Fessenden, William Pitt, 1806-1869

Alternative names
Birth 1806-10-16
Death 1869-09-08

Biographical notes:

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

American statesman?

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

Biographical Note

  • 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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