Finding aid for the William Pitt Fessenden Papers

William Pitt Fessenden Papers
Western Reserve Historical Society
Phone: 216-721-5722
Fessenden, William Pitt
0.80 linear feet (2 containers)
William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869) was a Republican legislator from Maine who became a United States Representative, Senator, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, and Secretary of the Treasury. He was a strong opponent of slavery. The collection consists of letters from supporters and constituents spanning Fessenden's career in the Main House of Representatives; the United States Senate; and as Secretary of the Treasury.
MS 2145
closed stacks
The records are in English

Biography of William Pitt Fessenden

William Pitt Fessenden (1806-1869) was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire. An 1823 graduate of Bowdoin College, he was admitted to the Bar in Main in 1827. He practiced law with his father, Samuel Fessenden. He settled in Portland in 1829, and was elected for seven terms in the Maine House of Representatives in 1831-1832, 1839, 1845-1846, and 1853-1854. Fessenden served one term in the United States House of Representatives in 1840, and was elected United States Senator in 1854 by anti-slavery votes in the legislature. He was re-elected to the United States Senate in 1859 where he served as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. From 1864-1865, he served as Secretary of the Treasury, leaving that position to accept re-election to the Senate. While serving in the United States Senate, Fessenden was a vocal opponent of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill and a supporter of President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment proceedings.

Fessenden was instrumental in building the anti-slavery coalition in the Main legislature that later became the Maine Republican Party. His anti-slavery speeches were widely read, and they influenced the thinking of Abraham Lincoln. He played an important role on in the debates regarding Kansas. During the Civil War, he shaped taxation and and financial policies to finance the Union war effort. After the war, Fessenden was the chairman of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction in the United States Congress, helping to draft the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. His support of President Andrew Johnson during his impeachment proceedings helped prevent John's conviction.

Fessenden was one of the founders of the Maine Temperance Society in 1827.

Fessenden married Ellen Maria Deering in 1832. Three of his sons served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Samuel Fessenden (1841-1862) was killed at the Battle of Bull Run. His son James (1833-1897) was a brigadier-general, and his son Francis (1839-1907) was a major-general.

Scope and Content

The William Pitt Fessenden Papers, 1837-1880 (1861-1868) consist of letters from supporters and constituents spanning Fessenden's career in the Main House of Representatives; the United States Senate; and as Secretary of the Treasury.

This collection will be useful to researchers studying the history of the anti-slavery movement in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, and politics and government in Maine and the United States during the American Civil War and antebellum period. The papers are mainly letters received from friends and constituents and cover Feesenden's career as an attorney in Portland, Maine, seven one-year terms as a member of the Maine House of Representatives, a single term in the United States House of Representatives, three terms as a United States Senator, and eight months as Secretary of the Treasury. The letters address the rise of the anti-slavery and temperance movements, the formation of the Republican Party in Maine by anti-slavery Whigs like Fessenden, the Liberty and Free Soil Parties, and anti-slavery Democrats. In the Senate, Fessenden was chairman of the Finance Committee and worked with Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase to finance the war by selling bonds instead of issuing currency alone. When Chase was made a Justice of the Supreme Court in 1864, Fessenden succeeded him at the Treasury Department. He returned to the Senate in 1865, again as chairman of the Finance Committee. His support of President President Johnson during the impeachment trial in 1868 brought him praise and bitter criticism.

Correspondents in this collection include:

John Appleton (Portland Whig and Republican);

John Appleton (lawyer and judge from Bangor, Maine, who became chief justice of the Maine Supreme Court);

Salmon P. Chase;

Samuel Coney (governor of Maine);

William G. Crosby (senator from Maine and governor of Maine);

Woodbury Davis (judge from Auburn, Maine);

Caleb Cushing (Massachusetts politician and jurist);

Neal Dow (Prohibitionist and Union General);

George Evans (member of Congress from Maine);

Edward Kent (mayor of Bangor and governor of Maine);

Hiram Ketchum (New York businessman and Whig and Republican politician);

Hugh McCulloch (Comptroller of the Currency and Secretary of the Treasury);

Ansen Peaslee Morrill (governor of Main and member of Congress);

A. B. Mullen (Architect of the Treasury Department);

Allison Owen (Cincinnati Abolitionist);

Frederick Robie (Collector of Customs);

E. A. Rollins (Commissioner of Internal Revenue);

Edwin Stanton (Secretary of War);

Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and

Israel Washburn, Jr. (member of Congress, governor of Maine, and Collector of Customs).

Statement of Arrangement

The collection is arranged chronologically.

Restrictions on Access


Related Material: Related Material

This collection supplements collection of William Pitt Fessenden in the Library of Congress and the Library of Bowdoin College.

Indexing Terms

The following terms have been used to index the description of this collection in the library's online public access catalog.


Antislavery movements -- United States.
Fessenden, William Pitt, 1806-1869.
Maine -- Politics and government -- 1775-1865.
Republican Party -- United States.
Slavery -- Law and legislation -- United States.
United States -- Politics and government -- 19th century.
Whig Party -- United States.

Preferred Citation

[Container ___, Folder ___ ] MS 2145 William Pitt Fessenden Papers, Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

Acquisition Information

The William Pitt Fessenden Papers are part of the Civil War manuscript material given to the Western Reserve Historical Society by William Pendleton Palmer, president of the Society from 1913 to 1927, and were combined for ease of access in 1962.

Processing Information

Processed by John J. Horton in 1962.

Detailed Description of The Collection

William Pitt Fessenden Papers, 1837-1880

Box 1 / Folder 1
Correspondence, mostly concerning Whig state and national politics, including endorsement of Daniel Webster for President, January 1837-August 1841

Box 1 / Folder 2
Correspondence on Main and national politics, including the formation of the Republican party and support for Senator Benjamin F. Wade of Ohio for President, May 1842-December 1860

Box 1 / Folder 3
Correspondence regarding anti-slavery politics and the Senate Finance Committee, January 1861-December 1862

Box 1 / Folder 4
Correspondence, including a letter from Edwin M. Stanton, Secretary of War, July 24, 1863, regarding the training of new volunteers; letter from George M. Weston, March 31, 1864, attacking Fessenden's opposition to a bill settling claims of Maine and Massachusetts for lands involved in the Webster-Ashburton Treaty of 1842; and letter dated February 2, 1863 from Salmon P. Chase discussing a House Bill regarding currency, January 1863-June 1864

Box 2 / Folder 1
Correspondence, including Fessendon's service as Secretary of the Treasury, July-December 1864

Box 2 / Folder 2
Correspondence, including Fessenden's service as Secretary of the Treasury, patronage and politics while Senator from main and Chairman of the Finance Committee, 1865-1866

Box 2 / Folder 3
Correspondence, including a letter dated February 2, 1867 from Hugh McCulloch who succeeded Fessenden at the Treasury, and other letters concerning patronage and politics, 1867

Box 2 / Folder 4
Correspondence, mostly regarding Republican politics. Includes a letter dated April 6, 1868 from Benjamin Hardeman of Georgia commenting unfavorably on the state's new Reconstruction Constitution; and a letter dated April 27, 1868 from Roger C. Greene, a Maine man serving as Postmaster at Petersburg, Virginia, regarding the new Virginia Constitution. Also includes a group of letters in May 1868 commenting on Fessenden's vote against impeachment of President Andrew Johnson, including one from Charles Francis Adams, Jr., wartime ambassador to Great Britain, 1868-1880