WILLIAM PITT FESSENDEN:
PREPARED FOK THE
NEW-ENGLAND HISTORICAL AND GENEALOGICAL REGISTER
GEO. HENRY PREBLE.
REPRINTED FOR PRIVATE DISTRIBUTION, WITH ADDITIONS.
DAVID CLAPP & SON, PRINTERS.
Two Hundred Copies Trinted.
THE FESSENDEN FAMILY.
The subject of this biographic sketch was descended from' Nicholas Fes-
senden, who was born in England 1651 (?), and came to New-England
previous to 1674. In the early colonial times the name was variously Avrit-
ten — Phisenden, Fishenden, Fessington, Fezington, &c.
John Fessenden, the first of the name Avho came to America, was
among the earliest settlers of Cambridge, Mass., and was admitted a free-
man, 1640-41. According to a MS. of the Rev. Thos. Shepard, of Cam-
bridge, now in the library of the N. E. Historic, Genealogical Society,
he received the confession of " Goodman Fessington, Jan. 8, 1640," and ad-
mitted him to church membership. Nicholas, the ancestor of William Pitt, was
his nephew and heir. Savage says, Nicholas "came over in 1674, perhaps
with his wife Margaret, to inherit his uncle's estate." According to another
account, John emigi'ated from the county of Kent, to Cambridge, in 1636,
accompanied by his wife Jane, nephew Nicholas, and niece Hannah, and
died Dec. 28, 1666, constituting his nephew Nicholas and niece Hannah his
heirs. His widow, Jane, died Jan. 13, 1682, aged 80, witliout issue. By
still another account, Nicholas came to this country when a small boy to
live with his uncle, which is jjrobably correct, and whose heir all accounts
agree he was. His sister Hannah* was married, first, to John Sewall, of
Newbury, Oct. 28, 1674, and second, to Jacob Toppan. She was a native
of Canterbury, as appears by her gravestone in York, Me., viz. : " Here lyes
* Vol. xvii. of the New-England Historical and Genealogical Register, at page 301, has
some memoranda by Judge Sewall, who was a brother of John Sewall the husband of
Hannah Fessenden, which are taken from the Calendar pages of Triggs's Oxford Alma-
nac for 1689. Under date " Monday, Jan. U, 1688-9," he says, " Rode on a Coach to Can-
terburj'. Visited Aunt Fcsseivlen her son John and three daughters, Mary, Elizabeth and
Jane, as I take it. Cousin Jno sup'd with us at ye Red Lion."
This "Aunt " F. was pi-oba!)ly tho mother of Hannah and Nicholas Fessenden, as it was
the custom of Judge S. to call the parents of Iiis brothers' wives and sisters' husbands, his
uncles and aunts.
ye body of Mrs. Hannah Toppan born at Canterbury England 1649. married
in N. England to Mr. John Sewall and after his decease to Mr Jacob Toj)-
pan both of Newbury, dec'd April 4. 1723."
Nicholas* Fessenden * the American ancestor of all the existing families
of the name on this continent, after the decease of his uncle John, continued
to reside in Cambridge, and was married in 1G72-3, to Margaret, or Mary,
Cheney, who died Dec. 10, 1717, in the 62d year of her age. By her he had
fourteen children, viz. : — 1. Jane, 1674; 2. Hannah, 1676, both of whom died
in infancy; 3. John, 1677; 4. Nicholas, 1680; 5. Thomas, 1682, d. an infant;
6. Thomas, 1,684; 7. Margaret, 1687, d. unmar. ; 8. Jane, 1688, mar.
Sam'l Windship, high sheriff of Middlesex, 1712; 9. Mary, 1689, mar.
Joshua Parker, 1712; 10. WilUam," h.l GO i; 11. Joseph, 1697, mar. Mind-
well Oldham, 1733 ; 12. Benjamin, Jan. 30, 1701 ; 13. Hannah, mar. John
Chipman, of Sandwich; 14. Eben.
Benjamin the 12th child, born 1701, went to Sandwich, Mass., and is
ancestor of the Fessendens in that quarter. The Maine Fessendens are
descended from William the tenth child of Nicholas, born in Cambridge,
1694, who owned a farm there and was by trade a tanner, and who married
Martha Wyeth in 1716, by whom he had eleven chileren.
William" Fessenden ( William,^ Nicholas^ ), the eldest son of the first
William, and grandson of Nicholas, was born in Cambridge, on the family
seat near Harvard University, Dec, 1715, and was graduated at Harvard
College, 1737. He was a schoolmaster, and was licensed to preach, but did
not follow the vocation. He was married to Mary Palmer, Mar. 31, 1740, by
whom he had six children. He instructed a public school in Cambridge, and
died of apoplexy at the age of thirty-three, leaving a widow and three
children, viz. : two sons and a daughter, of whom the Rev. William Fessen-
den was the eldest.
Rev. WiLi>iAM* Fessenden (William' William'^), born Nov. 3, 1747,
O. S., was the grandfather of the subject of this memoir. He was gradu-
ated at Harvard College in 1768 ; taught a public school in Topsfield, Mass.,
one year, then studied divinity, and was settled as the first minister of the
* Maj^ 28, 1705. Peter Town constituted Nicholas Fessenden, Senior, one of the over-
seers of his will, and attached to it the following memorandum before signing: — " It is my
desire, my dear wife do let Mr. Nicholas Fessenden, schoolmaster, have five pounds as
.1 token of my respect to him, unless my wife shall want it for her own comfort —
she to be the judge."
First Parish in Fryeburg, Me., Oct. 11, 1775. He was a man of sterling
qualities, an earnest and devout man, distinguished for his philanthropy and
hospitality, and died deejily lamented. He was twice married : 1st, to Sarah
Reed, of Dunbarton, N. H., in 1771, who with her one child died the follow-
ing year. In August, 1774, he was married, 2d, to Sarah Clements, of Haver-
hill, N. H., the wise and genial woman who long survived him, and was the
mother of nine children. She died in Portland in 1836, at the house of her
son, Samuel, having attained the ripe age of 83 years, and having survived
her husband more than thirty years.
