Fisher Ames

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Fisher Ames
Fisher Ames - Project Gutenberg eText 15391.jpg
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th district
In office
March 4, 1795 – March 3, 1797
Preceded by George Thatcher
Succeeded by Harrison Gray Otis
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st district
In office
March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1795
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Theodore Sedgwick
Personal details
Born April 9, 1758 (1758-04-09)
Dedham, Massachusetts Bay
Died July 4, 1808(1808-07-04) (aged 50)
Dedham, Massachusetts
Resting place Old First Parish Cemetery, Dedham, Massachusetts
Political party Federalist
Alma mater Harvard University
Profession Law

Fisher Ames (/mz/; April 9, 1758 – July 4, 1808) was a Representative in the United States Congress from the 1st Congressional District of Massachusetts. He was an important leader of the Federalists in the House, and was noted for his oratorical skill.

Life and political career

Ames was born in Dedham, Massachusetts. His father, a physician, died when Fisher was but six years old, but his mother resolved, in spite of her limited income, to give the boy a classical education. At the age of six he began the study of Latin, and at the age of twelve, he was sent to Harvard College, graduating in 1774 when he began work as a teacher. While teaching school Ames also studied law. He was admitted to the bar, and commenced practice in Dedham in 1781.

His father, Dr. Nathaniel Ames, was the author of the Ames almanack, "which were the inspiration for the Poor Richard's Almanack."[1]

In 1788, he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He became a member of the Massachusetts convention that ratified the United States Constitution that same year.

Ames was elected to the First United States Congress, having beaten Samuel Adams for the post.[2] He also served in the Second and Third Congresses and as a Federalist to the Fourth Congress. He served in Congress from March 4, 1789 to March 3, 1797. During the First Congress, he was chairman of the Committee on Elections. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1793.[3] In 1796, he was not a candidate for renomination but resumed the practice of law in Dedham. He stayed in politics and was a member of the Governor's Council from 1798 to 1800. In his new role, Ames offered one of the great orations on the death of President Washington. He also published a number of essays, critical of Jefferson's followers. He was a member of the Federalist Party, specifically its Essex Junto.

In 1805, Ames was chosen president of Harvard University. He declined to serve because of failing health. Four years later, in 1808, he died in Dedham on July 4. He was interred in the Old First Parish Cemetery after a public funeral in Boston.

Despite his limited number of years in public service, Fisher Ames ranks as one of the more influential figures of his era. Ames led Federalist ranks in the House of Representatives. His acceptance of the Bill of Rights garnered support in Massachusetts for the new Constitution. His greatest fame however may have come as an orator, for which one historian has dubbed him "the most eloquent of the Federalists." [4] Ames offered one of the first great speeches in American Congressional history when he spoke in favor of the Jay Treaty. Despite his Federalist sympathies, Ames would dissent from his party when he felt it was not in the country's best interest. For example, in 1789 Ames argued against the appointment of Thomas Willing as the President of Hamilton's newly created Bank of the United States.[5]

Ames became concerned by the rising popularity of Jefferson's Republicans, who advocated the United States adopt Republican type representative government along the lines of post Revolution government in France. Hamilton's Federalists (of which Ames was one), although they too agreed with a Republic, advocated a stronger federal government with similar powers to the British example. Ames felt Federalism around a clear and firm constitution was the model the United States should follow to prevent the fledgling nation from failing. He cautioned against the excesses of democracy unfettered by morals and reason: "Popular reason does not always know how to act right, nor does it always act right when it knows." [6] Likewise, Ames warned his countrymen of the dangers of flattering demagogues, who incite dis-union and lead their country into bondage: "Our country is too big for union, too sordid for patriotism, too democratic for liberty. What is to become of it, He who made it best knows. Its vice will govern it, by practising upon its folly. This is ordained for democracies."[7]

In 2002, the Ames Christian University was named after Fisher Ames.


  1. Erastus Worthingtom (1890). "Diary of Dr. Nathanial Ames". Dedham Historical Register. Dedham Historical Society.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Dedham 1635-1890, Robert B. Hanson, p. 169
  3. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter A" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 April 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2001. p. 81
  5. F. Ames to A. Hamilton (Jul. 31, 1791), in Syrett and Cooke, eds., 8 Papers of Alexander Hamilton 589-590 (New York, 1965)
  6. Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2001. p. 83
  7. Fisher Ames, letter of October 26, 1803, Works, p. 483. As cited in Kirk, Russell. The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot. Washington D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2001. p. 83

Further reading

  • Dictionary of American Biography: Ames, Fisher
  • Works of Fisher Ames: With a Selection from His Speeches and Correspondence. Edited by Seth Ames. 2 vols. 1854. Reprint. New York: DaCapo Press, 1969;
  • Bernhard, Winfred E.A. Fisher Ames: Federalist and Statesman, 1758-1808. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1965.
  • Waldman, Steven. Founding Faith How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty. New York: Random House, 2008.

External links

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
none-new district
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 1st congressional district

March 4, 1789 – March 4, 1795
alongside on a General ticket (1793-1795): Samuel Dexter, Benjamin Goodhue, Samuel Holten
Succeeded by
Theodore Sedgwick
Preceded by
none-new district
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Massachusetts's 8th congressional district

March 4, 1795 –March 4, 1797
Succeeded by
Harrison Gray Otis
  1. REDIRECT Template:United States representatives from Massachusetts