|United States Senator|
March 4, 1855 – November 9, 1865
|Preceded by||Lawrence Brainerd|
|Succeeded by||Luke P. Poland|
|Judge of the Vermont Circuit Court|
|Preceded by||Seat established|
|Succeeded by||Abel Underwood|
|13th United States Postmaster General|
March 8, 1849 – July 22, 1850
|Preceded by||Cave Johnson|
|Succeeded by||Nathan K. Hall|
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from Vermont's 2nd district
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1849
|Preceded by||William Slade|
|Succeeded by||William Hebard|
|Associate Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court|
|Preceded by||Nicholas Baylies|
|Succeeded by||William Hebard|
|State's Attorney of Windsor County|
|Preceded by||Asa Aikens|
|Succeeded by||Isaac Cushman|
|Born||January 8, 1791|
Troy, New York, U.S.
|Died||November 9, 1865 (aged 74)|
Woodstock, Vermont, U.S.
|Political party||Whig (Before 1854)|
|Education||University of Vermont (AM)|
|Years of service||1812–1815|
|Unit||4th Regiment, Vermont Detached Militia Brigade|
2nd Brigade, 4th Division
|Battles/wars||War of 1812|
Jacob Collamer (January 8, 1791 – November 9, 1865) was an American politician from Vermont. He served in the U.S. House of Representatives, as Postmaster General in the cabinet of President Zachary Taylor, and as a U.S. Senator.
Born in Troy, New York, and raised in Burlington, Vermont, Collamer graduated from the University of Vermont, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1813. After service in the militia during the War of 1812, he became active as an attorney, first in Royalton, and then in Woodstock. Highly regarded in the legal profession, he became a respected prosecutor, legislator, and judge.
Elected to the House of Representatives in 1842, Collamer became a prominent Whig leader and advocate of the anti-slavery cause. President Taylor selected Collamer to serve as Postmaster General following the 1848 presidential election. Collamer served until shortly after Taylor's death when he resigned to allow Taylor's successor, Millard Fillmore, to name his own appointee.
Collamer was elected to the Senate as a Republican in 1855, shortly after the formation of the new party. He became a respected voice against slavery and a prominent supporter of the Lincoln administration during the American Civil War. An advocate of more stringent postwar Reconstruction measures than those that were favored by Lincoln and his successor, Andrew Johnson, Collamer advocated congressional control of the Reconstruction process. He died in Woodstock and was buried at River Street Cemetery in Woodstock.
He was born in Troy, New York in 1791, the son of Samuel Collamer and Elizaberth (Van Arnum) Collamer, and his family moved to Burlington, Vermont in 1795. He received a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Vermont in 1810, and after additional study, UVM later upgraded Collamer's degree to master of arts. He studied law in St. Albans, Vermont with Asa Aldis, Asahel Langworthy, and Benjamin Swift. He then relocated to Randolph, Vermont, where he completed his legal studies with attorney William Nutting, and he was admitted to the bar in 1813. During the War of 1812, Collamer was appointed a deputy U.S. tax collector for the district that included Orange County, Vermont, and was responsible for collective levies in support of the war effort.
He served as an officer in a Vermont Militia unit during the War of 1812. Appointed as an ensign in the 4th Regiment commanded by William Williams, he served first with an artillery unit on Vermont's border with Canada. After promotion to first lieutenant, Collamer served as aide-de-camp to Brigadier General John French, commander of the militia's 2nd Brigade, 4th division.
French's unit left Orange County for upstate New York in September 1814 in response to warnings of an imminent British invasion from Canada. When the brigade was crossing Lake Champlain en route to Plattsburgh, Collamer was sent ahead in a boat to inform Vermont Militia commander Samuel Strong that French's troops were on their way. Collamer was fired on by American sentinels, but was uninjured. Strong informed Collamer that the Battle of Plattsburgh had taken place the day before, and the British had retreated, so French's troops returned home.
In 1816, he moved to Royalton, Vermont, where he continued to practice law. He remained a resident of Royalton for 20 years, practicing law in partnership with Judge James Barrett. Among the prospective attorneys who studied law under his supervision was Lyman Gibbons, who later served as a Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. Collamer also served in local offices, including Register of Probate, Windsor County State’s Attorney, and member of the Vermont House of Representatives. While serving in the House, Collamer was the main proponent of the legislation that created the Vermont Senate in 1836.
From 1833 to 1842 Collamer was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Vermont, succeeding Nicholas Baylies. In 1836 he moved to Woodstock. From 1839 to 1845 Collamer was a Trustee of the University of Vermont.
House of Representatives
Elected to the US House of Representatives in 1842 as a Whig, Collamer served three terms, from 1843 to 1849. He opposed the extension of slavery, the Texas Annexation, and the Mexican–American War; supported high tariffs to help American manufacturers and received national recognition for his "Wool and Woolens" speech on tariffs.
Collamer served as Postmaster General under President Taylor. After he was appointed at the start of the Taylor administration in 1849, he held office until he resigned in July 1850. Collamer resigned shortly after Taylor's death to enable President Fillmore to name his own appointee.
