All Biographies

You are here: Home >                                                                                    

John Adams Dix


JOHN ADAMS DIX was born at Boscawen, New Hampshire, on the 24th of July, 1798, and is the son of Timothy Dix, a lieutenant-colonel of the United States army. Sent first, at an early age, to an academy at Salisbury, he was thence transferred to a similar institution at Exeter, under the well known Dr. Abbott, where he pursued his studies in the companionship of Jared Sparks, John G. Palfrey, the Buckminsters and Peabodys, who have since become eminent men. In 1811, he was sent to Montreal, in Canada, where he continued his studies under the careful direction of the fathers of the Sulpician order. In July, 1812, however, the opening of hostilities between the United States and Great Britain compelled his return to his native country, and in December, following, he received an appointment as a cadet in the United States army, and was assigned to duty at Baltimore, where his father was then stationed on recruiting service. His duties here being merely those of an assistant clerk to his father, he diligently improved the opportunity which was offered, of continuing his studies at St. Mary's college, in that city. He had already attained high proficiency in the Spanish, Greek, and Latin languages, and in mathematics; and was esteemed, by those who knew him best, as a most highly cultivated and gentlemanly young man. In March, 1813, while visiting Washington, he was tendered, unsolicited, a choice of a scholarship at West Point, or an ensign's rank in the army. Selecting the latter he was commissioned in his father's regiment, the fourteenth infantry, and immediately joined his company at Sackett's Harbor, New York, being the youngest officer in the United States army; and was shortly made a third lieutenant of the twenty-first infantry.

 A sad loss shortly after befell the young lieutenant, in the death of his father, in camp, leaving a widow and eight children, besides the subject of our sketch, upon whom now devolved the responsibility of saving, for his loved ones, something from the estate, which had become seriously embarrassed by the colonel's long absence in the service. In March, 1814, he was promoted to a second lieutenancy, and in June, 1814, was transferred to an artillery regiment, commanded by Colonel Walback, to whose staff he was attached and under whose guidance he passed several years in perfecting his military education, not forgetting his favorite readings in history and the classics. While in this position, he was made adjutant of an independent battalion of nine companies, commanded by Major Upham, with which he descended the St. Lawrence, in a perilous expedition, which resulted in more severe hardship than good fortune.

In March, 1816, young Dix was appointed first lieutenant; and, in 1819, entered the military family of General Brown as an aide-de-camp, and began to read law during his leisure hours, with a view of leaving the army at an early day. During this period he was, in May, 1821, transferred to the first artillery; and, in August following, to the third artillery, being promoted to a captaincy in the same regiment in 1825. His health having become seriously impaired, he obtained a leave of absence, and visited Cuba, during the winter of 1825-26, and extended his travels in the following summer to Europe. Marrying in 1826, he retired from the army, and in December, 1828, was admitted to the bar, and established himself in practice at Cooperstown, New York. Entering warmly also, into politics, he became prominent in the Democratic party; and, in 1830, was appointed, by Governor Throop, adjutant-general of the State, in which capacity he rendered efficient service to the militia of New York. In 1833, he was elected Secretary of State for New York, becoming ex-officio a regent of the University, and a member of the board of Public Instruction, the Canal board, and a commissioner of the Canal fund. By his wise foresight and energy, school libraries were introduced into the public and district schools, and the school laws of the State were codified and systematized.

In 1841 and 1812, he represented Albany county in the New York Legislature, taking an active and influential part in the most important measures of that period, such as the liquidation of the State debt by taxation, and the establishment of single Congressional districts. In the fall of 1842, Mr. Dix accompanied his invalid wife abroad, spending that winter and the following year in the southern climates of Europe. Returning to the United States in June, 1844, he was chosen, in January following, to fill the unexpired term in the United States Senate, of Hon. Silas Wright, who had recently been elected Governor of the State of New York. He took his seat in that body, January 27, 1845, and speedily secured a deservedly high position among his confreres, being energetic and industrious to a remarkable degree, and always well prepared for whatever question might arise. As chairman of the Committee on Commerce, and as a member of the Committee on Military Affairs, he did the country excellent service. He was the author of the warehousing system then adopted by Congress, and gave to the Canadian debenture law, and the bill for reciprocal trade, much of his time and attention. When, during the short session of 1845, the Santa Fe; debenture bill was proposed, he secured an amendment including the Canadas, which, together with the original bill, was largely indebted to his advocacy for its passage. His bill for reciprocal trade with Canada, formed the basis for the subsequent reciprocity treaty. He also took great interest in army affairs, as well as in the annexation of Texas, the war with Mexico, and the Oregon difficulty; and firmly maintained the right of Congress to legislate with regard to slavery in the Territories. Owing to divisions in the Democratic party, he was not re-elected to the Senate; but ran, unsuccessfully, as the nominee of the "Free Soil" wing of that party, for Governor, in the fall of 1848. He actively sustained the nomination of General Pierce for the presidency, in 1852, and upon that gentleman's accession to office, was tendered the office of Secretary of State; which, owing to the opposition made by the Southern Democrats of the Mason and Slidell school, he was induced to decline, as also the appointment of minister to France, which was subsequently offered him. In 1853, he was made Assistant United States Treasurer in New York city; but, on the appointment of John Y. Mason to the French embassy, resigned the position, and withdrew almost wholly from politics, devoting his time, until 1859, to legal practice. At that time, however, he was appointed, by President Buchanan, postmaster of New York city, vice I. V. Fowler, absconded.

