This is a digital copy of a book that was preserved for generations on library shelves before it was carefully scanned by Google as part of a project
to make the world's books discoverable online.
It has survived long enough for the copyright to expire and the book to enter the public domain. A public domain book is one that was never subject
to copyright or whose legal copyright term has expired. Whether a book is in the public domain may vary country to country. Public domain books
are our gateways to the past, representing a wealth of history, culture and knowledge that's often difficult to discover.
Marks, notations and other maiginalia present in the original volume will appear in this file - a reminder of this book's long journey from the
publisher to a library and finally to you.
Google is proud to partner with libraries to digitize public domain materials and make them widely accessible. Public domain books belong to the
public and we are merely their custodians. Nevertheless, this work is expensive, so in order to keep providing tliis resource, we liave taken steps to
prevent abuse by commercial parties, including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.
We also ask that you:
+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Google Book Search for use by individuals, and we request that you use these files for
personal, non-commercial purposes.
+ Refrain fivm automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort to Google's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the
use of public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.
+ Maintain attributionTht GoogXt "watermark" you see on each file is essential for in forming people about this project and helping them find
additional materials through Google Book Search. Please do not remove it.
+ Keep it legal Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just
because we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States, that the work is also in the public domain for users in other
countries. Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of
any specific book is allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Google Book Search means it can be used in any manner
anywhere in the world. Copyright infringement liabili^ can be quite severe.
About Google Book Search
Google's mission is to organize the world's information and to make it universally accessible and useful. Google Book Search helps readers
discover the world's books while helping authors and publishers reach new audiences. You can search through the full text of this book on the web
at |http: //books .google .com/I
THE BEQUEST OF
EVERT JANSEN WENDELL
(CLASS OF IBS!)
OF NEW YORK
A"*' J ■'-i..**' -.
^ ki ■
1 11^(9' 6."^
WILLIAM PLUMER, Senior.
WILLIAM PLUMER, Senior.
ALB]?RT H. HOYT
BepriDted from the Nkw-EkgIiA^s IIistobical A2» Gsmxalogicaj. BaoiSTn for January, 1871,
DAVID CLAPP & SON.
\u »'^^, ^ '^
HAKVARD COLLEGE LIBRARY
THE BEQUEST OF
KVERT JANSKN ^ENDiLL
WILLIAM PLUMER, Senior
The period comprised between the years 1750 and 1820 is, in many res-
pects, the most important and interesting in our annals. Early in that period
the power of France was expelled from the continent, after many at-
tempts, in which New-England bore a prominent part In these contests
her citizens learned to use the weapons and endure the hardships of war ; they
learned, also, to counsel and act together in a common cause. This was a provi-
dential preparation for events then near at hand. Early, too, the irritations
and jealousies which had disturbed the relations of the mother country and
many of her American colonies increased in violence, and at last terminated
in a war in which the lives and fortunes of the whole people were put in
jeopardy, and no portion of the country escaped the sacrifice of its wealth
The close of the contest brought with it a work of greater magnitude than
the war itself, and questions more difficult of solution than any which had
ever before tasked the intelligent patriotism of the people. They were now
called to organize forms of government, local and general, and to frame laws,
and other institutions of civil and social order, suited to their new condition.
Then came the ordeal in which this complex machinery of federate and local
authority was put to the proof; the domestic and foreign policy of the young
republic instituted ; and the relations of the States, to each other and to the
federal government, defined by laws and judicial decisions.
While this vast labor and responsibility fell mainly upon a few men, the work
of building up the commercial and industrial interests of the country stimulated
the energies of the entire people. The whole period was emphatically one
of those eras which beget and educate men of strong intellectual and moral
natures, and of marked individuality of character. In the number of such
men, we may properly include the subject of this sketch. In regard to his
life and character, it is fortunate that we are not dependent upon the uncer-
tainty and inexactitude of tradition, which is often the sole depository of the
most considerable part of the personal history of our fathers ; but that, on the
contrary, we have his biography* from the accomplished pen of one whom
filial love and reverence could inspire, but neither blind nor mislead. To
that biography we are mainly indebted for the following facts.
> Life of William Plumer, by his son, "William Plumer, Junior. Edited, with a sketch of
the Author's Life, by A. P. Peabody. Boston : Phillips, Sampson & Co. 1856. 8vo. pp .
xiL and 513.
