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Hannibal Hamlin


WHAT can you raise here ?" inquired a distinguished English agriculturist, of a friend, a citizen of Maine, as they were traversing the rocky, iron-bound coast against which the North Atlantic dashes its waves in summer and winter. "Your soil seems so rocky and sterile that no crops will thrive in it. What can you grow ?" "We raise MEN," was the proud reply. Yes, the sunrise State does raise men, and one of the best of her products, was the man whose history we propose here to sketch briefly.

HANNIBAL HAMLIN was born in Paris, Maine, August 27th 1809. His ancestors were from Massachusetts, and of Puritan and revolutionary stock. His grandfather, Eleazar Hamlin commanded a company of minute men in the revolution, and had five sons enrolled under him, some of whom served through the whole war. Cyrus, one of the sons of Eleazar Hamlin, studied medicine, married and settled at Livermore, Oxford county, Maine, where he acquired a very extensive practice, and was also clerk of the courts for Oxford county, for a number of years. Hannibal was the sixth son of Dr. Cyrus Hamlin, and, from his boyhood, was a studious, Manly boy. His brothers have, several of them, attained distinction. His eldest brother, Elijah, has long been one of the most prominent men of the State; Cyrus, another brother, is well known as a missionary of the American Board, at Constantinople, and is now at the head of the Robert college there. Few men have been more widely useful. It was the intention of Dr. Hamlin to give Hannibal a collegiate education, and before he was sixteen, he was nearly fitted for college, when the failure of his brother Cyrus's health led to a change of plans, and be commenced the study of medicine, while Hannibal remained at home to labor on the farm, employing the winter in surveying a township of forest land on Dead river, which his father and others had purchased. When he was eighteen years of age, his father directed him to undertake the study of law, with his brother Elijah. He commenced his studies, but at the end of six or eight months, his father died, and he returned home, and labored on the farm, for the next two years. He was next, for about a year, joint proprietor and editor with Horatio King, afterwards assistant postmaster general, of a Democratic newspaper, The Jeffersonian, published at Paris, the county seat of Oxford county. To this paper be contributed both prose and poetical articles. But his inclination was still to the study of the law, and having sold out his interest in the paper, he entered, with his mother's sanction, the office of Hon. Joseph G. Cole, and, for the next three years, prosecuted his legal studies with him and with the firm of Fessenden, Deblois, and Fessenden, the junior partner being the late Senator from Maine. In January, 1833, he was admitted to the Oxford county bar, and immediately commenced a successful practice, which continued to increase until 1851, when he relinquished farther practice of his profession. He soon after removed to Hampden, a flourishing village six miles below Bangor, on the Penobscot, and married the same year. From 1836 to 1840, he was each year elected to the State Legislature, and in 1837, 1839, and 1840, was speaker of the House. In 1840, he was the Democratic candidate for Representative in Congress, but was defeated by about two hundred votes. In 1843, he was again a candidate and was elected by about a thousand majority.

Though elected as a Democrat, and voting with that party on all other questions, Mr. Hamlin, from the commencement of his Congressional career, uniformly opposed the extension and aggressions of slavery. His first speech in Congress was in opposition to the twenty-first rule, by which abolition petitions were excluded; and he ably and strenuously opposed the annexation of Texas, not because he was averse to new accessions of territory, but because the bill provided for the extension of slavery there. His speech, in opposition to the annexation on these terms, was one of remarkable eloquence, and its defence of New England against the attacks of southern members, was one of the finest passages of parliamentary oratory. 

I am sure, sir," he said, " that the hardy sons of the ice-bound region of New England, have poured out their blood without stint, to protect the shores of the South, or to avenge her wrongs Their bones are even now bleaching beneath the sun, on many a southern hill; and the monuments of their brave devotion may still be traced, wherever their country's flag has floated on the battle field, or the breeze, upon the lakes, the ocean, and the land:--

"New England's dead ! New England's dead! 
On every field they lie,
On every field of strife made red,
With bloody victory
Their bones are on our northern hills, 
And on the southern plain;
By brook and river, mount and rills, 
And in the sounding main.'

"I glory in New England and New England's institutions. There she stands, with her free schools, and her free labor, her fearless enterprise, her indomitable energy! With her rocky hills, her torrent streams, her green valleys, her heaven pointed spires; there she stands a moral monument around which the gratitude of her country binds the wreath of fame, while protected freedom shall repose forever at its base."

Mr. Hamlin was re-elected to Congress in 1814, and though known mainly as a working, rather than a talking member, (and his reputation was of the highest, as an efficient business man,) he took some part in the debates, handling the most important questions with great ability. Among the topics on which he spoke were the public land question; on giving notice to the British Government to terminate the joint occupancy of Oregon; on the mode of raising troops for the Mexican war; on the mode of increasing the army, and on establishing a territorial government for Oregon. He also offered the Wilmot Proviso as an amendment to the famous "three million bill."