When, in January, 1861, Messrs. Floyd and Cobb, of the first Buchanan cabinet, resigned their positions and fled from Washington, the financial embarrassments of the Government required the appointment of a Secretary of the Treasury, in whose probity, patriotism, and skill the whole country could confide, General Dix was called to that high office, and entered on its duties, January 15, 1861. The promptness of his measures did as much to reassure the public and save the Government, as the exertions of any other man in Washington.

On the 18th of January, 1861, three days after he took charge of the Treasury Department, he sent a special agent to New Orleans and Mobile, for the purpose of saving the revenue vessels at those ports, from seizure by the rebels. The most valuable of these vessels, the Robert McClelland, was commanded by Captain John G. Breshwood, with S. B. Caldwell as his lieutenant. Breshwood refused to obey the orders of General Dix's agent, Mr. Jones; and on being informed of this refusal, General Dix telegraphed as follows:—" If any man attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot!" memorable words, which became a watchword throughout the loyal States.

While a member of Buchanan's cabinet, Major (late General) Robert Anderson made his famous strategical movement from Fort Moultrie to Fort Sumter, which so excited the indignation of the (arch-rebel) Secretary Floyd, that he threatened to resign if Anderson was not ordered back. General Dix, thereupon, promptly notified Mr. Buchanan, that Major Anderson's recall would be the signal for the immediate resignation of himself and the other members of the Cabinet (Messrs. Stanton and Holt), and his firmness decided the course of the weak-minded executive, and Floyd himself left—none too soon for his own neck, or the country's good.

On the 6th of March, 1861, Mr. Dix retired from the Treasury Department, and returned to his home in New York city, where he presided, on the 20th of April, over an immense meeting of the citizens of the metropolis, convened in Union Square, to take measures for the defence of the Constitution and the laws, so recently and rudely assailed by the rebel attack upon Fort Sumter—and he was also chairman of the " Union Defence Committee," organized at that meeting. On the 6th of May, he was appointed a major-general of volunteers, from New York; and, on the 16th of the following June, he was appointed major-general in the regular army, dating from May 16th, 1861, by President Lincoln, and placed in command of the department of Maryland, his headquarters being at Baltimore. The first military movement of the war that was successful, was made under his command by General Lockwood. The counties of Accomac and Northampton, in Virginia, known as the Eastern Shore, were occupied by him, the rebels driven out, and the mildness and justness of his government restored them as loyal counties to the Union, while every other part of Virginia was in arms and devastated with war. The command of Maryland at that period required a man of the greatest tact, firmness, and judgment; for that reason, General Dix was selected by the President. His rule was one of such moderation and justice, that his reputation in Baltimore is honored by his most violent political opponents.

In May, 1862, he was transferred to the command of the military department of Eastern Virginia, with headquarters at Fortress Monroe. This department enjoyed the benefit of his services until July, 1863, when he was transferred to the Department of the East, with headquarters at New York city. To his very prompt action for the prevention of any outbreak daring the draft of August, 1863, the metropolis was indebted for the peaceful manner in which that draft was finally carried out. His subsequent assignments to duty were administrative, and attended with no particular incidents of importance, except the trial of John Y. Beall and R. C. Kennedy, as spies and conspirators, in February and March, 1865, and their execution.

At the so-called National Union Convention at Philadelphia, August 14, 1866, General Dix was temporary chairman. In the autumn of 1866 he was nominated, by the President, naval officer of the port of New York, and the same day, United States minister to France, in place of Hon. John Bigelow, resigned. After some hesitation, General Dix made his election to accept the post of minister to France, and having been confirmed by the Senate, arrived in Paris, and was presented to the Emperor in January, 1867. He retained this position till March, 1869, when he resigned and was succeeded by Mr. Washburne. Since his return General Dix has remained in private life, and in March, 1872, became President of the Eric Railway into the management of which he has introduced many needed reforms. In the intervals of a very busy life, General Dix has found some time for authorship, and his writings are marked by an elegant grace and dignity of style, which renders them, when not on technical or professional subjects, attractive and readable. This is specially true of his "A Winter in Madeira" (New York, 1851), and "A Summer in Spain and Florence" (New York, 1855). His speeches and public addresses were collected in two fine volumes in 1865. He has also published " Resources of the City of New York " (New York, 1827), and " Decisions of the Superintendent of Common Schools of New York," and laws relating to common schools (Albany, 1837).

Though now in his seventy-fourth year, General Dix preserves the erect and military bearing of the soldier, and, during the late war, was one of the finest looking officers in the army bears a high reputation for thorough honesty and integrity, and his character is irreproachable. If, with increasing years, he has, like his former chief, General Scott, a little vanity, it is a pardonable weakness, a most venial fault, of which his great public services should render us oblivious.


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  

Related Links:


Access Genealogy
One of the largest websites online providing free genealogy. A must see for Native American research!

Find Your Ancestors at SurnameWeb
The oldest, most complete listings of surnames and related websites online.

Free Family Tree
Family Tree Guide is a quick, simple and free way for you to share your family history. Within minutes, you can have a dynamically driven website that creatively portrays your family tree.

Free Genealogy Charts
These free genealogy charts will enable you to begin development of a notebook in which you can track your ancestry as you research it.

Copyright, 2005-2010 by Webified Development all rights reserved.