HON. HENRY LILLIE PIERCE
Hon. Henry Lillie Pierce (8) was born in Stoughton, Mass., on Aug. 23, 1825. He received a good English education at the public schools of that town, and at the State Normal School in Bridgewater. Ill health made it necessary for him to leave school much sooner than his inclination would have prompted; but the condition of health which obliged him to cut short his studies, and to abstain for some years from all manual labor, developed in him a taste for reading, and gave to his mind a thoughtful cast which has had a most important influence upon his later life. In 1849 the family removed to a house in Dorchester, near Milton Lower Mills, and there the subject of this sketch has ever since resided. In 1850 he entered the chocolate manufactory of Walter Baker & Co., which was established on the Neponset River, near his home. After serving in a subordinate position for a number of years and seeing no prospect of advancement, he determined to try his fortunes in the new country at the West. He spent some, months in traveling through that region, and although he failed to obtain that for which he sought, namely, a more remunerative employment, he returned with greatly improved health, and with enlarged ideas as to the extent and resources of his country. He again entered Mr. Baker's establishment, on an improved footing, and on the death of the owner, in 1854, he took charge of the business, and from that time to this has been the sole manager. At an early age he took a lively interest in public affairs, and while still a school-boy he contributed articles for some of the country papers. His father being a Democrat, and of the Jefferson and Jackson school, he imbibed the same political ideas and continued to hold them until the nomination of Martin Van Buren, in 1848, gave to the Free-Soil party a national candidate and a national platform. He joined with enthusiasm in the. new movement for equal rights; and through good report and evil report he stood by the anti-slavery party—aiding it by his voice, his pen, and his money —until the purpose for which it had been organized was triumphantly established.
In 1859, when the general statutes of the State were revised, the action of the General Court in striking out the word " white" wherever it occurred in the laws authorizing the organization of the militia was defeated by the exercise of the veto power by the Governor. Mr. Pierce was elected a member of the House the following year (1860), and was instrumental in getting the two branches of the Legislature to pass another bill striking the word from the militia laws. But the act was again defeated by the Governor's veto ; and it was not until the year 1864 that success attended the efforts of those who wished to have this obnoxious discrimination on account of race removed from the statute-book. Being elected to the session for the following year, Mr. Pierce inaugurated the movement, in which he was sustained by a majority of the House, for instructing our senators, and recommending our representatives in Congress, to favor such a change in the national laws as would authorize the enlistment of colored men into the United States army. Re-elected again in 1862, Mr. Pierce was appointed chairman of the committee on finance, and in that capacity reported and carried through the House two measures of great importance, namely, the act providing for the payment of the State bonds in gold (this was after the legal tender act had been passed by Congress), and the act taxing savings-banks and insurance companies. At the end of his third term Mr. Pierce withdrew from the I House, but was chosen again in 1866. He does not appear as the special champion of any important measure during that session.
In 1867 he visited Europe, passing several months ! in traveling through France, Italy, and Germany. On the annexation of Dorchester to the city of Boston, in 1869, he was elected to represent that section of the city in the Board of Aldermen. After serving two years (1870-71) he declined a re election, I and in the following year visited Europe again, partly for business and partly for purposes of recreation. In the latter part of that year he was nominated as a non-partisan candidate for the office of mayor. The lack of efficiency which had been exhibited by the executive departments of the government during the great fire of the 9th of November, and the neglect to take any effective measures for the suppression of the smallpox, which was then spreading through the city with alarming rapidity, caused great dissatisfaction, especially among business men. On the other hand, the personal honesty and good intentions of the mayor then in office, his high standing in the Democratic party, and his earnest desire to secure an endorsement, gave him a large if not an enthusiastic support, and the contest, although conducted with great courtesy on both sides, was unusually close and exciting. It resulted in the election of Mr. Pierce by a very small majority. His address at the organization of the new government was calculated to inspire confidence in his abilities as an executive officer. To improve the efficiency of the government radical changes were needed in some of the departments, and such changes he not only recommended, but proceeded resolutely to carry out. He reorganized the health department by appointing a new Board of Health, and took measures for the suppression of the smallpox, which were immediately attended with the most gratifying results. He also succeeded, against strong opposition, in securing the reorganization of the fire department by removing it from the personal and partisan influences to which it had long been subjected, and placing it upon a business basis. In October of that year he received the Republican nomination for representative in Congress from the Third Massachusetts District, to fill the vacancy in the Forty-third Congress occasioned by the death of Hon. William Whiting. The success of his municipal administration is shown j in the fact that the Democrats failed to nominate any candidate to oppose him, and his election was substantially unanimous. In order to take his seat at the : beginning of the session, in December, he retired from the mayor's office a month before the expiration; of his term. Having been for many years on terms of personal friendship with Charles Sumner, and having a large acquaintance with the public men of ' the day, he was from the start in a position to exert a ! powerful influence upon the councils of the government. Imbued with the same spirit which led Sum-ner and Andrew and Wilson to favor a conciliatory policy towards the South in the legislation which followed the war, he threw his influence against the harsh and unconstitutional measures by which a portion of the leaders of the party to which he belonged sought to perpetuate their political ascendancy over the States lately in rebellion. He was thus placed in ' the unpleasant position of being obliged to oppose many of the measures which were openly or secretly favored by President Grant's administration. But it is evident that his course was in accordance with the sentiments of the people of Massachusetts, from the fact that in the elections to the Forty-fourth Congress, which occurred in the autumn of 1874, he was re-elected by a handsome majority, while in six out of the ten other districts in the State the regular Republican candidates were defeated for the first time since the beginning of the war. Near the close of the second session of the Forty-third Congress (February, 1875) the "force bill," so called, giving the President extraordinary powers to interfere in the internal affairs of the States, and in his discretion to suspend the privileges of the writ of habeas corptis, was introduced into the House, and an attempt made by the administration leaders to force it through without giving sufficient opportunity for discussion. The Republicans had control of the House by a large majority, and as a political measure intended, as many of them avowed, to give their party an advantage in the Presidential election to occur in the following year, they were substantially unanimous in its support.
