Early life and education
Born in Boston, Massachusetts, to Samuel Dexter, a Massachusetts politician, he was the grandson of Samuel Dexter, the fourth minister of Dedham. he graduated from Harvard University in 1781 and then studied law at Worcester under Levi Lincoln Sr., the future Attorney General of the United States. After he passed the bar in 1784, he began practicing in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.
He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and served from 1788 to 1790. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist, serving in the 3rd Congress. He served in the United States Senate from March 4, 1799, to May 30, 1800 (the 6th Congress).
During a House discussion on a Naturalization Bill in 1795, Virginia Representative William Branch Giles controversially suggested that all immigrants be forced to take an oath renouncing any titles of nobility they previously held. Dexter responded by questioning why Catholics were not required to denounce allegiance to the Pope, because priestcraft had initiated more problems throughout history than aristocracy. Dexter’s points caused an infuriated James Madison to defend American Catholics, many of whom, such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, had been good citizens during the American Revolution, and to point out that hereditary titles were barred under the Constitution in any event.
In December 1799, he wrote the Senate eulogy for George Washington. Dexter served in the Senate for less than a year, and resigned in order to accept his appointment as United States Secretary of War in the administration of President John Adams.
Tenures as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury
During his time at the War Department he urged congressional action to permit appointment and compensation of field officers for general staff duty.
When Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott Jr. resigned in December 1800, Adams appointed Dexter as interim Secretary, and Dexter served from January to May 1801. With incoming President Thomas Jefferson wanting to delay his choice for Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, for a recess appointment in May, Dexter agreed to retain his duties as Secretary of the Treasury for the first two months of Jefferson’s term. In a letter to his wife on March 5, 1801, Gallatin said that Dexter had behaved “with great civility.”
He returned to Boston in 1805 and resumed the practice of law. He left the Federalists and became a Democratic-Republican because he supported the War of 1812. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1814, 1815 and 1816.
Dexter was an ardent supporter of the temperance movement and presided over its first formal organization in Massachusetts. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1800.
Death and legacy
- “Samuel Dexter (1801)”. Miller Center. 2016-10-04. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
- “Samuel Dexter”. history.army.mil. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
- “DEXTER, Samuel – Biographical Information”. bioguide.congress.gov. Retrieved 2019-12-03.
- History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “DEXTER, Samuel,” https://history.house.gov/People/Listing/D/DEXTER,-Samuel-(D000296)/ (December 03, 2019)
- Irving Brant, James Madison: Father of the constitution, 1787-1800, Indianapolis, Ind. and New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1950, pp. 420–21.
- Johnson, Elizabeth Bryant (1895). George Washington Day by Day. Cycle Publishing Company. p. 188. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
- “1787: From the Senate to the Cabinet, May 13, 1800”. United States Senate. Retrieved 2019-07-23.
- Dumas Malone, Jefferson The President: First Term, 1801-1805, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970, pp. 34–36.
- Dumas Malone, Jefferson The President: First Term, 1801-1805, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970, p. 36n.
- “Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter D” (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
- Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 105.
- United States Congress. “Samuel Dexter (id: D000296)”. Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved on 2009-5-20
- “Samuel Dexter”. Find a Grave. Retrieved 2009-05-20.
|U.S. House of Representatives|
| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
Massachusetts’s 1st congressional district
| U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: Benjamin Goodhue
| United States Secretary of War
| United States Secretary of the Treasury