LaFayette Foster is a name largely forgotten today, but in his time he was an important and well known figure who served as President Pro Tempore of the Senate and was thus acting Vice President under Andrew Johnson, following Lincoln’s assassination.
Newtown Historical Society host an examination of Foster’s life and achievements through a presentation by Tom Vogt on Monday, May 13. The program will begin at 7:30 pm, and will be in the community room of C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street.
Foster was born in 1806 to a farm family in Franklin, Conn. He was quickly recognized as having talents beyond the local farm, and graduated from Brown in 1828. He spent some years in education and journalism, and apprenticed as a lawyer in Norwich, helping in the defense of Prudence Crandall.
After some years of legal practice, he began his public service career, being elected to the state legislature in 1839, serving several terms over the next several decades, including four terms as Speaker of Connecticut’s House of Representatives. In between terms he served as Mayor of Norwich, and ran twice for governor, reportedly losing one election by only one vote.
Moving to the national stage, he was elected Senator in 1855, and to a second term in 1861, being one of a handful of Senators who served before, during and after the Civil War. He was elected President Pro Tem in March, 1865, six weeks before Lincoln’s assassination. Had the planned assassination of Vice President Andrew Johnson been successful, Foster would have become President.
He continued to serve as acting Vice President and Senator until 1867, when the Radical Republican faction in Connecticut became upset with his more moderate views and refused to reseat him for another term.
Foster remained interested in education, and was a founder of Norwich Free Academy, donating the land for the first buildings; the Academy still serves as the public high school for Norwich as well as a private school.
Foster also returned to his legal practice and was appointed to the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1870. After reaching the Court’s mandatory retirement age, he taught law at Yale. He was founder and the first president of New London County Historical Society.
Tom Vogt is a retired teacher. He was Teacher of the Year in Ridgefield, and the recipient of four Celebration of Excellence honors and other awards.
He is a descendent of LaFayette Foster, and has spent much of his retirement studying family history, presenting some of his stories to the Learning Exchange in Danbury. He is the author of several volumes of family history, including LaFayette Foster: A Heartbeat Away from the Presidency.
Newtown Historical Society programs are free and open to the public. A brief meeting to elect trustees and officers will be held immediately before the presentation, and refreshments will be served following Mr Vogt’s talk.
Call 203-426-5937 or visit www.newtownhistory.org for additional information.