Political Science Major

Portland Political Trail

Political Trail in Portland, Maine: Locations with National Political Significance



Above: Participants in Portland's 1855 Trial for the Ages (Left to Right are William Pitt Fessenden, Neal Dow, and Nathan Clifford)


Trail: Begin at the corner of State and Park streets.  A memorial to the Spanish American War is located at the northeast corner of this intersection.

1) The Spanish-American War was fought from April 25 to August 12, 1898. A major cause of the brief war was the February 15, 1898, explosion of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor killing 260 American servicemen. The American victory in the Spanish-American War led to the independence of Cuba from Spain and the U.S. acquisition of Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam.

Trail: Proceed south on State.  At 166 State Street is the former home of William Pitt Fessenden.

2 ) William Pitt Fessenden received praise from John F. Kennedy in Profiles in Courage for standing up for principles and against his party in voting against conviction in the impeachment trial of Andrew Johnson. His tenure in the Senate is also distinguished by a legendary opposition to pork barrel spending. Voting against funding for Portland Harbor, Fessenden said he opposed all pork barrel spending and would start with his own. His Senate career was marked by a strong opposition to slavery and working to implement Reconstruction after the Civil War.  The building subsequently became a convent earning a place on the Portland Women's History Trail.

Trail:  Turn right onto Spring Street.  Continue on Spring Street.  At 375 Spring Street is the former home of Israel Washburn.

3) Israel Washburn was one of the founders of the Republican Party. As a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he took a leading role in calling for the fusion of antislavery groups into a single party. He is often given credit for being the first to suggest the name "Republican" for the new anti-slavery party. He was joined by Hannibal Hamlin and James Blaine in the Maine delegation at the first Republican National Convention in 1856.

Trail: Turn right onto Vaughan when Spring Street ends.  Turn left onto Bowdoin Street.  Turn right at the end of Bowdoin onto Western Promenade.  Off to the left, just after the intersection of Western Promenade and Pine is a statue of Thomas Reed.

4) Thomas Brackett Reed fundamentally changed the position of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Born and raised in Portland, Thomas Reed represented Maine's First Congressional district starting in 1876. When he became Speaker in 1889, the House had been long beleaguered by delaying tactics from the opposition party. Seeking to succeed where his predecessors had failed, Reed issued the so-called Reed Rules in 1890 to facilitate majority action by countering delaying tactics. The Reed Rules remain the foundation of strong party government in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Trail: Continue on Western Promenade.  Turn right onto West Street.   Turn left on Vaughan.  Turn right onto Bramhall.  Turn right onto Congress.  In front of the fire station off to the right is a marker memorializing the first federal execution.

5) The first federal execution took place on this site in 1790. At the time, the major concern of federal courts was maritime law. While docked in Cape Elizabeth, Thomas Bird was arrested for the murder of the captain of his ship off the coast of Africa. In order to accommodate spectators, his trial had to be moved to a larger venue. After being found guilty and sentenced to be hung, Bird petitioned unsuccessfully for a pardon from George Washington on the grounds that it was the first capital case. An estimated crowd of over 3,000 witnessed the hanging.

Trail: Continue on Congress Street.  At 714 Congress Street is the Neal Dow home.

6) Neal Dow, a national leader in the Prohibition movement, lived in this home built in 1824.  Working in Maine politics, Dow helped Maine to become the first state to pass a law banning the sale and production of alcohol in 1851. Maine's law became a model for other state laws. In a high-profile 1855 case with Nathan Clifford as prosecutor and William Pitt Fessenden as defense attorney, then-Portland mayor Dow was acquitted of charges that City Hall was illegally storing alcohol.  Later in his career, Dow joined the national Prohibition struggle and was the Prohibitionist candidate for President in 1880.

Trail: Turn right onto State Street.  Turn left onto Spring Street.  Turn left onto High Street.  The second house on your left at 116 High is the former home of Nathan Clifford.

7) Nathan Clifford is the only Supreme Court justice named from Maine.  He first gained national prominence in the Polk Cabinet. As Attorney General, he lost to Daniel Webster in the landmark case Luther v. Borden (1849) establishing the precedent that the guarantee of a republican form of government was a political question left to the states. He resigned from the Cabinet to work out a settlement of the Mexican American War.  Moving to Portland to expand his professional opportunities, he quickly reached the top of his profession when he was nominated to the Supreme Court by James Buchanan and approved by the Senate 26-23. As a jurist, he emphasized a narrow interpretation of the powers of the federal government. While on the Supreme Court, Clifford served as chair of the 15-member Commission that resolved the Hayes-Tilden Presidential election dispute in 1876.

Trail: Across the street from 116 High Street is the Portland Art Museum.

8) The Portland Art Museum in Congress Square houses a life-size marble statue by Franklin Simmons of Ulysses S. Grant celebrating his accomplishments as a general in the Civil War (not as President). A Portland native, Simmons also made the art museum's plaques of Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant (1865). The Art Museum also includes an engraving mourning the death of George Washington and a painting celebrating Abraham Lincoln. Of course, it also has non-political art including works by Matisse, Monet, Renoir and Maine resident Winslow Homer.

Trail: Turn right onto Congress Street.  Proceed on Congress Street.  Off to your right is Monument Square including a statue remembering those who died in the Civil War. 

9) The Civil War remains the war in which the most Americans died.  Maine provided the Union with "more men proportionately than any other state" and 421 died from Portland alone (Portland 1986).

