Charles R. (Charles Robert) Corning.

Amos Tuck; online

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SEVENTH in descent from Robert Tuck,
who, born at Gorlston, in the county of
Suffolk, England, came to Hampton, New
Hampshire, about 1638, was Amos Tuck. For
a century and a half the family dwelt in the
town chosen by its progenitor, but John Tuck,
father of Amos, early in the nineteenth century,
moved to Maine, taking up his abode in the
town of Parsonsfield. There on the second day
of August, 1 8 10, Amos Tuck was born. His
boyhood was associated with his father's farm
and, save the determination for a college edu-
cation, his early years moved on according to
the cold routine of New England country life.
Fortunately the youth's courage kept company
with his ambition and each year found him
nearer the door of the academy. In his seven-
teenth year the boy dreams came true and
the longed for opportunity for learning was
at hand. First at the little academy in Effing-

ham, not far distant from his father's farm, then
at Hampton Academy, already a well known
school, and from there to Dartmouth College in
1 83 1. Among the students during Mr. Tuck's
four years were Samuel G. Brown, subse-
quently president of Hamilton College, Chand-
ler E. Potter, the well remembered historian and
antiquary, William C. Clarke, attorney-general
of New Hampshire, Edwin D. Sanborn and
John Lord, brilliant professors at Dartmouth,
Samuel H. Taylor, famous as principal of Phil-
lips Academy, Andover, Asa Fowler and Dan-
iel Clark, afterwards political co-workers of Mr.
Tuck, Joseph D. Webster, of brilliant military
record in the civil war, Moody Currier, gover-
nor of the state, Harry Hibbard, leader of the
bar and eminent in public life, and William
Warren Tucker, one of Boston's prominent
merchants. Graduating in the class of 1835,
Mr. Tuck accepted the position of assistant
principal of Pembroke Academy, beginning his
connection with the institution at the fall term
of 1835. He remained there, however, only a
few months, when he left to go to his old
academy at Hampton, where he spent the next
three years as principal. His influence on the

subsequent life of the academy, of which he
was long a trustee, was very marked. While
principal he gave generously to its support, and
in after years he remained one of its warmest
friends and benefactors. To a person of Amos
Tuck's mind and temperament, the profession
of law seemed especially fitting, therefore he
began diligently to study the books requisite
for admission to the bar during his sojourn at
Hampton. Notwithstanding separation from
office practice and contact with clients and at-
torneys, he made good progress in his studies,
so that after a few months spent in the office of
James Bell at Exeter, he was admitted to the
Rockingham bar in 1838. Mr. Tuck was ex-
ceedingly fortunate in associating himself with
Mr. Bell, whose partner he became and con-
tinued to be until 1846, when Mr, Bell moved
to Laconia. Although the difference in age be-
tween Mr. Tuck and Mr. Bell was but six years,
Mr. Bell had then attained an enviable standing
at the bar, and was commonly recognized as
one of the strongest lawyers in the state.

During this partnership, practice increased
steadily, new clients were attracted and old
clients retained, so that at the time of the dis-


solution the firm had become one of the largest
and most successful in southern New Hamp-
shire. The drudgery of his profession had no
terrors for Mr. Tuck; he assumed burdens
cheerfully and reduced their worries to a mini-
mum. A buoyant optimistic disposition stood
by him and to the end of his days never de-
serted him. Added to this was an attractive
personality, which had much to do toward win-
ning strangers and making them his friends.
He was courteous and kindly and loved hospi-
tality and social intercourse with his neighbors.
Thus equipped the young lawyer entered confi-
dently into the battle of life. Exeter at that
period enjoyed a high reputation. The early
history of the town formed a strong background
for the more stirring scenes of the Revolutionary
era, while the military and civic repute of her
citizens were among the proudest possessions
in the annals of the state. Politically Exeter
had long been a prominent town, for within her
lovely precincts had convened the first Pro-
vincial Congress, and there too had met those
successive committees of safety with Meshech
Weare at their head. Memories teeming with
the past were impressed on one at every turn.

giving to the old town a flavor peculiarly her
own. For learning, too, Exeter had become a
household name throughout the land, and this
contributed to her fame and character.

