War led President Abraham Lincoln to appoint him Secretary of the Treasury, a post he held for one year.

Historically, Fessenden is often remembered as one of seven Senate Republicans to vote against the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868, thus preventing his removal from the office. While widely condemned for his vote, historians, including John F. Kennedy in "Profiles In Courage," have praised the courage and foresight of the Maine senator's decision.

About This Item

  • Title: William Pitt Fessenden, ca. 1860
  • Creation Date: circa 1860
  • Subject Date: circa 1860
  • Media: Tintype
  • Dimensions: 7 cm x 8.3 cm
  • Local Code: Coll. 2003, Box 1A/3
  • Collection: Early photography collection
  • Object Type: Image

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William Pitt Fessenden - History

Letter, Joseph P. Fessenden to William Pitt Fessenden

Boyd B. Stutler Collection
Ms78-1 South Bridgton April 14th 1860

It may not be that Hyatt is either obstinate or foolish or anxious for notoriety, because he did not follow the advice of friends, or the example of Andrew & Howe. But even if all these things can be truly laid to his charge, I consider it no argument in favor of what the Senate has done in his case. Now, Wm, let me call your attention for a moment to the motives which induced members of the Senate to get up this inquisitorial committee. You will know that it was a political maneuver of the sham democracy for the purpose of injuring the Republican party by implicating some of its leading men in affording assistance to John Brown in his attempt to free the slaves. Had parts been such as to show that Joshua R. Giddings & other distinguished republicans gave money to Brown & were thus guilty of assisting in taking by force & arms an Arsenal of the U. States, would the Senate have attempted to try and punish them as criminals? Who gives them then the power to punish a witness who refuses to testify for the gratification of their spite & the accomplishment of their bare political purposes? You remark truly that denunciation is not argument neither is mere assertion argument. For what was Hyatt imprisoned? You have not proved that his objections to testify were not what he averred them to be not that he was not conscientious in this matter. If he believed that testifying under protest would be virtually acknowledging the constitutional power of the Senate to coerce his testimony, when he was convinced they had no such power, it was his duty to refuse to give it - otherwise he would have violated his sense of right & been guilty of a moral wrong. It is idle to talk about an appeal to a writ of Habeas Corpus in the case of Hyatt. He could appeal to no court which is not the tool of the slave-oligarchy There is not a Judge on the bench of the Supreme Court of this nation, or in the District of Columbia who would not decide against an abolitionist, although the decision might be so flagrantly unjust as to "shame extremist hell". Witness the Dred Scott decision & the conduct of the Judge in the case of Brooks, after his cowardly & murderous assault upon Mr. Sumner. The fact that Mr Seward would have voted with the majority of the Senate had he been present does not prove that the notion of that majority was either constitutionally or morally right. I have always considered Mr. S. a mere politician, whose ethics could be easily varied to suit circumstances, & take any shape which he might think calculated to promote his own political elevation. I thought him shrewd & far-seeing. But I am constrained by his last speech to alter my opinion of him in this respect. He is not a man of the wisdom & foresight I thought him. That speech has lowered him immeasurably in my estimation. By some of his former utterances in reference to slavery, about a "higher law," & "the irrepressible conflict," he assumed a noble & elevated position. By his last speech, he has fallen from that position to one of cringing meanness. No "irrepressible conflict" between freedom & slavery, or free & slave-labor in this speech. But there is talk about loving harmony & union between "capital & labor states"! Capital forsooth! in human flesh in the bodies & souls of men, women & children! "in sinews bought & sold!" No higher law mentioned to condemn this abominable outrage. Oh, shame, shame! I miss my guess if Mr. S. gains either credit or capital (votes) by this speech in New England. At any rate I doubt whether he gains my vote by it. And let me here say that I abominate the colonization scheme advocated by Doolittle & Wade & others, in Central America or somewhere else, on the ground that coloured people cannot ever enjoy equal rights in this country with white people. This scheme is anti-republican & anti-christian - at war with the definition of Independence & the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think you do injustice to Dr. Elmore in accusing him of "unfairness & dishonesty" in the article I sent you - hope you will peruse it again & at your leisure tell me wherein he is unfair or dishonest. It has cost me some labor in my weak state of health to write this long letter. But I wanted to put down on paper with my own hand a few thoughts & send them to you. I am aware that I impose somewhat of a task upon you to read what I have written. But, perhaps, in some depressing hour, when you are downhearted, it may amuse to look over the babblings of the infirm old man. I know you will forgive any thing you may deem wrong & readily believe all is well intended. I hope if you make a speech in the Senate on the slavery question you will not hesitate to speak right out & let the country & the world know just what you think of the sin of chatelering immortal beings redeemed by the blood of the Son of God. I hope you will say that the slave holder, as such, can have not rights - is precisely in the condition of the highwayman & the pirate. It is impossible to legalize slavery, it being at war with the law of God. Aunt sends much love Ever your affectionate uncle

