Edward Dowse was born in Charlestown in 1756 into a family engaged in the carrying trade between the American colonies and Great Britain. At the end of the Revolutionary War, Captain Edward Dowse helped establish trade routes to China and the East Indies for a U.S. mercantile community banned from commerce with the British Caribbean, as well as the England. Dowse moved to an estate in Dedham in March 1798 to escape Boston’s yellow fever epidemic whereupon he retired from his maritime career. There his public spirited endeavors drew the attention of fellow townsfolk. This culminated in his election as a Democratic-Republican to the Sixteenth Congress in which he served from March 4, 1819, until May 26, 1820, when he resigned. Shortly afterwards, Dowse won office as Dedham’s representative to the Great and General Court. Dowse passed away in Dedham on September 3, 1828.
During his time in Congress, Dowse kept up a lively and loving correspondence with his wife Sarah. In the letters Dowse shared his experiences as a novice congressman and his correspondence frequently alluded to the bitter debates between northern and southern congressmen over Missouri’s proposed admittance to the union. This debate was occasioned by an amendment that Representative Tallmadge of New York had proposed. This amendment stipulated that Missouri could only enter the union after it had restricted further importation of slaves into the state. Moreover, all slave children born within Missouri were to be declared free at the age of twenty-five years. Southern congressmen argued that Congress lacked the power to either restrict slave owners from entering the state with their “property” or to force them to relinquish slaves when they reached the requisite age. As the debate about the Tallmadge amendment progressed, Dowse, an avid restrictionist, despaired because northern congressmen seemed to lack the eloquence of southern “anti-restrictionists” like the Virginia’s sharp-tongued John Randolph or Kentucky’s so-called “modern Demosthenes,” Henry Clay, that is, until Joseph Hemphill took the floor on February 6th, 1820. As Dowse related to his wife, the anti-slavery cause was well bolstered when “Mr. Hemphill from Pennsylvania came forward today and his speech has left the same effect as the charms of poetry upon my delighted imagination. It was like the Music of the Spheres. No, no, they (Southern congressmen) have not all the talent on their side. If sound policy, if reason, if wisdom, if virtue, if religion can ever successfully combat against love of money (the sole root of all evil), then shall we come off victorious in this great Missouri Question. Oh, Hemphill, delightful man, I thought of him till I fell asleep!”