On his return home he served for one session in the Maine Legislature, and in May, 1848, was elected to fill the vacancy in the United States Senate, caused by the death of Ex-Governor Fairfield. In July, 1851, he was again chosen Senator, for the full term, by the Democrats and Free Soilers. His decided opposition to slavery had alienated a few of the proslavery Democrats in the Legislature, but their place was more than supplied by the Free Soilers, who held the balance of power in the Maine Legislature at this time.

In the Senate, Mr. Hamlin almost immediately took a position as one of the ablest members of that body. He was not given to participating in the debates on trivial matters, but on the great questions of the time he usually gave his carefully considered views, and they commanded the attention and respect of the entire Senate. As a working member, he had no superior; he was chairman of the very important Committee on Commerce, from 1849 till his resignation of that position in 1856, on an occasion to be presently noticed, and drew up and matured many of the bills which have proved so beneficial to our national commerce. He was also chairman of the Committee on the District of Columbia, and an active member of other important committees. He was outspoken and decided in his efforts for the repression of slavery, and in opposition to its aggressive tendencies, and the purpose of its friends to extend it over all the new territories, from his entrance into the Senate. One of his earliest speeches, in 1848, on the bill providing a territorial government for Oregon, denounced in strong and manly terms this purpose of the pro-slavery men, and in the debates on the admission of California, he was equally explicit and earnest. e advocated in the same session the abolition of the practice of flogging in the navy. On commercial topics, his most important and effective speeches were, on the ocean mail service; on regulating the liabilities of ship owners; on providing for the greater security of lives on steamboats; in defence of the river and harbor bill; for the codifications of the revenue laws, etc.

Up to 1856, Mr. Hamlin had acted with the Democratic party on all questions, except those connected with the extension of slavery, directly or indirectly. He opposed the repeal of the Missouri compromise, the Kansas and Nebraska bill, and the Fugitive Slave act, but in all these, others affiliated with that party had acted with him; but the time came, at the national Democratic Convention at Cincinnati, in June, 1856, when that party succumbed to the slave power, and delivered themselves over to the rule and dictation of the South; then Mr. Hamlin felt that he must sever the ties which had hitherto bound him to them. He took the first opportunity of doing this which offered, rising in his place in the Senate, June 12th, 1856, and resigning his position as chairman of the Committee on Commerce, and assigning as his reason, that after the platform and resolutions adopted by the convention at Cincinnati, he could no longer maintain political associations with a party which insisted on such doctrines. Thenceforward, he became identified with the Republican party. Two or three weeks later he was nominated by the Republicans for Governor of Maine, and made a personal canvass of the State, speaking nearly one hundred times in the different counties. The Democrats had carried the State by a large majority the year before, and were then in power, but Mr. Hamlin was elected in September, 1856, by an absolute majority of eighteen thousand over both the competing candidates, and of twenty-three thousand over his Democratic competitor, more than double the majority ever given to any other candidate in that State. On the 7th of January, 1857, he resigned his seat in the Senate and was the same day inaugurated Governor of Maine. Nine days later, January 16th, 1857, he was a third time elected to the Senate, for the term of six years from March 4th, 1857, and on the 20th of February resigned the office of governor, and took his seat again in the Senate, on the 4th of March. During the next four years, he was the active and eloquent defender of Republican, principles in the United States Senate, discussing the Kansas question with consummate ability, attacking the Lecompton Constitution, replying with great pungency and effect to Senator Hammond's "mud-sill" speech, and repelling his assaults upon the free laborers of the North. He also exposed the unfairness and gross sectional partiality of the Democratic majority in the Senate, in the formation of the committees, and, in an able speech, defended American rights in regard to the fisheries.

On the 18th of May, 1860, at the Republican National Convention at Chicago, Mr. Hamlin was nominated as the candidate of the party for the vice-presidency on the ticket with Abraham Lincoln. The nomination was entirely unexpected by Mr. Hamlin and took him completely by surprise. It was made spontaneously and with great unanimity. The ticket was elected, and on the 4th of March, 1861, in the midst of civil commotion and the loud muttering of the storm which was so soon to burst upon the nation, President and Vice-President were inaugurated.   During the four years that followed, Mr. Hamlin was the President's right hand; calm, patient, clear-headed and far-seeing, he was able to give wise counsel, and enjoyed, throughout his administration, Mr. Lincoln's fullest confidence. It is said that in the history of our country, there has been but one other instance, in which there was full and perfect harmony between the President and Vice-President, and that was in the case of President Jackson and Vice President Van Buren. As the presiding officer of the Senate, he has rarely, if ever, been equalled in the skill with which he conducted its proceedings and the dignity with which he guided its deliberations. So thorough was his knowledge of parliamentary rules and usages, and of the precedents of senatorial action, that not a single ruling of his, daring the four years of his presidency over the Senate, was ever over-ruled by that body, and on his taking leave of it all parties united in testifying to his courtesy and impartiality.

