Timothy O. Howe

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Timothy Otis Howe
Timothy o. howe.png
30th United States Postmaster General
From: December 20, 1881 – March 25, 1883
Predecessor Thomas L. James
Successor Walter Q. Gresham
Former U.S. Senator from Wisconsin
From: March 4, 1861 – March 3, 1879
Predecessor Charles Durkee
Successor M. H. "Matt" Carpenter
Former Justice of the
Wisconsin Supreme Court

From: January 1, 1851 – June 1, 1853
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Former Wisconsin Circuit Court
Judge for the 4th Circuit

From: January 1, 1851 – 1855
Predecessor Alexander W. Stow
Successor William R. Gorsline
Former State Representative from Maine
From: ??? – ???
Predecessor ???
Successor ???
Party Whig (before 1854)
Republican (1854–83)
Spouse(s) Linda Ann Haines
Religion Unitarian

Timothy Otis Howe (February 24, 1816 – March 25, 1883), also known as T. O. Howe, was a conservative Republican from Wisconsin who served public positions as circuit court judge, state supreme court justice, U.S. senator, and Postmaster General. Adhering to an uncompromising commitment to equality, he joined congressional Radical Republicans in the early 1860s and the Stalwart faction in the late 1870s.

Following the decline of the Wisconsin GOP faction led by anti-Radical senator James R. Doolittle, Howe solidified state party support and held prominence during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant as an administration loyalist. After being denied party renomination to the Senate in 1878–79, Howe lost substantial influence though remained in his final years a key figure among pro-machine Stalwart Republicans.

Early life and background

Howe was born in February 1816 to a Yankee family, the sixth of seven children.[1] Following education in common and grammar schools, he enrolled in Maine Wesleyan Seminary and subsequently prepared for college, though ultimately read law at the direction of his father.

By 1839 in his early twenties, Howe was admitted to the Kennebec County bar and began practicing law alongside Lot M. Morrill, a future U.S. senator from Maine.[1] Two years later, he married Linda Ann Haynes, and the couple had two children.


According to professor Victor B. Howard:[2]

Howe was a sincere and devout Unitarian. In his letters to his daughter Grace, which were filled with religious sentiment, Howe expressed his belief in the justice of God and discussed Unitarian sermons by various sermons. He opposed the annexation of Texas, endorsed the principles of the Wilmot Proviso, and was an early advocate of universal emancipation and black suffrage.

Political ascension

In 1844, Howe was elected to the lower body of the Maine legislature, where he met another future Maine U.S. senator, William P. Fessenden. However, health problems and limited opportunities led him to move from Maine to Green Bay, Wisconsin (then a territory), where he would reside for his life.[3] Establishing a sound reputation as a lawyer, his increasing prominence led to receiving the Whig Party nomination for Congress in 1848 when Wisconsin was admitted into the Union.

Temporary setbacks, 1848–49

In the congressional district Howe presided, the three active political parties (Democratic, Whig, and Free Soil) all passed resolutions against slavery as a result of the free soil movement's influence.[3] Howe opposed the annexation policies of Jacksonian Democrats which fueled the Slave Power, and voiced support for the Wilmot Proviso that aimed to ban slavery in newly acquired U.S. territories from Mexico. However, a Democratic majority in the district all but ensured his defeat in the election.[3]

The following year in 1849, the Whig Party in Wisconsin nominated Howe in the lieutenant governor race.[3] Despite a sought-out alliance with the Free Soil Party, most Free Soilers favored the Barnburner faction of the Democrats, which claimed victorious in the general elections. However, in his home Brown County, Howe managed to outperform Republicans in other races.[3]

Following his two failed campaigns for Congress and lieutenant governor, Howe successfully ran for the state's circuit court.

Howe joins the Republican Party

Following the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act, local Republican Party units were organized throughout Wisconsin; a meeting in Green Bay was organized by Whigs.[4] Howe did not remark on or join the insurgent movement until a Democrat-affiliated editor challenged him to state his position, and the circuit court judge subsequently declared support for the newly established Republican Party, denouncing the Kansas-Nebraska Act as:

...a piece of high-handed and unblushing villainy.

In the first Republican convention held at Howe's district, he was nominated for Congress, though failed eligibility requirements due to the Wisconsin state constitution prohibiting judges from running as candidates for elected office outside the judiciary.[4] However, as a lawyer, he successfully argued for Republican gubernatorial nominee Coles Bashford in a disputed election, and was appointed to a commission.[5] During the 1856 United States presidential election, Howe served as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia, and campaigned for party nominee John C. Fremont.

Rejection of Jacksonian "states' rights"

Due to his leading role among the Wisconsin Republican Party, Howe was favored by classically conservative, Whiggish political elements for U.S. senator in 1857. A prominent issue in the campaign was states' rights, a topic debated over amid tensions over slavery. The theory of nullification, originally developed by John C. Calhoun in a pro-states' rights revolt against President Andrew Jackson decades prior, was used by a faction of Republicans against the Fugitive Slave Act.[5] The doctrine was ideologically led by Carl Schurz, who Howe later quarreled with.

