Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: 1807-1808
James Sullivan was born in Berwick, Maine, which was then still part of Massachusetts. He trained and worked in his brother's law firm, gaining remarkable experience with the law as the King's Council for York County, Member of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts (1774-1775), member of the General Court (legislature) 1775-1776, and Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court 1776-1782. Sullivan was admitted to the bar in 1782, after already serving six years in the state's Supreme Court.
While serving as Attorney General of Massachusetts (1790-1807), he wrote a series of instructive books about finance, history, and legal issues. He also made five unsuccessful gubernatorial runs between 1787 and 1806. He was a founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society and one of the first members admitted to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. In 1793, Sullivan also organized a company to build the Middlesex Canal. It was for him that Sullivan Square, which was the canal's Charlestown terminus, was named.
Sullivan defeated incumbent Governor Caleb Strong and was reelected the next year after running against future Governor Christopher Gore. Sullivan's administration was marked by a disagreement with the legislature, which disregarded his advice that Federal electors should be popularly elected and they were, instead, selected by legislative vote. Governor Sullivan died in office in December, 1808 and was succeeded by his Lieutenant Governor, Levi Lincoln.