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William Pitt Fessenden

In office
July 5, 1864 – March 3, 1865
President Abraham Lincoln
Preceded by Salmon P. Chase
Succeeded by Hugh McCulloch

In office
February 10, 1854 – July 1, 1864
Preceded by James W. Bradbury
Succeeded by Nathan A. Farwell
In office
March 4, 1865 – September 8, 1869
Preceded by Nathan A. Farwell
Succeeded by Lot M. Morrill

Born October 16, 1806(1806-10-16)
Boscawen, New Hampshire, U.S.
Died September 8, 1869 (aged 62)
Portland, Maine, U.S.
Political party Whig, Opposition, Republican
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Religion Episcopalian

William Pitt Fessenden (October 16, 1806 – September 8, 1869) was an American politician from the U.S. state of Maine.

Fessenden was a Whig (later a Republican) and member of the Fessenden political family. He served in the United States House of Representatives and Senate before becoming Secretary of the Treasury under President Abraham Lincoln during the American Civil War.

The Running Machine
An 1864 cartoon featuring Fessenden, Edwin Stanton, Abraham Lincoln, William Seward and Gideon Welles takes a swing at the Lincoln administration.

Fessenden was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire. He graduated from Bowdoin College and became a lawyer, practicing with his father Samuel Fessenden, who was also a prominent anti-slavery activist. He was a founding member of the Maine Temperance Society in 1827.[1] He served four non-consecutive terms in the Maine House of Representatives, and he was elected for one term in the United States House of Representatives. He was elected in 1854, with the support of Whigs and Anti-Slavery Democrats, to the U.S. Senate. Upon taking office, he immediately began speaking against the Kansas-Nebraska Act and participated in the organization of the Republican Party, being re-elected to the Senate from that group in 1860.

President Abraham Lincoln appointed Fessenden United States Secretary of the Treasury upon Salmon P. Chase's resignation. He served from July 5, 1864 until March 3, 1865, when he resigned to take a seat in the Senate again.

From 1865 to 1867, he headed the Joint Committee on Reconstruction, which was responsible for overseeing the readmission of states from the former Confederacy into the Union.

In 1867, he was one of two senators who voted against the purchase of Alaska from Russia.[1]

During President Andrew Johnson's impeachment trial, Fessenden broke party ranks, along with six other Republican senators, and in a courageous act of political suicide, voted for acquittal. These seven Republican senators were disturbed by how the proceedings had been manipulated in order to give a one-sided presentation of the evidence. Senators William P. Fessenden, Joseph S. Fowler, James W. Grimes, John B. Henderson, Lyman Trumbull, Peter G. Van Winkle [2], and Edmund G. Ross of Kansas, who provided the decisive vote [3], defied their party and public opinion and voted against conviction. As a result, a 35-19 vote in favor of removing the President from office failed by a single vote of reaching a 2/3rds majority.

He served as chairman of the Finance Committee during the 37th through 39th Congresses, which led to his Cabinet appointment. He also served as a chairman of the Committee on Public Buildings and Grounds during the 40th Congress, the Appropriations Committee during the 41st Congress and the U.S. Senate Committee on the Library, also during the 41st Congress.

Following the close of the Civil War, which he helped finance on the Union side in cooperation with Lincoln, his predecessor Salmon P. Chase and members of the Congress, he was considered a moderate, rather than Radical, Republican.

He died in 1869 and was interred at Evergreen Cemetery in Portland, Maine. He is the only person to have three streets in Portland named for him: William, Pitt and Fessenden streets in the city's Oakdale neighborhood.

Two of his brothers, Samuel C. Fessenden and T. A. D. Fessenden, were also Congressmen. He had three sons who served in the American Civil War: Samuel Fessenden, killed at the Second Battle of Bull Run, and Brigadier-General James D. Fessenden and Major-General Francis Fessenden, the latter of whom wrote a two-volume biography of his father which was published in 1907.

Frederic Porter Vinton's portrait of William P. Fessenden, posthumous. Circa. 1870



  1. ^ Rolde, Neal (1990). Maine: A Narrative History. Gardiner, ME: Harpswell Press. pp. 175. ISBN 0-88448-069-0.  
  2. ^ "Andrew Johnson Trial: The Consciences of Seven Republicans Save Johnson".
  3. ^ "The Trial of Andrew Johnson, 1868".

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Albert Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Maine's 2nd congressional district

March 4, 1841 – March 3, 1843
Succeeded by
Robert P. Dunlap
United States Senate
Preceded by
James W. Bradbury
United States Senator (Class 2) from Maine
March 4, 1853 – July 1, 1864
Served alongside: Hannibal Hamlin, Amos Nourse and Lot M. Morrill
Succeeded by
Nathan A. Farwell
Preceded by
Nathan A. Farwell
United States Senator (Class 2) from Maine
March 4, 1865 – September 8, 1869
Served alongside: Lot M. Morrill and Hannibal Hamlin
Succeeded by
Lot M. Morrill
Political offices
Preceded by
James Pearce
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
John Sherman
Preceded by
Salmon P. Chase
United States Secretary of the Treasury
Served under: Abraham Lincoln

July 5, 1864 – March 3, 1865
Succeeded by
Hugh McCulloch
Preceded by
John Sherman
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Succeeded by
John Sherman


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