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  Name:  James Brooks
  Born:  November 10, 1810
  Died:  April 30, 1873

  Complete HarpWeek Biography:

Brooks, James (November 10, 1810 – April 30, 1873) 

James Brooks was a newspaper publisher and Democratic congressman. 

Brooks was born in Portland, Maine, on November 10, 1810.  His father was killed at sea in the War of 1812, leaving the family in poverty.  Young Brooks had to quit public school to work for a storekeeper, but the man soon helped the lad get an education.  In 1831, he graduated from Waterville College (now Colby College).  He worked as a schoolteacher as he studied law and began writing for the Portland Advertiser.  He passed the bar, but decided on a career in journalism.  He gained public renown as a correspondent covering national politics in Washington, D. C., and for his sketches of Southern life, especially of the Creek, Cherokee, and Choctaw tribes. 

In 1835, Brooks was elected to the Maine state legislature as a Whig, but failed the next year in his bid to enter Congress.  He moved to New York City and in 1836 established the New York Express, described as a commercial not a political newspaper, although it backed the Whig cause.  Brooks worked on William Henry Harrison’s Log Cabin campaign in 1840, was elected to the New York state assembly in 1847, and served two terms in Congress as a Whig, 1849–1853.  He supported the Compromise of 1850 and in 1854 briefly identified with the American party before switching his allegiance to the Democratic Party.  He endorsed Buchanan in 1856, Douglas in 1860, and vigorously urged that the South be allowed to “depart in peace” in early 1861.   

During the Civil War Brooks was a Peace Democrat (often disparaged as a “Copperhead”) and was elected to Congress in 1863.  He was reelected in 1865, but his opponent successfully challenged the election, forcing Brooks to resign in early 1866.  He was reelected in the fall of 1866 and remained in Congress until his death in 1873.  Brooks served on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and was twice nominated by the Democrats as Speaker.  As a member of the Reconstruction Committee he condemned Republican “carpetbag” state governments in the South and insisted on a quick, lenient return of the former Confederate states to the Union.  He was a leading opponent of the effort to impeach President Andrew Johnson.   

Brooks was appointed by President Johnson as a government director of the Union Pacific Railroad, but he became involved in the Credit Mobilier scandal and was censured by the House for accepting a bribe.  In 1872, while touring the world, he contracted a fever in India.  The added stress of the Credit Mobilier scandal further undermined his health.  Brooks died in Washington, D. C., on April 30, 1873. 

Source consulted: Dictionary of American Biography.


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