Moreover, the town had produced eminent
sons whose achievements attracted thither many
a young man destined to maintain the town's
high standing. Exeter being a shire town and
the center of a rich and populous section of the
state, there was drawn thither a variety of busi-
ness. Socially the people were noted for culture
and hospitality, and strangers loved to visit the
place and linger there. In every respect Exeter
was peculiarly agreeable to Mr. Tuck, for he
recognized her traditions and felt in honor
bound to sustain them so far as he was able.
Nor did he swerve from his early resolve. To
his last hour the welfare of Exeter was upper-
most in his heart.

Nothing was more natural than that the young
lawyer should take an active interest in politics,
for few men ever possessed truer qualifications
for sound political leadership than Mr. Tuck.
Therefore only four years after his admission to
the bar Exeter elected him one of the two rep-
resentatives to the General Court, his colleague


being Josiah Robinson. Political conditions at
that time were quiet, and save the excitement
imparted to the state election by the vagaries
of ex-Governor Isaac Hill, who was at odds
with his party, the campaign was lacking in
spirit. The straight Democratic or radical
ticket went safely through to victory. Henry
Hubbard was chosen governor, with both
houses strongly in accord with the political
opinions of the chief magistrate. The legis-
lature met in June and organized with Josiah
Quincy, president of the Senate, and Samuel
Swasey and Harry Hibbard, speaker and clerk
of the House. The Patriot classified the party
standing of the legislature as one hundred and
sixty-six Democrats and sixty-four Federalists,
which it interpreted as " a rebuke to Isaac Hill
and other traitors who make war upon the
usages and practices of the party." Among
the more prominent members of the House
were John S. Wells, then of Lancaster, but for
many years afterward a fellow townsman of
Mr. Tuck in Exeter, Greenleaf Clark, John W.
Noyes, Moses Norris, Jr., later senator in Con-
gress, Amos A. Parker, who survived to the age
of more than a hundred years, Daniel Clark,


another future senator, Caleb Blodgett and Dan-
iel Blaisdell.

Mr. Tuck was enumerated a Democrat, while
his colleague, Mr. Robinson, was put down as a
Federalist, a divided condition of the Exeter
General Court representation not long tolerated,
inasmuch as the election the following year sent
Oilman Marston and two Federalist associates.
The speaker assigned Mr. Tuck to the commit-
tee of the judiciary, which in those days as in the
present was the leading committee of the House.
The chairman was Moses Norris, Jr., a rep-
resentative from Pittsfield. It so happened
that the session was of more than usual life and
importance. The condition of the courts had
become a matter of interest with Mr. Tuck, for
he recognized the imperfections of the existing
system and worked sanely for their improve-
ment, by offering shortly after the session began
a resolution instructing the committee of the
judiciary to inquire whether or not any change
is necessary in the judicial system of the state.
Although the subject received no immediate
action at that time, it was, as events proved,
merely laid aside for future discussion. This
session was the one that chose a successor to


Franklin Pierce, who, at the early age of thirty-
seven, had sent to the governor a letter resign-
ing his seat in the Senate of the United States.
The contest for the seat, if any there was,
aroused slight attention, for the House gave one
hundred and seventy of its two hundred and
nineteen votes to Leonard Wilcox, of Orford.
The real work of the session was that connected
with the revision of the statutes, a labor involv-
ing so much care and consideration as to render
haste a perilous experiment. Mr. Tuck, there-
fore, spoke in opposition to adjourning the legis-
lature to November, believing that the work
could be done in June and July if the members
would only apply themselves to the task before
them. That view, however, was an unpopular
one to urge among New Hampshire farmers in
the midst of the haying season, therefore it did
not prevail. Congress had recently passed an
act directing the states to choose congressmen
by districts instead of by the old method of a
general ticket, whereat the legislature of 1842
stood on the dignity of state sovereignty and by
a vote of one hundred and sixty to eighty an-
nounced to the Washington government that
New Hampshire declined to redistrict the state