On the 27th of February, Mr. Pierce made a short speech in opposition to the bill, which was highly commended by all the leading newspapers throughout the country. The conclusion is worthy of being transcribed here. " In opposing this bill," he said, " I am in strict accordance with all my past political action. Local self-government and the equality of all men before the law are the cardinal principles of my political faith. By these principles t stand or fall. I resisted the fugitive slave bill because it trampled upon the principles of civil liberty and the rights of human nature. The bill now under consideration is permeated with the spirit which gave life and vigor to that odious measure. Of the supporters of the fugitive slave bill the most conspicuous were Jefferson Davis and John C. Breckinridge. The whirligig of time' presents to us to-day a most remarkable spectacle. Some of the most blatant and pretentious supporters of Jefferson Davis and John C. Breckinridge in conventions and before the people are here to-day the especial champions of this bill. I shall be the last man in the world to question their consistency or dispute their motives. Mr. Speaker, I know Massachusetts, and I have spoken her sentiments here to-day. She has always interposed a firm resistance to the approach of arbitrary power. She resisted unto blood the stamp act, writs of assistance, and all the force bills which were enacted by Parliament to compel her submission to the British crown. She will be true to her traditions and to her history, and will resist by all constitutional means every attempt, by whomsoever made, to impose similar measures upon any portion of the people of our common country." At the close of the Forty-third Congress (March, 1875), Mr. Pierce visited Europe for the third time, spending some six months in traveling with friends through England, Scotland, and on the continent.
During the session of the Forty-fourth Congress Mr. Pierce was at the head of the Republican members of the Committee on Commerce. He made an elaborate report on the subject of relieving vessels engaged in the coasting trade from the unjust and discriminating legislation of some of the States with regard to pilotage fees, and he made speeches on the proposition to amend the Constitution so as to limit the term of office of the President, on reciprocity with Canada, and on counting the electoral vote of Louisiana. On the last question Mr. Pierce and President Seelye (then representative from the Tenth Massachusetts District) stood alone among the Republicans in opposing the counting of the electoral vote of Louisiana for either candidate, on the ground of fraud in making up the returns. The London Times published Mr. Pierce's speech at length, and referred to it as a "very able one".
Some time previous to the elections for the Forty-fifth Congress, Mr. Pierce announced to the electors of the Third District, through the public press, his determination to retire from public life at the expiration of the term for which he then held office. This decision was made after due deliberation, and with the firm determination of adhering to it. It was with extreme reluctance, therefore, that he consented, in the autumn of 1877, to allow his name to be used as a citizens' candidate for the office of mayor of Boston. The call for his services was signed by some two thousand five hundred tax-paying citizens, representing all classes and all parties. The charges made against the administration then in power was its partisanship in the interest of the Democratic party and its inefficiency. The contest which followed was the most remarkable in the annals of the city. The number of votes cast largely exceeded those at any previous election, municipal, State, or national, and resulted in the election of Mr. Pierce by about two thousand three hundred majority. In his inaugural address, Mr. Pierce dwelt at some length upon the powers and purposes of municipal corporations, taking the ground that "they are created and exist for the public advantage and not for the benefit of their officers or of particular individuals or classes." He also considered some of the schemes which had been devised for improving our local governments, and denied the propriety or expediency of attempting to raise the standard of municipal government by a limitation of the suffrage, or by giving up to the State powers which from time immemorial have been exercised by the cities and towns. His clear and business-like exposition of the true theory upon which local governments are founded and maintained in this country was referred to in high commendation by the leading newspapers of the day.
The most important act of his second administration was the reorganization of the police department, which had become ill-disciplined and inefficient under the old system of appointment and management by the mayor and aldermen. Through his efforts an act was passed by the General Court, authorizing the appointment of commissioners, for a term of years, to take charge of the department, and also to execute the laws concerning the sale of intoxicating liquors. During the year a reduction of nearly nine hundred thousand dollars was made in the tax levy, and a more rigid system of accountability was established in the several departments of the city government.
At the conclusion of his term, Mr. Pierce declined a re-election, and has since given his attention mainly to the management of his large manufacturing business. During his absence in Europe, in the summer of 1883, there was a very general demand from those opposed to Butlerism for the use of his name as candidate for Governor, and a large majority of the delegates elected to the Republican convention were undoubtedly in favor of his nomination. But, adhering to a determination formed some time before, he declined the use of his name, and strongly urged the nomination of Mr. Robinson as the candidate upon whom the opponents of the then administration could best unite,- with what result is too well known to need comment here.
Painting by F. Mortimer Lamb at the Stoughton Public Library
Source: D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men. (Philadelphia, Pa., J. W. Lewis & Co., 1884), pgs. 410-412.
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