Howe refused to support the argument of states' rights against the Fugitive Slave Act, deeming the popular sovereignty doctrine (notably used by Northern Democrat Stephen A. Douglas to deceptively perpetuate slavery under the guise of "democracy") repulsive and anathema to traditional Whig principles.[5] Due to the state party's legislative caucus favoring the states' rights argument, Howe lost nomination to James R. Doolittle.

U.S. Senate

Howe during the 1860s.

Despite failing to garner party support in 1857, he continued his activity in Republican councils and spoke at party conventions on behalf of Whiggish conservatives.[5] Several years later in 1861, Howe was ultimately elected to the United States Senate.

Taking office right before the initiation of the Civil War, Howe defended the Lincoln Administration and forcefully denounced the treason of Southern Democrats, sometimes using biblical references.[6] He favored the administration's emergency economic policies to finance the Union war effort and faced a mob of rebellious activists at one point in Green Bay who resisted the draft. Howe subsequently fought for Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton's draft enforcement in Wisconsin, successfully arguing before the state supreme court.[6]

Howe joins Radical Republican ranks

"I wish the president [would] tell the rebels that he can only grant pardons, that only Congress can admit states, that Congress is not in Session & won't be until December—and that he must keep the peace meantime."

Despite his vigorous defense of the Lincoln Administration, Howe became disillusioned with its moderate approach. He decried of "this dawdling war... this limping policy," in reference to President Lincoln's policies.[6] State Republican boss Elisha Keyes remarked on his fierce contempt of Lincoln, whose 1864 reelection Howe gave mere lukewarm support for.[7] Instead, he focused his political energy in stumping for the election of his friend Philetus Sawyer to the U.S. House.

Grant era, intraparty state politics, internal improvements

In the immediate postbellumm years, Howe's politics proved more Radical than his constituents and the state Republican Party, which rejected a black suffrage resolution and supported the policies of President Andrew Johnson.[7] His congressional power became the primary source of patronage and influence after he was shunned by the executive branch, in addition to the state Republican Party's temporary drift towards anti-Radicalism. Howe maintained caution and restrained his publicly spoken viewpoints, at one point denying associations with Radical Republican leader Charles Sumner, who was viewed with bitter and scorn by anti-Radical state Republicans.[7]

Howe was an outspoken supporter of Grant's policies.

Notwithstanding civil rights issues, Howe was very outspoken and prioritized in advocating internal improvements due to his old Whig background.[7] Wisconsin's deficiency in transportation, exacerbated by the state constitution prohibiting expenditures, led Howe to favor generous expenditures as a means of spurring economic growth, and he supported protective tariffs to finance the programs. However, due to insufficient support for high tariffs from a number of Wisconsin congressmen, the internal improvements were only partially obtained.[7]

As a loyalist for the policies of the Grant Administration, Howe strongly supported the annexation of San Domingo (favored by civil rights supporters as a means to bring poorer nations into prosperity),[7] opposed mostly by anti-imperialists including Carl Schurz who employed racial prejudices. When Sumner led a fierce campaign against the annexation, his ousting was ensured by Howe, who described the former as "fighting the President for a year with terrible malignancy."[7]

Howe, supported Radical Republican governor Lucius Fairchild in Wisconsin, and in return received the backing of the state GOP machine. Despite the Wisconsin Republican caucus previously aligned with anti-Radicals who favored Johnson's racist policies, it shifted by 1873, under the direction of Elisha Keyes, to full united support for Howe and reelected him without a nomination.[7]

In 1873–74, the Democratic Party seized upon the Panic of 1873 and blamed the economic policies of the Grant Administration as well as the Republicans in general, reclaiming control of numerous political offices, including the Wisconsin governorship. Howe was offered an appointment to the United States Supreme Court following the death of Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase, though declined since his act of resigning would result in a Democrat succeeding him in the Senate.[8]

Hayes years, Stalwart politics

Stalwart Republicans



Other members:

Related topics:

Early in the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, Howe became an outspoken opponent of its policies and joined the Stalwart GOP faction which opposed the abandonment of congressional Reconstruction. He excoriated the civil service efforts of reformers, which prohibited public servants from participation in committees or conventions, branding Hayes as offending:[8]

...both republicanism and equal citizenship as Samuel J. Tilden would never have offended them.

—Howe, March 25, 1878

Howe also assailed Secretary of the Interior Carl Schurz, the ideological leader of civil service reform, as resembling:[8]

...the prophets in never being without honor, except where he happened to reside.

