William P. Fessenden (1864 - 1865)

When Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase resigned in 1864, President Lincoln promptly appointed William P. Fessenden (1806 - 1869) to succeed him. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee (1861 - 1864), Fessenden had taken a leading part in framing measures relating to revenue and appropriations to finance the Civil War. Reluctant to take the position of Secretary due to ill health, Fessenden succumbed to Lincoln's wishes when Lincoln told him "that the crisis demanded any sacrifice, even life itself."

Portrait of William P. Fessenden.

Sec. William P. Fessenden
Frederic Porter Vinton
Oil on canvas
65 1/4 x 54 x 4 3/4"

Upon assuming office he was immediately faced with the Government's need for money. With the aid of Civil War financier Jay Cooke, Fessenden marketed several successful short-term loans bearing exceptional interest rates that were well subscribed to by the American people. During Fessenden's term, the problem created by the inflationary greenbacks, first issued in 1863, began to emerge. Debate would rage for the rest of the century over replacing them with currency backed by specie or taking advantage of the inflationary soft money during periods of expansion. After only eight months, Fessenden resigned and returned to the Senate where he became Chairman of the Joint Committee on Reconstruction.

About the Artist

Frederic Porter Vinton (1846 - 1911) was born in Bangor, Maine in 1846 and moved to Boston at age fifteen. Determined to become an artist, he worked as a bank clerk for ten years to raise funds for European study, meanwhile taking classes at the Lowell Institute at the urging of William Morris Hunt. Vinton contributed art criticism to the Boston papers and was eventually appointed a regular art critic of the Boston Advertiser. In 1875 he traveled to Paris to study with Jean Paul Laurens and Leon Bonnat. Returning to Boston in 1878, Vinton opened a studio on Winter Street and began taking commissions. A leading artistic spirit, he became known as the "Dean of Boston painters." His posthumous portrait of William P. Fessenden, painted in Boston in 1880, was probably based on a photograph.