Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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FOSTER, Lafayette Sabine, statesman, born in Franklin, Connecticut, 22 November 1806; died in Norwich, Connecticut, 19 September 1880. His father, Captain Daniel, was an officer of the Revolution, who was descended on his mother's side from Miles Standish, and served with distinction at the battles of White Plains, Stillwater, and Saratoga the son earned the means for his education by teaching, was graduated with the first honors at Brown in 1828, studied law, and was admitted to the bar at Centreville, Maryland, while conducting an academy there in 1830. He returned to Connecticut, completed his legal studies in the office of Calvin Goddard, who had been his first preceptor, was admitted to the Connecticut bar in November 1831, and opened an office in Hampton in 1833, but in 1834 settled at Norwich. He took an active interest in politics from the outset of his professional life was the editor of the Norwich "Republican," a Whig journal, in 1835, and in 1839 and 1840 was elected to the legislature.
He was again elected in 1846 and the two succeeding years, and was chosen speaker. In 1851 he received the degree of LL. D. from Brown University. In 1851'2 he was mayor of Norwich. He was twice defeated as the Whig candidate for governor, and in 1854 was again sent to the assembly, chosen speaker, and elected to the U. S. Senate on 19 May 1854, by the votes of the Whigs and Free-soilers. Though opposed by conviction to slavery, he resisted the efforts to form a Free-soil party until the passage of the Kansas Nebraska bill. He delivered a notable speech in the senate on 25 June. 1856, against the repeal of the Missouri compromise, and opposed the Lecompton constitution for Kansas in 1858. He was a member of the Republican Party from its organization in 1856, and in 1860 was again elected to the senate. In December 1860, he spoke in approval of the Powell resolution to inquire into the distracted state of the country, though he was one of the few who at that time believed that the southern leaders would force a disruption of the Union, and was in favor of resisting the extension of slavery beyond the limits recognized in the constitution, even at the cost of civil war. Mr. Foster was intimately connected with the administration, and was often a spokesman of Mr. Lincoln's views. On 11 March 1861, he moved the expulsion of Senator Lewis T. Wigfall, of Texas.
In 1863 he advocated an appropriation for the gradual manumission of slaves in Missouri. In 1864, on the question of the repeal of the fugitive slave act, he spoke in favor of preserving the earlier law of 1793, and thereby incurred the reproaches of the radical members of his party. He also opposed the bill granting the voting franchise to colored citizens of the District of Columbia without an educational qualification. He served on the committees on Indian affairs and land claims, and was chairman of the committee on pensions, and during the civil war of that on foreign relations.
In 1865 he was chosen president of the senate pro tempore. After Andrew Johnson became president, Mr. Foster was acting vice president of the United States. During the subsequent recess he traveled on the plains as member of a special commission to investigate the condition of the Indians. His senatorial term of office expired in March 1867, and Benjamin F. Wade in the office of vice president succeeded him. On account of his moderate and conservative course in the senate his reelection was opposed by a majority of the Republicans in the Connecticut legislature, and he withdrew his name, though he was urged to stand as an independent candidate, and was assured of the support of the Democrats.
He declined the professorship of law at Yale in 1869, but after his retirement from the bench in 1876 delivered a course of lectures on "Parliamentary Law and Methods of Legislation." In 1870 he again represented the town of Norwich in the assembly, and was chosen speaker, he resigned in June of that year in order to take his seat on the bench of the Supreme Court, having been elected by a nearly unanimous vote of both branches of the legislature. His most noteworthy opinion was that in the case of Kirtland against Hotchkiss, in which he differed from the decision of the majority of the court (afterward confirmed by the U. S. Supreme Court) in holding that railroad bonds could not be taxed by the state of Connecticut when the property mortgaged was situated in Illinois. In 1872 he joined the Liberal Republicans and supported Horace Greeley as a candidate for the presidency. In 1874 he was defeated as a Democratic candidate for congress.
He was a judge of the Connecticut superior court from 1870 till 1876, when he was retired, having reached the age of seventy years, and resumed the practice of law. In 1878'9 he was a commissioner from Connecticut to settle the disputed boundary question with New York, and afterward one of the three commissioners to negotiate with the New York authorities for the purchase of Fisher's Island. He was also a member of the commission appointed in 1878 to devise simpler rules and forms of legal procedure for the state courts. By his will he endowed a professorship of English law at Yale, bequeathed his library to the town of Norwich, and gave his home for the free academy there. See "Memorial Sketch" (printed privately, Boston, 1881).
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