At the Baltimore National Republican Convention, in 1861, it was at first proposed to nominate Mr. Hamlin again to the vice-presidency, which he had filled so well; there was nothing to be objected to in his conduct, and very much to praise; but it was represented that the position belonged, by right, to some loyal representative of the border, or seceded States, and this view prevailing, Andrew Johnson was nominated. It has been well said, that "with Hannibal Hamlin in the vice-presidency, either Mr. Lincoln would not have been assassinated, or we should have been spared the trouble, discord, and disgrace which has 

In July, 1865, Mr. Johnson appointed Mr. Hamlin collector of the port of Boston, the most lucrative office in New England. He held the position about thirteen months, when becoming convinced that Mr. Johnson had deserted the party which elected him, and abandoned its principles, he felt that he could not retain the office, without danger of being identified with Mr. Johnson's treachery, and resigned it in the following manly letter.


"To the President:

" One year ago you tendered to me, unsolicited on my part, the position of collector of customs, for the District of Boston and Charlestown. I entered upon the duties of the office, and have endeavored faithfully to discharge the same, and I trust in a manner satisfactory to the public interested therein.

"I do not fail to observe the movements and efforts which have been, and are now being made to organize a party in the country, consisting, almost exclusively, of those actively engaged in the late rebellion, and their allies, who sought by other means to cripple and embarrass the Government. These classes of persons, with a small fraction of others, constitute the organization. It proposes to defeat and overthrow the Union Republican party, and to restore to power, without sufficient guaranties for the future, and protection to men who have been loyal, those who sought to destroy the Government.

"I gave all the influence I possessed to create and uphold the Union Republican party during the war, and without the aid of which our Government would have been destroyed, and the rebellion a success.

"With such a party as has been inaugurated, and for such purposes, I have no sympathy, nor can I acquiesce in its measures by my silence. I therefore tender to you my resignation, of the office of collector of customs, for the District Boston and Charlestown, to take effect from the time when a successor shall be appointed and qualified.

"Respectfully yours,


After his resignation, Mr. Hamlin engaged in the political canvass in New York, Pennsylvania, and Maine, in the autumn of 1866, and then returned to his home in Bangor, Maine, where he remained, engaged in the management of his estate, taking part, however, in the political campaign in New Hampshire and Connecticut in the spring of 1868. Mr. Hamlin was the first choice of several of the States for the vice-presidency in the National Convention of May, 1868, and it is no discredit to the other eminent and able candidates, to say that no man could have filled the office better than he. 

In the session of the Maine Legislature, in the winter of 1869, Mr. Hamlin was a fourth time elected United States Senator from that State, which position he still holds. He has been throughout, a decided supporter of President Grant's administration.

Mr. Hamlin is about six feet in height, though apparently less, in consequence of his having a slight stoop. His athletic and robust form gives a just indication of his great physical energy and power of endurance. His complexion is dark, and his eyes are of a piercing blackness.* [Footnote: * The southern political speakers and leaders in the presidential campaign of 1860, circulated the report widely throughout the South, and it was extensively credited there, that Mr. Hamlin was a mulatto, and that the Republicans had nominated him for the purpose of inciting the Negroes to rise in rebellion against their masters. Mr. Hamlin's dark complexion was the only thing which gave the slightest plausibility to this story.]

His voice is clear, strong, melodious in its tones, and his delivery rapid, energetic, and highly effective. He speaks without verbal preparation, but without any embarrassment, and with remarkable directness.

Always talking to the point, and never for mere effect, he is invariably listened to with respect and attention. As a popular orator, he has great power and eloquence. His manners, though dignified and decorous, are still remarkable for their republican simplicity. At his home on the Penobscot, he cultivates his small farm with his own hands, laboring on it every summer, with all the regularity and vigor of his youthful days. In his moral character, Mr. Hamlin is wholly without reproach, a man of pure and Christian life, and in his domestic relations, he is most devoted and affectionate. No man is more thoroughly faithful to his friends than he, and none more highly prizes a true friend. His native State honors him, and with reason, for he is one of her best products, a manly, noble man in all the relations of life.

Source: Source: Men of Our Day; or Biographical Sketches of Patriots, Orators, Statesmen, Generals, Reformers, Financiers and Merchants, Now on the state of Action: Including Those Who in Military, Political, Business and Social Life, are the Prominent Leaders of the Time in This Country, by L. P. Brockett, M. D., Published by Ziegler and McCurdy, Philadelphia Penna; Springfield, Mass; Cincinnati, Ohio; St. Louis, Mo., 1872  

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