||Complete HarpWeek Biography:
Brooks, James (November 10, 1810 – April 30, 1873)
James Brooks was a newspaper publisher and Democratic congressman.
Brooks was born in Portland, Maine, on November 10, 1810. His father was
killed at sea in the War of 1812, leaving the family in poverty. Young Brooks
had to quit public school to work for a storekeeper, but the man soon helped the
lad get an education. In 1831, he graduated from Waterville College (now Colby
College). He worked as a schoolteacher as he studied law and began writing for
the Portland Advertiser. He passed the bar, but decided on a career in
journalism. He gained public renown as a correspondent covering national
politics in Washington, D. C., and for his sketches of Southern life, especially
of the Creek, Cherokee, and Choctaw tribes.
In 1835, Brooks was elected to the Maine state legislature as a Whig, but
failed the next year in his bid to enter Congress. He moved to New York City
and in 1836 established the New York Express, described as a commercial
not a political newspaper, although it backed the Whig cause. Brooks worked on
William Henry Harrison’s Log Cabin campaign in 1840, was elected to the New York
state assembly in 1847, and served two terms in Congress as a Whig, 1849–1853.
He supported the Compromise of 1850 and in 1854 briefly identified with the
American party before switching his allegiance to the Democratic Party. He
endorsed Buchanan in 1856, Douglas in 1860, and vigorously urged that the South
be allowed to “depart in peace” in early 1861.
During the Civil War Brooks was a Peace Democrat (often disparaged as a
“Copperhead”) and was elected to Congress in 1863. He was reelected in 1865,
but his opponent successfully challenged the election, forcing Brooks to resign
in early 1866. He was reelected in the fall of 1866 and remained in Congress
until his death in 1873. Brooks served on the powerful House Ways and Means
Committee and was twice nominated by the Democrats as Speaker. As a member of
the Reconstruction Committee he condemned Republican “carpetbag” state
governments in the South and insisted on a quick, lenient return of the former
Confederate states to the Union. He was a leading opponent of the effort to
impeach President Andrew Johnson.
Brooks was appointed by President Johnson as a government director of the
Union Pacific Railroad, but he became involved in the Credit Mobilier scandal
and was censured by the House for accepting a bribe. In 1872, while touring the
world, he contracted a fever in India. The added stress of the Credit Mobilier
scandal further undermined his health. Brooks died in Washington, D. C., on
April 30, 1873.
Source consulted: Dictionary of American Biography.