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William Pitt Fessenden graduated from Bowdoin College, worked for a time as a lawyer in Bridgton, then went on to serve in the Maine State Legislature and the United States Congress and Senate.

The image is from Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization, Volume XIII September 25,1869, page 613.

About This Item

  • Title: William Pitt Fessenden, 1869
  • Creator: Harper's Weekly
  • Creation Date: 1869-09-25
  • Subject Date: 1869
  • Town: Bridgton, Washington
  • County: Cumberland
  • State: DC, ME
  • Media: Ink on paper
  • Dimensions: 15 cm x 12 cm
  • Local Code: Harper's Weekly
  • Object Type: Image

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Jellison, Charles Albert 1962 Fessenden of Maine, Civil War Senator. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press.

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William Pitt Fessenden - History

Compiled under the editorial supervision of George Thomas Little, A. M., Litt. D.

New York

[Please see Index page for full citation.]

[Transcribed by Coralynn Brown]

[Many families included in these genealogical records had their beginnings in Massachusetts.]

This family, in every generation in America, has contributed its full share of brilliant and highly distinguished personages. They have been found answering political, legal, medical and religious callings, to a marked degree. They have also furnished illustrious patriots, who forsook their own interests that their country might be defenced and preserved. The first of the name who settled in America was John Fessenden, who came from Canterbury, England, and located in 1636 at Cambridge, Mass., where he was made a freeman in 1641. Both he and his wife Jane were members of the church. He died Dec. 21, 1666, without issue, and this fact was the means of bringing others of the name to this country.
From the earliest settlement of New England this family has been noted for its respectability. Up to 1828 it has furnished fifteen college graduates, four of whom were ministers.

(I) Nicholas Fessenden, the kinsman of John above mentioned, came to this country with his sister Hannah in 1674, to take charge of the estate left by John Fessenden. Nicholas was the progenitor of the family which has been so conspicuously represented in the commonwealth of Maine. One of his sons, bearing the same name, was graduated from Harvard College in 1701, and died eighteen years later, at the age of thirty-eight years. Hannah, the sister of Nicholas, married John, son of Henry Sewall and a brother of Chief Justice Sewall.
Nicholas Fessenden married Margaret Cheeny, and resided at Cambridge, where they had fourteen children, elven of whom grew to maturity.
Jane (died young), Hannah (died young), John, Nicholas, Thomas (died young), Thomas, Margaret, Jane, Mary, William, Joseph, Benjamin, Hannah and Eleazer.

(II) William (1), son of Nicholas Fessenden, was born in 1693, was a carpenter, and resided in Cambridge, where he died May 26, 1756. He was married, Oct. 11, 1716, to Martha Wyeth, and they were parents of seven children. He married (second) Jan. 4, 1728, Martha Brown, who bore him four children.
Ruth, William, Martha, Margaret, Benjamin (died young), Benjamin, Nicholas, Peter, John, Hannah and Thomas.

