Name:  Daniel Stevens Dickinson

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Born:  September 11, 1800
Died:  April 12, 1866
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Daniel Dickinson, a U.S. senator, was born in Goshen, Connecticut, to Mary Caulkins Dickinson and Daniel T. Dickinson, farmers. In 1807 the family moved to Guilford, New York, where he was educated in the common schools and apprenticed to a clothier. In his teens he worked as a teacher and land surveyor. He then studied law at a law office in Norwich, New York, passing the state bar in 1828. His analytical mind and persuasive speaking style contributed to his success as a lawyer. He entered politics as a Democrat, serving as Binghamton’s first president (1834), as a delegate to the Democratic National Convention (1835), and as a state senator (1837-1840)—becoming a leader of the pro-development "Hunker" faction in the legislature. He lost the election for lieutenant governor in 1840 but captured the office two years later.

In 1844 Dickinson was appointed to the U.S. Senate to fill the final six weeks of Nathaniel Tallmadge’s term before being elected in his own right in early 1845. During his single term (1845-1851) Dickinson spoke in favor of the annexation of both Texas (disputed with Mexico) and the entire Oregon Territory (disputed with Great Britain), opposed the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty (which allowed Britain to join the U.S. in securing the independence of a transcontinental canal in Central America), and became chair of the Finance Committee.

During the Mexican War, Dickinson ignored the express instructions of the New York state legislature and voted against the unsuccessful Wilmot Proviso, which would have barred the expansion of slavery into any territories acquired from Mexico. Instead, foreshadowing the doctrine of popular sovereignty, he introduced Senate resolutions arguing that domestic policy should be left for the territorial governments to determine. After the war he served on a special committee that worked out the particulars of the Compromise of 1850, and he calmly disarmed a colleague who had drawn a pistol against another senator during an intense debate over the issue. A division in the New York Democratic party between free-soilers and regulars helped the Whigs capture the legislature and deny Dickinson a second term.

Dickinson declined an offer from President Franklin Pierce to become collector of the New York port, a plum patronage position, and instead returned to his law practice. In 1860 he backed the Southern Democratic presidential nominee, John Breckinridge, then blamed Northern Republicans for secession. Once the Civil War began, however, he became a War Democrat, strongly supporting the Union military effort and cooperating with Republicans and the Lincoln administration whenever possible. He used his speaking ability to deliver patriotic orations and recruitment speeches. In 1861 he was elected as New York state’s attorney general on the People’s (Union) ticket. He was mentioned as a possible candidate for governor, the U.S. Senate, and even as Lincoln’s vice presidential running-mate in 1864, but political opponents kept him from securing any of those nominations. In 1865 Lincoln appointed Dickinson as district attorney for New York’s southern district, which the former senator accepted. He died a year later.

Sources consulted: American National Biography; Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.











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