John Sergeant (politician)

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John Sergeant.

John Sergeant (December 5, 1779 – November 23, 1852) was an American politician who represented Pennsylvania in the House of Representatives. He was born in Philadelphia to Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant and Margaret Spencer. He came from a family of American politicians, including his father, his grandsons, John Sergeant Wise and Richard Alsop Wise, and his great-grandson, John Crain Kunkel.

Private Life and Education[edit]

Sergeant was educated in the common schools and at the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia. He graduated from Princeton College in 1795. He became a lawyer and, after being admitted to the bar in 1799, practiced law for fifty years.

Public service[edit]

In 1800 Sergeant became deputy attorney general for Philadelphia and then commissioner of bankruptcy for Pennsylvania the following year. He was a member of the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives from 1808 to 1810. He was elected as a Federalist to the United States House of Representatives to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Jonathan Williams. He was re-elected three times, serving from October 10, 1815 to March 3, 1823, and managed to reach the position of chairman of the United States House Committee on the Judiciary. Sergeant was a strong backer of Henry Clay's American System and the Second Bank of the United States in Congress, and even traveled to Europe to negotiate loans to the Bank. He was also a strong opponent of slavery who voted against the Missouri Compromise. He then retired (albeit temporarily) from Congress.

In 1825, he was president of the Pennsylvania Board of Canal Commissioners. The following year, he was an envoy to the Panama Congress, and then was returned to the U.S. House of Representatives for the term starting March 4, 1827. He failed re-election to the following term and left Congress for the second time on March 3, 1829. He then became legal counsel to the Bank of the United States.

Vice Presidential Candidate[edit]

Sergeant was Henry Clay's running mate on the National Republican ticket in 1832 but lost to Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren in a landslide and again retreated from public life.

After his Vice Presidential candidacy, he returned as president of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention in 1838, and then was elected as a Whig to the U.S. House of Representatives. He served this last time from March 4, 1837 until he resigned on September 15, 1841, and again was chair of the Committee on the Judiciary for the 1837 – 1839 term. He returned to his law practice, declining offers of a cabinet or diplomatic position from the new Whig administration.

In 1844 he was considered for the Whig vice presidential nomination, to once again run with Clay, but at the convention lost out to Theodore Frelinghuysen.

Sergeant died in Philadelphia and is interred at Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Family[edit]

On June 23, 1813 he married Margaretta Watmough, daughter of James Horatio Watmough and Anna Carmick. With Margaretta he fathered ten children, all but one surviving infancy. His oldest daughter, also named Margaretta (June 26, 1814 – January 7, 1886) married Major General George Meade, Commander of the Union Army of the Potomac from the Battle of Gettysburg until the end of the Civil War. Another daughter, Sarah (September 24, 1817 – October 14, 1850) married Henry A. Wise. His youngest son, William (August 29, 1829 - April 11, 1865) served in the Civil War and was mortally wounded at the Battle of White Oak Road.

Sources[edit]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jonathan Williams
Joseph Hopkinson
William Milnor
Thomas Smith
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 1st congressional district

1815–1823

1815-1817 alongside: Joseph Hopkinson, William Milnor and Thomas Smith
1817-1819 alongside: Joseph Hopkinson, William Anderson and Adam Seybert
1819-1821 alongside: Samuel Edwards, Thomas Forrest and Joseph Hemphill
1821-1822 alongside: Samuel Edwards, William Milnor and Joseph Hemphill
1822-1823 alongside: Joseph Hemphill, Samuel Edwards and Thomas Forrest

Succeeded by
Samuel Breck
Preceded by
Thomas Kittera
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 2nd congressional district

1827–1829
Succeeded by
Daniel H. Miller
Preceded by
Joseph R. Ingersoll and James Harper
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 2nd congressional district

1837–1841
alongside: George Washington Toland
Succeeded by
George Washington Toland and Joseph R. Ingersoll
Party political offices
Preceded by
Richard Rush
National Republican Party vice presidential candidate
1832 (lost)
Succeeded by
(none)