in conformity with the act. But New Hamp-
shire soon changed her mind on that question
and conformed to the new and fairer custom.
One of the great questions before the legisla-
ture related to the policy to be followed in the
chartering of railroads, then a new proceeding in
New Hampshire, and Mr. Tuck seemed to have
created considerable excitement by offering a
resolution calling on the Superior Court justices
for their opinion concerning railroad corpora-
tions. There followed a long discussion and his
motion was laid on the table. In July the legis-
lature adjourned to November, when the mem-
ber from Exeter soon showed himself a leader
in debate on the engrossing subject of revision
of the laws. As each chapter, section by sec-
tion, called for debate, it afforded an excellent
opportunity to a man of Amos Tuck's trained
mind and ready speech, and from the news-
paper reports of the time it is clear that Mr.
Tuck embraced the opportunity. Again the
judiciary question appeared, with Mr. Tuck
taking a leading part in the discussion. His
plan was to appoint three circuit judges, one of
whom with the county judges was to hold two
terms of the Court of Common Pleas in each


county annually, while the Superior Court of
Judicature was to hold similar terms. To re-
duce the membership of the latter court he
argued that when the number of justices be-
came three, then that was to be the per-
manent number. His proposed system was
not a radical overturn ; it merely tended to
expedite business. That Mr. Tuck was a quick
and ready debater was illustrated by the part
he took in a question starting from a trivial
cause, which engaged the House and continued
for two days. It came about on the proposition
to amend the statute relating to licensing shows.
A member advocated the licensing of mesmer-
ists, whereupon Mr. Tuck made a bright speech
in opposition, saying that such legislation ought
to go side by side with witchcraft; we might as
well, he exclaimed, license abolitionism and
phrenology, and thus put a disgrace on New
Hampshire. It was at this session that the
House chose Charles G. Atherton to a full term
in the Senate from the 4th of March, 1843.
Looking at this incident in the light of subse-
quent events, when one traces the course of
Tuck and Atherton in the great slavery contests,
is exceedingly suggestive to say the least.


With the adjournment of the legislature late
in December, Mr. Tuck ended his first experi-
ence as a public man. The three years follow-
ing saw him busily engaged in his profession
and advancing steadily in the estimation of his
associates and in the esteem of his clients.
Already he began to be looked upon as a
singularly promising candidate for political
honors, nor is it unlikely that he himself in-
dulged in hopes of such preferment. The
Democratic party to which he belonged held
fast control of the state, and its leaders were
not insensible to the advantages to be derived
by putting forward young and ambitious men.

His course in the legislature had attracted
public attention his way and placed his name
high on the waiting list of coming favorites.
But events were soon to prove that Amos Tuck
was not made in the pattern of politicians and
time servers. It was found that this gentle,
unaggressive man did his own thinking and
reached his conclusions without reference to
party and popularity. To most people this
seemed surprisingly short sighted, and so it was
when tested by party rules and discipline. But
it was the making of Amos Tuck and his title


to imperishable renown in the political history
of New Hampshire. He dared to do right at a
time when every worldly consideration, personal
to himself, coaxed him to do wrong. The story
is a noble one and furnishes its own splendid ex-
ample. Taking counsel of his own conscience,
Amos Tuck acted a part unsurpassed in the
history of that period. The annexation of Texas
was the question agitating the country and it
gave him his opportunity. In February, 1845,
Mr. Tuck writes to a friend, " I am of the
opinion that it is scarcely possible to be a lead-
ing politician in New Hampshire and retain
respect for one's self. I have often been told
that I stand well for high office, and that I may
reasonably expect it. But I cannot measure
out my opinions by caucus resolutions, manu-
factured by unscrupulous and unsound men;
consequently I certify you that I shall not rise
at present." Superb, indeed, were sentiments
like these, and welcome was the sequel. The
attempt of the Democrats, under the leadership
of Franklin Pierce, to ostracise John P. Hale,
marked politically the most important step in
Amos Tuck's career. A Democrat like Hale,
Mr. Tuck refused utterly to obey the com-


