Obituaries

Portus Baxter


Baxter, Portus. Representative in Congress 1861-'65, the "soldier's friend," as he was then fondly and deservedly called, and, for a full decade before, the Thurlow Weed of Vermont politics, the greatest personal political force on the east side of the mountains, was born from one of the oldest and best families of the state, at Brownington, 1806. He was liberally educated at Norwich University, but engaged at Derby in 1828 in mercantile and agricultural pursuits, and, with his keen activity, energy, and farsightedness, most successfully. His positive character, his fine judgment of men, and his facile handling of them rapidly won him an influential position in politics, first in his town and county, then throughout the district and the state, and finally in national affairs. But he was never a self-seeker, more enjoying power behind the throne, in conventions and appointments, and in using his electric power to lift other men rather than himself.

He repeatedly refused election as town representative and once or twice at least could have had his party's nomination for Congress but preferred it to go to others. He was an ardent Henry Clay Whig while the party lasted, and was the only delegate from New England in the convention of 1848 to advocate the nomination of General Taylor from the beginning. In 1852 he headed the Scott electoral ticket in Vermont, and in 1856 that of the young Republican party for Fremont.

Finally, in 1860, he accepted a nomination for Congress, beginning services with the opening of the rebellion and continuing through the momentous events of that period, until in 1866, with the Union secure, he declined a re-election, which he had before had almost unanimously. He served industriously on the committees of elections, agricultural, and expenditures of the navy department. He was a close friend of Secretary Stanton, and the latter as he said, found it about impossible to refuse him anything. Mr. Baxter improved the opportunity to minister with extraordinary zeal to the wants of the soldiers in the field. He operated by personal efforts, by the charm of his manners and the magnetism of his conversation and social intercourse, rather than by speech-making. He never but twice attempted any formal speech-making or any real argument on his feet. What he had to say he said in a few words, so surcharged with the intense conviction and the thorough earnestness of his nature as to well take the place of logic and rhetoric. He was in every fibre of his being a patriot; he was a man of generous and warm sympathies. These two facts, with his frank and engaging manners, explain his remarkable power of party leadership. "We never knew a more earnest or energetic politician," said one eulogist after his death. During the ghastly days of the Wilderness campaign and fight he was at the front at Fredericksburg to minister to the wounded and suffering, and all that summer both he and his wife remained at their post of tender duty until they were themselves prostrated, and sickness only made an interval in their labors. It was no wonder that he obtained such a large place in the soldiers' affections. Two of his sons, physicians, also rendered invaluable service on the field and in the hospitals, and a third, the youngest, entered the service as a private, in the 11th Vermont and came out a brevet major, with successive promotions, all won by gallantry.

His wife, was Ellen Jannette, daughter of Judge Harris of Strafford, whom he wedded in 1832.

Mr. Baxter died at Washington, March 4, 1868, from pneumonia, after only a few days' illness, though he had for years suffered from asthma. [He is buried in Strafford Cemetery, Strafford, Vermont.]

Source: Jacob G. Ullery, compiler, Men of Vermont: An Illustrated Biographical History of Vermonters and Sons of Vermont, (Transcript Publishing Company, Brattleboro, VT, 1894), Part I, p. 156.

Links:

Congressional Biography
Brigadier General Jedediah Hyde Baxter, Portus's son, is buried in Arlington National Cemetery
Burial information contributed by The Political Graveyard.

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