Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
Grant Wilson, John Fiske and Stanley L. Klos. Six volumes, New York: D. Appleton
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DIXON, James, senator, born in Enfield, Connecticut, 5 August 1814; died in Hartford, 27 March 1873. He was graduated at Williams with distinction in 1834, studied law in his father's office, and began practice in Enfield, but soon rose to such eminence at the bar that he removed to Hartford, and there formed a partnership with Judge William W. Ellsworth. Early combining with his legal practice an active interest in public affairs, he was elected to the popular branch of the Connecticut legislature in 1837 and 1838,and again in 1844. In 1840 he married Elizabeth L., daughter of the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Cogswell, professor in the Connecticut theological institute. Mr. Dixon at an early date had become the recognized leader of the Whig party in the Hartford congressional district, and was chosen in 1845 a member of the U. S. House of Representatives. He was reelected in 1847, and was distinguished in that difficult arena alike for his power as a debater and for an amenity of bearing that extorted the respect of political opponents even in the turbulent times following the Mexican war, and the exasperations of the sectional debate precipitated by the "Wilmot Proviso."
Retiring from congress in 1849, he was in that year elected from Hartford to a seat in the Connecticut senate, and, having been reelected in 1854, was chosen president of that body, but declined the honor, because the floor seemed to offer a better field for usefulness. During the same year he was made president of the Whig state convention, and, having now reached a position of commanding influence, he was in 1857 elected U. S. senator, and participated in all the parliamentary debates of the epoch that preceded the civil war. He was remarkable among his colleagues in the senate for the tenacity with which he adhered to his political principles, and for the clear presage with which he grasped the drift of events. Six years afterward, in the midst of the civil war, he was reelected senator with a unanimity that had had no precedent in the annals of Connecticut. During his service in the senate he was an active member of the committee on manufactures, and during his last term was at one time appointed chairman of three important committees. While making his residence in Washington the seat of an elegant hospitality, he was remarkable for the assiduity with which he followed the public business of the senate, and for the eloquence that he brought to the discussion of grave public questions as they successively arose before, during, and after the civil war.
Among his more notable speeches was one delivered 25 June 1862, on the constitutional status created by the so called acts of secession a speech that is known to have commanded the express admiration of President Lincoln, as embodying what he held to be the true theory of the war in the light of the constitution and of public law. To the principles expounded in that speech Mr. Dixon steadfastly adhered during the administration alike of President Lincoln and of his successor. In the impeachment trial of President Johnson he was numbered among the Republican senators who voted against the sufficiency of the articles, and from that date he participated no longer in the councils of the Republican Party. Withdrawing from public life in 1869, he was urged by the president of the United States and by his colleagues in the senate to accept the mission to Russia, but refused the honor, and, without returning to the practice of his profession, found occupation for his scholarly mind in European travel, in literary studies, and in the society of congenial friends. From his early youth he had been a student and lover of the world's best literature.
Remarkable for the purity of his literary taste and for the abundance of his intellectual resources, he might have gained distinction as a prose writer and as a poet if he had not been allured to the more exciting fields of law and politics. While yet a student at College he was the recognized poet of his class, and even his graduation thesis was written in verse. His poems, struck off as the leisure labors of a busy life, occupy a conspicuous place in Everest's "Poets of Connecticut," while five of his sonnets, exquisite for refinement of thought and felicity of execution, are preserved side by side with those of Bryant, Percival, and Lowell in Leigh Hunt's "Book of the Sonnet." He was also a frequent contributor to the "New England Magazine "and to the periodical press. Trinity College conferred upon him in 1862 the degree of LL.D. Deeply imbued with classical letters, versed in the principles and the practice of law, widely read in history, and possessing withal a logical mind, Mr. Dixon always preferred to discuss public questions in the light of a permanent political philosophy, instead of treating them with paramount reference to the dominant emotions of the hour.
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