Trail: Turn right onto Exchange Street.  In the vicinity of Middle Street is the former 59 Exchange Street where the law offices of Samuel Fessenden were located.  The building no longer exists as it was destroyed in Portland's Great Fire of 1866 which hit Middle Street and Exchange Street particularly hard and destroyed about 1/4 of the city's assessed valuation.  Hannibal Hamlin served as an intern in Samuel Fessenden's Exchange Street office.

10) Hannibal Hamlin began his professional career in the law office of Samuel Fessenden.  His career would ultimately lead to his being the only Maine resident to serve as President or Vice President. He served as Vice-President under Lincoln from 1861-1865. Seeking a political advantage in a close race, Lincoln replaced Hamlin with Andrew Johnson on the ticket. Prior to serving as Vice-President, he was a Governor of Maine and U.S. Senator.

Trail: Turn left onto Middle Street. Another building destroyed in the fire was located just south of the intersection of Middle and Market Street and served as the office of James Blaine while he edited the Portland Advertiser.

11) James Blaine was the first and only Maine resident to win the Presidential nomination of a major party. The longtime Senator from Maine lost the popular vote by less than 25,000 out of 10 million votes to Grover Cleveland in 1884. Before entering politics, he served as editor of the Republican-Party affiliated newspaper the Portland Advertiser from 1847-1850. Although his contract as editor required him to be in Portland five days a week, Blaine nonetheless continued to reside in Augusta. In a letter to his mother, he wrote that he had thought about moving to Portland but decided against it in part because Portland "rents are enormously high."

Trail: Take the first left onto Market Street.  Off to your right is the federal courthouse (156 Federal Street address).  

12) The U.S. Federal Courthouse was built in 1911 with a Maine granite exterior.  It hears cases involving federal questions. In 1988, it became the Edward Gignoux U.S. Federal Courthouse in honor of the district court's judge from 1967-82 in a ceremony that included remarks by William Cohen, George Mitchell, Olympia Snowe, and Joseph Brennan. On the second floor in Courtroom 2 is an abstract mural entitled "The Virtues of Good Government" by Dorothea Rockburne based on the 14th century mural "The Virtues of Good Government" by Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Trail: Turn left onto Congress.  Off to your right at 389 Congress is Portland City Hall.

13) Portland City Hall is the home of Portland city government and a variety of community events. Portland City Hall hosted its first Presidential visit on March 23, 2001, when President George W. Bush spoke in front of 1,700 in the city hall auditorium. He urged Americans to support and Congress to pass a reduction in income tax rates.

Trail: Proceed west on Congress.  Off to your right at 425 Congress marks the grounds on which the Maine Constitution was drafted.

14) The Maine Constitution was drafted in 1819 in an earlier church on these grounds.  Previously a part of Massachusetts, Maine became a state in 1820. Portland served as capital of the new state until Augusta became the capital in 1832. The entry of Maine into the Union was tied to the state of Missouri through the Missouri Compromise, which allowed the entry of Missouri as a slave state and Maine as a free state. Maine would continue to play a role in the nation's struggle over slavery.  One important dimension of this role was using its border with Canada and extensive waterways to free slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.  Several houses and churches in Portland were part of this effort.  Insight into the historical context of this period can be found in the USM African-American Archives.

Trail: Proceed west on Congress.  Off to your right at 487 Congress is the Longfellow home.

15) Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had fond memories of his childhood home as evidence by his praise of Portland in his poem "My Lost Youth."  At the time it was built in 1785, it was the first brick house in town and was relatively isolated, offering views of Casco Bay to the south and east (as well as Portland Head Light), Back Cove to the north, and the White Mountains to the west. Unlike his maternal grandfather Peleg Wadsworth and father Stephen Longfellow who served in Congress, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow resisted overtures to run for Congress. His poems occasionally had political themes, including a number of poems against slavery. Many Americans remain familiar with his classic tale of Paul Revere's Ride in which Paul Revere's friend is to signal the British arrival "One, if by land, two if by sea" and Paul Revere will spread the message: "In the hour of darkness and peril and need / The people will waken and listen to hear / The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed / And the midnight message of Paul Revere."

Trail: Proceed west on Congress.  Turn right onto Bramhall-Deering Avenue.  Proceed north on Deering.  Turn right onto Park Street to return to the Spanish American War memorial that begins the trail.  Alternatively, to visit the University of Southern Maine, turn right onto Bedford Street and then turn right into the USM parking garage.  The USM Department of Political Science is in Payson Smith 100.

* Distance - The trail covers five miles.  Directions are consistent with one-way roads to be accessible by car.  

* Credits.  Author: Robert Klotz.  The most helpful source in preparing this document has been the outstanding book Portland by Portland Landmarks Inc. (1986). Other major sources in identifying geographical landmarks include the Portland Press-Herald, Portland Register, and the Web sites "Greater Portland Landmarks" at portlandlandmarks.org and  "Portland Maine, Middle Street" at housemouse.net/portlmiddle.htm.  Historical information was collected from the following: Biography of James Blaine by Gail Hamilton (1895: Henry Bill); "Early Homes of Longellow" by Stephen Cammett in Century Magazine of March 1907; Nathan Clifford by Philip Clifford (1922: G.P. Putnam); Profiles in Courage by John F. Kennedy (1956: Harper); Fessenden of Maine by Charles Jellison (1962: Syracuse University Press); Historic Places in Portland by Portland Planning Board, 1964; Greater Portland Celebration 350 edited by Albert Barnes (1984: Gannett); Origins of the Republican Party by William Gienapp (1987: Oxford); The Supreme Court Justices by Clare Cushman (1993: CQ); Courthouses of Maine by Robert Sloane (1998: Maine Lawyers Review); "The Virtues of Good Government" court pamphlet.