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Alfred Kittredge

It was said of Honorable Alfred B. Kittredge by his biographer that he was well-born. His successful career from infancy and youth was a natural unfoldment of latent powers, like that of the acorn through its progressive stages to the mighty spreading oak. He was born in Nelson, New Hampshire, March 28, 1861, the son of Russell H. and Laura Frances (Holmes) Kittredge. He came to Jaffrey as a youth with his father's family, and attended Jaffrey schools. There was no question of choice of occupation with him; he knew what he wanted to do and the way was open before him. He entered Yale College in 1878, and was graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Arts in 1882. He then studied law, and for two years gained practical experience in the law offices of Judge Veasey of Rutland, Vermont, and of Bachelder and Faulkner in Keene, New Hampshire. In 1884 he entered Yale Law School and was graduated with the class of 1885.

In his make-up he was of the type which we associate with the West, big, broad, solid, an earth-born giant. He was a man for the prairies and the wide open spaces. And so it was no surprise to his friends to find him setting out for Dakota Territory as a place where he would have room to live and grow.

There was something of the Lincoln about Kittredge. He was no respecter of persons; he understood and loved the common people; he liked a little town, and yet he had the breadth of mind to compass the affairs of a nation.

In his college days, when his home was in Jaffrey, there was a coterie of retired business men, farmers, and artisans,—alas, no more! —who sat about the stores and the post office, observing and passing shrewd comments upon men and events. This aggregation was dubbed, in a spirit of pleasantry, the "senate." For young Alfred Kittredge, just home from Yale for his summer vacation, this group bad an irresistible fascination. He delighted in dropping into one of the old whittled-bottom chairs provided for their comfort and listening to their remarks, wise or otherwise. He was so unobtrusive that he never interrupted the flow of wisdom or checked its naive expression. People noticed his choice of company, men forty to fifty years older than himself, and the quiet joke was passed about among his friends that Fred had been " 'lected to the senate." He had, and he was storing his mind with a knowledge of human nature that would be of use in after years. In summer their meeting-place was generally the piazza of Powers' store, overlooking the Village Square where the social and business activity of the town was concentrated and best disported itself.

Kittredge was a wonderful listener; all his life this was a marked characteristic of the man, and one of his most valuable endowments as a lawyer and statesman. To get the meat of the senatorial wisdom required patience. There would be long intervals of silence as ideas were incubating, when like a piscatorial devotee he must sit and bide his time even if the day passed without a nibble. But out of it all came treasures of the workings of human nature, without which the knowledge of the schools would have been of little avail.

Alfred Kittredge opened a law office in Sioux Falls, in the part of the territory that became South Dakota, and grew with the young State until his influence was felt from border to border. He fitted in with the pioneers as naturally as he fitted in the Village Senate in Jaffrey. His mind was a clearing house for the thought of a virile, expanding population. It was natural that he should be chosen to give to their thoughts and aspirations the appropriate act. They made him a member of their first State Senate. From the State Senate he was advanced to that of the Nation, first by appointment and then by election. But always he was a man of the council chamber more than of the forum. He listened until he had mastered the subject and then his few words were those of final judgment.

In the Senate of the United States, though he occupied but little time on the floor, Senator Kittredge filled a large place. To him were referred difficult questions of law, among them the questions of title to the Panama route for an inter-oceanic canal, which were strongly disputed. A special committee of the Senate had studied the subject and declared the Panama title defective and recommended the Nicaragua route. Senator Kittredge prepared a minority report, so exhaustive as to overcome objection. It was adopted and thus his name was forever linked with one of the greatest achievements of constructive engineering that has changed the course of commerce of the world. His work upon this question was a masterpiece of reasoning that has seldom been surpassed. It was the product of long hours of unceasing labor, but in its presentation it is said that he showed his characteristic sagacity and tact. "His sentences were short and compact. He reasoned with crystal clearness and fortified his conclusions by indisputable facts and cold, irresistible logic, clothed in the simplest and plainest English." It was a triumph such as can come only to few men. In the location of the canal, experience has long justified his conclusions.

A man, we are told, is the sum of his heredity and environment. Senator Kittredge was generously endowed with both these elements. All the superior and distinctive qualities that had marked a selected New England ancestry for eight generations were his; and in addition he had taken to himself the marked attributes of his environment, a great and growing commonwealth of the new West. Had an observant visitor, seeing him enter the Senate chamber at Washington, been asked to guess what state he represented, the reply would have been Dakota or Texas. He was a man of immense physical proportions, weighing nearly or quite three hundred pounds. His face was strong and impassive in repose, but had a wonderful way of lighting when he met a friend or a ripple of humor crossed his mind as a wave of sunlight passes over a field of wheat. His burden of flesh became his undoing. He had given too many hours to study in his office and at his desk in his appointed duty to his State and Nation.

With the unrest characteristic of unsettled connections, other elements gained ascendancy in his State, and in his contest for a second election to the Senate he was defeated. Contrary to the opinions of some at the time, this was not a disappointment. He had always served his State at a sacrifice. The great continental railroads had sought his service as counsel, and he was anxious to take up again the practice of law for which his talents so well fitted him. He returned to private life and the practice of his profession. But there was another enemy with which he had now to reckon.

In October, 1910, while returning to his office after a case that demanded his utmost exertions, he became overheated and caught a severe cold, which resulted in complications which forced the abandonment of his life work in the height of his powers. He came East and consulted specialists, whose verdict made necessary a complete change of occupation and scene. He returned to Jaffrey, intending to make the town his home for the rest of his life. His father, enfeebled by age, was still living on the homestead, but his brother Charles had died under tragic circumstances six years before and his home place was still owned by his family. Senator Kittredge bought his brother's home next that of his father.He renewed his acquaintance with his old Jaffrey friends, who found pleasure and pride in again having him for a neighbor.

But he failed to make the hoped for recovery, and in February, 1911, he went to Hot Springs, Arkansas, still hoping for benefit from the change and from the baths at that place. At first he seemed to improve, and then a change came and he failed rapidly, and on May 4, 1911, he passed from coma to death. He was buried in the family lot in Jaffrey, and his funeral was one of the most impressive and largely attended in the history of the town. There was present a delegation of friends from South Dakota and Washington, and tributes of respect and affection were nation-wide.

He never married, but the ties of affection with members of his own family were strong and never broken, and his capacity for friendship supplied in a measure the lack of closer ties.

Alfred Kittredge

Portrait of Alfred Beard Kittredge. This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3b18892.

Name: Alfred Beard Kittredge
Born: March 28, 1861
Place of Birth: Nelson, NH
Died: May 4, 1911
Place of Death: Hot Springs, Arkansas
Occupation: Lawyer, U.S. Senator
Place of Burial Conant Cemetery, Jaffrey, NH