(III) William (2), son of William (1) and Martha (Wyeth) Fessenden, was born Dec. 7, 1718, and graduated from Harvard in 1737. He was a noted teacher and was licensed to preach but not ordained. He died at the age of forty years, June 17, 1758.
He was married, March 31, 1740, to Mary Palmer, who died at Topsfield, Maine, March 22, 1773, and they were the parents of nine children, of whom only three grew up, namely:
William, Mary and Ebenezer.

(IV) Rev. William (3), son of William (2) and Mary (Palmer) Fessenden, was born in 1746-47, in Cambridge, and graduated from Harvard College in 1768. He settled in Fryeburg, maine, as the first minister of the first church there, being ordained Oct. 11, 1775. He possessed many rare and noble virtues. Souther said of him, "Dignified in bearing, gentle in spirit, hospitable to a fault, fearless and uncompromising in maintaining right, yet eminently courteous, he left his heirs that good name 'rather to be chosen than riches.'" He died March 5, 1805.
He married (first), Sarah Reed, of Cambridge, who died about a year later. For his (second) wife he maraied Sarah Clement, of Dunbarton, New Hampshire.
Children of 2d wife:
Sarah, William, Caleb, Ebenezer, Mary, Elizabeth, Clement and Joseph Palmer.
The last named was a clergyman of Kennebunkport, Maine. The two eldest sons died unmarried. The third has one male descendant now living at Fryeburg.

(V) General Samuel, fourth son of Rev. William (3) and Sarah (Clement) Fessenden, was born July 16, 1784, in Fryeburg, and became one of the most conspicuous sons of Maine. He was very studious as a boy, and was accustomed to study by the likght of the forest fire, where he assisted his father in making maple sugar. He graduated from Harvard [trans note Harvard struck out in ink and Dartmouth written in] College, was admitted to the bar in 1809 and began the practice of law in Gloucester, Maine. Thence he removed to Windham, Maine, where he practiced for a short time, and settled at Portland, same state, in 1822. He was a representative to the general court in 1814-19, and senator in 1818. After fifty years of successful practice of his profession, he retired to private life. A ripe scholar, and eminent jurist, he was distinguished as a statesman. He was among those who initiated the movement in maine for the organization of the Republican party, to whom, in conjunction with the Hon. H. H. Boody, is due the credit for the development of this movement of his native state. While many were ready to join them, they were not assisted by some of the leading men of Maine. Among the reluctant ones was the Hon. William Pitt Fessenden, son of General Fessenden. The movement, however, was successful, and the organization of the Republican party was perfected early in 1855.
General Fessenden was married in 1813 to Deborah Chandler, of New Gloucester, and every one of their children became distinguished in their various professions. Four of the sons became lawyers, two entered the medical profession and one the ministry. Three of his sons were in congress in 1864 viz.:
William Pitt, mentioned below
Samuel C. Fessenden, a graduate of Bowdoin College, and a minister
Thomas A. D. Fessenden, a graduate of Bowdoin College, and an eminent member of the bar in Androscoggin county.
Philip was lost at sea when ninetten years old.
Oliver G. graduated from Dartmouth College, and practiced law in Portland, Maine.
Hewitt C. was a graduate of the same insitution, and practiced medicine at Eastport, Maine.
Daniel W., also a graduate of Dartmouth, was the sixteenth clerk of the supreme court of Maine.
Charles S. D., a graduate of Bowdoin College, was a surgeon in the U. S. marine corps.
Joseph P., a graduate of the same institution, was a physician, and at one time mayor of Lewiston, Maine, but later removed to Salem, Mass.
The younger daughter of the family, Ellen, was born April 21, 1823, at Portland, and was married June 16, 1862, to Dr. John Dunlap Lincoln, of Berwick. She was noted for her writings both prose and poetry.

Children of Gen. Fessenden:
William Pitt, Samuel Clement, Phillip Chandler, Oliver Griswold, Hewitt Chandler, Daniel Webster, Deborah Sarah, Thomas Amory Deblois, Charles Stewart Davies, John Palmer and Ellen Elizabeth Longfellow.
The elder daughter died before two years of age.