As Postmaster General, Collamer was criticized by Whig partisans of the spoils system because he was reluctant to remove local Democratic postmasters en masse so they could be replaced by Whigs. Among his accomplishments was the introduction of a permanent system for using postage stamps; Collamer sent the first letter using one, a note addressed to his brother in Barre, Vermont in which he recommended saving the stamp because if the system worked, it might be valuable to collectors.
Upon returning to Vermont, Collamer was appointed a Judge of the state Circuit Court, where he served until 1854. He was succeeded on the bench by Abel Underwood, who served until the state Circuit Court was abolished in an 1857 court reorganization.
Collamer was a longtime trustee of and lecturer at the Vermont Medical College in Woodstock and served as President of the Board of Trustees.
In the Senate, he defended his positions vigorously even when he was in the minority. When the Committee on Territories, chaired by Stephen A. Douglas, recommended passage of the Crittenden Amendment, which proposed resubmitting for popular vote the pro-slavery Lecompton Constitution for Kansas, Collamer and James R. Doolittle of Wisconsin refused to vote in favor but instead crafted a persuasive minority report explaining their opposition.
Collamer also represented the minority view in June 1860, when the select committee chaired by James Murray Mason issued its report on John Brown's raid on Harper's Ferry. Mason argued that Brown's raid was the work of an organized abolitionist movement, which needed to be curtailed with federal authority. Collamer and Doolittle countered that Brown and his followers had been caught and punished and that further government action was not necessary.
Collamer's years on the bench helped develop his reputation as the best lawyer in the Senate. His colleagues were known to pay close attention to his remarks on the Senate floor even though he spoke infrequently and even then too quietly to reach the entire chamber or the galleries. Charles Sumner referred to Collamer as the "Green-Mountain Socrates".
At the 1860 Republican National Convention, Collamer received the favorite son votes of Vermont's delegates and withdrew after the first ballot. Reelected to the Senate in 1861, he served until his death.
In 1861, Collamer authored the bill to invest the President with new war powers and give Congressional approval to the war measures that Abraham Lincoln had taken under his own authority at the start of his administration.
Collamer was the lead senator of the nine Republicans who visited Lincoln in 1862 to argue for change in the composition of his cabinet by persuading him to replace his Secretary of State, William Henry Seward. Having been encouraged to confront Lincoln by claims of cabinet disharmony from Lincoln's Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, the senators changed their minds during the meeting after Chase was maneuvered by Lincoln into backtracking on his initial argument.
Again a member of the majority once the Democrats from the southern states left the Senate during the war, Collamer was Chairman of the Committee on the Post Office and Post Roads (Thirty-seventh to Thirty-ninth Congresses) and the Committee on the Library (Thirty-eighth and Thirty-ninth Congresses).
After the war, Collamer opposed the Reconstruction of plans of Presidents Lincoln and Andrew Johnson and was an advocate of Congressional control over the process of readmitting former Confederate states to the Union.
Awards and honors
In 1881, the state of Vermont donated a marble statue of Collamer created by Preston Powers to the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall Collection. Each state is represented by two statues, and Vermont's are likenesses of Collamer and Ethan Allen.
Collamer's home at 40 Elm Street in Woodstock is part of the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park's Civil War Home Front Walking Tour.
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- Memorial Address on the Life and Character of the Hon. Jacob Collamer, p. 14.
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- Charles C. Little and James Brown (Boston), The American Almanac and Repository of Useful Knowledge for the Year 1852, 1851, page 234
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- Garrison, William Lloyd; Ruchames, Louis (1975). The Letters of William Lloyd Garrison: From Disunionism to the Brink of War. IV. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge, MA. p. 397. ISBN 978-0-674-52663-1.
- Historian of the United States Senate (2015). "Chairmen of Senate Standing Committees, 1789-present" (PDF). senate.gov/. Washington, DC: U.S. Senate. pp. 20, 45, 54.
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- West Virginia Culture and History, Senate Select Committee Report on the Harper’s Ferry Invasion, retrieved December 17, 2013
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- U.S. Government Printing Office, Addresses on the Death of Senator Jacob Collamer, 1866, pages 61-62
- Robert I. Vexler, The Vice-Presidents and Cabinet Members: Biographies Arranged Chronologically by Administration, Volume 1, 1975, page 185
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- United States Congress, Joint Committee on the Library, Legislation Creating the National Statuary Hall in the Capitol, 1916, page 25
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- Jacob Collamer at Find a Grave
- Jacob Collamer papers in Congressional Papers collection, Center for Digital Initiatives, University of Vermont Library
- Inventory of the Collamer Family Papers, Special Collections, University of Vermont Library
| United States Postmaster General
Served under: Zachary Taylor
March 8, 1849 – July 22, 1850
Nathan K. Hall
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Vermont's 2nd congressional district
March 4, 1843 – March 3, 1849
| Senator from Vermont (Class 3)
March 4, 1855 – November 9, 1865
Served alongside: Solomon Foot
Luke P. Poland