Samuel Fessexden, the fifth child of Rev. William'' and Sarah ( Clements)
Fessenden, was born in Fryeburg, Maine, July 16, 1784, and named for his
maternal grandfather, Samuel Clements. His early education was at Frye-
burg Academy, under the instruction of Amos J. Cook, a graduate of Dart-
mouth College, and he taught school in his native town before entering
college. After entering Dartmouth College, he pursued the same occupa-
tion in Paris, Me., and Boscawen, N. H., to help out the means of finishing
his college course, and took his degree with high reputation as a scholar, in
He passed his legal studies under the direction of the Hon. Judah Dana,
of Fryeburg, and was admitted to the bar in 1809. He first established
himself in New-Gloucester, but in 1822 removed to Portland, where he
formed a connection in business with Thomas Amory Deblois, which
was continued until 1854, when the partnership was dissolved in order
that he might take his son Daniel W. into business with him. The
new firm continued until his son was elected clerk of the courts in
1861, when, advanced in years, and with the honors and burdens of more
than fifty years of professional life ujDon him, and with the respect of the
community, he retired from all active duty in his profession to the rej)Ose
of private life, which his feeble health imperatively demanded, and died in
Portland, March 19, 1869, aged 84 years and 8 months, preceding his
distinguished son to the grave only about six months.
Samuel Fessenden. in early life, by a course of general classical reading,
stored his mind with a copious knowledge. His standing in college was
among the best scholars, a rank he sustained in after life. In 1828, he was
elected a member of the Maine Historical Society ; and in 1846, Bowdoin
College conferred upon him the degree of doctor of laws. In 1828, on the
death of President Tyler, of Dartmouth College, he was spoken of as pre-
sident of that institution, but his aversion to changing his mode of life sus-
pended further effort. He early took a deep interest in the political affairs
of the country, as his father, who had represented the town in the general
court of Massachusetts, had before him. Both were strong and undeviating
federalists of the Washington and Hamilton school. The name he gave
his eldest son, the subject of this memoir, indicates his politics, as none "but
the federalists bdieved in Pitt.
The year after he settled in New-Gloucester, he was invited by the
^ federalists there, to deliver the 4th of July oration. Francis Eaton, another
lawyer of the town, was the orator of the democrats. The town was strong-
ly federal, and that party erected a flag-staff in front of the house in which
the oration was to be delivered, on. which they hoisted the national flag.
Col. Foxcroft, the democratic leader, sent word that the flag must be taken
down. Hearing which, Mr. Fessenden stationed two men- by the staff', who
assured him the flag should not be lowered during the oration, unless over
their dead bodies. It is needless to say the banner floated unmolested. It
was on this occasion that Parson Moseley, the minister of the parish and a
high federalist, read the hymn beginning —
" Break out their teeth, Almighty God ;
Thoee teeth of lions, dyed in blood."
Samuel Fessenden was the representative of New-Gloucester in the gen-
eral court of Massachusetts in 1814, '15, and '16, and a senator from the
county in 1818 and '19 ; advocating throughout with great po\ver the prin-
ciples of the federal party. In 1814, during the discussion of the proposi-
tion to send delegates to the Hartford convention, he said, in a speech against
the national administration, he was " ready to take the constitution in one
hand and the sword in another, and demand the constitutional rights of the
people." The last year of his senatorship, the dfstrict of Maine swung
from her ancient moorings by the side of the old commonwealth of Massa-
chusetts into independent life. In 1825 and '26, he represented Portland
in the legislature of the new vState. After that he became engrossed in his
law business to the exclusion of every thing else. He early became a mem-
ber of the Masonic order, and for a number of years was orand master of
the grand lodge of Mairie.
His commanding figure ; his full, round voice ; his emphatic and graceful
elocution ; his powers, pliysical and mental, peculiarly qualified him for a pro-
minent position in a delil>erative assembly. He distinguished liimself so
much in the legislature that, m 1818, he was elected major general of the
10th division of the militia of Massachusetts — a commission he continued to
hold imder the sej^arate organization of Maine for fourteen years, and
which fairly entitled him to the title of " General," by which he was com-
monly known. He collected around him, as his sfaff, gentlemen of high
standing in the community, and his parades were brilliant and attractive.
General Fessenden followed the federal party into its various changes ;
to national republican under John Quincy Adams, and to whig, when Clay
led off the jDarty. But when the anti-slavery power was acquiring force, with
his accustomed ardor, and from a sincere conviction, he entered the ranks
of that then unpopular party, and did yeoman's service in its cause. It was a
matter of principle with him, and he was regardless of what men might say
if it conflicted with his sense of right. He received colored persons into
his house ; he took them with him to church ; he visited them in tlieir fami-
lies, and encouraged them in every way to attain a place in society. In
1814, he introduced a colored man, Macon B. Allen, into the district court
while in session, and moved the court that he be admitted to practise as an
attorney and counsellor-at-law^ under the existing law of Maine, which ren-
dered any citizen eligible to admission who produced a certificate of good
moral character : but Allen was rejected on the ground that he was not a
citizen. Afterwards having sustained a satisfactory examination before a
committee of the bar, he was recommended, and admitted, but never enter-
ed into practice in Maine. In 1841, General Fessenden was the candidate
of the anti-slavery party for governor of the state. As a matter of course
he was extremely popular with the colored people, and at a festival which
they held, one of the race gave as a complimentary toast : — " General
Fessenden, though he has a white face, he has a black heart."
Probably no lawyer in Maine ever argued so many • cases to a jury as
General Fessenden, and jierhajis none tried more important questions of law
before the court. Certainly none was more successful in civil or criminal
practice. For over half a century in active practice, in the courts of Cum-
berland, he was, for many years, the acknowledged head and Nestor of that
bar, which has always been famous for its legal ability. Perhaps General
Fessenden's closest competitor for many yeai-s, was the late Simon Green-
leaf, the distinguished author of the Treatise on Evidence, whose authority
is accepted wherever the English language is spoken, or the common law
recognized. In fidelity to the interests of his clients. General Fessenden
probably never had his superior. In criminal trials his devotion was absolute ;
and we have it from his own' declaration, that he never defended a person
whom he believed to be guilty of the offence with which he was charged,
and that indeed he had never been consulted by any such.
Dec. 16, 1813, Mr. Fessendenwas married to Deborah Chandler, of New-
Gloucester, who through her grandmother was a direct descendant from
Governor Winslow, by whom he had eleven children.