4 William Plumerj Senior. ^
William Plumer was born in Newbury, Mass., June 25, 1759, and waa^
of the fifth generation in descent from Francis Plumer, one of the origin r *
grantees of that township, where he settled in 1635, and the common ancesj
it is claimed, of nearly all in the United States who bear this family nj
His father, Samuel Plumer, born June 14, 1722, and his mother, Mar^tOlole)
natives, also, of Newbury, were married April 8, 1755, and shortly aflftrward
removed to that part of the town, which was subsequently incor^porated as.
the town of Newburyport. There Mr. Samuel Plumer carried on mercantile
and manufacturing pursuits till 1768, when he bought a farm and settled in
Epping, county of Rockingham, New-Hampshire.
At that time, the population of Epping was about 1500 persons, who
were mostly farmers and dependent upon their daily labor. The town-
schools were few in number, short in duration, and poor in quality.
While a resident of Newburyport young Plumer's intellectuaJ quickness
and capacity had .attracted the attention of his pastor, the Reverend Mr.
Parsons, and of Mr. Sewall, the schoolmaster, who urged Mr. Plumer to give
his son a collegiate education ; but this advice was not adopted, and on his
removal tq Epping, he determined to bring up his son as a farmer. The boy
worked upon the ferm steadily till he was twenty years old, e^tcept short
terms of attendance at the district school, from which he ceased in his seven-
teenth year. As he grew in years, he manifested an increasing thirst for
knowledge, and devoured every book upon which he could lay his hands.
At that time, however, neither the scanty library at home, nor the not less
scanty library of his neighbors, could furnish much gratification to his eager
appetite, but whenever in the town or its vicinity he could find a book,
new or old, he mastered its contents.
His father and mother were respected for their industrious, frugal and re-
ligious lives, and their children were trained in habits of virtue, industry,
order and punctuality. Under such examples and infiuences, William -grew
to manhood, inheriting his father's large physical proportions, but not his
athletic strength and sound constitution.
Though there was little within the narrow circle of his daily life to excite
his mind or stimulate ambition, yet he Was not inattentive to the stirring
events then taking place in the neighboring provinces. He heard the causes
and the progress of the War discussed around the family hearth, or among
his townsmen, and his interest in the struggle would have sent him to the
field had his health been adequate to that service.
In 1779, being then in his twentieth year, he became a subject of reli^ous
convictions under the labors of the Reverend Mr. Shephei*d, the Baptist
minister of the town ; was admitted to the church of that denomination, and
shortly afterward became an exhorter, and then a preacher, though never
ordained to the ministry. He travelled at his will over the thickly settled
parts of the State, and delivered his message, generally once and often twice
a day, to large and attentive congregations. Many of his hearers were led
to make a profession of religion. Competent witnesses of his labors and
auditors of his discourses testified at a later day, in terms of admiration, to
his simple but forcible language, charming voice, logical reasoning, command
of the Scriptures, and extraordinary zeal.
In about a year and a half from the commencement of his preaching a
change occurred in his theological opinions, and thereupon he abandoned
forever any idea he may have had of making the ministry his vocation.
fVilliam Plumer, Senior. 6
TMs short experience be£[>re the people exerted a favorable effect upon hia
subsequent career. He made many acquaintances, also, and not a few of
these were afterward among his clients and political supporters.
From this period till 1784, his time was chiefly occupied on the farm, but
his leisure hours were devoted to study, and especially to the consideration
of questions then agitating the public mind. His attention was particularly
called to the proposed constitution of the State. This instrument contain^
what he regarded as intolerant restrictions upon religious liberty, of which het
was a conspicuous and faithful champion throughout his life.
In 1784, he entered the .law-office of Joshua Atherton, of Amherst, but
remained there only a short time.* He was now in his twenty-sixth year,
and his advanced age, coupled with his parents' strong aversion to the law
as a profession, led him to hesitate about pursuing his studies any further.
The next year he was chosen a representative to the legislature, and during
the ensuing session entered his protest, singly and alone, against the passage
of a measure, on the ground of its unconstitutionality. The court subset
quentlv pronounced the law unconstitutional upon the same ground as that
on which he had based his protest, and at the followiDg session thQ law wa^
repealed. This £Eict exhibits the spirit of independence and fearlessness
which characterized his entire public life. It is also proof that, to some ex-
tent, he. bad already mastered the princij^ of public law, and possessed tjbiei
sagacity requisite to apply them to the practical business of legislation.