The contention of President Hayes was that Howe attacked the administration after failing to obtain a nomination to the Supreme Court; following the resignation of independent Illinoisan David Davis from the Court to become a U.S. senator, Howe sought the vacancy. Keyes, seeking to succeed him in the Senate, had requested Hayes to appoint Howe to the position only to be met with disapproval.[8]

Statewide patronage erosion, loss of power

The powerful Republican machine of Elisha Keyes lost its vigorous influence due to the civil service reform policies of the Hayes Administration which carried the practical effect of significantly depleting patronage power. Howe sought the resignation of Keyes, whose subsequent refusal in addition to political desperation for elected office (as a result of lost patronage influence) became a strong factor opposing Howe's reelection in 1879.[8]

Howe, whose critics accused of lacking sufficient accomplishments, were joined by indifferent Republicans favorable towards the election of a new U.S. senator in his place.[8] Keyes and Matthew H. "Matt" Carpenter both sought the party nomination in a fierce intraparty battle; Keyes withdrew following 96 ballots across a span of five days, and Carpenter soon garnered caucus support to become the nominee.

Later life

Disheartened with his renomination denial, Howe left Washington, D.C., in a return to Green Bay, where constituents praised him.[8] Although lacking in power and patronage influence, he persisted in Republican Party activities.

1880: Stalwarts vs. Blaine faction vs. Half-Breeds

Howe served as a key adviser to the 1880 Stalwart movement led by Conkling.

Howe worked in the Stalwart movement during the 1880 Republican National Convention to nominate Ulysses S. Grant for an unprecedented, nonconsecutive third term at the Chicago convention.[8] The movement was led by Roscoe Conkling (the leader of the Stalwart Republicans), Thomas C. Platt, John A. Logan, and J. Donald Cameron, with its earlier groundwork planned by late Michigan senator Zachariah Chandler.

At the convention, several other factions sought their own preferred candidates for the nomination. The Half-Breeds were split, with western elements favoring John Sherman while the Eastern leadership supported George F. Edmunds; James G. Blaine was supported by his political faction led by Eugene Hale and William P. Frye. Stalwarts hoped to use the unit rule to nominate Grant, as the tool allowed state GOP leaders to count all delegate votes for their preferred candidate regardless of individual allegiances; under the unit rule, votes supplied by Illinois, New York, and Pennsylvania, controlled by Stalwarts, would give Grant the nomination.

However, the Stalwarts made political blunders, giving public announcements of plans which resulted in outmaneuvering by intraparty rivals; an ultimatum was made by Half-Breeds to depose the Stalwart figure Cameron from presiding over the convention if the unit rule was not ridden. Howe, hoping to prevent a grave fracture in party unity, successfully urged the Stalwarts to give up the metric.[8] As a result, delegates from the three Stalwart-controlled states aligned with Blaine or other candidates formed a coalition with the Half-Breeds at the last minute to support dark horse candidate James A. Garfield as a compromise. Garfield narrowly won the general election over Democratic nominee Winfield S. Hancock, whose record as a Civil War general who helped deflect "copperhead" accusations made against Democrats.

Last years, death

Howe exemplified limited enthusiasm for Garfield, though was presented by allies as a choice for the Cabinet since the president sought sufficient support from Stalwarts.[8] Although his merit was vouched by several prominent Republicans, Garfield declined requests upon Sherman's remarks that Howe lacked "breadth of grasp and capacity to handle details."

However, President Garfield subsequently appointed Howe to a commission which conducted meetings in Paris.[8] Following the assassination of Garfield by self-proclaimed Stalwart and insane lunatic Charles J. Guiteau, inexperienced politician and Conkling acolyte Chester A. Arthur ascended to the presidency and appointed Howe to the position of Postmaster General, where he presided over numerous service improvements despite criticisms landed over perceived insufficient investigations of fraud. The two were politically close associates, particularly since the Howe's last votes in the Senate included opposition towards Hayes's removal of Arthur from the New York customhouse.[8]

In March 1883, Howe contracted a cold while visiting his home town of Green Bay and died at his nephew's home in Kenosha. President Arthur, along with the Wisconsin governor, declared a period mourning, and the funeral was held at the Unitarian Church of Kenosha.[8]


Considered a great man by his contemporaries, Howe was regarded:[8]

...the foremost in a generation of able statesmen.

According to author William H. Russell:[8]

In a lifetime of political activity, he had shown industry, cleverness, and honesty, and had helped to shape the policies of an important transition period in the nation's history. ... Judged by the standards of his time, he stood well above the average of the men then making a career of politics.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Russell, William H. (1951). Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican, p. 90. JSTOR. Retrieved November 21, 2022.
  2. Victor B. Howard (2021), Religion and the Radical Republican Movement, 1860-1870, p. 14. Google Books. Retrieved November 21, 2022.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican, pp. 90–91.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican, p. 92.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican, p. 93.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican, p. 94.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 7.7 7.8 Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican, pp. 95–96.
  8. 8.00 8.01 8.02 8.03 8.04 8.05 8.06 8.07 8.08 8.09 8.10 8.11 8.12 8.13 8.14 Timothy O. Howe, Stalwart Republican, pp. 97–99.