|Newton Lower Falls, MA||October 11, 2022|
In the shadow of this imposing pine tree is the final resting place of nineteenth-century politician Josiah Gardner Abbott. The Harvard University graduate’s time in elected office was brief, with his tenure in the Massachusetts State Legislature and Senate totaling just a handful of years. His time in the U.S. House of Representatives was also scant — he served just from July 1876 to March 1877. But Abbott achieved enough during his short stay in Washington to prompt me to seek out his gravesite. During his lame duck period, Abbott was selected to be a member of the electoral commission established by Congress to decide the results of the contested 1876 presidential election.
Between the November 1876 election and the gathering of the electoral college in early 1877, disputes arose over the validity of the presidential race results in several states. Circumstances in Florida, Louisiana, Oregon, and South Carolina combined to prevent 20 electoral votes from being awarded to either of the major party candidates. Republican nominee Rutherford B. Hayes needed all 20 contested votes in order to surmount Democrat Samuel J. Tilden, who was one shy of the victory threshold. Congress passed legislation in January 1877 to create a commission to determine the allocation of the outstanding votes. Josiah Gardner Abbott was one of seven Democrats and one of five House reps to be a member of the 15-person body. The commission awarded all 20 electoral votes to Hayes, who took office in March. Abbott subsequently drew up a dissenting response to the outcome at the request of some of the other members of the minority. Although they approved it, “some doubted the wisdom of publishing the address at the time, and so it was not signed.” It was first published 15 years later, by which time Abbott and six other commission members had died.
A grave curb envelopes the plot where the congressman rests with his wife, Caroline Livermore Abbott. Mrs. Abbott’s marker is on the left, and her husband’s is on the right. There are crosses carved into the heads of their respective markers, with smaller crosses chiseled into the feet. After his spouse of nearly four decades died in 1887, Abbott praised her effusively in a response to a condolence letter. “Living as we have so long together, with nothing literally ever coming between us, my wife was absolutely a part of myself, and taking her away is wrenching away a part of my own soul,” he conveyed. “It is not the loss of a common woman — she inherited the robustness and strength of will and character of her father [Edward St. Loe Livermore], the judge, and of her grandfather [Samuel Livermore], the first senator from New Hampshire, combined with the tenderness and love she took from her mother — a rare meeting of qualities.”
Abbott served in numerous occupational capacities throughout his life, in addition to his aforementioned time in the state and federal legislatures. His résumé included work as a teacher, a newspaper editor, and a privately-practicing lawyer. In 1843 he was an aide to Massachusetts governor Marcus Morton, and in 1844 he co-founded the Lowell Equitable Life Insurance Company. For five years he was a master in chancery (an officer who assists a court of equity). In 1853 was a delegate to the convention to amend the state constitution. Abbott was on the bench of the state superior court from 1855 to 1858, and after that he was overseer at Harvard. He also unsuccessfully sought a seat in the U.S. Senate multiple times, and he could have been the commonwealth’s attorney general or sat on its supreme court had he not declined the offers.
Born: November 1, 1814 in Chelmsford, Massachusetts
Spouse: Caroline Livermore Abbott (m. 1838-1887)
Political Affiliation: Democratic Party
House Tenure: 1876-1877
Died: June 2, 1891 in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts
Cause of Death: Acute Bronchitis; Influenza
Interment: Saint Mary’s Episcopal Church, Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts
"We protest against the decision finally because by it the people of the whole United States are defrauded and cheated ; because by it, a person is put into the great office of president, who has never been chosen according to the Constitution and law, and whose only title depends on the false and fraudulent certificate of two men in the state of Florida, instead of a majority of the legal voices of the whole people, declared through and by their electoral colleges."
- Josiah Gardner Abbott
in an unused response drafted on behalf of the Democratic minority on the Electoral Commission of 1877, opposing the allocation of Florida's four disputed electoral votes to Republican Rutherford B. Hayes
Sources Consulted and Further Reading
Cowley, Charles. Memoir of the Hon. Josiah Gardner Abbott, LL.D. Boston: Little, Brown, & Co.,1892. https://books.google.com/books?id=XZoWAAAAYAAJ&source=gbs_navlinks_s.
Office of the Historian. “ABBOTT, Josiah Gardner.” Accessed October 20, 2022. https://history.house.gov/People/Detail/8256.
Secretary of the Commonwealth. “1844 Chap. 0139. An Act To Incorporate The Lowell Equitable Life Insurance Company.” From State Library of Massachusetts. Accessed October 20, 2022. https://archives.lib.state.ma.us/handle/2452/93529.