He was the author of two orations, delivered when a young man, and of
a treatise on the Institution, Duties and Importance of Juries. In 1846, the
trustees of Bowdoin College conferred on him the degree of doctor of laws.
A genial man, the frosts of age failed to chill the enthusiasm of his early
youth. He was a sincere christian, and a gentleman of the old school ;
stately, kindly in presence, liberal to the poor, and an indulgent parent.
The purest sources of his enjoyment and the best influences of his life, he
found in the domestic circle. Of his children — viz. : nine sons and two
daughters — five of the sons were educated at Bowdoin College, and three
at Dartmouth ; four were educated to the law ; three studied medicine, and
one theology. Three have been members- of congress, viz. : — William Pitt,
Samuel Clement, and Thomas A. Deblois.
Born before the adoption of the national constitution, and entering on the
duties of his profession at the close of the administration of Mr. Jefferson,
he lived to witness the overthrow of the rebellion, and the annihilation of
the system of slavery he so loathed ; and dying a few months before his
distinguished son, he was spared the sorrow that event would have occasioned
His funeral took place from the residence of his son William Pitt, whose
duties in Washington prevented his presence. It was attended by the
members of the Cumberland bar association, of which he had been so long
an associate ; by many of the race he had befriended ; by a ci'owd of friends,
and by the grand lodge of Maine in full regalia, the latter acting as pall
bearers, and jjerforming Masonic rites at Evergreen Cemetery, where the
body was deposited. On the casket in which the body rested was an ele-
gant cross and wreaths of the rarest exotics. The features of the deceased
bore a placid expression as of one who had merely lain down to rest, and
such portion of the body as was visible, was caressingly entwined with ivy.
This sketch of the father shows under what influences William Pitt.
Fessenden grew up to manhood.
given to literature. Pie was some few yeai-s older than I, but we were
almost the only jiersons in that village who were devoted to literary pur- .
suits. Hence our companionship was constant. * * * We studied many
books together ; some of them not now well known : such as Bigland's His-
tory of the World, Rollin's Ancient History, then Russell's Modern Europe,
or Plutarch's Lives ; and we read through and through the village library,
which was deemed magnificent, Avith its forty or fifty volumes." •
On leaving college young Pitt studied, under the supervision of his father,
the ijrofession of law with the Hon. Charles S. Daveis, of Portland, one of
the best read lawyers of the Cumberland bar, whose kind and able counsel,
and pecidiar line of practice, cultivated and developed that activity of
mind and skill, and readiness in equity pleading, and those brilliant powers
that carried him with undeviating step, to the head of the bar of Maine, and
to the leadershij) in the senate of the United States, and would have given
him the highest seat on the bench of the supreme court of the State, had he
been Avilling to sacrifice the noble aspirations of the political life into which
he indeed had been unwillingly drawn, for the quiet and solid rewards of
judicial office. A part of his time as a law student was also passed in New
York with his uncle, Thomas Fessenden, a member of the New York bar.
After spending four years in the study of law, he was admitted to the bar
at the age of twenty-one, and on commencing practice modestly sought the
quiet little village of Bridgeton, Me. After two years practice there, he re-
moved, in 1829, to the larger field of Portland, and joined his father and Mr.
Deblois in their extensive practice ; bringiug to it a ready furnished mind,
a keen intellect, and a certain self-possession which gave him a position far
in advance of the young practitioners who were his contemporaries. Find-
ing three able lawyers too much for one office, he sought for a short time his
fortune in Bangor. From thence he was drawn, in 1832, and finally and
permanently established himself in Portland, which thenceforth was the scene
of his professional and political triumphs. In the year last named, he entered
into a law partnership with the Hon. William Willis, and the firm continued
for twenty j^ears to do a successful business. It Avas during this period
that Mr. Fessenden acquired his highest reputation at the bar ; and it may
be said that for clearness of statement, keenness of analysis and closeness of
logic, no member of the profession in Maine was his superior. He was con-
cise and direct in his argument, which seldom exceeded three-fourths of an
hour, and while exciting the attention of the court Avas perfectly level to
"WILLIAM PITT FESSENDEK
William Pitt Fessexdex, the eldest son of General Samuel' Fessenden,
was born in Boscawen, N. H., within a few miles of the birth place of
Daniel Webster, October 6, 1 806 — the same year that his father was grad-
uated from Dartmouth College. His mother, whose maiden name was Greene,
and a native of Boscawen, was an attendant upon the services of the Episco-
pal Church, and later in life became a devout and consistent communicant.
Iler inflint was accordingly baptized agreeably to the form and rite of that
Church', and Daniel Webster, who had taught in the Fryeburg academy,
and was an acquaintance of the Fessendens, was its godfather. Mr. Webster
complained when, in 1852, he was a candidate for President before
the whig national convention, in Baltimore, that many years previous he rode
twenty miles over the snow, on a cold winter day, at the request of his friend.
General Fessenden, to attend the christening of his son, and now that son
(Wm. Pitt) was steadily voting against him in the convention. During the
period of childhood, young Pitt received the assiduous and affectionate care of
his fiither and step-mother. Inheriting, in no small degree, his father's mental
qualities as a scholar, lawyer and legislator, he was especially remarkable for
his ready sarcasm and wit. Endowed with a fine, nervous temperament, and
studious beyond his years, he entered Bowdoin College before he had at-
tained the age of thirteen, and graduated with high honors in 1823, before
he was quite seventeen. Such precocity has had few parallels — one is that
of Edward Everett ; another, that of the Great Premier of England, for whom
he was named, then in the height of his power. The Hon. James Brooks,
who at the time was a political oj)ponent, speaking of these early years in
his eulogy before congress, said : — " Mr. Fessenden was my friend, associate,
room-mate and bed-fellow, in early boyhood. I grew up with him in the
town of Lewiston, then a comparatively small and unknown village in Maine,
on the Androscoggin river, on the frontier of civilization, but now a large
and popvilous matnifacturing town. He was a teacher of the village school
there, while I was a boy in a country store, acting as a clerk in the estab-
lislmient. He was a student in Bowdoin College, and sent forth to teach
in the then small village of Lewiston, where there were but A'ery few
inhabitants, and those struggling with the forest and the field, and but little
the comprehension of the jiuy. He was an able and forcible advocate.
