Joseph Ritner

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Joseph Ritner
Joseph Ritner-Governor of Pennsylvania.JPG
8th Governor of Pennsylvania
In office
December 15, 1835 – January 15, 1839
Preceded by George Wolf
Succeeded by David R. Porter
Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
Preceded by Joel Barlow Sutherland
Succeeded by Ner Middleswarth
Member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born March 25, 1780
Reading, Pennsylvania
Died October 16, 1869(1869-10-16) (aged 89)
Mount Rock, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania
Political party Democratic-Republican (before 1828)
Anti-Masonic (1828–1839)
Whig (1839–1854)
Republican (1854–1869)
Spouse(s) Susan Alter (1801–1852; her death)
Profession Farmer

Joseph Ritner (March 25, 1780 – October 16, 1869[1][2]) was the eighth Governor of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, elected as a member of the Anti-Masonic Party. He was elected Governor of Pennsylvania in the Pennsylvania Gubernatorial election, 1835, and served from 1835 to 1839. Controversy surrounding his 1838 electoral defeat led to the Buckshot War. In 1856, Governor Ritner was a delegate to the first Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.


Ritner was born in Berks County, Pennsylvania on March 25, 1780. His parents were of German heritage, and Ritner was primarily self-educated, including learning to read and write in English while also acquiring a working knowledge of German. He moved to Cumberland County as a teenager, where he worked as a farm hand and laborer until he purchased a farm of his own in Washington County. In 1801, Ritner married Susan Alter, and they were the parents of 10 children. The Washington County farm had been owned by Ritner's wife's uncle, and included a large library, which enabled Ritner to continue his efforts at self-study.

During the War of 1812 Ritner served first as commander of a Washington County militia company, the Rifle Rangers. He later served as a private with his regiment in western Pennsylvania and Ohio.

In 1820 Ritner was elected road supervisor in Washington County. Later that year he was elected to the Pennsylvania House of Representatives as a Democratic-Republican. He was reelected five times, and was Speaker in his final two terms.

Ritner became involved with the Anti-Masonic movement in the late 1820s, and after two defeats for governor, he won the 1835 election. When the Second Bank of the United States lost its federal charter in 1836, Ritner signed legislation giving it a state charter. As a supporter of public education, Ritner prevented repeal of Pennsylvania's Public School Law of 1834, and succeeded in passage of an enhanced public school measure in 1836.

An opponent of slavery, Ritner was the inspiration for an abolitionist poem by John Greenleaf Whittier, 1836's Ritner, in which Whittier praised the anti-slavery sentiment of the governor's annual message to the state legislature.

Ritner’s reputation was negatively affected by Anti-Masonic efforts to gerrymander state legislative districts for their benefit. In addition, as Anti-Masons attempted to expand their support by taking positions on other issues, including expanded construction of public works, Ritner was criticized for allegedly using public rail and canal projects as a source of patronage.

In 1838 Ritner, running as an Anti-Mason with the support of the emerging Whig Party, narrowly lost his bid for reelection to Democratic nominee David Rittenhouse Porter. Ritner and his supporters unsuccessfully attempted to contest the election, including an effort by Ritner to mobilize the state militia. (The militia were to be armed with buckshot, thus giving the event its name.)

After leaving office, Ritner settled on a farm in Cumberland County. He suffered from cataracts, and surgery in 1839 restored the sight in his right eye, though he remained blind in his left.

With the end of the Anti-Masonic Party, Ritner actively supported the Whigs. In 1849 newly elected Whig President Zachary Taylor nominated Ritner for the post of Director of the United States Mint, then in Philadelphia. Taylor died before the nomination was acted on, so Ritner was never confirmed.

Ritner joined the Republican Party when it was founded in the mid-1850s, and was a delegate to the 1856 Republican National Convention.

He died on October 16, 1869, and was buried at Mount Rock Cemetery in Mount Rock, Pennsylvania.


Governor Ritner has a residence hall named in his honor on the University Park campus of Penn State. Ritner Street in Philadelphia is also named in his honor.

In 1938 the state of Pennsylvania dedicated the Governor Ritner Highway, which connects Carlisle and Shippensburg along Route 11 in Cumberland County.

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Political offices
Preceded by
George Wolf
Governor of Pennsylvania
Succeeded by
David R. Porter