Upon*8everal occasions, this yeajr, his interest in the law was renewed, and
m September, having first gained the consent of his parents, he entered tba
office of John Prentice, of Londonderry. There he pursued bis studies witk
diligence and fidelity till November, 1787, when, upon the unsolicited recom-*
mendatioa of the bar, and without the usually required examination, he was
admitted to practice.
At that time the library of a country lawyer contained only a few books;
but this circumstance was not unfavorable to the acquirement of a thorough
knowledge of the general principles of law, though not conducive to that
liberal culture which may be gained from the large libraries and the profe»»
sional schools of the present day. Mr. Plumer did not derive much aid from
his instructor, but by dint of hard study and patient application he laid a
good foundation for future acquisitions.
In 1786, he was again a member of the legislature, and still further en^
larged his acquaintance with the leading men of the State, and with public
Upon his admission to the bar he opened an office in Epping, and theit»
resided during the remainder of his life. His practice was considerabJa at
the first, and it steadily increased until he entered public life.
At the period when Mr. Plumer began practice, the state of the law par*
took of the confused and unsettled condition of public afiairs. During tho
first years of the war judicial tribunals were created, but without well-defined
powers ; and the judges were generally selected for their good sense and
weight of character alone. Indeed, before, during, and for some years after
the war, few of the judges were men who had been educated either in the
theory or practice of the law. The revolution, moreover, brought in new
ideas and a spirit which was not inclined to be fettered, either by the letter or
> Hl« fellow student there was William Coleman, ofterwtrd the distinguished editor of
the N. Y. Evening Post. ,
6 William Plumer, Senior.
spirit of the law, as promulgated at Westminster Hall ; and the judges, for the
most part, were as little qualified as disposed to administer the law in its strict-
ness, either as a science or as a rule of practice. The character of the bench,
which usually represents the average ability and character of the bar, grad-
ually improved, and within the memory of living men the judiciary of New-
Hampshire obtained a deserved reputation for ability and learning scarcely,
if at all, inferior to that of any other tribunal in the United States. Among
those who from time to time adorned that bench, might be named several
who have contributed valuable additions to the fund of legal and historical
literature.* Quite as seldom as in any other park of New-England, have the
judges of that State been selected on account of past or prospective party
services, or failed to appreciate the solemn responsibilities of their high office.
As a general rule, moreover, they have been not only men of sufficient
learning, but also gentlemen.
Not only was the state of the law in 1787 such as we have described, but
there were few well-read lawyers, and yet there were many able and distin-
fiished men in the profession. Among these were John Pickering, John
ullivan, John Prentice, Joshua Atherton, William Bt. Atkinson, Jonathan
M. Sewall, William Parker, Oliver Peabody, and Daniel Humphries.
Several eminent lawyers of other States then frequently practised in New-
Hampshire ; among whom were Bradbury of Maine, and Dexter and Parsons
of Massachusetts. Afterward Samuel Bell, Edward St. Loe Livermore,
Arthur Livermore, George Sullivan, Jeremiah Smith, Jeremiah* Mason,
Daniel Webster and others came to the same bar, who exemplified what
Judge Story styled " the vast law-learning and the prodigious intellectual
power of the New-Hampshire bar."
The imited effijrts of these men raised the law from the state of uncer-
tainty which had characterized its administration and practice, and aided in
giving to the State a body of judicial decisions which command the respect
of the profession at large. To have successfully coped with such men, as
did Mr. Plumer, is sufficient proof of his ability. And it was in this arena
that he was really bred to the law, and in which he proved himself an apt
pupil. In course of time, moreover, he came to be one of the leaders of
the bar, and is entitled to the credit of having, in several important instances,
suggested to the courts, and through them to the legislature, principles of
law which passed into enduring statutes.
