Levi Lincoln, a Massachusetts lawyer and politician, showed he had no fear of controversy when he supported the War of 1812. New Englanders by and large opposed the war to the extent that its leaders considered seceding from the Union.
Anne Royall, a Washington publisher and editor, was of no concern to most Massachusetts politicians. But that was not the case with Levi Lincoln in 1840.
When Royall skewered a politician in her newspaper The Huntress, they felt it. She had a vicious wit and a harsh tongue and had no fear of using them them when displeased. Lincoln found that out the hard way.
He was born in Worcester n 1782, the son of a prominent politician also named Levi Lincoln. Junior led a charmed life. He graduated from Harvard and practiced law with his father, who later served as U.S. attorney general. Lincoln the younger won election as a state senator in 1812, despite his support for the war.
Lincoln opposed slavery and, along with Daniel Webster, helped create the National Republican Party. The party nominated another anti-slavery candidate as president — Lincoln’s fourth cousin, Abraham.
Then in 1825, Lincoln won election as governor of Massachusetts. He served more consecutive terms than anyone in the commonwealth’s history (Michael Dukakis and John Hancock served more years, but not consecutively). His brother Enoch served as governor of Maine at the same time.
The Furniture Controversy
The United States in 1840 still suffered through a deep depression since the banking crisis of 1837. The aristocratic President Martin van Buren chose that inopportune time to redecorate the White House. He papered the Oval Room walls with silver and light-blue satin wallcoverings. He bought fine glassware, marble-topped tables and gilt-edged flatware. And he hung huge chandeliers from the White House ceilings.
Van Buren ran into controversy over the $20,000 he spent on those White House furnishings. The patrician Levi Lincoln, a congressman since 1834, tried to step in and defend the president. He said the president had not personally ordered any of the improvements, and that they were much needed.
He had waved a red flag waved in front of the bull, and the populist Royall charged.
He has made himself … a laughing stock, a figure of scorn to point at. In short, Governor L. carries more sail than ballast and is a rank aristocrat besides, quite too pompous for a republican Congress, and if Massachusetts consults her interests she will leave him at home.
Lincoln, who preferred his native Massachusetts to Washington, retired from congress after the end of the term to return home and serve as the collector of the port of Boston.
He would later go on to serve again in the state Legislature. And when Worcester, Mass. became a city, he was chosen its first mayor.
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This story last updated in 2023.