Harrison Gray Otis (politician)

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Harrison Gray Otis
United States Senator
from Massachusetts
In office
March 4, 1817 – May 30, 1822
Preceded by Joseph Bradley Varnum
Succeeded by James Lloyd
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1797 – March 3, 1801
Preceded by Fisher Ames
Succeeded by William Eustis
3rd Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
In office
January 5, 1829[1] – January 2, 1832[2]
Preceded by Josiah Quincy III
Succeeded by Charles Wells
Delegate from Massachusetts to the Hartford Convention
In office
President of the Massachusetts Senate
In office
1805 – 1806
United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts
In office
Preceded by Christopher Gore
Succeeded by John Davis
Personal details
Born (1765-10-08)October 8, 1765
Boston, Massachusetts
Died October 28, 1848(1848-10-28) (aged 83)
Boston, Massachusetts
Political party Federalist
Spouse(s) Sally Foster Otis
Children 11
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Law

Harrison Gray Otis (October 8, 1765 – October 28, 1848), was a businessman, lawyer, and politician, becoming one of the most important leaders of the United States' first political party, the Federalists. He was a member of the Otis family.

One of the wealthiest men of Boston during his time, Otis was reportedly worth at least US$800,000 in 1846, which in 2014 would be equivalent to $6.5 Billion.[3]

Life and politics[edit]

Otis was born in Boston, Massachusetts on October 8, 1765 to Elizabeth (Gray) and Samuel Allyne Otis. His uncle was Revolutionary War leader James Otis, and his father was active in early American politics as a member of Massachusetts state house of representatives, delegate to Massachusetts state constitutional convention, and Continental Congress delegate from Massachusetts. His aunt was Mercy Otis Warren, a well-known poet. A descendant was Montgomery Harrison Ritchie, who died in the American Civil War and was the first husband of Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie Adair.

Otis himself graduated from Boston Latin School in 1773 and Harvard University in 1783, studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1786, when he commenced practice in Boston, and married Sally Foster on May 31, 1790. In 1794 he was elected to the Massachusetts legislature, and in 1796 was appointed by President George Washington to be U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts. In 1797, he was elected U.S. Representative from Massachusetts as a Federalist and a strong advocate for centralized government, in which office he served until 1801. He was appointed United States U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts by President John Adams (1801–1802), and again served in the state legislature from 1802 to 1817, serving several terms as President of the state senate (1805–1806, 1808–1811). He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1804.[4] In subsequent years, Otis was elected U.S. Senator from Massachusetts (1817–1822), and then Mayor of Boston (1829–1831).

In 1814, in the midst of his political career, he was also named a judge of the court of common pleas (1814–1818), and played a leading role as delegate to the controversial Hartford Convention in which New England's secession from the United States was discussed. Overall, it led to the demise of the Federalists, and Otis's political ambitions suffered. Otis subsequently defended the convention in his Letters Developing the Character and Views of the Hartford Convention (1820) and his Letters in Defence of the Hartford Convention (1824).

Otis was involved in a major financial scandal during the site selection for the Massachusetts State House. Boston was determined to remain the state capitol, and appointed Otis to a town committee to purchase land and donate it to the state. He did so, and also quietly arranged his own private purchase of 18.5 acres (75,000 m2) adjoining from the agent of John Singleton Copley, then living in England. After a decade of legal arguments, the sale was upheld, and Otis and the Mount Vernon Proprietors developed a large part of Beacon Hill.

Otis was an overseer of Harvard University from 1810 to 1823, and a fellow of the university from 1823 to 1825, as well as one of the original incorporators of the Boston Bank. In 1812, Otis also became a founding member of the American Antiquarian Society.[5] During the course of his career, he built not one but three grand houses in quick succession (see Harrison Gray Otis House), all designed by noted architect Charles Bulfinch. He died in Boston on October 28, 1848, and is buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts.


See also[edit]


  • Samuel Eliot Morison, Harrison Gray Otis, 1765–1848: The Urbane Federalist, 1913. Rev. ed. (2 vols in 1), Boston, Houghton Mifflin, 1969.
  1. ^ A Catalogue of the City Councils of Boston, 1822–1908, Roxbury, 1846–1867, Charlestown 1847–1873 and of The Selectmen of Boston, 1634–1822 also of Various Other Town and Municipal officers, Boston, MA: City of Boston Printing Department, 1909, p. 219 
  2. ^ A Catalogue of the City Councils of Boston, 1822–1908, Roxbury, 1846–1867, Charlestown 1847–1873 and of The Selectmen of Boston, 1634–1822 also of Various Other Town and Municipal officers, Boston, MA: City of Boston Printing Department, 1909, p. 222 
  3. ^ http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/index.php
  4. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter O" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved August 7, 2014. 
  5. ^ American Antiquarian Society Members Directory

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Josiah Quincy III
Mayor of Boston, Massachusetts
January 5, 1829 – January 2, 1832
Succeeded by
Charles Wells
U.S. Senate
Preceded by
Joseph B. Varnum
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from Massachusetts
Served alongside: Eli P. Ashmun, Prentiss Mellen, Elijah H. Mills
Succeeded by
James Lloyd
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Fisher Ames
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th congressional district

March 4, 1797 – March 3, 1801
Succeeded by
William Eustis