Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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JENCKES, Thomas Allen, congressman, born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, 2 November, 1818; died there, 4 November, 1875. He was graduated at Brown in 1838, and was a tutor in mathematics there in 1839-'40. He studied law, was admitted to the Rhode Island bar in 1840, and attained note in his profession. He was for many years engaged in the important litigation of the Sickles and Corliss steam-engine patents, and the Day and Goodyea, rubber suits. He had an office in New York for many years, as well as in Providence, and was retained by the United States government in their cases brought against parties to the Credit Mobilier. During the Dorr rebellion of 1842 Mr. Jenckes served the constituted authorities in a civil and military capacity, and with his pen as well. He was a secretary of the landholders' convention of 1841, and of the convention that framed the constitution of 1842. When the governor's council was established he became its secretary. He served in both houses of the legislature, and in the case of Hazard vs. Ires, involving the right of the legislature to direct a new trial, convinced that body, and carried it against its previously expressed opinion, and against all other obstacles. This is recorded as one of the greatest forensic triumphs in the annals of Rhode Island. In 1855 he was appointed one of the commissioners to revise the laws of the state. He was elected to congress in 1862 as a Republican, and served from 1863 till 1871, being at the head of the committee on patents, and of the judiciary committee. His greatest services in congress were the revision of the patent and copyright laws, the general bankrupt law of 1867, and the introduction and adoption of a law for improving and regulating the civil service. He took an active part in the deliberations of the ]louse, and on legal questions was an acknowledged authority, he foresaw the civil war, and urged upon the state and Federal governments active measures to meet it. Witnessing a torch-light parade in the political canvass of 1860, he said: "It will not take much to turn those men into soldiers." Mr. Jenckes became convinced of the necessity of a uniform system of bankruptcy throughout the country, and to that end his labors, although they met with vigorous opposition, resulted in the bankrupt law of 1867. His services to frame a bill to secure reform in the civil service brought from him, as chairman of the joint select committee on retrenchment, an elaborate report on the civil-service laws of the world, 14 May, 1868. His bill met with intense and partisan opposition; but, convinced of its desirability, he forced it upon the attention of the country and of congress, and, after a struggle, succeeded in securing its passage. His advocacy of the bankrupt and civil-service laws brought him before the New York chamber of commerce and Cooper institute audiences, and elsewhere. In con Cress he made the presentation address in behalf of his state when the statue of General Nathanael Greene was presented to the nation.
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