Vermont History and Genealogy

April 3, 2007

Men of Vermont – Isaac Tichenor

Filed under: Famous Vermont Residents, Isaac Tichenor — thedarwinexception @ 7:28 pm


Men of Vermont: An Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters and Sons of Vermont.




Tichenor, Isaac.–The third Governor of the state; for six years a judge of the Supreme Court, twice a United States senator and the Federalist leader for a number of years, was a resident of the state all through her existence as an independent republic, but came on the stage of political activity only towards the close of that interesting period. He was born at Newark, N. J., Feb. 8, 1754, and graduated from Princeton College in 1775 under the presidency of Dr. Witherspoon and for whom he always had the utmost consideration. He studied law at Schenectady, N. Y., where he was in 1777 appointed an assistant to Commissary General Cuyler in buying supplies for the northern department. It was on this duty that he came to Bennington in the summer of that year and remained there and in that vicinity collecting the supplies whose accumulation tempted the fatal expedition of Burgoyne. Tichenor had just left, August 13, with a drove of cattle for Albany when the tidings of that expedition were received. He returned by way of Williamstown, reaching the field at dusk on the evening of the 17th after the fighting had ceased.

He then decided to settle in Bennington, and this was his home when not in actual service in the commissary department. In the line of his duty he incurred heavy pecuniary responsibilities, which embarrassed him through a large part of his life. About the close of the war he began the practice of law there. He was town representative in 1781-’82-’83-’84, speaker of the House in 1783, and an agent to Congress in 1782. In that year he was also sent by the Legislature to Windham county to urge the claims of the new state on the people, and quell the disturbances there, and the mission had considerable effect, though severer measures had to be taken later. He was a commissioner under the act of 1789 to determine the terms of settlement with New York.

He had been steadily growing in reputation among the Vermont leaders, and the peculiar value of his services with his plausible, persuasive ways added much to his prominence. He was a judge of the Supreme Court from 1791 to 1796, and chief justice the last two years, when, on the resignation of Senator Moses Robinson, he was chosen to fill out the latter’s term. He was reelected the next year for a full term of six years, but he was also elected Governor that fall, and resigned the senatorship to accept. He had then become the recognized Federalist leader of the state, and the canvass for the governorship was a sharp one. The retirement of Governor Chittenden had loosed the restraint partisanship had felt. The result was no choice by the people for Governor, but Tichenor was elected by the Legislature by a large majority. He served eleven years in all as Governor, being steadily re-elected every year until 1809, except 1807, when he was defeated by the Democrats under the leadership of Israel Smith; so strong had he become that he was re-elected several years after his party had got into a minority.

He was in 1814 again elected Senator to Congress, serving six years, until March 3, 1821, when with the complete obliteration of his party from American politics he retired to private life, after a public service filling thirty-eight out of the forty-four years between 1777 and 1821. He died Dec. 11, 1838, at the age of eighty-four and leaving no descendants.

Governor Hall measures him compactly as a man of “good private character, of highly respectable talents and acquirements, of remarkably fine personal appearance, of accomplished manners and insinuating address.” So marked was his make-up in the latter particular as to earn for him the sobriquet of “Jersey Slick,” which stuck to him all through his career. But though he had these qualities, perhaps to the point of fault, it would be a great mistake to suppose that he had not solid merit beneath his smooth exterior, even beyond what Governor Hall credits as “respectable talents.” It was a clear head and a strong will that he [p.73] carried on his shoulders. With all his politician arts he was a real statesman. It was on the state’s prison issue largely, that he defeated Governor Smith for re-election in 1808, but he had strongly recommended such an institution in 1803, got a bill through the Legislature for it, and had the preparatory steps taken under his administration, and in his message after his return to power did not hesitate to commend it as a “humane and benevolent” idea, and urge measures to carry it into “complete effect.” His messages were often strongly tinctured with Federalist doctrine, but so skillfully phrased that the able young Republicans in the Legislature found it hard to find any effective point on which to join issue. A strong proof of his popularity was afforded in 1799, when the Legislature by a unanimous vote adopted a resolution of thanks, whose author, Udney Hay, was the leader of the opposition in the House, for the “happy and speedy” settlement he had effected with Canada of the difficulty over the arrest by American officers on British soil, and the subsequent accidental death, but alleged murder, of John Griggs. The event has “increased, if possible,” so the resolution read, “the very high esteem we have ever entertained of your patriotism, your candor, your abilities, your integrity.” His high courtesy and genuine kindliness of character were shown by the letter of congratulation he wrote after his defeat in 1809, to his successful competitor, Governor Galusha, tendering “in great sincerity, my best services in any matter that shall relate to the duties of your office or shall have a tendency to promote the interests of our country.”

Governor Hall tells a couple of anecdotes that are illuminating. He had an art, sometimes too obvious, of ingratiating himself into favor. While traveling in a distant part of the state he contrived to pass the residence of a farmer of great influence in his town, who had formerly supported him for Governor, but who was now supposed to be wavering. On his approach to the place he discovered the farmer at some distance building stone wall by the road side. Leaving his carriage the Governor began to examine the wall with great care and earnestness, looking over and along both sides of it and exhibiting signs of excessive admiration. On coming within speaking distance the Governor exclaimed, with much apparent emotion: “Bless me, friend, what a beautiful and noble wall you are building–I don’t believe there is another equal to it in the state.” “Yes, Governor,” was the reply of the farmer, “it’s a very good wall to be sure, but I can’t vote for you this year.”

He was quite a sportsman and delighted to range the mountains hunting and fishing until the feebleness of age prevented. Once he laid a wager with a companion with whom he was out fishing, as to which would catch the most trout. On weighing the fish at Landlord Dewey’s the Governor was found to have lost the bet, which he readily paid, though considerably disappointed. “I don’t see,” said he to his friend M., “how your trout should weigh the most, mine certainly looks the largest, and besides I filled it full of gravel stones.” “Ah, Governor,” said his friend, “I was too much for you this time, I stuffed mine with shot.”











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