Politics & Politicians

    Hannibal Hamlin  "Lincoln's Frustrated Vice President"  August 27, 1809 - July 4, 1891

Abraham Lincoln's first vice president, Hannibal Hamlin, was a distinguished New England politician who served six terms in the Maine legislature (1836-40 and 1847); represented his state in the House of Representatives for two terms; and interrupted his second term in the U.S. Senate in 1857 to serve as governor of Maine, a position he soon resigned to re-enter the Senate.

Hamlin was a Democrat until 1856, when he broke with the party over the Kansas-Nebraska Act and joined the Republican party. When Lincoln won the Republican presidential nomination at the convention held at the Wigwam in Chicago on May 8, 1860, party leaders sought a vice-presidential candidate who would balance the ticket. Hannibal Hamlin seemed to be a good choice. A former Democrat with antislavery sentiments, he was geographically desirable since he came from a northeastern state.

Hamlin had not wanted the vice presidency. Having traded his influential Senate seat for a traditionally powerless office, he hoped to be assigned some important function in the Lincoln government. Although the president listened to his views, which included his urging the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation and the enlisting of free blacks in the army, Hamlin was relegated to the background.

Hamlin resented his idleness, but he did not want to be replaced as vice president. When the president and his advisors decided it would be politically expedient to name Andrew Johnson, military governor of Tennessee, to the vice-presidential spot in 1864, Hamlin was again disappointed.

After his vice presidency, Hamlin was collector of customs for the port of Boston, served again in the Senate (1869-81), and concluded his public career by serving as minister to Spain (1881-82) during the Arthur administration. He died suddenly on July 4, 1891, at his club in Bangor.

Fascinating Fact:  Frustrated by his lack of meaningful work while vice president, Hamlin enlisted as a private in the Mine Coast Guard and invoked public criticism by taking his place among the ranks during the 1864 summer encampment at Kittery.


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