Occasionally he was emplqyed to argue cases in the supreme court of the
United States, in which his triumph was no less signal than in his own
State. During this period he attracted great attention in legal circles by
his argument before the supreme court, by which he succeeded in reversing
a decision of Judge Story relative to the responsibility of an innocent owner
of real estate sold at auction, for frauds committed without his knowledge,
by the auctioneer. His argument in this, as on all forensic occasions, was
remarkable for its logical force and legal acuteness.
Immediately on his return to Portland, Mr. Fessenden was elected to
various city offices, and in 1832, at the age of twenty-five years, having
already been offered and declined the whig nomination to congress, he was
elected to represent the city of Portland in the State legislature, and was
chosen a member of the convention which nominated Henry Clay for presi-
dent. These were the first steps in his political career. He entered the
legislature as its youngest member, but at once attracted marked attention,
and was straightway its leader, distinguishing himself both as an orator and
legislator. It foreshadowed the later bearing of his mind toward questions
of finance, that his principal speech was made upon the United States bank.
Declining a re-election and all office, he devoted himself from 1832 to 1839
exclusively to the practice of his profession as a counsellor and advocate.
In 1838, he declined a second time to become a candidate for congress.
In 1837, Mr. Webster having been invited by his admirers there to visit
the State of Kentucky, chose Mr. Fessenden for one of his accompanying
friends. The great senator presented him to the people of that State as his
proterje, and as a young man of ability who had already given high promise
of future distinction and usefulness to his country ; and Mr. Clay and his
friends received him with all the consideration and courtesy due to his merits
and the generous endorsement of his illustrious friend and patron. The warm
greeting of the people of Kentucky, and the witchiu ^_hospitaIities of Ash-
land, made a lasting impression upon Mr. Fessenden. Mr. AVebster had
been previously his political leader and instructor, and from that visit " he
fully associated Mr. Clay, and firmly keld the respect and confidence of
both," says Mr. Davis, the senator from Kentucky in his eulogy, " to the
end of their lives, and in his career fully responded to the high estimates
and hopes which they so early formed of him." He was a special favorite
of Mr. Clay and the Kentucky delegation of both Houses ; they were proud
that the distant Northeast had sent to Congress a friend and folloTver of
their great leader, himself of such rare merit.
In 1839, he consented to sit again in the State legislatnre, and though an
nncompromising whig, while the legislature was strongly democratic, he
was made chairman of the judiciary committee, and ^iresident of the special
commission to revise and codify the statutes of the State. If there are any
other instances in our history where a young man has, before reaching his
thirty-fourth year, twice refused to go to congress, while yet consenting to
sit in the State legislature, we ,are unacquainted with them. "Whether
this reluctance arose from a too modest estimate of his actual powers, a dis-
taste for public life, or from a desire to make fuller jireparation for the
national arena on which he was to enter, he could not long withhold his
presence from the federal capitol. In 1840, he was nominated for congress
in the exciting Han-ison campaign by the whigs of Cumberland district,
and, running far ahead of his party, was elected. He distinguished himself
in the current debates of the period, making important speeches on the bank-
rupt bill, which threw him into successful debate with Caleb Cushing, and
on the loan bill and army appropriation bill, taking ground against the re-
duction of the army. He was re-nominated at the end of his term, but the
political arena did not suit his taste, and he resolutely declined, preferring to
return to the practice of his j)rofession. Yet two years after, in 1845, to
secure the passage of certain local measures in which his constituents were
interested, he consented to sit in the Maine legislature. Altogether he was
elected to represent the city of Portland six years in that body, viz. : — 1832,
'39, '45, '46, '53 and '54; In 1843, he received the vote of his party in the
legislature, for the senate of the United States, as he did again in 1845, while
a member. In 1858, Bowdoin College conferred upon him the degree of
doctor of laws, and the same honor was conferred by Harvard University in
1864. In 1848, he su^iported the claims of his godfather, IMr. Webster, in
the whig convention which nominated General Taylor.
In 1850, he accepted the nomination and was elected to congress, but his
seat, through an error in the returns, was given to his competitor. Mr. F.
refused to contest the case before congress, apparently from a principle \\hich
had marked his previous course — that lie would not ask for otiicc, much less
contend for it. In 1852, he opposed the platform, but supported in the whig
convention the nomination of General Scott for president, in obedience to
the wishes of his State, and steadily voted ngainst Daniel Webster.
In 1853, having again consented to serve Portland in the State legislature,
he received the votes of the senate of that body for United States senator.
The house of representatives by four votes failed to concur, and no senator
Avas chosen. He was, however, chosen by the legislature a member of a
commission to negotiate the purchase of the Massachusetts lands lying in Maine.
In the succeeding year (1854), the Kansas-Nebraska bill having arisen,
the free-soil democrats voted with the whigs and elected Mr. Fessenden on
the first ballot to his chief and permanent sphere of usefulness, the United
States senate. This coalition of free-soil democrats and old-line whigs in-
augurated the formation of the republican party in Maine, of the necessity of
which Senator Fessenden was one of the most conspicuous and powerful
He took his. seat in the senate, Feb. 23, 1854, and a week afterward, on
the night of the 3d of March, delivered a speech of electrical effect against
the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which immediately lifted him into
national fame. A southerner, who listened to this speech in the senate, ex-
claimed in the midst of it, " Why, what a man is this ! all his gmis are
double-shotted." He was re-elected to the senate in 1859, without the for-
mality of a previous nomination, and again in 18G4. lie was fifteen years
in the senate uninterruptedly, save_,from June, 1864, to March, 18G5, when
he consented to hold, through the darkest hours of our finance, the office of
secretary of the treasury. On the resignation of Mr. Chase, INIr. Fessenden
was very solicitous for the appointment of some one who, by his reputation
and financial skill, would at once command the public confidence and pre-
serve the credit of the government, and went to the President to talk to him
about it. To his great surprise the President told him he had concluded to
nominate William Pitt Fessenden, of Maine. Mr. Fessenden protested
against the nomination and refused the office, pleading physical inability
as well as want of confidence in his fitness for the place; but Mr. Lincoln
assured him that he had the confidence of the capitalists of the country, and
that in fact he had already sent his nomination to the senate, and it would be
confirmed before he could reach his seat. .Such an appeal could not be
resisted, and he accepted with the conditions that he was to serve only until
a fit man could be found for the place. A newspaper writer has said: —
"Mr. Chase, while our armies were struggling in the agonies of the conflict from the
Wilderness to Richmond, and when gold had risen from 90 to 180, and was threatening
to rise to 280, having resigned, Mr. Fessenden caught the falling standard witli true
jjolitical c'jurage, and held it until the surrender of the rebel armies, lie took charge at
a time when it was too late to change policies and impossible to reform them. Nevertheless
he stopped the issues of greenbacks, which had fallen to 40 cents on the dolhir. He held
the office disinterestedly to prevent the loss of confidence from embarrassing the govern-
ment, and, as soon as the fearful crisis had passed, resigned his portfolio and returned to
the senate to which he was re-elected."