At that time a New-Hampshire lawyer was required to fill the offices of
attorney, counsellor, conveyancer and advocate, and these several duties, with
much other incidental labor, both in and out of court, rendered the work of
the profession far more arduous than it is at present. In addition to this, it
was the custom for the bar to follow the court in its circuit of the State. In
order to fulfil these duties satisfactorily to his clients and to the court, there
was required of the lawyer versatility of talents, capacity for labor, and good
The published decisions of the supreme court of New-Hampshire date from
1816, and, other than a few, brief manuscript notes now in private hands,
there is no report of the cases adjudicated before that year. But it is certain
» Joel Parker, Ira Perley, the late Samnel D. Bell, and Timothy Farrar— whose " Manual
of the Constitution of the United States," recently published by Little, Brown & Co., is no
less remarkable for its leaminfr, eiihaastiye analysis, and faultless rhetoric, than as the
work of an octogenarian.
William Plumer, Senior* 7
that there was then no dearth of busmess before the courts ; and though the
dockets of that period will not show any such cases as now arise in profusion
under our law of railways, insurance, revenue, manufactures, and commerce,
yet there were not a few causes of in>-^ ^ce, and of these Mr. Plumer had
his share. - =*
No profession demands of its V6caries the exercise of higher virtues or
more varied abilities than does the law. To meet that demand the lawyer must
bring to his work a mind trained and enriched by study ; a body that never
tires ; a zeal that never languishes ; and over all this, as a sentinel, that
sense of right and wrong, which neither flattery, nor bribes, nor selfish am-
bition can corrupt or expel. The current of his professional life intermingles
with the familiar concerns of his friends and neighbors. He is their trusted
counsellor ; their shield against oppression ; the sworn defender of their lives,
property and honor. His bosom receives and holds with inviolable faith
their choicest secrets ; his hand shapes and fortifies the channels of their
benefactions and executes their dying bequests. But the theatre on which
he prosecutes his labors, wins his victories, and suffers his defeats, is generally
far removed from public observation. Yet the forces he employs are not in-
ferior in quality or degree to those which, on more conspicuous fields, win
from a gratefiil people, or successful party, their loudest applause or most
substantial rewards. The warrior, the statesman, the poet, the inventor, the
martyr, and the patriot, all live in commemorative bronze or marble, or on
the page of history ; but the lawyer is seldom honored by any visible monu-
ment; seldom leaves any more permanent memorial of his work than
From the first Mr. Plumer took a keen interest in political questions
which then, more than such questions do now, engaged the attention of all
classes of the people. He represented his town in the legislature in 1788,
1790 and 1791, and in the latter year was speaker of the house. He was
also a member of the convention of 1791, for the revision of the constitu-
tion. He took an active part in the legislature, both in drafting bills aftid
in advocating their passage. " In the convention," said Judge Livermore,
" he was the most influential member ; so much so, that those who disliked
the result called it the Plumer constitution, by way of insinuating that it
was the work of one man." He served on nearly all the important com-
mittees, and as chairman of several of them. As evidence of his activity, it is
said by his biographer that three-fourths of all the papers and documents
relating to the constitutional convention of 1791, except its journal, are in
his hand-writing. Many of the most important amendments were adopt-
ed on his suggestion, and he energetically opposed the retention of those few
provisions which at a later day were subjects of proposed amendment. No
attempt was made to alter the constitution for the next sixty years, and it
remains substantially as it was adopted : a monument of its authors' sagacity.
For the next six years, declining all offices, he devoted himself diligently
to his profession. It is evident, however, from his correspondence, that he
was deeply interested in public affairs. Under date of May 29, 1797, he
wrote to Mr. Gordon, then in congress : —
"I am pleased with the President's [Adams] speech, which manifests in strong
terms his love of country. This is what we most want ; not love nor hatred towards
other countries, but attachment to our own. I wait with anxiety for the answer of
your house. I truijt it will be in language worthy of freemen, firm and fedeiul.
8 William Pltimer, Senior.
Some think that after the insults and irgurics we have received from France fo^ ^^ HjV
be dishonorable to attempt further negotiation. 1 am not of that opinion, jl . ^^ W
not sacrifice the peace and prosperity of my country to resentments, however jusJi", <!
the one hand, nor to the etiquette of State on the other." x
He was speaker of the house again in 1797, and also a member in 1798'
1800, and 1801. About this time he was repeatedly urged to be a candi- '
date for congress, but he declined all such calls, on account of the precari-
ous state of his health and the demands of his profession. In 1802, how-
ever, without being consulted, he was elected to the senate of the United
States, to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Mr. Sheafe. In de-
ference to the wishes of friends, he reluctantly accepted the office. This
election, under the circumstances and in view of the large number of able
men from whom the selection was made, adds weight, if that were needed,
to Mr. Webster's statement that, at this time, Mr. Plumer was regarded as
the ablest man in the Federal party of the State.
