Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

Timothy O. Howe (1881–1883): Postmaster General

Born to an old New England family in Livermore, Maine, Timothy Howe studied at the Maine Wesleyan Seminary and was admitted to the Maine bar in 1839. Because of ill health, Howe moved his family to Green Bay, Wisconsin in 1846, where he restarted his nascent political career, winning a position as circuit judge as a Whig.

Howe joined the Republican Party in 1854 and lost his first run for the U.S. Senate in 1856. He won election in 1861 and served in the Senate as a Stalwart supporter of President Grant until 1879. Howe refused Grant's offers of nomination as chief justice of the Supreme Court and ambassador to Great Britain because the Democratic governor of Wisconsin would have replaced him with another Democrat in the Senate.

In the election of 1880, Howe supported the Stalwart wing of the Republican Party against the eventual President, James Garfield. Following Garfield's assassination, new President Chester Arthur, a Stalwart, appointed Howe to the position of postmaster general in order to distribute positions in the post office to Stalwart supporters.

In poor health and with little political support remaining in Wisconsin, Howe nevertheless received Senate confirmation and took office in January 1882. While in office, Howe reduced postal rates and improved post offices but failed to embrace civil service reform. He left much of the daily operation of the post office to his assistant postmaster general, Frank Hatton. Howe returned to Wisconsin in March 1883 and died shortly afterwards.