To the writer of this sketch he once said: — "I took the office rehictantly
and as a matter of duty, and vacated it just as soon as I could."
The first six years of his service in the senate he Avas a member of the
committee on finance, and in his later terms was the cliairman of that com-
mittee. He was also a member of the library committee, and one of the
regents of the Smithsonian Institution. He was also chairman of the joint
special committee on reconstruction, and prepared its report, which in point
of ability has been called the great work of his life.
Mi: Douglas, in 1861, during a debate having stated that an assertion
made by Mr. Fessenden was false ; in his, reply he defined his position
with respect to duelling very explicitly by saying, '' the senator from Illinois
need not fear, or to speak more delicately, need not apprehend any hostile
message from me. He (Mr. Fessenden) made it a point to use insulting
language to no one, least of all to gentlemen who recognized a code for set-
tling difficulties different from his own. And why ? Because he would con-
sider himself a coward to deliberately in&ult a duellist when he could not give
the offended party the only satisfaction which he would deem adequate for
the wrong. But a man who like the senator from Illinois is presumed to
recognize the code, and who w^antonly insults another, knowing that he is
not a duellist, is even a greater coward than I."
When the secession movement rose to its height in 1861, he Avas chosen
a member of the famous peace congress, and used his influence to avert the
horrors of civil war. Finding the southern states determined and immov-
able in their purpose to sever their connection with the Union, he promi^tly
declared for coercive measures. During the long years of bloodshed which
followed, he supported Mr. Lincoln's administration by his votes, his speeches,
and his writings, and last, but not least, gave three of his four sons to the
army, one of whom lost a limb and another his life, in consequence of wounds
received in battle.
The latest and most jirominent act of his senatorial and public life was the
stand he took against the impeachment of President Johnson. He looked
at the question as a lawyer and jurist, and consequently his votes were
governed, not by personal feelings, nor by considerations of a political or
jiarty nature, but by the law and the evidence which as a juror and trier of
the cause he was called to pass upon. It was the sharpest test, 25erhaps,
that any public man has been subjected to in this generation, and he met it
The temporary loss of popularity with his party which followed his vote
in tliis trial was regained before his death, when considerate men came to
appreciate the jjure motives that dictated and vindicated his action. No ■ ^'fr
charge of corrupt motives was ever made against him in this or any other \ \ j) i
mattei-, and the only motives which his bitterest enemies assigned to him
in this case are not entitled to serious consideration. " Results will tell,"
said Mr. Fessenden, " whether I am right or wrong. Meanwhile I am here r » ,
on ui}^ conscience and my oath ; and if my constituents doubt my motives
or distrust my judgment, they must send some one else to fill my place." *
In this he illustrated his gx'eat characteristic — fearless iudividualit}'. Pie , „^
went with his party when he thought it was right, and nothing on earth •',*/^ '. '
could induce him to go with his party when he thought it was wrong. His
aim was to do right. V
He never sought the popularity that floats merely upon the passing breeze, r. \ '
Like Lord Mansfield he was not indifferent to his standing in the popular
opinion, and like him coveted the applause that follows, not that which is
On his return to Portland at the close of the session, he made a masterly
speech to his constituents in the city-hall, which was jiacked to overflowing,
and sent the audience away convinced that he had voted out of his true and
honest convictions. If they had been disappointed in his vote, the}' were
not disappointed in the man of their choice.
In his personal manner and bearing Mr. Fessenden was the trimmest
figure in the senate. He sat in his seat or walked at j^leasure, with his
hands behind his back, up and down the floor behind the seats. His fami-
liarity with the position gave him a light and easy grace and dignity of man-
ner, as if he were born and bred to the place. He was of medium height : that
is to say, about five feet ten inches, though looking taller ; frail in jierson, and
erect as a plummet line. His head was high, clear cut, and expanding about
the forehead and crown. His clear blue eyes looked out over finely drawn
features that were changed to the public never a line's breadth by ill health
or emotion. The expression was something hard and set, but without any-
thing saturnine or cynical. It was the expression of a ftiir, just man, with-
out hates or enmities, but drawing the reins of the world a little too closely
to the limits of his jiassionless individuality. No one could look upon his
fiice or mark the native dignity of his bearing — worthy of a Bayard or a
Sidney — without feeling, as Avas said of the elder Pitt, that modern
degeneracy had not reached him. In the senate he had not a touch
of the mellow, captivating qualities of fancy or imagination to commend
his address to popular apjirobation, and yet for ten years it was hardly
disputed that he drew the firmest rem in it, on the aflfliirs of that body. He
w'as always on the alert, speaking often but not at great length. One who
had only seen him in public but had never spoken to him, said he impressed
him like a man who moved through the world in a Scotch mist, ready to chill
to the bone those he did not care for.