Mr. Plumer's senatorial service began soon after the election of Mr. Jeffer-*
son, and when the current of public opinion had begun to set in favor of the
doctrines and policy of the Kepublican party of that day. He acted with
the Federal party on all leading measures, but never sacrificed his indepen-
dence, or opportunities of exercising a wholesome influence upon legislation,
by a blind adherence to party policy or an excessive display of party feeling.
He was thus also enabled to exert himself with considerable success to mod-
erate the intense political asperities that then affected social and congress-
ional circles at the seat of government.
Among the questions of importance which came before the senate during
his term were those relating to our treaty-right of deposit of merchandise in
New-Orleans, which was disputed by the Spanish authorities ; the purchase
of the Louisiana territory ; the proposed amendment of the constitution in
reference to choice of electors of president and vice president; the impeach-
ment of Judge Pickering, and the attempted impeachment of Judge Chase ;
the purchase of Florida, and non-intercourse with England. IJpon some
of these questions Mr. Plumer spoke and with efiect. Several of his speeches
are extant They are comparatively brief, but clear, forcible and senten-
tious arguments. He rarely addressed the senate, and never except when he
had something to say upon the question immediately under consideration.
Before the close of his term of ofiice, in 1807, the Jefferson party had
gained the ascendancy in New-Hampshire, and Mr. Plumer was not a can-*
didate for re-election. Though he was now only forty-eight years of age,
and his health was quite restored, yet he decided not to return to the prac-
tice of the law. But so active and inquisitive a mind as his could not long
While in congress he had collected with no little difficulty, even then, a
very complete set of public documents, and this collection suggested to him
the idea of writing a history of the government from the declaration of inde-
pendence to the dose of Mr. Jefferson's administration. Subsequently he
enlarged his plan so as to include a general history of the country from its
discovery to his own time. This plan embraced a great variety of topics, in
which little of interest or value escaped his attention. In preparation for
this great undertaking he began a course of reading, and, as far as possible,
of original investigation. To Mr. John Quincy Adams, under date of July
11, 1809, he virrote that he intended to devote the remainder of his days to
William Plitmer, Senior* 9
J* * this work. He had made considerable progress in it when he was again
' called by his fellow citizens to serre them, under circumstances that did not
well admit of a refusal. From that service he did not escape for several
years, and never made much further attempt to complete the history. This
18 to be regretted, especially with reference to that part which related to the
'early history of the government under the constitution. For such an under-
taking he had not a few requisites : an extensive acqusdntance with leading
men ; ezperienoe in publi<2 aflfairs ; an understanding, strong, practical, and
disciplined by professional pursuits ; and habits of thought in which accuracy,
clearness and philosophical method were conspicuous.
He received encouragement in this purpose from Mr. Jefferson, and others
not less competent to advise in such matters. The following extracts from
a letter of John Quincy Adams, dated August 16, 1809, when he was on his
way to the Court of Russia, will serve to aid the reader in ferming an esd-
mate of Mr. Plumer%
«< • • # The confidence with which I shall receive from you intelligence or
opinions will be founded on a sentiment very deeply rooted in my experience and
observation, that you see more dearly and jud^e more coolly ot men and things
relating to the political world than almost any other man with whom it has been my
fortune to act in public life. * * * It affords me constant pleasure to recollect thai
the history of our country has fallen into the hands of such a man. For as impar-
tiality lies at the bottom of all historic truth, I have often been not without my
apprehensions that no true history of our own times would appear at least in the
course of our aa^e ; that we should have nothinj^ but Federalist histories or Republic
can histories, New-Enffland histories or Virginia histories, • * * But of men who
unite both qualities — uiat of having had a practical knowledge of our affairs, and
that of possessing a mind capable of impartiality, in summing up the merits of our
governments, administrations, oppositions, and people — 1 know not another man with
whom I have ever had the opportunity of formmg an acquaintance, on the correct^
ness of whose narrative I should so implicitly rely. Such an historian * * will be
a legislator without needing constituents. You have so Jong meditated upon your
plan, and so much longer upon the duties of man in society, as they apply to the
taransactions of your own life, that I am well assured your work will carry a profound
moral with it. And I hope * • that the moral of your history will be the indis-
soluble uni(m of the North American colonies."