mands of the party, and when Mr. Hale pub-
lished his famous anti-Texas letter early in 1845,
he found no more determined and faithful sup-
porter than the young lawyer from Exeter.
The history of that famous congressional con-
test when Hale ran as an independent and
which after repeated elections resulted in no
choice is familiar to New Hampshire people.
Mr. Hale, although failing of success himself,
had the satisfaction of seeing how impossible it
was to elect his Democratic competitor, who
lacked more than a thousand votes. The
Independent Democrats, skilfully led by Mr.
Tuck, were now a force in New Hampshire
politics. The outcome of the Hale contest
was the overthrow of the regular Democratic
party at the March election of 1846. The
Whigs and the Independents carried the legis-
lature, chose Anthony Colby, a Whig, as gov-
ernor and sent John P. Hale to the United
States Senate as the first distinctively anti-sla-
very senator. The legislature also separated
the state into four congressional districts, there-
by repudiating the state rights manifesto put
forth by the legislature of 1842. The part
taken by Amos Tuck in bringing about the


revolt of the Independent Democrats at this
time comprises an important chapter in our
poHtical history. To understand the causes
underlying the momentous epoch of our na-
tional history — the epoch beginning in 1845,
and ending with the civil war, one must become
familiar with what took place in New Hamp-
shire in the initial years of that epoch. We have
already seen how Mr. Tuck and his friends ral-
lied round the cause of John P. Hale, but it is
necessary to go a little deeper into the annals
of the time. In the significant words of the
Exeter News-Letter, in an issue during the sum-
mer of 1 90 1, is found the following sentiment:
" It is a pity that our younger citizens do not
have a clear memory of Amos Tuck, for there
were events in his life that should not be for-
gotten." A clear recollection of the exciting
events clustering around the years in question
would reveal to the present generation a young
man fresh at the bar, an aspiring member of
the dominant political party of his section and
of the state, with his career wholly in his own
hands, deliberately flinging to the winds of party
fury, associates, influential clients, wealth and
place, and boldly coming out into the open and


challenging public opinion and the power of
party organization in the name of personal
independence and human liberty. Briefly that
was what Amos Tuck did in the year 1845. It
was as brave an act as the capture of Fort Wil-
liam and Mary, and as important in the results
that followed. As the taking of the fort was
the first overt act in the Revolution, so the re-
volt of Amos Tuck and his comrades proved
to be the first overt act in the disruption of a
great party as well as the first determined polit-
ical step in the overthrow of negro slavery.
New Hampshire has still a duty to perform in
preserving the history making deeds of her
courageous sons.

At the February term of the Court of Com-
mon Pleas at Exeter, Mr. Tuck and John L.
Hayes issued a call for a meeting of Indepen-
dent Democrats, to convene in that town on the
22d of February, 1845, There Mr. Tuck be-
gan his public career for union and freedom.
Some day, let us hope, we may see the history
of New Hampshire's part in that movement,
which like a stone flung into the springs of a
river changed the current of the stream forever-
more. The Texas question was uppermost in


the public mind, and some men ceased to look
through a glass darkly. Organized opposition
became an imperative duty to men whose souls
remained unmortgaged to party, and so it came
to pass that the meeting in the court room
sowed the seeds that later on brought forth so
bountiful a harvest. Agitation spread as a for-
est fire all through 1845, with the unsuccessful
attempts to beat Hale for Congress, down to the
famous March election of 1846. During the
Twenty-ninth Congress the First district re-
mained unrepresented at Washington, and the
prospects for the Thirtieth Congress seemed
but little better. The district comprising the
counties of Strafford and Rockingham now be-
came the scene of an exciting and memorable
contest. As the March election of 1847 drew
near, attention was turned to the New Hamp-
shire district, for the contest had now assumed
a national importance. For the seat in Con-
gress the Whigs nominated Ichabod Goodwin,
the Democrats nominated Benning W. Jenness,
while the Independent Democrats put forward
Amos Tuck.

To the convention that had nominated him,
Mr. Tuck sent as courageous and manly a letter


of acceptance as the most earnest lover of lib-
erty could desire. Marked by no uncertain
tone, weakened by no spirit of compromise, the
letter in itself was a party platform of remark-
able strength.

Exeter, Nov. 20, 1846.

To Rev. James C. Boswell, President, and Samuel A.
Haley, Esq., Secretary, &c.

