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William P. Fessenden: A Featured Biography


Senator William P. Fessenden

As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee during the Civil War, William Pitt Fessenden of Maine was the architect of many of the nation's wartime revenue policies. When the Revenue Act of 1861 failed to generate necessary funds, Fessenden revised a House revenue bill in early 1862. After consultation with members, lobbyists, and the Lincoln administration, Fessenden introduced "this infernal tax bill" in May, igniting two weeks of intense debate among senators. The Senate finally approved the bill with more than 300 amendments on June 6, 1862, with only one dissenting vote--an indication of Fessenden's adroit political skill. It was his intimate knowledge of the nation's wartime financial needs that led President Abraham Lincoln to nominate Fessenden as secretary of the treasury, a position he held from July 1864 until March 1865. The Maine legislature returned Fessenden to the Senate in 1865 and he served until his death in Portland, Maine, on September 8, 1869.