George Sewall Boutwell
Painting: by Frederic Porter Vincent, 1900

Governor of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: 1851-1853

In over six decades, George Boutwell served in an incredible range of public service roles. He often found himself as a legislative or agency leader, making decisions behind the scenes in some of the most important matters of the day.

After working as a teacher in Shirley, he settled in Groton, Massachusetts where he undertook the mercantile business and studied the law. Though he was admitted to the bar, Mr. Boutwell never practiced law. Instead he served in a variety of public roles including Postmaster of Groton, State Representative (1842-44 and 1847-50), and member of the state's banking commission (1849-1851).

He staged an unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 1849. In 1850, he challenged Whig Governor George Briggs who achieved a plurality of 56,778 votes against the Democrat Boutwell's 36,023 votes, and the Free Soil Party's candidate, Steven Phillip's 27,363 votes. Because no candidate achieved a majority, state law required that the election be thrown to the state Senate, which elected Boutwell. As Governor, Mr. Boutwell established Massachusetts' first State Board of Agriculture and led a state Constitutional Convention.

Governor Boutwell ran for reelection, gaining only a plurality of the vote. Because the election did not result in a majority winner, the selection was thrown to the Senate, which reelected him. Governor Boutwell declined to run for a third term. After serving as Governor, Mr. Boutwell helped found the Massachusetts Republican Party. He was named the first Commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and represented Massachusetts in Congress from 1863-1869. He was one of seven House members assigned to prosecute President Andrew Jackson in his Senate impeachment hearing. He would also be appointed the chairman of the House investigation of President Abraham Lincoln's assassination.

In 1869, Boutwell was appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant to serve as Secretary of the Treasury. During Boutwell's tenure, a group of financiers attempted to gain control of the gold market on Black Friday (September 24, 1869). Secretary Boutwell released federal gold reserves in order to counteract the financiers' scheme. After Grant's reelection, Boutwell resigned his cabinet post to serve one term as U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1873-1877). Boutwell wrote extensively, including an autobiography, Reminiscences of Sixty Years in Public Affairs, several books on taxation and political economy, and The Constitution of the United States at the End of the First Century, which is considered to be his most important work.