Hon. Portus Baxter

From the Vermont Historical Gazetteer, edited by Abby Maria Hemenway. Derby Chapter: By Mrs. Mary Clemer Ames.  Published by Claremont Manufacturing Co, 1877. Pg 189.

Hon. Portus Baxter, son of Hon. William Baxter, a man of preeminent influence in his day, was born in Brownington, VT, Dec. 4, 1806. He fitted for college at the Norwich Military Academy and entered the University of Vermont in 1823. He left at the close of his junior year to enter at once upon the active duties of life. There are temperaments which rebound naturally from books, from all the abstracts and obstruse [sic] forms of knowledge. They rarely accept wisdom at the second-hand; they receive it direct from nature, from contact with men, and with the experiences of human life. Such was the temperament of Portus Baxter. Though he did full justice to the advantages of a liberal education…, his supreme strength was in action, and reached its complete manifestation in his contact with men. The death of his father, leaving the administration of a large estate to devolve upon him, filled his life with responsibility and labor, at the beginning of manhood.

In 1828, he settled in Derby Line VT, a portion of the State at that time so newly settled as to demand of its inhabitants the best traits of a pioneer. Here he entered upon mercantile pursuits, and extensive farming, and to the day of his death remained one of the model farmers of Orleans County. “Thank God I am a farmer!” Those who heard him utter these words in the electric speech which he delivered on the Reciprocity Treaty, in the House of Representatives, 1864, will never forget the fervor of his tones, nor doubt the enthusiasm which he felt for his chosen profession.

In the year 1832, he was married to Ellen Janette Harris, daughter of Judge Harris of Strafford, VT… Mr. Baxter was a patriotic politician. It was the contagion of sympathy and of enthusiasm, which he imparted till he imbued other minds with somewhat of the ardor of his own. He was conscious of this power. He felt a keen delight in its possession. It is a proof of the nobility of his nature, that he did not use it for his own personal advancement. He loved the power because he could use it for others. To put the best man in the best places he thought a high service to render his country. Possessing such characteristics in so remarkable a degree, it is not strange that from 1840 till 1860 he exerted a greater influence upon the politics of his State, than any other man in Vermont. No man could be made Governor, no man could be elected to any important office whatever, without his endorsement and support.

Mr. Baxter was an enthusiastic Henry Clay Whig. It is easy to understand how the great-hearted, fervent Kentuckian, with his magnetic eloquence and wide patriotism, should possess so powerful a charm to the equally fervent and great-hearted Vermonter. During the existence of the Whig party Mr. Baxter was a frequent delegate to its national Conventions, and in 1848 was the only delegate from New-England who advocated the nomination of General Taylor from the beginning. Mr. Baxter refused to be a candidate for the legislature. After declining two nominations for Congress, he accepted the Republican nomination for the third District of Vermont, and was elected to the 37th, 38th, and 39th congresses by overwhelming majorities.

His public position in Washington gave to Mr. Baxter the best opportunity of his life. The exigencies of war, the patriotism, the heroism of the hour, the incessant strain upon every faculty of the mind, every sympathy of the heart, roused every noble quality of his nature into its utmost activity. He spent all his energy and all his time in the service of his constituents, and in administering to the wants of soldiers. It was during the ghastly days of the summer of 1864 that Mr. Baxter went to Fredericksburg. He went to succor the wounded- to take personal care of the wounded soldiers of Vermont. When the crisis was past, and he returned to Washington, those who saw him go away could scarcely recognize the man, so emaciated- so worn was he with watching and grief- so utterly had he entered into and shared the life and sufferings of our soldiers. Congress adjourned. The tired members hastened to the mountains and the sea; but through all that sickly summer this husband and wife remained looking after the missing, nursing the wounded, caring for the dead, till they themselves were prostrated, and sickness, only, made an interval in their labors.

In personal appearance he was one of the noblest looking men in Congress. Six feet in height of commanding proportions, with a face singularly expressive, every feature radiating thought and emotion, with noble carriage, the step and smile of youth, with the quick word of kindness, and the hearty hand-grasp he carried in his very presence a personal charm which was irresistible. In Congress, the power of Mr. Baxter was personal. He was not a speech maker. He did not blazon his name on great “Bills” or astounding “Measures.” And yet he was always a positive power.

It was in Washington, March 4, 1868, that the final summons came. Mr. Baxter, though often attacked by disease, suggested only the thought of irrepressible, exhaustless life. On Tuesday night he said: “It seems as if I must see the country through this great struggle.” In half and hour he had closed his eyes in that sleep, from which he awakened in the eternities.

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