He belonged to a large and distinguished family. His brother Enoch was the first collector of the customs, appointed in 1791 by Washington, and filled this responsible office till his death, in 1827.
He was born in Camden County in 1777. He was educated at Flatbrush Academy, on Long Island, under charge of Dr. Peter Wilson, with such distinguished associates as William and John Duer, Troop and Telfair, of Georgia. He studied law, but never made the profession his object in life. He preferred the giddy pursuits of politics and of pleasure. After serving a session in the Legislature, he was elected one of the electors in 1804 for President, and voted for Jefferson, to whose principles and politics he was a constant follower.
On the retiring of General Thomas Wynns, of Hertford County, from Congress in 1807, Mr. Sawyer was elected to the 13th Congress over William H. Murfree, and from that date to 1829 (with but few intermissions,) he was re-elected by the people over the most prominent and powerful opponents; among them were Mr. Murfree, Governor Iredell and others.
What was the secret of this extraordinary success of twenty years' service it is difficult to conjecture, for he was not gifted as a speaker; he was negligent of his duties, often a whole session passing without his appearing a single day in his seat; eccentric in his conduct and private life, if not disreputable in some instances, as he himself confesses in his autobiography. Doubtless his principles, as his votes and his speeches in Congress show, were of the straightest sect of Democracy, and stern advocate of the rights of States. He commenced his political career by voting for Jefferson, and ended it by advocating Jackson, Van Buren and Polk.
He had a great fondness for literature, and wrote "The Life of John Randolph," his own biography, "Black Beard," and other productions. His easy disposition, his liberality, and his social eccentricities, while they made him many friends, brought him, at the close of life, to suffering, if not to want. His life was prolonged beyond its usefulness, if he ever was useful in any capacity.
His latter days were spent in Washington City. He was another of the many instances of persons who, charmed in more prosperous days by the glamor of this gay metropolis, feel, as did Madame Maintenou, that "there were a hundred gates by which one may enter Paris, but only one by which you should leave it." This he realized, for he died 1852, aged 75, in Washington, where he had eked out a precarious existence from the salary of a small office in one of the departments.*
* From National
Intelligencer, of 10th January, 1852: DIED.--Suddenly, on Friday,
9th January, 1852, at the residence of G. R. Adams, 11th street, near F, (in
Washington City,) of a disease of the heart, Hon. Lemuel Sawyer, for many years
a member of Congress from North Carolina.
* From National Intelligencer, of 10th January, 1852:
DIED.--Suddenly, on Friday, 9th January, 1852, at the residence of G. R. Adams, 11th street, near F, (in Washington City,) of a disease of the heart, Hon. Lemuel Sawyer, for many years a member of Congress from North Carolina.
His autobiography draws the last melancholy scene of his life, which, in his own language--
"I have drained the bitter cup of existence to the dregs. I have no earthly object to live for; nor have I the means to do so with that comfort and ease which alone can reconcile superannuated infirmity."
His nephew, Samuel T. Sawyer, lived in Edenton, son of Dr. Matthias E. Sawyer. He was a lawyer by profession; often in the Legislature (1829 to '32, and in Senate, 1834,) and elected to Congress 1837-'39.
He was appointed by Mr. Pierce collector of Norfolk; he became the editor of the Argus, and served as commissary in the late civil war. He died in New Jersey, 29th November, 1865, aged 65 years.*
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