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
PresidentJames Buchanan
Preceded byJames L. Orr
Succeeded byGalusha A. Grow
Leader of the
House Republican Conference
In office
February 1, 1860 – March 3, 1861
Preceded byOffice Established
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. He was the Governor of New Jersey from 1837 to 1843. He served one term in the United States House of Representatives, during which he served as Speaker of the House from 1860 to 1861.

Early life and education[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. His father, William Sanford Pennington was a Revolutionary War veteran and was himself Governor of New Jersey from 1813 to 1815 before President Madison appointed him as a federal judge.[citation needed]

Governor of New Jersey[edit]

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.[citation needed]

Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

In November 1858, Pennington was elected as a Republican to represent New Jersey's 5th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives during the 36th Congress but only after a protracted election for speaker of the House of Representatives lasting 44 ballots over eight weeks (December 5, 1859, to February 1, 1860).[1] It was the third time since 1789 that the House elected a freshman congressmen as its speaker (after Frederick Muhlenberg in 1789 and Henry Clay in 1811); the feat has not been repeated since.[2]

In March 1861, he penned his name on the Corwin Amendment, a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution shielding state "domestic institutions" (a euphemism for slavery) from future constitutional amendments and from abolition or interference by Congress. Submitted to the states for ratification shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War, it was not ratified by the requisite number of states.[citation needed]


After running unsuccessfully for reelection in 1860 to the 37th Congress, he returned to New Jersey, where died in Newark of an unintentional morphine overdose.[3] He was interred at Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Newark.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Speaker Elections Decided by Multiple Ballots". history.house.gov. United States House of Representatives. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  2. ^ Heitshusen, Valerie (February 11, 2011). "The Speaker of the House: House Officer, Party Leader, and Representative" (PDF). CRS Report for Congress. Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, the Library of Congress. Retrieved February 18, 2019.
  3. ^ 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