BOWDOIN, JAMES (1726–1790), American political leader, was born of French Huguenot descent, in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 7th of August 1726. He graduated at Harvard in 1745, and was a member of the lower house of the general court of Massachusetts in 1753–1756, and from 1757 to 1774 of the Massachusetts council, in which, according to Governor Thomas Hutchinson, he “was without a rival,” and, on the approach of the War of Independence, was “the principal supporter of the opposition to the government.” From August 1775 until the summer of 1777 he was the president of the council, which had then become to a greater extent than formerly an executive as well as a legislative body. In 1779–1780 he was president of the constitutional convention of Massachusetts, also serving as chairman of the committee by which the draft of the constitution was prepared. Immediately afterward he was a member of a commission appointed “to revise the laws in force in the state; to select, abridge, alter and digest them, so as to be accommodated to the present government.” From 1785 to 1787 he was governor of Massachusetts, suppressing with much vigour Shays’ Rebellion, and failing to be re-elected largely because it was believed that he would punish the insurrectionists with more severity than would his competitor, John Hancock. Bowdoin was a member of the state convention which in February 1788 ratified for Massachusetts the Federal Constitution, his son being also a member. He died in Boston on the 6th of November 1790. He took much interest in natural philosophy, and presented various papers before the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, of which he was one of the founders and, from 1780 to 1790, the first president. Bowdoin College was named in his honour.
His son, James Bowdoin (1752–1811), was born in Boston on the 22nd of September 1752, graduated at Harvard in 1771, and served, at various times, as a representative, senator and councillor of the state. From 1805 until 1808 he was the minister plenipotentiary of the United States in Spain. He died on Naushon Island, Dukes county, Massachusetts, on the 11th of October 1811. To Bowdoin College he gave land, money and apparatus; and he made the college his residuary legatee, bequeathing to it his collection of paintings and drawings, then considered the finest in the country.