Abbott Lawrence (1792-1855), American manufacturer and diplomat, helped develop the New England textile industry and later represented those interests in the U.S. Congress.
Abbott Lawrence was born on Dec. 16, 1792, in Groton, Mass., into an old-line New England family that had settled in Massachusetts in 1635. He was apprenticed in 1808 to his brother, Amos, a Boston merchant who specialized in imports from Britain and China. After Abbott completed his apprenticeship, the firm of Amos and Abbott Lawrence was formed. The partnership supplemented its import trade with commission dealings in New England textile products. Ill health forced the premature retirement of Amos about 1830. About the same time, Abbott became convinced of the potential importance of textile manufacturing and plunged into the development of New England's industry. His involvement in the textile industry was accompanied by a change in his outlook on economic questions, including the Tariff of 1824, and he became an advocate of the "American system." His vision of the future of New England manufacturing also led him to encourage and promote railroads at a time when most Americans looked upon them as an exotic novelty. He was convinced that the American economic future was one of diversification, in which each segment of the economy would contribute, and he advocated the use of Federal policies to facilitate such development.
Lawrence consistently supported the Whig party and served several terms as a U.S. representative from Massachusetts during the 1830s. In 1848 he was a prominent but unsuccessful candidate for the vice-presidential nomination on the Whig ticket headed by Zachary Taylor. With Taylor's victory, however, Lawrence was offered his choice of several positions in the new administration. He chose the post of minister to Great Britain after rejecting a Cabinet appointment. He filled that position with great distinction and was involved in the preliminary negotiations of the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty and other significant diplomatic ventures. He resigned in 1852 and returned to the United States in time to join the presidential campaign of Gen. Winfield Scott. However, he was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the Whig stand on the slavery issue.
Lawrence was active in the Unitarian Church in Boston and interested in such social measures as education for the lower classes. He was also a generous benefactor to a number of causes. He supported Groton Academy, lowcost housing for wage earners in Boston, and the Boston public library. He also provided funds to establish the Lawrence Scientific School at Harvard College. He died in Boston on Aug. 18, 1855.
Short accounts of Lawrence are in Freeman Hunt, Lives of American Merchants (2 vols., 1858), and Hamilton Andrews Hill, Memoir of Abbott Lawrence (2d ed., 1884). See also F. W. Ballard, The Stewardship of Wealth as Illustrated in the Lives of Amos and Abbott Lawrence (1865), and Peter d'A. Jones, America's Wealth (1963). □