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John Vining

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John Vining
United States Senator
from Delaware
In office
March 4, 1793 – January 19, 1798
Preceded byRichard Bassett
Succeeded byJoshua Clayton
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Delaware's at-large district
In office
March 4, 1789 – March 3, 1793
Preceded byDistrict established[a]
Succeeded byJohn Patten
Continental Congressman
from Delaware
In office
April 8, 1784 – October 27, 1786
Preceded byJames Tilton
Succeeded byNathaniel Mitchell
Member of the Delaware House of Representatives
In office
January 3, 1799 – January 3, 1800
Member of the Delaware Senate
In office
January 1, 1793 – January 7, 1794
Preceded byDistrict established[b]
Succeeded byJames Sykes
In office
January 3, 1800 – February 1802
Preceded byGeorge Cummins
Succeeded byGeorge Truitt
Personal details
Born(1758-12-23)December 23, 1758
Dover, Delaware Colony, British America
DiedFebruary 1802(1802-02-00) (aged 43)
Dover, Delaware, U.S.
Political partyFederalist
SpouseAnna Maria Seton
ResidenceDover, Delaware

John Middleton Vining (December 23, 1758 – February 1802) was an American lawyer and politician from Dover, in Kent County, Delaware. He was a Continental Congressman from Delaware, and a member of the Federalist Party, who served in the Delaware General Assembly and as United States Representative and United States Senator from Delaware.

Early life and family[edit]

Vining was born in Dover in the Delaware Colony, son of John and Phoebe Wynkoop Vining. His father was a prominent and successful lawyer and landholder, who had been a Speaker of the Colonial Assembly and Chief Justice of Delaware. He was also the good friend of Caesar Rodney, who stood as godfather for his son John, the subject of this article. Vining's father died when his son was eleven years old, and from him John and his sister inherited a large fortune. On November 29, 1790, while he was a U.S. Representative in New York City, he married Anna Maria Seton, a poet, musician, and daughter of William Seton of New York. She fit well into Vining's social circle, and they had four sons, John, William, Benjamin and Charles, but she died prematurely in 1800.

Political career[edit]

Vining studied law under George Read in New Castle, Delaware, and was admitted to the Delaware Bar in 1782, starting a practice in Dover. Because of his family's wealth and prominence he was elected three times to represent Delaware in the Continental Congress. First elected April 8, 1784, he served until October 27, 1786, although, like many of his contemporaries, his attendance was irregular. He was then elected to the 1787/88 and 1788/89 sessions of the Delaware House of Assembly.

In a special election on January 7, 1789, Vining defeated four other candidates to win election as the only member from Delaware to the 1st U.S. House of Representatives. Two years later he was re-elected to a second term. Although he arrived weeks late for every session, he was an energetic and conscientious legislator, consistently voting in support of the administration, particularly favoring a strong executive. He served on thirty-eight committees in the 1st U.S. House, including the committee considering the first proposed amendments to the Constitution, and the joint committee on rules.

Vining's positions were generally loose-constructionist, or Hamiltonian. Accordingly, he strongly favored the federal assumption of the state's revolutionary war debts. In the debate over the location of a national capital, he sought consideration for Wilmington, Delaware, but once that lost, supported an immediate move to Philadelphia, and the later construction of a city on the Potomac River.

In 1793 he returned to Dover, Delaware as a State Senator, but was soon elected to the U.S. Senate. He served there for five years, from March 4, 1793, until his resignation on January 19, 1798, and subsequent retirement from public life.

Death and legacy[edit]

Vining died in Dover and is buried in an unmarked grave in the Christ Episcopal Church Cemetery at Dover.

Vining was a handsome, friendly, and outspoken member of a prominent and wealthy family. He was described as a "colorful", speaker who "brandished a florid metaphor", but also as "verbose" and "not above resorting to inflammatory language". His sister, Mary, who was a frequent companion of Anthony Wayne, lived with Vining, and together they entertained frequently and lavishly. Because of this hospitality and generosity he was known as "the pet of Delaware". But he spent through his fortune and suffering from alcoholism, and the death of his wife, went through a rapid decline on the way to an impoverished and premature death. His sister dedicated herself to raising Vining's four sons, but they died young as well, within a year of her death in 1821.

Elizabeth Montgomery in her Reminiscences in Wilmington wrote: "His brilliant talents, not nourished by application, withered in the bud. Indolence and generosity engendered extravagance that wasted his substance".[1]


Elections were held October 1. Members of the General Assembly took office on October 20 or the following weekday. The State Councilmen were elected for a three-year term and the State Assemblymen for a one-year term. They chose the Continental Congressmen for a one-year term. U.S. Representatives took office March 4 and have a two-year term. The General Assembly chose the U.S. Senators, who took office March 4 for a six-year term.