In i^ersonal affairs he had a first-rate heart under his vest, much kinder
than the public suspected ; but having no patience for humbug and no
tolerance for bores, he acquired a reputation for brusqueness and petulance
wholly undeserved. He deemed his time too valuable to be wasted on
dunces and office-beggars. Those who knew him in private found him a
most genial and delightful character, full of kindliness, wit, and good
nature. Ex-Governor Israel "Wasburn, of Maine, in a recent letter
to me, says, " his heart was as warm as his head Avas clear." To
the kindness and gentleness of his inner nature, let the gratitude and
love of hundreds of his humble friends, whose lowly estate made their friend-
ship more dear in his eyes than the smiles and flattery of the Avealthy and
famous, testify. No man was ever more sincerely lamented than he has
been by those who really and truly knew him, and his friendship was the
more precious that it was known to so few. The man who Avould go to a
vine which had been ^ihuited by dear, dead hands, and caress its blossoms
till his eyes grew dewy with remembrance, no matter what his worldly ex-
terior, could not have a cold, unsympathizing heart. In the happy phrase
of Shakspeare : —
" He was a scholar, and a ripe and jjond one,
Exceedin;,' wise, fair si)t)];en and persiiadinp';
Lofty and sour to tliein that lovcil liini not ;
But to those tliat sought liiiii,
Sweet as summer. "
He had read everything notable in literature, and his sole recreations in
his latter years were novels and whist. His somewhat severe dignity of
countenance would relax in the private circle ; anecdote and repartee flowed
freely from his seemingly caustic lips ; and he would pour out the torrents
of his wrath and indignation at the servility, the rascaUty, and the timidity
of the time-servers with whom he was bronght into daily contact. Of the
sycophancy of the politician he had no trace whatever. His character and
his career were full of the dignity of self-resjiect. There was a suavity in
his address, at times, which would have seemed impossible to those who
knew him only on the iloor of the senate as a keen and trenchant debater,
feared by his friends and merciless to his adversaries. His character is well
summed up in some lines attached to his name in the Memoirs of the 40th
Congress : —
" Appl}^ your eye-glass and minutely scan
The tbrm and features of a wondrous m.an —
Sharp in his physique — you could well expect
Sharpness and Ijoldness in his intellect;
Ready in thought and irony — not wit,
Behold in Fessexdex our modern Pitt.
He speaks ; and steel-clad weapons from his brain
Sweep like a tempest o'er the hills of Maine.
Then like a storm-king, with unpitying eye,
He views the prostrate forms around him lie.
Cold in his temper, and of icy glow,
He shines like his Katahdin crowned with snow ,
No smiles or blushes leave their genial trace
Upon his Norman, frigid, thoughtful face.
Though seeming strange, the truth must be confessed
That fervid elements control his breast.
Like tires which in volcanic mountains glow,
"Whose summits glisten with eternal snow."
His heart was as tender as a woman's, and an appeal was never made in
vain to the kindness which ruled his character. Once an estrangment be-
tween him and another senator occurred on account of words spoken in
debate. After a few days that senator sent him, from his desk, a note say-
ing : — " If I have offended you I ask your forgiveness. If you have offend-
ed me I have forgotten it." IVIr. Fessenden did not keep back his tears as
he crossed the chamber to shake hands with his old friend, from whom he
had been temporarily separated. Another striking example has been pub-
lished. Mr. Fessenden once made a remark which was interpreted as an
insult to Mr. Seward. When informed of it, and seeing such a meaning
could be given to his words, he instantly went to Mr. Seward and said : — " Mr.
Seward, I have insulted you ; I am sorry for it, I did not mean it." This
apology, so promjit, frank and perfect, so delighted Mr. Seward that, grasp-
ing him by the hand, he exclaimed : — " God bless you, Fessenden, I wish
you would insult me again."
Mr. Williams, senator from Oregon, in his eulogy before the senate, says,
"I was a member of two committees of which Mr. Fessenden was chairman,
and once only cliil his anger break out in hasty words towards me ; but in
a few moments he came, and in the kindest and most apologetic manner
expressed his regret at the unpleasant occurrence."
A newspaper writer has thus described his appearance upon the floor of
congress : —
" When he rises to speak in the senate, he steps forward of his seat between the desks in
front, with his spectacle's thrown up on his head, his hands in his poclicts, and one leg
thrown across the otlier, and leaning against his desk, he begins to talk freely in a moder-
ate tone of voice. There is no posture of the orator, no graceful gestures, no clarion voice,
no gorgeous imagery, no startling conceptions, no brilliant periods. He is a free, easy,
lively, clear-headed talker."
It is true Mr. Fessenden never spoke for effect, yet if excellence ,in ora-
tory is to be determined by its instant effect, he was entitled to a high rank.
His style was clear and close ; his reasoning concise ; his language simple
and natural ; his sarcasm keen and pungent. His speeches were never
elaborated with a view to their appearance in print. Mr. Sumner has said
that " nobody could match him in immediate and incisive reply." Mr. Trum-
bull : — " His clear intellect, quick perception, and incisive manner of speak-
ing gave him great power in a legislative body." Mr. Williams : — " Plain,
simple, and unaffected in manner and habit, so he was in speech, and his
style was as pure and transparent as the waters of a New-England brook.
When Mr. Fessenden arose to address the senate, it will not be irreverent
to say, that so far as the subject-under discussion was concerned, he was gen-
erally able to say — ' Let'there be light, and there was light.' Saladin's sword
was not sharper than his." Mr. Morrill, of Vermont: — "Studious of facts,
guilty of no nonsense, reverent to the highest principles of republican policy,
cogent and severely logical in argument, his speeches were always a marked
feature in any debate." Mr. Cottrell, of New Jersey : — " In the heat and fer-
vor of off-hand debate he was without a rival in this chamber ; his keen,
sharp, incisive style, and earnest manner would sometimes wound an oppo-
nent, but he bore malice to none." Mr. Vickers, of Maryland : — " If true elo-
quence consists in great will, great courage, great intellect, and the power
that controls the judgment, then he was an orator of the first class ; or if
to be worth much, speech must begin like a river, and flow and widen and
deepen to the end, he possessed that attribute also. It may be said of
him, as was once remarked of a distinguished French orator, that he said
just what he meant to say, and like an expert navigator he steered his words
and his ideas through the shoals which beset him on every side, not only
without going to wreck, but without ever running aground." Mr. Lynch,
of Maine : — " Before making a speech he thought out and thoroughly ana-
lyzed his subject until his mind had reached a distinct conclusion by logical and
correct methods, and then stated in the simplest language what that conclu-
sion was, and how he had himself arrived at it. His construction of a
speech was like the building of a Solomon's Temple ; you heard neither the
sound of the hammer, nor saw the debris of the workman, but every stone was
taken from the quarry ready fitted to its place, and the building rose silently
and rapidly from foundation to capstone." Such were the opinions of some
of his contemporaries and associates in congress. Like expressions could be
On the morning of the 8th of September, death closed the earthly honors
and triumphs of this truly great man, the larger portion of whose life had
been spent in public service. On Tuesday, August 31, he was in the street,
and in his usual health. During the night following he experienced a pain-
ful attack of the disease incident to the season, but was relieved and was
considered recovering. Dangerous symptoms presented themselves on
Thursday, and the evening following his medical attendants became aware
of inflammation of the bowels, which did not yield to the most active treat-
ment, and that his life was in imminent danger. During Friday, it was
generally believed he was dying, and the rumor went abroad by telegi*aph
that he had deceased. But on Saturday and the three following days, he
was free from pain, and exhibited so much strength that the hope of his
recovery up to Tuesday evening steadily increased. His condition through
the night was favorable, until about three o'clock in the morning, at which
time, in moving himself in bed, it is believed an intestine was ruptured, and
under the intense pain that followed, partially alleviated by opiates, he sank
away, and expired at twenty minutes past six o'clock, Wednesday morning,
September 8, 1869.
