William Pennington

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William Pennington
William Pennington portrait.jpg
23rd Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
In office
February 1, 1860 – March 3, 1861
Preceded byJames L. Orr
Succeeded byGalusha A. Grow
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's 5th district
In office
March 4, 1859 – March 3, 1861
Preceded byJacob R. Wortendyke
Succeeded byNehemiah Perry
13th Governor of New Jersey
In office
October 27, 1837 – October 27, 1843
Preceded byPhilemon Dickerson
Succeeded byDaniel Haines
Member of the New Jersey General Assembly
In office
Personal details
Born(1796-05-04)May 4, 1796
Newark, New Jersey
DiedFebruary 16, 1862(1862-02-16) (aged 65)
Newark, New Jersey
Political partyRepublican
Alma materPrinceton College

William Pennington (May 4, 1796 – February 16, 1862) was an American politician and lawyer, the Governor of New Jersey from 1837 to 1843, and Speaker of the House during his one term in Congress.

Life and career[edit]

Born in Newark, New Jersey, he graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) in 1813 and then studied law with Theodore Frelinghuysen. He was admitted to the bar in 1817 and served as a clerk of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (where his father was a judge) from 1817 to 1826.

As a member of the Whig party, he was elected to the New Jersey General Assembly in 1828, and then was elected Governor of New Jersey annually from 1837 to 1843. His tenure as governor was marked by the "Broad Seal War" controversy. Following a disputed election for Congressional Representatives in New Jersey, Pennington certified the election of five Whig candidates while five Democrats were certified by the Democratic Secretary of State. After a lengthy dispute, the Democrats were eventually seated.

He was appointed Governor of Minnesota Territory by President Millard Fillmore, but declined the position.

He was elected as a Republican to the 36th Congress to represent New Jersey's 5th congressional district. During his first (and only) term, he was elected Speaker of the United States House of Representatives after two months in which no candidate for Speaker could obtain a majority in the House. John Sherman was the original Republican nominee for Speaker, but the Republicans had only a plurality and the Southern Oppositionists, who held the balance of power, were unwilling to support either a radical Republican like Sherman or a Democrat. Pennington thus became the first Republican Speaker of the House (although Nathaniel P. Banks essentially affiliated himself with the then-new Republican Party after becoming Speaker, he was officially considered a member of the American, or Know-Nothing, Party). He was an unsuccessful candidate for reelection in 1860 to the 37th Congress.

In March 1861 he penned his name on the original proposed 13th Amendment to the Constitution, also known as the Corwin Amendment, which stated, "No Amendment shall be made to the constitution which will authorize or give to Congress the power to abolish or interfere, within any State, with the domestic institutions thereof, including that of persons held to labor or service by the laws of said State." This proposal would have effectively made slavery permanent, or at least prevented abolition at the federal level.

He died in Newark of an unintentional morphine overdose[1] and was interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Newark.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rojas, Warren (October 8, 2015). "'Interim Speaker' Stumps Scholars". Roll Call. Washington, DC.


Political offices
Preceded by
Philemon Dickerson
Governor of New Jersey
October 27, 1837 – October 27, 1843
Succeeded by
Daniel Haines
Preceded by
James L. Orr
Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives
February 1, 1860 – March 4, 1861
Succeeded by
Galusha A. Grow
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Jacob R. Wortendyke
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from New Jersey's 5th congressional district

March 4, 1859 – March 4, 1861
Succeeded by
Nehemiah Perry