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Timothy Pickering

Timothy Pickering

Timothy Pickering (1745-1829) was an American Revolutionary soldier before becoming secretary of war and then secretary of state under President Washington.

Timothy Pickering was born in Salem, Mass., on July 17, 1745, the son of Timothy and Mary Wingate Pickering. He graduated from Harvard College in 1763, studied law in Salem while serving as a clerk in Essex County, and was admitted to the bar in 1768. He became register of deeds in 1774. In 1766 he was commissioned a lieutenant in the county militia. He was a colonel by 1775 and was appointed by George Washington as adjutant general of the U.S. Army in 1777, becoming quartermaster general in 1780.

After the Revolution, Pickering became a merchant in Philadelphia. He moved in 1787 to western Pennsylvania, where he was elected to represent Luzerne County in the state convention that ratified the Federal Constitution. Appointed as postmaster general by President Washington in 1791, he served for over 3 years before becoming secretary of war in January 1795. Washington made him secretary of state late in 1795, and he continued in that post when John Adams became president.

An ardent Federalist and a bitter critic of the French Revolution, Pickering became a leading advocate of the quasi-war with France that followed the "XYZ affair" in 1798. Fearful of "French influence" in American politics, he viewed the Jeffersonian Republicans as subversives, and he supervised the enforcement of the Sedition Law against Jeffersonian critics of the Adams administration. Always more loyal to Alexander Hamilton than to Adams, however, Pickering broke with the President when Adams insisted on negotiating a settlement with France. Adams finally dismissed him from the Cabinet on May 10, 1800.

After a brief return to western Pennsylvania, Pickering moved to Massachusetts, where he became U.S. senator in 1803. A virulent opponent of presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, he urged the establishment of a northern confederacy in 1804, arguing that peaceful secession was the only way to protect New England's commercial interests. Defeated for the Senate in 1811, he served on the Executive Council of Massachusetts in 1812-1813 before winning election to Congress, where he again became Madison's leading opponent from 1813 to 1817. A controversialist to the end, he wrote a polemical pamphlet criticizing John Adams in 1824. Pickering died in Salem on Jan. 29, 1829.

Further Reading

The biography of Pickering by Octavius Pickering and C. W. Upham, The Life of Timothy Pickering (4 vols., 1867-1873), is uncritical. Specialized studies include Hervey P. Prentiss, Timothy Pickering as the Leader of New England Federalism, 1800-1815 (1934), and Gerald H. Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and American Diplomacy, 1795-1800 (1969).

Additional Sources

Clarfield, Gerard H., Timothy Pickering and the American Republic, Pittsburgh, PA.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1980. □

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Pickering, Timothy

Timothy Pickering, 1745–1829, American political leader and Revolutionary War army officer, b. Salem, Mass. He was admitted to the bar (1768) and played an active part in pre-Revolutionary activities against the British. In 1774 and 1775 he was connected with the Massachusetts committee of correspondence. A colonel in the Massachusetts militia, he joined George Washington's army in the American Revolution, served (1777) as Washington's adjutant-general, was a member of the board of war, and was (1780–85) quartermaster general. After the Revolution, he moved to Pennsylvania and was sent by the Pennsylvania government to the Wyoming valley region of Pennsylvania to organize the newly formed Luzerne co. and to represent the state in the dispute over land claims between Connecticut settlers and Pennsylvania. He was a member of the state constitutional convention (1789–90) and negotiated treaties with various Native American tribes for the federal government. He was Postmaster General (1791–95), Secretary of War (1795), and Secretary of State (1795–1800). Pickering was dismissed after President John Adams learned that he had been scheming with the Alexander Hamilton branch of the Federalist party to steer the United States into war with France. Returning to Massachusetts, he became chief justice of the court of common pleas and was later a U.S. Senator (1803–11) and Representative (1813–17). A strong Federalist and an opponent of Adams, Pickering was a leading figure in the Essex Junto and an outspoken opponent of the War of 1812. He wrote Political Essays (1812).

See biography by his son, O. Pickering, and C. W. Upham (4 vol., 1867–73); G. H. Clarfield, Timothy Pickering and American Diplomacy, 1795–1800 (1969).

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"Pickering, Timothy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 25 Jul. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Pickering, Timothy." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved July 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/pickering-timothy