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George Sewall Boutwell
( January 28, 1818 Ė February 27, 1905)
 
George Boutwell was a governor of Massachusetts, U.S. representative, U.S. senator, and U.S. secretary of the treasury.  While a congressman, his recommendation to amend the U.S. Constitution to prohibit racial discrimination in voting rights became the basis for the Fifteenth Amendment.

He was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, on January 28, 1818, to Rebecca Marshall Boutwell and Sewall Boutwell.  His parentsí status as poor farmers kept him from attending school until he was 10.  However, he quickly excelled and became a schoolmaster in Shirley, Massachusetts, when he was 16.  He was an avid reader and promoter of education throughout his life.  In 1835, Boutwell began clerking at a country store in Groton, Massachusetts.  He later became one of the storeís partners and remained associated with the business for 20 years.  As he was clerking, he also read law at a local law office, was admitted to the state bar in 1836, and served as clerk of the chancery court in 1838-1840.

Boutwellís political career began in 1839 when he ran unsuccessfully as the Temperance Party nominee for the Massachusetts House of Representatives.  The next year, he endorsed Democrat Martin Van Burenís failed bid for a second presidential term.  In 1840, Boutwell married Sarah Adelia Thayer; the couple later had two children.  During the 1840s, he became a leader in the stateís Democratic Party, serving in the state house in 1842-1846 and 1847-1850.  However, he lost congressional races in 1844, 1846, and 1848, and the gubernatorial race in 1849.  He served on the Massachusetts State Banking Commission in 1849-1851. 

As the Democratic nominee for governor again in 1850, Boutwell finished second to the Whig candidate in a three-way race.  Because no candidate had a majority, the decision was sent to the Massachusetts State Senate, where a coalition of Democrats and Free Soilers elected Democrat Boutwell as governor and Free Soiler Charles Sumner as U.S. senator.  Boutwell received only a plurality of the popular vote in his reelection campaign in 1851, but a Democratic-Free Soil coalition in the state senate returned him to office.  As governor, Boutwell established the State Board of Agriculture, and signed legislation for ballot reform, a state homestead act, and a state constitutional convention (to which he was a delegate in 1853).  He was appointed in 1853 to the Massachusetts Board of Education for which he prepared important reports on the state school system while serving as board secretary in 1855-1860.

A lifelong opponent of slavery, Boutwell left the Democratic Party when it backed the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, which opened the western territories to slavery, and he then helped establish the Republican Party in Massachusetts.  He endorsed Republican John C. Frťmont for president in 1856, and was a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention, which nominated Abraham Lincoln.  In February 1861, Boutwell was a member of the Peace Convention, which unsuccessfully tried to resolve the secession crisis.  After the Civil War began, he authored widely noted essays for Continental Monthly Magazine, which promoted the Union cause.  In 1862, following passage of the nationís first federal income tax, President Lincoln named him to be the nationís first Commissioner of Internal Revenue.  Boutwell resigned in March 1863, having been elected to Congress the previous fall. 

During his four consecutive terms in Congress (1863-1869), Boutwell advocated emancipation of the slaves and black voting rights.  In January 1869, he introduced a resolution to amend the U.S. Constitution to forbid racial discrimination in voting rights, which became the basis for the Fifteenth Amendment (ratified, 1870).  He also favored the impeachment and removal of President Andrew Johnson from office.  Boutwell chaired the House committee that drafted the articles of impeachment and served as one of the House managers (prosecutors) at the Senate trial, which ended in Johnsonís acquittal.

In March 1869, Boutwell resigned from Congress when he was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to serve as secretary of the treasury after a legal technicality forced Grant to withdraw his first choice, businessman A. T. Stewart, from consideration.  As treasury secretary, Boutwell oversaw a reduction in the national debt by $364 million, changed the process of printing money to make counterfeiting more difficult, and reorganized the National Mint when it became part of the Treasury Department in 1873.  When Jay Gould and Jim Fisk attempted to gain control of the gold market on what became known as ďBlack Friday,Ē September 24, 1869, Boutwell followed President Grantís order to release federal gold reserves, which successfully countered the financiersí scheme.

In March 1873, Boutwell resigned his cabinet post to serve the remaining U.S. Senate term (1873-1877) of Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, who had been elected vice president the previous November.  In 1877, President Rutherford B. Hayes named Boutwell as commissioner to codify and edit the U.S. Statutes at Large, which he completed the next year.  In 1880, Hayes appointed him United States counsel to the French and American Claims Commission.  In 1884, Boutwell turned down President Chester Arthurís request to resume his old post of treasury secretary.  Instead, he practiced international law in Washington, D.C., representing the governments of Haiti (1885), Hawaii (1886), and Chile (1893-1894).  After the Spanish American War of 1898, he was elected a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League.  Boutwell died in Groton, Massachusetts, on February 27, 1905.  His publications included Educational Topics and Institutions (1859), The Constitution of the United States at the End of the First Century (1895), Reminiscences of Sixty Years in Public Affairs (1902), and several books on taxation and political economy.


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