The morning of his death occurred the terrible September gale of that
year, which swept with devastating influence over the whole of New-England
and a greater part of the continent. Streams were flooded, bridges carried
away, trees uprooted. The dying statesman peacefully sighed his soul away
amidst this elemental war. The great brick house in which he lay was
shaken by the blasts, and a favorite tree which he had planted in front of it
was broken down by the tempest. His surviving sons, his physicians,
Doctors Thomas F. Perley and William Wood, and several of his near friends
and relatives, were with him in his last moments.
Mr. Fessenden was one of the guests so mysteriously poisoned at the
National Hotel, Washington, in 1858, a calamity which caused great horror
throughout the country. He never fully recovered from its effects, and it
is believed the disease which resulted in his death had its remote origin in the
malaria then introduced into his system. A post-mortem examination con-
firmed all that his physician had believed.
On Saturday, the 11th of September, friends gazed for the last time upon
his pallid features. The body had been removed to the First Parish ( Uni-
tarian) church, of which when in Portland he was a constant attendant. At
an early hour the citizens waited patiently upon the steps and the side walk
for the hour of the services, and until the family and various public bodies had
taken their seats. The interior of the church was most appropriately and
tastefully draped in mourning. From over the pulpit recess heavy folds of
sable depended looped on either side, while the jiulpit and galleries were
shrouded with the same. Over the upper part of the pulpit an ivy was
gracefully festooned, and fastened on either side was a single white rose and a
wreath of immortelles decked the front. Small clusters of white flowers, from
which depended trailing vines, were placed around the border of the com-
munion table, while three large bouquets gave forth their delicious perfume.
The organ was dressed in festoons of sable, and ornamented by three other
bouquets, while the clock, whose hands were stopped at 20 minutes past 6,
was lovingly entwined with a wreath of iv3\ The metallic coffin represent-
ing rosewood, which stood upon trestles in front of the pulpit, bore on a
. silver plate the name, date of death and age of the deceased.
At 10 J A. M. precisely, the Machigonne and Eastern State Encamp-
ments, and the Ligonia Lodge of Odd Fellows (of which last the deceased
was a member), entered the church, followed by the mayor, aldermen and
common councilmen of Portland. Immediately after these the Cumberland
bar arrived, headed by the venerable Ex-Chief Justice Ethan Shipley, lean-
ing upon the arm of his son, and agcompanied by the judges of the supreme
court. Many other distinguished persons were j^resent. As soon as the
ftxmily and relatives of the deceased had taken their seats, the quartette
choir of the church sung the solemn anthem — " I heard a voice from Hea-
ven saying blessed are the dead who die in the Lord." The Rev. Mr. Bailey,
pastor of the church, then read a peculiarly appropriate burial service of his
own selection, beginning with an acknowledgment of the infinite power
and wisdom of God, passing to the mournful separations and privations of
death, as described by the poets of the Old Testament, and concluding with
the inspiring promises of St. Paul in the New. Doct. Carruthers, who had
only a few months previously performed the same sad services at the burial
of the father, nest proceeded to deliver an eloquent funeral discourse
and eulogy over the son ; at the close of which the choir sung the beautiful
hymn beginning —
" Lowly and solemn be
My cliildrcn's cry to thee,
" A hymn of suppliant lireath,
Owning tliee Life and Ucatli,
Alilie arc lliine."
At the conclusion of the hymn, the Rev. Mr. Bailey offered an appropriate
and beautiful prayer, which was followed by a chant by the choir — " Thy
Will be done" — which was most touchingly rendered. The Rev. Dr.
Carruthers then pronounced the benediction, after which notice was given
that the casket would be placed in the vestibule, to afford all who might
desire it an opportunity of looking their last upon the features of the de-
ceased. Prior, however, to its removal, the Odd Fellows passed by it, each
member depositing upon the coffin a sprig of cedar, the type of immortality.
As soon as the casket was placed in the vestibule the iiumense congregation
passed from the church, each pausing for a moment to take a last glance at
one they had so loved and resi^ected in life ; and after they had all deiDart-
ed, the multitude thronged in from the street, in decorous order, and
quietly, some Avith tears standing in their eyes. The procession was then
formed, and took its course through Congress, Pine and Vaughan streets
to the Western Cemetery, where the remains were, without other
service, deposited beside those of his wife, daughter and son. Along the
entire route the streets were crowded with sorrowing citizens. The bells
of the churches tolled a requiem. Minute guns from the Arsenal and Fort
added solemnity to the occasion, and the flags of the foreign consulates, and
the shipping as well as from innumerable private dwellings, were displayed
at half mast. In a word, the mourning was universal and sincere.
On the assembling of congress, the 14tli of December, 18G9, was set
apart by both houses to commemorate the virtues and services of the de-
ceased senator,- when the memorial addresses Avere made in the Senate
by senators Morrill and Hamlin of Maine, Sumner of Massachusetts,
Trumbull of Illinois, Anthony of Rhode Island, Williams of Oregon, Mor-
rill of Vermont, Cottrell of Xew Jersey, Patterson of New-Hampshire. Da-
vis of Kentucky, aud Vickers of Maryland ; in the house of representatives
l)y Lynch, Peters and Hale of Maine, Dawes of Massachusetts, and Brooks
of New- York. These addresses subsequently w^ere collected in an ele-
gant volume and published by order of congress. Appropriate resolutions,
directing the usual badge of mourning, Avere also 2iassed.
