Henry Flagg French became the first president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College in 1864. A native of New Hampshire and graduate of Dartmouth College and Harvard Law School, French enjoyed agriculture. He operated a farm and conducted soil improvement experiments. He was considered a leader in the emerging application of science to agriculture.
French held the post of president for two years, resigning in 1864 over a controversy regarding the location and nature of the first campus buildings.
After leaving Amherst, French was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court. While in Washington D.C. in the 1870s, he was assistant secretary of the treasury, and occasionally sat as a member of the President's Cabinet.