(VI) William Pitt, eldest son of General Samuel Fessenden, was born Oct. 16, 1806, at Boscawen, New Hampshire, and entered Bowdoin College before he was seventeen years of age, graduating in 1827. He studied law under the instruction of his father, and was admitted to the bar in 1827. He practiced first at Brigdton, for one years at Bangor, and then settled in Portland. He early became active and conspicuous in political movements, and refused the nomination to congress in 1831 and again in 1838. In 1832 he was sent to the legislature, and won a reputation as a debater, though the youngest member of that body. He served again in 1840 and was made chairman of the house committee to revise the statutes of the state. In the autumn of that year he was elected to congress on the Whig ticket and served one term, during which he moved the repeal of the rule excluding anti-slavery petitions, and was also an able debater on various important measures. At the expiration of his term he devoted himself diligently to his law practice until 1845-46, when he again served in the legislature. In the meantime he had acquired a national reputation as a lawyer and an active anti-slavery Whig. In 1849 he prosecuted before the U. S. supreme court the appeal which gained the reversal of a decision previously made by Judge Story, and in this trial his reputation was much enhanced. He was again in the state legislature in 1853-54, and at this session was elected to the U. S. senate by the Whigs and Anti-slavery Democrats. One week after he took his seat, in Feb., 1854, he made a stirring speech on the Kansas-Nebrasks bill and immediately took the front rank in the senate. He was everywhere regarded as the ablest opponent of the pro-slavery plans of the Democratic party. Very soon after this he allied himself with the organization of the Republican party in Maine, and through the balance of his life was one of its foremost workers. While ardent in his partnership, he was ever a patriot, pursuing a disinterested and manly course, and was beloved by the nation for his clean public record and the purity of his personal character. His speeches on the Clayton-Bulwer treaty, 1856, the proposed Lecompton constitution for Kansas in 1858, and his criticisms upon the decision of the supreme court in the famous Dred Scott case were each pronounced to be among the ablest discussions of those matters. He was again elected to the senate in 1859 and was a member of the peace congress in 1861. Upon the resignation of Salmon P. Chase in 1864, Senator Fessenden at first declined to become his successor, but was compelled by the universal demand to forego his personal preference and take charge of the treasury. Such was the confidence reposed in him by the people that the quotation of premium on gold fell in a short time from $2.80 to $2.25. One of his first measures was to declare that no issues of currency would be made. He was the author of the plan for issuing government bonds at 7 3-10 per cent interest, popularly known as "7.30 bonds." These were issued in denominations as low as $50, in order that people of small means might invest in them. The result was a substantial advancement of the national credit. Mr. Fessenden also prepared a measure authorizing consolidation of the bond loans at 4 1-2 per cent. Charles Sumner said of him, "in the financial field, he was all that our best generals were in the armies," and his services to the country in these times of trial were invaluable. Having established a financial system and restored credit to the nation, he resigned his seat in the cabinet, March 3, 1865, again to take a seat in the senate, to which he had been elected in that year. He was made chairman of the finance committee of the senate and of the committee of reconstruction, and wrote out the report of the latter body, which was universally approved. This led the way to the constitutional amendments, and other measures which established the position of the south and its relation to the nation forever. The thing which added most, perhaps, to the luster of his fame was his opposition to the impeachment of Andrew Johnson, although it brought him much execration at the time. The widsom and foresight of his course was plainly seen, after the prejudice of passion had evanporated, and it was clear that Senator Fessenden and those who acted with him in this matter had saved the country from a great crisis. His last speech was made in 1869 on the bill to strengthen public credit. He strongly opposed the proposition of paying bonds in greenbacks and urged that they be paid in gold. Senator Fessenden was particularly noted for his swiftness in retort. He was one of the delegates to the Whig convention which nominated Harrison in 1840, Tyler in 1848, and Scott in 1852. For many years he was regent of the Smithsonian Institution. His alma mater conferred upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws in 1858, and he was similarly honored by Harvard in 1864.
He was married, in 1832, to Ellen, youngest daughter of James Deering, the great merchant of Portland. She died in 1856.
James Deering, William Howard, Francis, Samuel and Mary E. D.
The daughter died at the age of five years.
All the sons were brave defenders of the Union cause in the civil war. The youngest son was mortally wounded Sept. 1, 1862, at Centerfield, Virginia. He was unmarried.
The first son reached the rank of brigadier-general, as did the third son, who lost a limb in the civil war.