Gentlemen: — I have received your letter of October 24th, in
reference to the proceedings at the Convention of Independ-
ent Democrats and Liberty men of tiie First Congressional
District, and I embrace the earliest opportunity which my en-
gagements have allowed to send you an answer.

I believe it to be the object of those assembled at the above
named convention, to re-affirm the fundamental principles of
republican liberty, and to act out with fearless devotion the
doctrines of human equality and universal justice. Entertaining
these views, I rejoice in their free expression, and am content
to stand or fall with the others in their defense.

Two causes have contributed more than all others to effect
the late change in the political balance of parties. The first
has been the despotism of party power, by which generous
impulses have been repressed and discouraged, the exercise of
private judgment made dangerous, and all individuality of
character sought to be extinguished, by compelling men to be-
lieve, or to profess, those sentiments only which were sug-
gested by a selfish and ever-shifting policy and sanctioned by
self-constituted party leaders. No tyranny is more galling than
that which would quench the free thoughts of free men; no
tyrants are more despicable than those who, " dressed in a lit-


tie brief authority," would attempt in a democracy to exer-
cise the power and the prerogatives of hereditary despots; no
engine of influence is more dangerous or more execrable than
a hireling press, speaking no words for truth or justice, but de-
voting all its energies to the perpetration of human servitude.
To free New Hampshire from such influences, and to expose
in their deformity those who had wielded them too long, was
one object in our organization, and this object, I rejoice in be-
lieving, has been in a good degree accomplished.

The second and chief cause of the late change has been the
existence and progressing power of the institution of slavery.
The encroachments of the slave-holding interests, and the sub-
serviency of public men to its numerous exactions, have been
so exorbitant and so notorious as to have become just cause of
alarm to every friend of humanity and the country. The peo-
ple, irrespective of party, have at length turned their atten-
tion to the subject, and by unequivocal manifestations are
teaching their public servants that hereafter other things will
be expected of them than a base and servile homage to the
dark spirit of slavery; that some efforts will be demanded
at their hands, more efficient than a " masterly inactivity,"
or a halting opposition to an abstract idea ; that it is time for
them to stand up like men, and, echoing the strong voice of a
free people, to say to the sweeping tide of oppression, "thus
far and no farther." The inquiry now is, what can be done,
what can Congress do to free the master and the slave and the
nation from the sin and the retributions of slavery? Of cow-
ardly discussion about the extent of our powers we have had
enough. The exigency of the country as well as the spirit of
the age require now the performance of those acts whose con-
stitutionality and propriety are beyond reasonable doubt.
They require that the shadow of slavery shall no longer
darken the District of Columbia, and that the trader in human


beings shall no longer be permitted to shelter himself from
the scorn of the Christian world beneath the wings of the
national capitol. They require that no new slave state, with a
constitution recognizing slavery, shall hereafter be admitted to
the Union, and that no existing state, whether Texas or Flori-
da, shall be dismembered to subserve the slave holding in-
terest. They require that the domestic, inter-state slave trade,
a traffic in no respect less infamous than that foreign slave
trade which has been branded by the civilized world as piracy,
shall, under the clause in the Constitution which gives power
to Congress, "to regulate commerce with foreign nations and
among the several staics," be utterly and forever prohibited.
They require that the labor and interest of the free states
should be respected, and that slavery be no longer permitted
to give character to our legislation.

Let the people of the free states come now to the rescue of
freedom and the Constitution, and something may be done to
perpetuate the Union, — let them be found wanting in this
trial of their integrity, and let the South for a few years more
continue unchecked her schemes in behalf of slavery, and no
human power can prevent a dissolution. For the sake then of
the Union, let the people of the free states be careful to dis-
cern and perform on this subject the duties of patriotism and

One other subject claims attention. The present war with
Mexico cannot be lost sight of in any discussion of the public
interest. Originating in the unauthorized and iniquitous
scheme of the annexation of Texas, it is now prosecuted with-
out that public necessity which can justify us on the page of
impartial history, and with no prospect of " conquering a
peace," or effecting an honorable reconciliation. It has be-

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Online LibraryCharles R. (Charles Robert) CorningAmos Tuck; → online text (page 1 of 5)