Hale, John P.

Born: 1806-03-31 Rochester, New Hampshire

Died: 1873-11-19 Dover, New Hampshire

Flourished: New Hampshire

John P. Hale was a lawyer, state legislator, U.S. representative, and U.S. senator. On the death of his father in 1819, Hale moved with his mother and siblings from his native New Hampshire to Eastport, Maine. He received his preparatory education at Phillips Exeter Academy before matriculating to Bowdoin College in 1823. Upon graduating in 1827, Hale read law and earned admission to New Hampshire bar in 1830, opening a law practice in Dover, New Hampshire. In 1834, he married Lucy Lambert, with whom he had two children. Growing up in a Federalist family and receiving his legal training from Federalists and National Republicans, Hale considered various political affiliations before committing himself to the Jacksonian Democrats. In 1832, he won election, as a Jacksonian Democrat, to the New Hampshire House of Representatives, where he made name for himself as a temperance reformer. In 1834, President Andrew Jackson appointed Hale U.S. district attorney for New Hampshire. He remained district attorney until removed from office by President John Tyler in 1841. In 1842, Hale won election to the U.S. House of Representatives.

During his one term in the House of Representatives, Hale increasingly aligned himself with the anti-slavery movement, which put him at odds with his party and his constituents. In 1843, Hale voted against the gag rule, and when the New Hampshire General Court instructed its representatives to vote for the annexation of Texas, Hale refused, arguing that annexation would add slave territory to the Union. This led to a split between Hale’s anti-slavery Democrats and his former mentor Franklin Pierce’s mainstream party adherents. Pierce Democrats blocked his renomination to the U.S. House, but in June 1846, Whigs, Independent Democrats, and Liberty Party men in the General Court elected Hale to the U.S. Senate. He became a prominent member of the anti-slavery movement, and the Liberty Party selected him as their candidate for president in 1848. He opposed every aspect of the Mexican War and eventually dropped his own presidential candidacy to support Martin Van Buren and the Free Soil Party. Hale vociferously refused to support the Compromise of 1850 and ran as the Free Soil presidential candidate in 1852 but performed badly. That same year, Democrats prevented his reelection as Senator, but a new coalition of anti-slavery proponents and Know-Nothings returned him to the Senate in 1855 to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Charles G. Atherton. Hale won reelection in 1859, remaining in the Senate until March 1865.

During this second tenure, Hale became a less prominent anti-slavery figure and, although he joined the Republican Party, he did not assume a leadership role. Hale aligned himself with the radical wing of the party during the Civil War but spent a majority of his energy pursuing corruption charges against Gideon Welles. He became minister to Spain in September 1865.

Donald B. Cole, “Hale, John Parker,” American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 9:826-28; Richard H. Sewell, John P. Hale and the Politics of Abolition (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1965); Gravestone, Pine Hill Cemetery, Dover, NH.