After 1792 elections were moved to the first Tuesday of October and members of the General Assembly took office on the first Tuesday of January. The Legislative Council was renamed the State Senate and the House of Assembly was renamed the State House of Representatives.

Public offices
Office Type Location Began office Ended office notes
Continental Congressman Legislature Annapolis April 8, 1784 June 3, 1784 never served
Continental Congressman Legislature Trenton November 1, 1784 December 24, 1784
Continental Congressman Legislature New York January 11, 1785 November 4, 1785
Continental Congressman Legislature New York November 7, 1785 October 27, 1786
State Assemblymen Legislature Dover October 20, 1787 October 20, 1788
State Assemblymen Legislature Dover October 20, 1788 October 20, 1789
U.S. Representative Legislature New York March 4, 1789 March 3, 1791
U.S. Representative Legislature Philadelphia March 4, 1791 March 3, 1793
State Senator Legislature Dover January 1, 1793 January 7, 1794
U.S. Senator Legislature Philadelphia March 4, 1793 January 19, 1798
State Representative Legislature Dover January 3, 1799 January 3, 1800
State Senator Legislature Dover January 3, 1800 February 1802 died in office
Delaware General Assembly service
Dates Assembly Chamber Majority Governor Committees District
1787/88 12th State House non-partisan Thomas Collins Kent at-large
1788/89 13th State House non-partisan Thomas Collins Kent at-large
1793 17th State Senate Federalist Joshua Clayton Kent at-large
1799 23rd State House Federalist Richard Bassett Kent at-large
1800 24th State Senate Federalist Richard Bassett Kent at-large
1801 25th State Senate Federalist Richard Bassett Kent at-large
1802 26th State Senate Federalist David Hall Kent at-large
United States congressional service
Dates Congress Chamber Majority President Committees Class/District Notes
1789–1791 1st U.S. House Pro-Administration George Washington at-large
1791–1793 2nd U.S. House Pro-Administration George Washington at-large
1793–1795 3rd U.S. Senate Pro-Administration George Washington class 2
1795–1797 4th U.S. Senate Federalist George Washington class 2
1797–1799 5th U.S. Senate Federalist John Adams class 2 [c]
Election results
Year Office Subject Party Votes % Opponent Party Votes % notes
1788 U.S. Representative John Vining non-partisan 898 44% Rhoads Shankland non-partisan 491 24% [d]
1790 U.S. Representative John Vining non-partisan 252 50% Joshua Clayton non-partisan 145 29%

Vining family[edit]

  • Captain Benjamin Vining (1685–1735), port collector in Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts
    • Married first, Ann
    • Married second, Mary Middleton. She married secondly Nicholas Greenberry Ridgely (1674–1755), and were parents of Dr. Charles Greenberry Ridgely
      • John Vining (1724–1770), married Phoebe Wynkoop [e]
        • Mary "Polly" Vining (1756–1821)
        • John Middleton Vining (1758–1802), married Anna Maria Seton
          • John Vining (1791–1817), U.S. Navy
          • William Henry Vining (1794–1822), lawyer
          • Benjamin Vining (c. 1796 – 1822) U.S. Army
          • Charles Ridgely Vining (1798–1821)
      • Mary "Polly" Vining (born c. 1730), married the Rev. Charles Inglis
      • Benjamin Vining (c. 1730 – 1785)


  1. ^ Under the Delaware Constitution of 1776.
  2. ^ Under the Delaware Constitution of 1792.
  3. ^ Resigned January 19, 1798,
  4. ^ This was a special election held January 7, 1789. Other candidates were Gunning Bedford Jr. (received 308 votes), Joshua Clayton (272 votes), and Allen McLane (90 votes).
  5. ^ Roger Martin, in Delawareans in Congress, names the wife of John Vining Sr. as Rachel Ridgely.


  1. ^ Montgomery, Elizabeth. Reminiscences in Wilmington. in Delawareans in Congress: by Roger A. Martin.


  • Martin, Roger A. (1995). Memoirs of the Senate. Newark: Roger A. Martin.
  • Martin, Roger A. (2003). Delawareans in Congress: The House of Representatives, Vol. One 1789–1900. Newark: Roger A. Martin. ISBN 0-924117-26-5.
  • Munroe, John A. (2004). The Philadelawareans. Newark: University of Delaware Press. ISBN 0-87413-872-8.
  • Munroe, John A. (1954). Federalist Delaware 1775-1815. New Brunswick: Rutgers University.
  • Wilson, W. Emerson (1969). Forgotten Heroes of Delaware. Cambridge, MA: Deltos Publishing Company.


External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
New district Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Delaware's at-large congressional district

March 4, 1789 – March 4, 1793
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. senator (Class 2) from Delaware
March 4, 1793 – January 19, 1798
Served alongside: George Read, Henry Latimer
Succeeded by