George Nixon Briggs
Painting: by Walter M. Brackett, 1849

Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: 1844-1851

George Nixon Briggs began his life in rural Adams, Massachusetts. He was the son of a blacksmith and attended only one year of grammar school before studying law in the office of Luther Washburn, in Washburn, Massachusetts.

Mr. Briggs won election to the U.S. Congress, where he served from 1831-1843. He ran for Governor as a Whig, winning a plurality against perennial candidates Marcus Morton and Samuel Sewell. Because no candidate won a majority of the vote, the election was thrown to the Senate which elected Briggs.

In 1844, Briggs sent former Congressman and legal expert Samuel Hoar to South Carolina to investigate reports of freed black sailors on Massachusetts ships being sold into slavery unless their captains paid bribes. Because of this, Hoar and his daughter were threatened by residents and rebuked by South Carolina legislators. This intransigence contributed to Massachusetts opposing the admission of additional slave states to the union.

In response to critics seeking to end death penalty use, Briggs advocated reforms, which maintained the death penalty, but only in murder cases. In 1850, Governor Briggs denied clemency to Professor John Webster, who was convicted and executed in the sensationalized Parkman Murder case.