John M. Read

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John Meredith Read (July 21, 1797 – November 29, 1874) was an American lawyer, jurist, and politician from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was one of the founders of the Republican Party and Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

Early life[edit]

John was born on Chestnut Street across the street from Independence Hall, the eldest son of lawyer John Read and Martha Meredith Read. Both of his grandfathers (George Read and Samuel Meredith) had served in the Continental Congress. After an early education at home, he graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, then read law and was admitted to the bar in 1818. He started a law practice in Philadelphia.

Political career[edit]

Read began his political career when he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in 1822. He served until 1824, remaining in private practice. After this he served on the Philadelphia City Council, and for several years as the city's solicitor. Although his family had been Federalists, he became an ardent supporter of the Free Soil wing of the Democratic Party.

From 1837 to 1841 Read was the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. In 1844, President Tyler nominated him to the Supreme Court of the United States, but his earlier stance against the expansion of slavery into the territories caused the southern Democratic Senators to oppose his nomination, and it was withdrawn. From June until December that year he served as the Attorney General of Pennsylvania.

Read became an early supporter and organizer for the Republican Party. When they won in their first state-wide races in 1858, he was elected to the state supreme court. He would serve until December 2, 1872, the last year as chief justice. When the Republicans held their first national convention at Philadelphia in 1856, he was one of the convention organizers and delivered the keynote address. At the 1860 convention in Chicago, he received one vote on the first ballot for presidential nominee, but he supported Lincoln.


Read was married twice, first to Priscilla Marshall in 1828. The couple had five children. After her death, he married Amelia Thompson in 1855. He died at home in Philadelphia in 1874. His son J. Meredith Read was a noted United States diplomat.



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