JAMES FENNER was born in Providence, Rhode Island. A graduate of Brown University, he served in the Rhode Island General Assembly and then in the U.S. Senate, from which he resigned in 1807 after being persuaded by Jeffersonians to run for governor. He defeated his Federalist opponent and was reelected unopposed for three consecutive one-year terms before being defeated two years in a row. He did not participate in a gubernatorial race again until 1824, when the incumbent governor declined renomination. Fenner won the race and was easily reelected for the next five years. During this time he was closely associated with Rhode Island’s agricultural interests and strongly opposed central government, federally-sponsored public works, land taxes, protective tariffs, and extended suffrage. Also during this period, the Rhode Island legislature provided for a public school system supported by a combination of lotteries and local taxes. In 1830 Fenner won gubernatorial reelection as a Jacksonian Democrat against a National Republican opponent who defeated him the following year. In 1843, Fenner returned to run for governor again, this time supported by a Whig faction. He won reelection to one additional term as a law and order candidate opposed to suffrage and representation reforms, but was defeated one last time in 1845. In ill health, he died the following year.
Mohr, Ralph S. Governors for Three Hundred Years (1638-1954): Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.State of Rhode Island, Graves Registration Committee, August 1954.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 9. New York: James T. White & Company.
Sobel, Robert, and John Raimo, eds. Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 4. Westport, CT: Meckler Books, 1978. 4 vols.