Miller Center

American President

A Reference Resource

George S. Boutwell (1869–1873): Secretary of the Treasury

George Sewall Boutwell was born in 1818 in Brookline, Massachusetts. Before studying the law, he worked as a teacher, a businessman, and as the postmaster of Groton. In 1842, Boutwell was elected as a Democrat to a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, where he served from 1842 to 1844 and from 1847 to 1850. During this time, he launched several unsuccessful campaigns to become both a member of the United States House of Representatives and governor of Massachusetts, settling ultimately for the post of state bank commissioner (1849-1851).

Boutwell's luck changed in 1850, when he was elected governor of Massachusetts. He served two one-year terms as a Democrat before declining to run again. Within two years of leaving the governorship, Boutwell changed his party affiliation, owing to his stance on slavery. Indeed, in 1855, he helped found the Republican party before spending the next six years as the secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education.

Although he was a delegate to the 1861 peace convention, Boutwell threw his support to the Union once the Civil War erupted, serving first on a military commission in the War Department in 1862 and then as the first commissioner of internal revenue until 1863, performing both functions at President Abraham Lincoln’s request. In 1863, Boutwell was elected to the United States House of Representatives; during his six year tenure, he served as one of the House managers in the impeachment of President Andrew Johnson.

Following his time in Congress, Boutwell served as Grant’s secretary of the treasury (1869-1873), helping prevent the takeover of the gold market by two wealthy financiers. He left Grant's cabinet to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate, where he served for four years, before being defeated in his reelection efforts. He then devoted his time, at President Rutherford B. Hayes's request, to a codification of congressional laws in 1878. Two years later, Boutwell was again assisting Hayes, this time as American counsel to the French and American Claims Commission.

In 1884, Boutwell refused President Chester A. Arthur’s offer to reprise his role as secretary of the treasury, opting to practice international law instead and serving as counsel for the governments of Chile, Haiti, and Hawaii. From 1898 to 1905, Boutwell served as a founding member and the first president of the Anti-Imperialist League. George S. Boutwell died in 1905.