This is not the place to disturb the ashes of the embittered political
feuds which prevailed from 1800 to 1815, and which ended in the virtual
death of one of the great historic parties concerned in them. But it is
germane to our present purpose to say that Mr. Plumer, who had been
educated as a Federalist and had acted with his party quite uniformly, even
going so far as to suggest, at one time, that a dissolution of the Union might
be a necessary remedy for what was deemed by many to be unconstitutional
legislation and executive usurpation, had however, upon more mature con-
sideration, withdrawn from that unwise position, and, though differing from
Mr. Madison and Mr. Munroe in their general policy, now stood firmly in de-
fence and support of his own country against the encroachments and un-
friendly policy of foreign powers. Thenceforth his opposition to any
measure relating to our foreign or domestic policy, ceased at the moment
when he saw that further resistance would weaken the arm of his own gov-
ernment or encourage her enemies. In this he characteristically pursued that
independent and patriotic course which distinguishes the statesman from
By the year 1810 party ties had in some measure relaxed; issues once
vital had died out, and new combinations were forming on fresh issues. It
10 William Flumer, Senior.
became necessary, therefore, that they who coincided with the administi'a-
tion should select their candidates from such as agreed with them on
leading questions, without much regard to minor differences. By this party
jMr. Plumer was elected to the State senate, in the year last named, and
chosen president of that body. His competitor for the senate was George
Sullivan, son of General, and Governor, John Sullivan, and father of the late '
John Sullivan, attorney-general of the State for some years, as were his
father and grandfather. George Sullivan was a naan of commanding abili-
ties and popular manners, and subsequently received high honors from his
party. At this session, Mr. Plumer was appointed chairman of a committee
for reporting a new judiciary systemi, and of another for the revision of the
Jaws. He declined both places.
Upon the retirement of the veteran John Langdon in 1812, Mr. Plumer
was nominated for the oflSce of governor, in opposition to Ex- Gov. John
Taylor Gilman, who was afterward repeatedly elected — a man of strong
personal and political influence, and the chief representative of one of the
historic families of the State. There was no choice by the people, but Mr,
Plumer was elected by the legislature. At the next session he was
nominated for the United States senate, but declined. During this year
he was oflScially interested in the erection of the State-prison, and in the
revision of the criminal code.
He failed of an election in 1813 ; Gov. Gilman succeeding by a majority
of two hundred and fifty votes, out of a total of more than thirty-five thou-
sand cast. This election turned upon the foreign policy of the federal ad-
ministration. Like causes operating, he was again defeated by Gov. Gilman
in 1814 and 1815 ; in the latter year by an adverse majority of thirty-five
votes. In 1816, Gov. Plumer was elected over Mr. Sheafe, and again
urged to accept a seat in the senate of the United States. In 1817, he was
re-elected by a majority of more than three thousand votes over Mr. Sheafe,
Jeremiah Mason, and other candidates. In 1818, he was re-elected by a
msyprity of upward of six thousand votes, over all candidates, including
Jeremiah Smith, afterward " * -^r ^^^^ chief-justice. These repeated
elections to the highest office in the gift of the people of the State, by con-
stantly increased majorities and over such competitors, is more conclusive
proof of the real standing and influence of the successful candidate than
are similar instances in more modern times. This year he was again un-
successfully urged to permit the use of his name for the office of senator.
As governor, Mr. Plumer was far from being the mere partizan, an4.
uniformly gave his sanction to those measures only which seemed to be de- '^^
manded by or likely to conduce to the general welfare. In his appoint-
ments to office, of which he had an unusual number to make, and particu-
larly in the selection of judges, special fitness for the office to be filled
availed more in determining his action than the strongest personal or politi-
His messages were characterized by sagacious and practical views. He
urged, both by speech and by pen, the reformation of the criminal code, and
of the laws regulating the administration of justice, the diffusion of educa-
tion, and the encouragement of all industrial pursuits. He labored espe-
cially to secure, what was then denied, perfect religious freedom. On all
questions of a more public nature he took broad and patriotic ground.
Gov. Plumer's public life terminated in 1819, and he once more entered
William PlumeTj Senior. 11
npon the retirement which he had long coveted, and with a degree of eager-
ness which it is difficult to estimate by any living examples. From this re-
tirement he never again emerged except for a single day, when, in 1820, he
cast his Vote, as presidential elector, for John Quincy Adams.
