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Dictionary of Wisconsin History

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Term: Howe, Timothy Otis 1816 - 1883


lawyer, judge, politician, U.S. Senator, U.S. postmaster general, b. Livermore, Maine. He graduated from Readfield Seminary, studied law, and was admitted to the Maine bar in 1839. In 1845 he moved to Wisconsin, settling in Green Bay where he set up a law practice. At first a Whig, he was an unsuccessful candidate for Congress in 1848, and for lieutenant governor in 1849. In 1850 he was elected judge of the 4th Wisconsin judicial circuit (which, under the old state judicial system, also made him ex officio associate justice of the state supreme court). He served on the supreme court from Jan., 1851, until June, 1853, and on the circuit court until his resignation in Feb., 1855. In 1854 Howe endorsed the newly formed Republican party, and in 1856 was among the lawyers arguing the Republican case for Coles Bashford (q.v.) in his dispute with Governor William A. Barstow (q.v.) over the contested gubernatorial election. Although supported by conservative Republicans for the U.S. Senatorship in 1857, his refusal to apply the Virginia and Kentucky resolutions to the fugitive slave question gave the Senatorship to James R. Doolittle (q.v.). In 1861 he was chosen by the legislature as U.S. Senator, and served in this capacity until defeated by Matthew H. Carpenter (q.v.) in the legislative balloting of Jan., 1879. In the Senate, Howe was at first an active supporter of President Lincoln's administration, advocating the issuance of greenbacks in 1862, and in 1863 helping persuade the Wisconsin supreme court to enforce the draft. From the beginning, however, his views ran closer to those of the Radical Republicans, and he was an early advocate of repeal of the Fugitive Slave Act, universal emancipation, Negro suffrage for the District of Columbia, and territorial government for the Confederate states. He upheld Radical Reconstruction and the high tariff, opposed President Andrew Johnson, and urged redemption of greenbacks and the abolition of restrictions on the number of national banks. He was a staunch supporter of President U. S. Grant, and was bitterly critical of President R. B. Hayes' policy toward the South and his attempts at civil service reform. After leaving the Senate, he served as commissioner to the Paris International Monetary Conference (1881), and in the same year was appointed by President Arthur as U.S. postmaster general. Howe served in this capacity from 1882 until his death, and during his short time in office secured the reduction of postage rates and began the issuance of postal notes. Dict. Amer. Biog.; Biog. Dir. Amer. Cong. (1928); Wis. Mag. Hist., 35; Milwaukee Sentinel, Mar. 26, 1883; WPA MS; T. O. Howe Papers.

The Wisconsin Historical Society has manuscripts related to this topic. See the catalog description of the Timothy Otis Howe Papers  for details.

View a related article at Wisconsin Magazine of History Archives.

View newspaper clippings at Wisconsin Local History and Biography Articles.

[Source: Dictionary of Wisconsin biography]
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