Name:  James Rood Doolittle

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Born:  January 3, 1815
Died:  July 27, 1897
Complete HarpWeek Biography:
James Doolittle was born in Washington County, New York, to Sarah Rood Doolittle and Reuben Doolittle, a prosperous iron maker and blacksmith. He grew up in western New York state, near Hampton in Genesse County, and attended local schools. In 1834 he graduated from Geneva College (now Hobart-Smith College). He moved to Rochester, New York, in 1836, to study law, and passed the state bar the next year. Also in 1837 he married Mary Lovina Cutting; they had six children.

In 1841 Doolittle entered politics, running unsuccessfully as a candidate for the state legislature. He aligned himself with Martin Van Buren's free-soil "Barnburner" faction of the Democratic party. In 1847 he won election as district attorney for Wyoming County, and he threw his support to the Free-Soil party. In 1851 he moved his family to Racine, Wisconsin, where he worked to nullify the new fugitive slave law. That federal statute, part of the Compromise of 1850, made it easier for captured runaway slaves to be returned to their masters. He was elected a circuit judge in 1853, but resigned in 1856 and joined the new Republican party. The next year the state legislature selected him to represent Wisconsin in the United States Senate.

In the Senate Doolittle stood against the expansion of slavery into the western territories and for the colonization of African Americans to Africa or Latin America. Although opposed to slavery he believed that the agitation of the abolitionists threatened the union. During the 1860 presidential election he campaigned energetically for Abraham Lincoln. During the secession crisis he objected to the Crittendon Compromise and instead proposed a constitutional amendment that would have explicitly prohibited secession by a state. During the Civil War Doolittle was a reliable supporter of Lincoln's policies, and he continued advocating colonization. As chair of the Indian Affairs Committee he initiated the investigation of the actions of the Colorado militia against the Cheyenne during the Sand Creek Massacre. In early 1863 the Wisconsin state legislature returned him to the Senate for a second term.

When Lincoln was assassination Doolittle initially supported the new president, Andrew Johnson, even joining his attempt to form a new political coalition of conservative Democrats and Republicans, the National Union party. He also distanced himself from Radical Republicans and their policies of Congressional Reconstruction, including renewing the Freedmen's Bureau and the Fifteenth Amendment. He still promoted colonization, suggesting that land in Texas be set aside for African-American Union veterans.

In 1868, Doolittle was one of the few Republican senators to vote against Johnson's removal from office. The Wisconsin legislature responded by passing a resolution demanding his resignation, which he ignored. In 1871, the legislature refused to reelect him to another term in the U.S. Senate. Doolittle joined the Democratic party and ran unsuccessfully for governor in 1871 and Congress in 1886. For the rest of his life he practiced law in the Chicago office of his firm (headquartered in Racine, Wisconsin). He also served the University of Chicago as a trustee, law professor, and, for one year, as president.

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











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