(VII) James Deering (1), eldest child of William Pitt and Ellen (Deering) Fessenden, was born Sept. 28, 1833, in Westbrook, and died in Portland, Nov. 18, 1882. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1852, studied law in the office of his father, and was admitted to the bar. He began the practice of law in Portland, but soon abandoned this to enter the army in defense of his country. He was made captain of the Second National Sharpshooters, Nov. 2, 1861, and was appointed on the staff of General David Hunter, in the department of South Carolina, in 1862-63. He participated in the attack on Fort McAllister in 1862, and in the movement of the army along the Edisto river and the attack on Charlestown. He was assigned to the organization and command of the first regiment of colored troops in 1862, but the government decided not to employ colored troops at that time, and he did not go into this service. Before the close of the year, however, he was promoted to colonel, and in Sept/. 1863, was ordered to report to General Hooker. He participated in the campaigns of Lookout Mountain and of Mission Ridge, and capture of Atlanta in 1863. He was promoted Aug. 8, in the last named year, to brigadier-general and joined General Sheridan in October, being present at the battle of Cedar Creek. In 1865 he was brevetted major-general of volunteers, on duty in South Carolina. At the close of the war he returned to his native state, and in 1868 was appointed register in bankruptcy for the first district of Maine. He represented Portland in the state legislature in 1872-74, and continued in active life up to a short time before his decease, in his fiftieth year.
He was married, Nov. 5, 1856, to Frances Cushing Greely, of Topsham, Maine, who survied him.
James Deering and Harry Merrill, both now (1908) residing in the city of New York.

(VIII) James Deering (2), elder son of James (1) Deering and Frances C. (Greely) Fessenden, was born April 14, 1858, in Portland, and attended the public schools of his native city, including the high school. He fitted for college at Phillips Exeter Academy, graduating in 1876, after which he entered Harvard College, and graduated with the degree of A. B. in 1880. After two years attendance at Columbia Law School in New York city, 1881-83, he was admitted to the bar in the last named year. Immediately thereafter he began the practice of law in New York, where he has since been actively engaged in his profession. He is a member of the Harvard and Metropolitan clubs and the Maine Society of New York.
He was married, June 30, 1902, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Rose L. Nunez.

THE TREASURYSHIP. Senator Fessenden Is Reluctant to Accept. William Pitt Fessenden.

Directly after the reading of the journal to-day in the Senate, a message was received from president LINCOLN.

It was opened by the presiding officer pro tem.

Several Senators immediately came up and looked at it, when Mr. GRIMES moved that the Senate go into Executive session.

The Senate did not remain in Executive session more than two minutes, when the doors were opened and it was ascertained that Mr. PITT FESSENDEN, of Maine, was confirmed as Secretary of the Treasury.

President LINCOLN nominated Hon. WM. PITT FESSENDEN to be Secretary of the Treasury, without consulting him. The confirmation by the Senate was unanimous. Mr. FESSENDEN has not yet signified his acceptance of the position tendered him.

Telegrams have reached Senator FESSENDEN from various Northern cities, urging him to accept the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury, while his political and private friends here are pressing him to the same course. He has expressed his reluctance to do so, owing to the state of his health, which has been impaired by close attention to his official duties. He has taken until to-morrow morning to come to a decision.

Watch the video: William P. Fessenden. Wikipedia audio article (January 2022).