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States: General History and Description >> Revolution to Civil War, 1775/1783-1861 >> Individual Biography, A-Z
Postmaster General, Secretary of State, Secretary of War, U.S. Senator, U.S. Congressman
Timothy Pickering was born in Salem, Massachusetts, on July 17, 1745. He graduated from Harvard College in 1763, became clerk in the office of Register of Deeds in Salem, studied law, was admitted to the bar in 1768, and then began what would prove to be a long political career.
Like most politicians, Pickering first gained experience in a variety of local offices: selectman and assessor, 1772-1777; member of the Committee on State of Rights of Colonists, 1773; member of the Committee of Correspondence and Safety, 1774-1775; and others. He then moved up to the state level, representing Salem in the Massachusetts State Legislature in 1776.
During the pre-Revolutionary controversies Pickering identified himself with the American Whigs. Early in 1775 he published An Essay Plan of Discipline for a Militia. In the same year he became Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for Essex County, and in the winter of 1776-1777 he led an Essex regiment of volunteers to New York. He subsequently served as Adjutant General, later as Quartermaster General and was also a member of the Board of War. In April of 1783 he drew up a plan for the settlement of the North-West Territory, which provided for the exclusion of slavery.
Pickering became a commission merchant soon after moving to Philadelphia in 1785. In October 1786, soon after the Pennsylvania Legislature had passed a bill for the organization of Wyoming District into Luzerne County, he was commissioned to organize the county. He offered to purchase for himself the Connecticut title to a farm, and in 1787 he was appointed a member of a commission to settle claims according to the terms of an act, of which he was the author, confirming the Connecticut titles. He then served as a delegate to the Pennsylvania State Constitutional Convention of 17890-1790.
In 1790 Pickering negotiated a peace with the Seneca Indians, and between 1791 and 1794 he concluded treaties with the Six Nations.
Pickering subsequently served in the administration of President George Washington as Postmaster General (1791-1795), Secretary of State (1795), and Secretary of War (1795-1797). In 1783, while he was Quartermaster General, Pickering had presented a plan for a military academy at West Point, New York, and, as Secretary of War, he supervised the West Point military post, with a view to its conversion into a military academy.
Reappointed Secretary of War by President John Adams, Pickering found himself in conflict with Adams over France. Pickering had developed an absolute hatred for France while serving as Secretary of State, and that hatred made it impossible for him to sympathize with the President's efforts to settle the differences with that country peacefully. He was dismissed, after refusing to resign, in 1800.
Returning to Massachusetts in 1802, Pickering was an unsuccessful candidate for election to the Eighth Congress that same year. He was then appointed Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and General Sessions of the Peace in 1802. In 1803 he was elected to the U.S. Senate as a Federalist to fill the vacancy caused by the resignation of Dwight Foster; he was subsequently re-elected to the Senate and ultimately served from March 4, 1803 to March 3, 1811. In 1811 he was censured by the Senate for breach of confidence, and lost his bid for re-election that same year. Pickering next served as a member of the Executive Council of Massachusetts until being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1813, where he served until 1817. During his tenure in Congress Pickering strongly opposed the purchase of Louisiana and was a very staunch opponent of the War of 1812.
Declining to be a candidate for renomination to the Senate in 1817, Pickering retired to his farm near Wenham, Massachusetts; in 1820 he returned to Salem. He died in Salem on January 29, 1829, and is buried in Broad Street Cemetery.
This page was last updated on February 24, 2017.