Governor John Fairfield


A Collection of Biographical Sketches of all the Governors since the formation of the State.

Prepaired under the direction of Henry Chase
Portland, ME.
The Lakeside Press, Publisher

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JOHN FAIRFIELD, seventh in descent from John Fairfield, freeman of Salem in 1640, was born at Saco, January 30, 1797, eldest child of Ichabod and Sarah (Nason) Fairfield, and grandson of Rev. John Fairfield, a graduate of Harvard College, settled minister at Saco He received his education in the common schools of the town and in Limerick Academy. He then engaged in trade for a short time, and in that connection made several trips to the South, but finally deciding to study law, he entered the office of Judge Shepley for that purpose, and was admitted to the Bar in 1826, and soon after formed a partnership with George Thatcher, which continued many years,-pleadings and court practice being his special department.

In 1832 he was appointed Reporter of Decisions of the Supreme Court, which office he held until his election to Congress in 1835. He was re-elected in 1837, but resigned his seat on being elected Governor of Maine in 1838, to which office he was re-elected in 1839, 1841, and 1842. During his last term In this office, Ruel Williams having resigned his seat in the Senate of the United States, Governor Fairfield was elected for the remainder of the term, and was re-elected in 1845. It was during his Congressional term that the infamous Graves-Cilley duel occurred, and his resolution, presented in the House of Representatives, asking the appointment of a committee to investigate the circumstances of the duel, was followed by an exciting debate, in which he won for himself a national reputation. Few men would have had the temerity to bring this matter before Congress, and his friends feared his assassination, but the committee was appointed and carried its report to considerable length, recommending the expulsion of Graves and the censuring of the seconds.

It was while Governor Fairfield was in the executive chair that the Aroostook War came upon us. The people of Maine were thoroughly aroused, the Legislature appropriated a large amount of money to carry on the military operations in protecting the disputed territory against the trespassers, and Governor Fairfield was foremost in vindicating the rights of the State. Tame as was the result, and unfair as it was to Maine, it showed that the Executive and people were vigilant and earnest, and gave Governor Fairfield a stronger hold than ever on the affections of the people.

His record of advancement is almost unequaled: in the space of twelve years he was twice chosen Representative to Congress, four times elected Governor and twice a United States Senator, and still his popularity had not diminished. He was a plain, straightforward man, of private virtues and public integrity; his genial disposition, social gifts, and ready wit made him a favorite with all classes, and many pleasant anecdotes serve to keep his memory fresh.

His wife, to whom he was married September 25, 1825, was Anna Paine, daughter of Dr. Thomas G. Thornton of Saco, a most excellent wife and mother, and a woman of rare mental power and good judgment, manifested in rearing her young family to maturity and honorable positions in life. Nine children were born to them, and for wife, children, and home the Governor had a most ardent affection. She died July 18, 1882, at an advanced age.

Mr. Fairfield died December 24, 1847, and it was believed by many that his death was the result of an error on the part of his physician. He had a chronic trouble of the knee joints, occasioning some lameness, but not enough to prevent his walking about. The day before his death he walked to the Senate chamber as usual. In the morning of the 24th his physician punctured the dropsical sacks surrounding each knee and some discharges took place, not so much, however, as from a like operation the year before; but on this occasion he injected into the incisions a solution of sulphate of copper, which being kept in the capsule too long was absorbed into the circulation, causing intense agony, a gradual paralysis, and death at eight o'clock in the evening of the same day. The announcement of his death was made in the Senate by his associate, Senator Bradbury, who spoke with great emotion upon the death of his colleague and pronounced a truthful and appropriate eulogy upon his life and character. The funeral ceremonies were held January 1, 1848, in the Congregational Church at Saco The places of business were closed, and the church was filled with a sympathizing audience. The Governor and many distinguished people from abroad were present. The following verse, by an unknown author, was widely copied by the newspapers of the day:

Wide o'er the State the saddening news is spread,
"Fairfield is dead!"
In free enjoyment of a just renown
And vigor of his usefulness cut dowii.
The eye is closed which oft m friendship beamed.
Or fierce on malice Ot 0fl falsehood gleamed;
The bold pulsations of that heart are stilled,
The manly warmth of its affections chilled.
The council of the great in which he moved
Could lose no member more esteemed and loved:
The widened circle of his friends could miss
No franker, truer, nobler soul than his.
Fairfield is dead!"

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