John Sergeant (politician)

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For other persons named John Sergeant, see John Sergeant (disambiguation)
John Sergeant
JohnSergeant.png
Member of the
U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania
In office
March 4, 1837 – March 3, 1841
Preceded by Joseph Ingersoll
Succeeded by Joseph Ingersoll
Constituency 2nd district
In office
March 4, 1827 – March 3, 1829
Preceded by Thomas Kittera
Succeeded by Daniel H. Miller
Constituency 2nd district
In office
October 10, 1815 – March 3, 1823
Preceded by Jonathan Williams
Succeeded by Samuel Breck
Constituency 1st district, Seat D
Personal details
Born (1779-12-05)December 5, 1779
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died November 23, 1852(1852-11-23) (aged 72)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Political party Federalist (Before 1828)
National Republican (1828–1834)
Whig (1834–1852)
Spouse(s) Margaretta Watmough
Education University of Pennsylvania
Princeton University (BA)

John Sergeant (December 5, 1779 – November 23, 1852) was an American politician who represented Pennsylvania in the United States House of Representatives. He was the National Republican Party's vice presidential nominee in the 1832 presidential election, serving on a ticket with Senator Henry Clay.

He was born in Philadelphia to Jonathan Dickinson Sergeant and Margaret Spencer. He came from a family of prominent politicians, including his father, his grandsons, John Sergeant Wise and Richard Alsop Wise, and his great-grandson, John Crain Kunkel. After graduating from Princeton University, Sergeant served in the Philadelphia government and won election to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. As a member of the Federalist Party, he won election to the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1815 to 1823. In Congress, he supported Clay's American System and opposed the extension of slavery, voting against the Missouri Compromise.

After serving as president of the Pennsylvania Board of Canal Commissioners, Sergeant returned to Congress in 1827. He lost his 1829 re-election campaign and became a legal counsel for the Second Bank of the United States. In the 1832 presidential election, the ticket of Clay and Sergeant was soundly defeated by the Democratic ticket of Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. After the election, Sergeant joined the Whig Party and again returned to Congress, serving from 1837 to 1841. He was also the president of the Pennsylvania constitutional convention in 1838. He retired from public office in 1841 and resumed his law practice.

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 during the 1832 presidential election 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 on November 23, 1852 and was 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]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jonathan Williams
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 1st congressional district
Seat D

1815–1823
Succeeded by
Samuel Breck
Preceded by
Hugh Nelson
Chair of the House Judiciary Committee
1819–1822
Succeeded by
Hugh Nelson
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 Ingersoll
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Pennsylvania's 2nd congressional district

1837–1841
Succeeded by
Joseph Ingersoll
Preceded by
Francis Thomas
Chair of the House Judiciary Committee
1839–1841
Succeeded by
Daniel D. Barnard
Party political offices
Preceded by
Andrew Gregg
Federalist nominee for Governor of Pennsylvania
1826
Party dissolved
Preceded by
Richard Rush
National Republican nominee for Vice President of the United States
1832