Having already laid aside the history, to which reference has been made,
he resumed the work, begun in 1808, of collecting the data for a series of
sketches of American biography. These sketches number one thousand
nine hundred and fifty-two, and would make seven or eight closely printed
octavo volumf»s, embracing the whole circuit of American history and bio-
graphy. The greater portion of these were left in an unfinished state, and
Ikave never been published.
He also wrote and published, from 1820 to 1829, in the newspapers ft
series of essays, extending to one hundred and eighty-six numbers, which
had a wide circulation and attracted considerable attention. Among the
subjects treated were : Freedom of the press, hard times, speculation, in-
temperance, industry and idleness, virtue and happiness, gaming, lotteries,
extravagance in dress, furniture and living, insanity, education, agriculture,
roads, government, commerce, manufactures, banks, paupers, slavery, taxa-
tion, public debts, wars, the army, the navy, the militia, pensions, schools
and colleges, the professions of law, medicine, and divinity. Several of
these essays constitute very complete treatises, and the whole would make
While thus engaged he wrote and published, in 1823, an essay on longevi-
ty, in which he treated at length of the various causes which determine the
conditions of health and long life. He also collected the names and some-
thing of the history of about six hundred persons who had reached the age
of ninety years and upward. A portion of this matter was published in
the ** Memoirs of the American Academy." In 1824 he published " Re-
marks on the authenticity of the Wheelwright Deed," in which he maintain-
ed that the deed in question is entitled to credit.
His correspondence with public men of all parties, and with scientific men
and learned societies, at home and abroad, was extensive and valuable. He
was elected a member of the Academy of Languages and Letters, American
Antiquarian Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Royal Soci-
ety of Northern Antiquaries of Copenhagen. In 1823, he assisted in or-
ganizing the New-Hampshire Historical Society, in which he took a deep
interest, and to which he gave many of his most valuable books and papers.
He was the first president of that society.
The last work that engaged his pen was the life of Thomas Jefferson,
which he began in 1843, but which he did not complete. As late as 1848,
he had ceased almost wholly from literary labor. At the age of eighty
his health was as good as it had usually been, but at eighty-five his memory
had failed very perceptibly. From that date he slowly and steadily declined
till the 22d of December, 1850, when, having outlived all his early con-
temporaries, he passed quietly away, in the ninety-second year of his age.
The career of Gov. Plumer was exceptional. As we have seen, he was
essentially a self-made man ; he was also well-made. He entered his pro-
fession late in life, and had unusual success ; he filled a long term of public
office with increasing influence and usefulness to the last, and retired to pri-
vate life while in the full vigor of manhood ; and after that passed the long
period of over thirty years in the enjoyment of honorable studies, and a
12 William FlumcVj Senior,
He was an original and cautious observer, and his information was exten-
give and practical. He was sincere and fearless in the discharge of duty
and in the expression of his convictions ; humane to man and beast ;^id fond
of the society of both young and old, to whose enjoyments he contributed by
the unostentatious wisdom and vivacity of his conversation and the kindness
of his manners.
" In person," says his biographer, " he was tall and erect, his complexion
dark, his face rather long and thin, his hair black, and his eyes black and
sparkling, with a look and a smile — when he was pleased himself or would
jdease others— expressive of the mo&t winning good will. * * In old age,
his thin grey locks, the mild fire of his eye, and the smile on his lips, gave
him a beauty and grandeur at once conciliatory and con^mandingj' * *
Gov. Plumer was married February 12, 1788, to Sally Fowler, of New-
market, N. H. She was born July 21^ 1762> and died April 1, 1852«
They had six children :-^
1. William, Jr., b, Feb, 9, 1789 ; d. Sept. 18, 1854.
2. Sally Fowler, b. Nov. 17, 1790 ; d. Sept. 18, 1818.
3. Samuel, b. Deo. 19, 1792.
4. George W., b. Feb. 4, 1796.
5. John Jay, b. Dec. 26, 1799 ; d. May 2, 1849.
6. Quintus, b. May 5, 1805; d. May SO^ 180a.
This book should be returned to
the, Library on or before the last date
A fine is incurred by retaining it
beyond the specified time.
Please return promptly.