November 10, 1851


George S. Boutwell, Governor of Massachusetts, 1850 – 1852

Daguerreotype by Southworth & Hawes, circa 1851


Monday Nov 10th  Election day and the whigs have got

whiped and look rather down.  It has been very

stormy.  Our new horse came home sick from town

meeting.  Oakes A, Mr Barrows & Augustus went to Taunton

this evening to carry & get the news.  Jane came home

from Mansfield to night.  Bridget is better to day

she has done the housework and I have cleaned

the shed chamber &c &c  Passed the evening at Olivers

There were full-bore politics in Massachusetts today, with the Whigs getting “whiped,” much to the disappointment of the Ames men and others. The politics of the era were untenable as the country cantered toward civil war. The Fugitive Slave Act and the Compromise of 1850, a misguided legislative expression of an unsustainable gulf between north and south, had resulted in upheaval and disarray among the existing political parties.

According to George S. Boutwell, then governor of Massachusetts, the Whigs – a pro-business, market-oriented group – had fallen into two camps over slavery: the Conscience Whigs and the Cotton Whigs.* The Conscience Whigs generally supported, and many eventually became, Free-Soilers (those who opposed the extension of slavery into new states or territories), while the Cotton Whigs held with the pro-slavery policies of the south. By 1855, a new Republican Party had risen from the ashes of the old Whigs, bringing along a few disenchanted Democrats and advocating many of the issues that Conscience Whigs had stood for. Oakes and Oliver Ames, Jr. became Republicans.

Although less well known today than fellow Massachusetts politician Charles Sumner, George Boutwell would go on to have a distinguished career, one that often involved interaction with the Ames brothers. A crackerjack lawyer by profession, an abolitionist by passion, he spent most of his life as a statesman. Besides being governor, he was, over time, the first head of the Internal Revenue Service, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and Secretary of the Treasury under President Grant.  While in Congress, he would spearhead the impeachment of Andrew Johnson.

Also while in Congress, Boutwell would be approached by Oakes Ames to buy shares in the Union Pacific but, according to several period sources, he would turn the offer down because he thought it a poor investment. He left Congress in 1869 to serve as Secretary of the Treasury, a position he held during the Credit Mobilier scandal in 1873.  Ten years later, at the dedication of the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall in North Easton, Boutwell would speak in memory of Oakes, describing him as “tolerant of hostility, forgetful of injuries, and persistent in his friendships.”**

All this was ahead for the Ames men, Boutwell, and the nation.

*George S. Boutwell, Reminiscences of Sixty Years of Public Affairs, 1900

**Oakes Ames, A Memoir, 1883


One thought on “November 10, 1851

  1. Ah yes, we we consider ourselves a divided country today, which we certainly are, but we can keep it some perspective with a look at the 1850’s. If the Whigs were the party that transmogrified into something else then (and it would be interesting to know if the election in today’s entry was the tipping point, more likely just one of the tipping points,) which current party might be due for something similar?

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