Kendall, Amos

Born: 1789-08-16 Dunstable, Massachusetts

Died: 1869-11-12 Washington, D.C.

Born into a strict Congregational family, Amos Kendall spent his youth working on the family farm. After brief sojourns at academies in New Ipwich, New Hampshire, and Groton, Massachusetts, he entered Dartmouth College in 1807, graduating in 1811. Kendall spent the next two years studying law with New Hampshire Congressman William M. Richardson. In February 1814, he migrated first to Washington, D.C. and then west to Kentucky, settling in Lexington, where he secured employment as a tutor to Henry Clay's children. Kendall earned admission to the Kentucky bar and worked as an attorney and journalist in Georgetown until he moved to Frankfort in 1816 to become editor and part-owner of Argus of Western America. Kendall supported Clay for president in 1824, but shifted his allegiance to Andrew Jackson in 1828, helping him carry Kentucky. In 1829, President Jackson appointed Kendall fourth auditor of the United States Department of the Treasury. Kendall became a fixture in the "Kitchen Cabinet," advising Jackson on issues ranging from nullification to the Second Bank of the United States. In 1833, he urged the president to withdraw public money from the Bank and selected state banks to receive the deposits. Kendall used his skills as a speech writer to pen many of the President's annual messages and state papers, including the veto of the bill to re-charter the Bank. In May 1835, Jackson named Kendall the U.S. postmaster general. He remained postmaster general until May 1840, his tenure overlapping that of Abraham Lincoln as the postmaster of New Salem, Illinois. He ran Martin Van Buren's unsuccessful reelection campaign in 1840, and then experienced five years of ill health, financial woes, and failed businesses. In 1845, he became the business manager for Samuel F. B. Morse, and by 1859 this association had made him a wealthy man. In 1857, he donated land and elicited congressional support to establish what would become Gallaudet University. Kendall remained a staunch unionist, and in the Secession crisis condemned the South for threatening to secede while at the same time accusing the North of restricting state's rights. During the Civil War, he returned to politics, writing articles in support of the unionist wing of the Democratic Party and in opposition to the policies of the Lincoln administration. Kendall eventually abandoned the Congregationalism of his youth to convert to the Baptist faith, becoming the chief benefactor of the Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

Donald B. Cole, "Kendall, Amos," American National Biography, ed. by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 12:555-57; Donald B. Cole, A Jackson Man: Amos Kendall and the Rise of American Democracy (Baton Rogue: Louisiana State University Press, 2010); Terry L. Shoptaugh, "Amos Kendall: A Political Biography" (PhD diss., University of New Hampshire, 1984); Lynn L. Marshall, "The Early Career of Amos Kendall: the Making of a Jacksonian" (PhD diss., University of California, 1962).