It was a cold day in early March 1861, when the first inauguration of Abraham Lincoln took place in front of the U.S. Capitol. Seated near the new president was Hannibal Hamlin of Paris Hill, Maine, who was to serve as Lincoln’s vice president for one term.

Hamlin, an effective and respected U.S. senator for several years, had reluctantly accepted the vice presidential nomination. He was interrupted in a card game when news of his nomination came to him.

The irritated senator from Maine complained that the interruption had ruined the only good hand he had had all evening.

According to historical information on the U.S. Senate and Maine Historical Society websites, and in a book by his grandson, Lincoln consulted Hamlin about suitable cabinet choices. Based on that early collaboration, there was hope that Lincoln might make effective use of his vice president, but it wasn’t going to happen.

The Senate history said, “Once Hamlin took up his vice presidential duties, his usefulness ended.”

With little to do as vice president, Hamlin enlisted as a private in the Maine state coast guard at the start of the Civil War, the account said. “In 1864, his unit was called to active duty. Promoted to corporal, the vice president drilled troops, guarded buildings and peeled potatoes.”

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Hamlin was not chosen by the Republican party for a second term with Lincoln. When his three-month military tour ended in September, he rejoined the political ranks to campaign for the ticket of Lincoln and Andrew Johnson.

Hamlin grew up on a prosperous family farm in the small Oxford County community of Paris Hill about 20 miles from Lewiston-Auburn. In later years, he returned to his boyhood home, where he greatly enjoyed the area’s hunting and fishing. There are stories about a highly exuberant and rascally boy, much unlike the unenthusiastic holder of the nation’s second-highest elected office.

Hamlin’s mother, Anna Livermore, was a descendant of early New England settlers of the town of Livermore. She was a dynamic young woman. It’s said that she once stopped a jailbreak when her husband, the sheriff, was away.

Those who knew her said they often saw her place one hand on the back of a horse and vault into the saddle with ease.

Hannibal was born in 1809. The following winter, there was a period of severe weather and an elderly Native American woman named Marie Agathe, known to the English settlers as Molly Ockett, sought shelter at the Hamlin homestead. The infant Hannibal was sick, and she is said to have nursed him back to health, and she supposedly predicted his future successes.

Hannibal’s youthful mischievousness led to a couple of minor scrapes with the law.
He and some buddies got into an altercation with an intoxicated neighbor at a corn-husking party. The boys were accused of assault and battery. They were brought before an elderly justice of the peace, who had limited legal knowledge, but Hannibal had followed local trials and learned enough to act as his own attorney.

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Hannibal’s arguments and technical terms so confused the old man conducting the trial that the charges were dismissed. Each boy was fined one dollar, and court was adjourned.

Hannibal and his friends also cooked up a prank involving the community bell installed at the town common that landed them in considerable trouble. The bell was used to signal town events and funerals, one stroke for each year of the deceased’s life.

One spring day, a baptism of 17 church members was to take place at a local brook. Just as the first candidate was lowered in the water, the funeral toll rang, and the sound came with each baptism.

Finally, someone noticed a boy on the bank waving a red bandana behind his back. Another boy in a tall tree also signaled with a bandana. Because these two boys were close companions of Hannibal Hamlin, it did not take long to figure out who was in the bell tower.

The boys’ practical joke led to a night of incarceration in the stone jail that bordered the Hamlin land. That jail is still open to visitors at Paris Hill.

Except for the years Hamlin served as a popular senator, he was not happy in high office. He came back to Maine and Paris Hill often, where he would visit his secret fishing places.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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