Samuel Dexter
3rd United States Secretary of the Treasury
In office
January 1, 1801 – May 13, 1801
PresidentJohn Adams
Thomas Jefferson
Preceded byOliver Wolcott
Succeeded byAlbert Gallatin
4th United States Secretary of War
In office
June 1, 1800 – January 31, 1801
PresidentJohn Adams
Preceded byJames McHenry
Succeeded byHenry Dearborn
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1799 – May 30, 1800
Preceded byTheodore Sedgwick
Succeeded byDwight Foster
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1793 – March 3, 1795
Preceded byFisher Ames
Succeeded byTheodore Sedgwick
Personal details
Born(1761-05-14)May 14, 1761
Boston, Massachusetts, British America
DiedMay 4, 1816(1816-05-04) (aged 54)
Athens, New York, U.S.
Resting placeMount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Political partyFederalist (before 1812)
Democratic-Republican (from 1812)
SpouseKatharine Gordon (m. 1786)
EducationHarvard University (BA)
Coat of Arms of Samuel Dexter

Samuel Dexter (May 14, 1761 – May 4, 1816)[1] was an early American statesman who served both in Congress and in the Presidential Cabinets of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. A native of Boston, Massachusetts, Dexter was an 1781 graduate of Harvard College. After receiving his degree he studied law, attained admission to the bar in 1784, and began to practice in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.

A Federalist, Dexter served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from 1788 to 1790. In 1792 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives, and he served in the 3rd United States Congress. The state legislature subsequently elected Dexter to the United States Senate, and he served from March 1799 to May 1800. Dexter resigned his senate seat to accept appointment as the fourth United States Secretary of War, and he served from 1800 to 1801. In January 1801, Dexter was appointed the third United States Secretary of the Treasury, and he served until resigning in the day before his fortieth birthday.

After leaving office, Dexter practiced law in Washington, D.C. until he returned to Boston in 1805. Dexter joined the Democratic-Republican Party because of its support for the War of 1812, and he was a candidate for governor in 1814 and 1815. In 1815, Dexter declined President James Madison's appointment as Minister to Spain. He was a candidate for governor again in 1816, but died on May 4, 1816, aged 54, while visiting his son in Athens, New York. Dexter was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Early life and education

Born in Boston in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, to Samuel Dexter, a Massachusetts politician and Hannah (Sigourney) Dexter. He was the grandson of Samuel Dexter, the fourth minister of Dedham. Dexter graduated from Harvard University in 1781 and then studied law in Worcester under Levi Lincoln Sr., the future Attorney General of the United States.[2] After he passed the bar in 1784, he began practicing in Lunenburg, Massachusetts.

Congressional career

Line engraving of Dexter from a US Treasury specimen book, c. 1902

He was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives and served from 1788 to 1790.[1] He was elected to the United States House of Representatives as a Federalist, serving in the 3rd Congress.[3] He served in the United States Senate from March 4, 1799, to May 30, 1800 (the 6th Congress).[4]

During a House discussion on a Naturalization Bill in 1795, Virginia Representative William Branch Giles controversially suggested that all immigrants be forced to take an oath renouncing any titles of nobility they previously held. Dexter responded by questioning why Catholics were not required to denounce allegiance to the Pope, because priestcraft had initiated more problems throughout history than aristocracy. Dexter's points caused an infuriated James Madison to defend American Catholics, many of whom, such as Charles Carroll of Carrollton, had been good citizens during the American Revolution, and to point out that hereditary titles were barred under the Constitution in any event.[5]

In December 1799, he wrote the Senate eulogy for George Washington.[6] Dexter served in the Senate for less than a year, and resigned in order to accept his appointment as United States Secretary of War in the administration of President John Adams.[7]

Tenures as Secretary of War and Secretary of the Treasury

During his time at the War Department he urged congressional action to permit appointment and compensation of field officers for general staff duty.

When Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott Jr. resigned in December 1800, Adams appointed Dexter as interim secretary, and Dexter served from January to May 1801.[1] With incoming President Thomas Jefferson wanting to delay his choice for Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, for a recess appointment in May, Dexter agreed to retain his duties as Secretary of the Treasury for the first two months of Jefferson's term.[8] In a letter to his wife on March 5, 1801, Gallatin said that Dexter had behaved "with great civility."[9]

Later career

Dexter depicted on US fractional currency

He returned to Boston in 1805 and resumed the practice of law.[1] He left the Federalists and became a Democratic-Republican because he supported the War of 1812. He was an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Massachusetts in 1814, 1815 and 1816.[3][2]

Dexter was an ardent supporter of the temperance movement and presided over its first formal organization in Massachusetts. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1800.[10]

Death and legacy

Dexter died at the age of fifty-four in Athens, New York on May 4, 1816, ten days shy of his fifty-fifth birthday. He was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[4]

Simon Newton Dexter and Andrew Dexter Jr. were his nephews.

Samuel W. Dexter, founder of Dexter, Michigan, was his son.

Samuel Dexter is the namesake of Dexter, Maine.[11] The USRC Dexter (1830) was named in his honor.


  1. ^ a b c d "Samuel Dexter (1801)". Miller Center. October 4, 2016. Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  2. ^ a b "Samuel Dexter". Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  3. ^ a b "DEXTER, Samuel - Biographical Information". Retrieved December 3, 2019.
  4. ^ a b History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives, “DEXTER, Samuel,”,-Samuel-(D000296)/ (December 3, 2019)
  5. ^ Irving Brant, James Madison: Father of the constitution, 1787-1800, Indianapolis, Ind. and New York: Bobbs-Merrill Company, 1950, pp. 420–21.
  6. ^ Johnson, Elizabeth Bryant (1895). George Washington Day by Day. Cycle Publishing Company. p. 188. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  7. ^ "1787: From the Senate to the Cabinet, May 13, 1800". United States Senate. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
  8. ^ Dumas Malone, Jefferson The President: First Term, 1801-1805, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970, pp. 34–36.
  9. ^ Dumas Malone, Jefferson The President: First Term, 1801-1805, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1970, p. 36n.
  10. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter D" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 28, 2014.
  11. ^ Gannett, Henry (1905). The Origin of Certain Place Names in the United States. Govt. Print. Off. pp. 105.