The New-York Tribune said of these eulogies and their subject : —
' " The eulogists vied with each other in their gracious tributes — in their honorable
testimony. And yet the bounds of simple truth were not overpassed, were scarcely
reached. Their most glowing epithets, their most sounding periods failed to give
one that sense of Mr. Fessenden's rare nobility of nature, and intellectual supremacy
which Avas caught by a single glance at his liviug face, so pure and so intense, so
strong, yet so exquisitely refined. It was a face set inflexibly against all shams and
sophisms, social, moral and political ; but it was not an unbelieving face. It was
keen and penetrant in expression, without a touch of cunning. It Avas marked by a
peculiar pride, watchful but not jealous ; lofty but not lordly. Much has been said
of this characteristic pride of the great senator, but little perhaps understood. It
was not an assumption, it was not even a habit ; it was a native vital element of the
man. It hung about him like an atmosphere, a still, cold mountain air, utterly
without the sting of hauteur and the bluster of arrogance. You felt it without
resenting it. It would never haA'c prcA'cnted the unfortunate from approaching him,
or kept a little child from his knee. It made his smile the more beautiful, made
every indication of the inner sweetness and tenderness of his nature the more
Better than this poor record of his triumphs, his impress is left upon the
age. His high example of spotless integrity cannot be without its influence
upon those who shall come after him, and repeated from generation to
generation, Avill last forever. His character is Avortli more to his country
than his deeds. Mr. Sumner pronounced the judgment of the Senate and
the people when he spoke of him as " of perfect integrity and austerest virtue,
and inaccessible to the temptations which, in various forms, beset the aven-
ues of public life."
" True friend, steady leader, wise counsellor, considerate patriot, devoted
to liberty and his country " (said a paper of the day), " he has gone to his
reward, and the greatest of those Avho spoke or listened to these eulogies,
Avill be fortunate indeed, if Avhen his Avork beloAV is done, he shall leave
behind him a life as jjure and useful, a character as upright and honorable,
a record as unselfish and praiseworthy as that of William Pitt Fessenden."
Mr. Fessenden gathered no riches from his public employments, but
rather suffered a loss by them from their interruption of his legal practice.
He hoAvever inherited an ample fortune through his marriage, Avhich he
carefully conserved and transmitted to his children.
CHILDREN OF WILLIAM PITT FESSENDEN.
"William Pitt Fessenden was married in Westbrook, now Deering,
Maine, by the Rev. Ichabod Nichols, D.D., of Portland, April 23, 1832, to
Miss Ellen Maria, the youngest daughter of James and Almira (Ilsley) Deer-
ing, and granddaughter of Nathaniel and Dorcas (Milk) Deering. Mrs.
Fessenden died suddenly July 23, 1857.
By this marriage he had children, viz. :
1. James Deering Fessendex, born Sept. 28, 1833; graduated at Bowdoin College,
1852 ; married Miss Frances Gushing Greeley, Nov. 5, 1856. He entered the
United States Army as an additional Aide de Camp, with the rank of Colonel,
July 16, 1862 — was promoted to Brigadier-General August 8, 1864, and hon.
orably mustered out of service as a Brigadier and Brevet Major-General, Jan.
2. William Howard Fessenden, born May 5, 1835. Received the degree of LL.B.
from Harvard Law School, 1860. Bowdoin College conferred on him the hon.
degree of A.M., 1865.
3. Francis Fessenden, born March 18, 1839. Graduated at Bowdoin College, 1858.
Married to Miss Ellen Winslow Fox, August, 1862. He entered the United States
Army as a Captain of the 19th Regiment of Infantry, May 14, 1861. On recruit-
ing duty, July, 1861, to Jan., 1862. Commanding company army of the Cum-
berland to April, 1862. Engaged at the battle of Shiloh (severely wounded in
the arm). Colonel 25th Maine Volunteers, Oct., 1862, to Jan., 1863. Com-
manding 3d Brigade, Casey's Division, in department at Washington, &c.
Commanding 1st Brigade Abercrombie's Division, and engaged in the battle of
Chantilly, Va. Colonel of 30th Maine Volunteers, and engaged in the Red
River Campaign. Commanding Regiment and engaged in the battles of Plea-
sant Hill and Monett's Blufl", La. (severely wounded and lost right leg) .
Brigadier-General of United States Volunteers, May, 1864. Member of Mill.
tary Commission, AVashington, D. C, and Commanding 1st Infantry Division
Department of West Virginia to July, 1865. Commanding 1st Brigade Han-
cock's Corps, July, 1865. Member of the Board for examination of officers, July
to Aug., 1865. Member of the Wirtz iMilitary Commiss. Aug. to Oct., 1865.
President of Court of Inquiry and of a Military Commiss. Nov., 1865, to March,
1866. Assistant Commissioner Bureau of Refugees, Freedmen and Abandoned
Lands, Maryland, W. Va., and the Shenandoah Valley, July to Sept., 1866.
Brevet Major-General United States Volunteers, Nov. 19, 1865, for gallant
and meritorious services in the field during the war. Promoted Brevet Major
United States Army, July 6, 1864, for gallant and meritorious services at
the battle of Shiloh, Tenn., where he was severely wounded in the arm.
Brevet Lieut. -Colonel United States Army, July 6, 1864, for gallant and
meritorious services at Monett's Bluff, La. Brevet Colonel and Brigadier-
General United States Army, March 13, 1865. Brevet Major-General United
States Army, for meritorious and gallant services during the war. Declined '
the appointment of Lieutenant-Colonel 45th Infantry August, 1866. Transfer-
red to the 28th U. S. Infantry by the reorganization of the army. Retired on
his own application, with the rank of Brigadier-General United States Army,
November 1, 1866.
4. Samuel Fessenden, born Jan. 6, 1841; graduated at Bowdoin College, 1861.
He was mortally wounded at Bull Run, Va., Aug. 30, 1862, and died at Cen-
treville, September 1, 1862. He was First Lieutenant in the 2d Maine Battery,
and acting aide to Brigadier-General Z. B. Tower, when wounded.
5. :Mary E. D. FessendExV, born June 16, 1842 ; died December 10, 1848.
HON WIT ,T JAM ]
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LIBRARY OF CONGPFc:o
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