Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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BENTON, Nathaniel S., politician, born in Cheshire County, New Hampshire, 19 February 1792; died in Little Falls, New York, 29 June 1869. He was educated at Fryeburg academy, Maine, having for one of his instructors Daniel Webster, who was then principal of the institution. Enlisting in the war of 1812, as a private, he passed rapidly through the grades of ensign, lieutenant, and adjutant, and on two occasions while at Plattsburg acted as judge advocate-general. At the conclusion of the war he studied law, was admitted to the bar, and in 1816 removed to Little Falls, New York, entering on the practice of his profession. In 1821 he became surrogate of Herkimer County, but resigned in 1828 to take a seat in the state senate. From 1831 till 1841 he was United States district attorney for the northern district of New York, an office from which he was removed by President Harrison. In 1842 he received the appointment from Governor Marcy of the judgeship of Herkimer County, he being the first in the series of judges in that county. In 1845 he was elected secretary of state, in which office he continued until by the adoption of the new state constitution a change was effected. At that time the state superintendency of the public schools was an ex officio duty of the secretary of state, but generally devolved on one of his deputies. Mr. Benton gave his personal attention to the whole department, and wrought many beneficial changes. From 1848 till 1855 he was out of office, when tie transferred his allegiance to the American party, and was their candidate for canal commissioner, and again for lieutenant governor. The party succeeded in 1855 in carrying the state as well as electing a majority of the canal board, and Mr. Benton was made auditor of the canal department. He immediately secured the passage of certain legislative enactments increasing the duties as well as the power of the office, and effecting radical changes and improvements. When the "American party" died, Mr. Benton allied his fortunes with the republicans, but retained his office of auditor until 1868.
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